Ikinari Steak

Ikinari Steak

Ikinari Steak with garlic fried rice

Where to go for steak in Tokyo? If our clients ask I suggest great steakhouses like the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Especially now as an Argentine executive chef, Federico Heinzmann, is overseeing the kitchen. Ukai-tei in Ginza or Omotesando also is a crowd-pleaser. These are restaurants that we save for a special occasion and not spots we can pop into when we are craving a juicy steak.

Tachigui - stand and eat

Tachigui – stand and eat

Ikinari is a fun Japanese word that means all of the sudden or out of the blue. Ikinari Steak is a chain of tachigui, restaurants without chairs, yes, stand and eat restaurants. These are often casual spots where diners pop in for a quick and affordable meal. At meal times, usually around noon for lunch and about six p.m. for dinner, Ikinari Steak often has a line of customers waiting to get in.

Ikinari scale

Ikinari scale

The menu offers a variety of steak cuts such as filet, rib roast, or sirloin. The beef is Japan as well as the US. Diners go to the kitchen and specify which cut and which type of beef they want and then the chef puts the steak on the cutting board and asks you how thick you want the slice to be. After he cuts the meat is weighed and diners pay per gram. The steak is then grilled over charcoal and then the staff will bring the steak and any side dishes to your counter. Silverware and condiments are on the counter.

See the menu on the link below.

http://ikinaristeak.com/menu/ 

Ikinari Steak exteriorOf course this steak can’t compare to the best steakhouses in Tokyo. It does hit the spot when the craving comes for a juicy steak. It is a very casual environment and great for solo diners. This shop was in Shinbashi but there are branches throughout the city, including Ginza, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. I believe the company is expanding and the market seems to be hungry for it.

A list of their shops:

http://ikinaristeak.com/shopinfo/

Ikinari Steak

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 3-14-1

Tsuruya Supermarket in Nagano

Nagano Oyaki

Nagano Oyaki

We love visiting local supermarkets when we travel. Tsuruya is a chain of supermarkets in Nagano that has been on our Go List since it was featured on a television program. It has a strong private brand (PB) program that is very popular with their customers. These items on this blogpost are all PB products from Tsuruya.

First of all, we picked up some oyaki. These are flour-based dumplings that are stuffed with different fillings. We picked up sansai (mountain vegetables), piri kara nasu (spicy eggplant), and Nozawa-na (pickled Nozawa greens). The expiration date for oyaki is often a day or two so we picked up enough for dinner on the day we came back to Tokyo. These do actually freeze well. To cook them up we just put them in a hot non-stick pan and grill on both sides.

Tsuruya jam and juice

Tsuruya jam and juice

Nagano is a big producer of apples and we picked up a refreshing apple juice. There was a big selection of jams, including kyoho, an aromatic Japanese grape and a lovely black sesame paste that has a little sugar in it (not in the photo).

Tsuruya private brand products

Tsuruya private brand products

There were some dried fruit, including lemon and apples. We also loved the karinto, traditional Japanese sweets that came in flavors like apple and gobo (burdock root). The karinto were well received by friends as a small gift from our travels. I only wish I had bought more.

Tsuruya Maruyama Coffee

Tsuruya Maruyama Coffee

I was so happy to find Maruyama Coffee Tsuruya Original Medium Roast Blend. Maruyama Coffee is a popular coffee shop that is based in the resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano. It is a well-balanced up with a refreshing acidity and round flavors.

Tsuruya has shops in some of the bigger cities in Nagano. The one we visited was in Matsumoto. The Tsuruya website says that it is opening a shop near Iiyama station which is on the new Hokuriku shinkansen line. Very exciting news. Worth a detour on your way to Kanazawa.

Tsuruya Supermarket

Matsumoto-shi, Nagisa 1-7-1

松本市渚1-7-1

Nagano Ohmachi No no Hana Soba 長野大町 手打ちそば 野の花

Nagano No no Hana soba

Nagano No no Hana soba

No no Hana in Ohmachi is a quiet soba shop where the master makes the noodles from scratch. It is far from the station so a taxi would be needed if you don’t have a car. Here is the kamo seiro, soba with a duck and leek dipping sauce.

Nagano No no Hana tempura

Nagano No no Hana tempura

The menu (Japanese only) was quite extensive and had many small dishes like homemade konnyaku with a mustard miso dressing, and vegetable tempura. I love this beautiful presentation of the basket with the tempura on the folded paper. I was hoping to have sansai tempura, mountain vegetables, but it was still quite cold in this part of Nagano and the sansai season had yet to begin. We were told we were a few days away. This speaks to the master, who has a friend who harvests the vegetables from the wild. While the supermarket was selling sansai, it probably came from another part of Japan.

Teuchi Soba No no Hana 手打ちそば 野の花

Nagano-ken, Ohmachi-shi, Taira 8000-501

長野県大町市平8000-501

0261-23-3684

closed Wednesday

Nearby:

Azumino Okina Soba

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Nagano Azumino Okina Soba 安曇野翁 そば

Azumino Okina Soba

Azumino Okina Kamo Seiro Soba

Nagano is famous for soba, among many other things. But where to go, especially in the countryside? We asked around to friends about their recommendations, and a restaurateur told us about this lovely soba restaurant in Azumino called Okina. Azumino is a pastoral part of Nagano that has the impressive Kita Alps, Northern Japanese Alps, guarding it to one side.

The menu was very simple, only four different soba dishes. No side dishes. At first I was disappointed, as I was hoping to linger over a few small dishes before the soba. But realized that a small menu is a good thing as turnover is very quick. There was always someone outside waiting to come in, and usually the wait was not too long, even on a sunny Sunday.

This is the classic example of a shokunin, a craftsman who excels at doing one thing. In this case, it is soba (buckwheat) noodles. The soba master, Wakatsuki-san, opened the shop at the age of 40 in 1997. Prior to that he was the manager at the Tokyo branch of the famous Hakone Akatsukian soba shop.

Inside just as you walk in you can see his workshop for making soba noodles. I assume that he is there in the mornings and that he then moves over to the kitchen to cook during service. While there were waitresses, he did sometimes come out and help with the front of the house.

Check out how simple the Azumino Okina menu is.

Zaru soba – cold soba with a dipping sauce (865 JPY)

Inaka soba – thicker soba served cold with a dipping sauce (865 JPY) – this was sold out when we arrived

Oroshi soba – cold noodles served with a spicy grated daikon (1,080 JPY)

Kamo seiro – cold noodles served with a hot dipping sauce of duck and leeks, garnished with yuzu (1,400 JPY)

Azumino Okina Soba view

Azumino Okina Soba view

The view was amazing. We had the Kita Alps as a backdrop. This is the view from the from the shop.

The soba (buckwheat) comes from Nagano, Ibaraki, and Hokkaido. The buckwheat is milled at the shop and the noodles are made in house. The noodles had a little bit of a bite to them, which I really enjoyed. The tsuyu is made with kombu, katsuobushi, and donko dried shiitake mushrooms. The soy sauce is Okubo soy sauce from Matsumoto in Nagano.

The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but will close early if they run out of soba.

To get to it you do need a car or by taxi, ten minutes from Akashina station in Azumino city, Nagano.

Azumino Okina Soba

Nagano-ken, Kita Azumi-Gun, Ikeda, Nakau 3056-5

安曇野 翁

長野県北安曇郡池田中鵜3056-5

0261-62-1017

http://azuminookina.com/

We visited Okina after a trip to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

Planting a Vineyard in Nagano

Vin d'Ohmachi

Vin d’Ohmachi

My first work in the wine world was at Coco Farm and Winery, just north of Tokyo. I had left New York City a year after 9/11. Coco Farm and Winery is an amazing home to students with developmental disabilities and autism. My new home was the perfect transition out of New York City. The students work at the winery every day. There were about a dozen of us working a the winery and one of those was Yano-san. Yano-san was a salaryman in Tokyo, but every weekend he would come up to help at the winery.

Yano-san of Vin d'Ohmachi

Yano-san of Vin d’Ohmachi

Yano-san eventually left his job in Tokyo and worked at Coco Farm for ten years. He and his family is now in Ohmachi, in northern Nagano. We went up to help him plant his vineyard for Vin d’Ohmachi. Yano-san could not have picked a more beautiful backdrop, the Kita Alps, which are in the background.

It takes a village.

It takes a village.

There were many friends and family on this beautiful weekend to help plant the grape trees. We planted gewurtztraminer and cabernet franc on this day. It was hard work as the soil had lots of big rocks in it. Good luck, Yano-san. Looking forward to someday drinking Vin d’Ohmachi with you.

Here is a nice blogpost in Japanese from that day.

http://blog.livedoor.jp/omachi_wine/archives/43785562.html

Nearby:

Azumino Okina Soba

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

I have always been fascinated with the snow canyons of the Kita Alps (North Alps) between Nagano and Toyama prefectures, also near Gifu. We were in Ohmachi, Nagano to help a friend plant a vineyard for wine so jumped at the chance to visit the famous Alpine Route. The snow canyons only open to the public from mid-April It can be accessed from Ohmachi in Nagano or from Tateyama in Fukui. We started our journey at 8:30 a.m. and it took a combination of electric buses, cable car, and a ropeway to get to the top of the mountain. We finally arrived at 11:00 a.m. to Murodo. From here visitors can walk into the snow canyons. It was even more impressive than I imagined.

Tateyama Kurobe Snow Wall

Tateyama Kurobe Snow Wall

Here you can see how tall the walls are, even higher than a bus. The brochure below says that the snow canyons are around through May and then starting in June they get smaller. http://www.alpen-route.com/en/wp-content/uploads/leaflet.pdf There were busloads of tourists. I highly suggest going first thing in the morning and heading straight up to the top and then taking your time coming down. On our way down we saw that there were long lines for the cable car and ropeway. You have the option of going all the way through, so starting at one end and going to the other. We opted to start and begin our journey in Nagano. We started at 8:30 a.m. and spent about 45 minutes at the top before heading down. It was about a five-hour journey from start to end. From Ohmachi station there is a bus that can bring you to the base of the mountains. There is also a taxi. The round-trip journey from the base of the mountain was about 10,000 JPY ($100 USD). There are restaurants and some light snacks along the way, but when we go back I would buy food from a convenience store and take it with us. Nearby eats: Azumino Okina Soba

Onigirazu – Rice Sandwiches

Family Mart Sando Omusubi

Family Mart Sando Omusubi

Onigiri or omusubi are savory stuffed rice balls that are often wrapped in nori. The shape is traditionally a triangle. Onigiri is something we eat at least once a week. These are perfect for picnics, hiking, as a quick meal or snack. But the onigiri is not perfect. The stuffings are concentrated in the center and the edges are not as flavorful as the middle.

The onigirazu, or sandwich omusubi, takes care of that. With the new and very popular onigirazu, every bite will include some of the stuffing. Better yet, if you are making these at home, it simply requires a folding technique. No fancy squeezing and molding to get the triangle shape.

Onigirazu, which actually means onigiri without forming or molding. Brilliant name for something that I wish I would have thought of long ago.

Sando Omusubi

Sando Omusubi

Cookbook shelves have about a half dozen books on the topic. Today I found a “Sando Omusubi” (sandwich omusubi) at Family Mart, a popular convenience store. It was almost twice as expensive as the regular onigiri, I guess as there is more rice and stuffings. Usually the rice balls start at about 100 JPY, but this was for almost 200 JPY.

This is the sando omusubi out of the package.

Tuna and Cheese

Tuna and Cheese

Tuna mayo, canned tuna and mayonnaise, is a popular flavor. Here you can see how the generous stuffing goes all the way to the edges.

Now that these are being sold at convenience stores we know that it is no longer a trend among mothers making these for their kids, but that it has reached the mainstream market.

Please let me know if you try these and how you think they compare to the traditional ones. I am a big fan of the new and improved omusubi/onigiri.

Chikalicious NY Dough’ssant in Tokyo

Chikalicious Dough'ssant

Chikalicious Dough’ssant

For a limited time, Chikalicious NY dough’ssant is available at Ginza Matsuya. I still have yet to try a Cronut, but today while walking through Ginza Matsuya I saw what I thought was a Cronut. There are a few shops making these in Tokyo. The only one that I have liked until now is The Roastery’s New York Rings in Omotesando. The others are all wanna-bes.

The caramel and almonds dough’ssant is very sweet. To be honest, I think it is too sweet for the Japanese market. I shared this with a friend and half was just the right amount. That being said, I will try to make it back to the shop to try another flavor, like creme brulee or mattcha, before the event ends.

The staff said that these would only be available for a month. Not sure when it will end, so go soon.

Ginza Matsuya – Chikalicious NY

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-6-1

Waseda Rakkyo Brothers Soup Curry

Soup Curry

Soup Curry

Soup Curry is a Hokkaido dish that is a great twist on the regular Japanese curry that we find throughout most of Tokyo. Japanese curry is made with a roux, the flour makes the curry quite thick. The Hokkaido soup version of curry is a soup, without the roux, that is filled with large cuts of vegetables and meat. The first time I was served this was at a girlfriend’s home. I thought she didn’t know how to properly make curry. She explained that this is how the soup curry dish is supposed to be made. It was a nice change to regular curry, that we often make at home.

Near Waseda University is a branch of the Sapporo Rakkyo soup curry shop. The soup curry is not very spicy, but you can request to have it made hotter. It is served with rice on the side. Traditionally thick curry and rice are served in the same bowl. If you like curry, then be sure to try Hokkaido’s soup curry.

Rakkyo Brothers Soup Curry

Shinjuku-ku, Babashitacho 61-9, Yamaguchi Building

新宿区馬場下町61-9山口ビル1F

03-5941-8455

http://www.spicegogo.com/shop05.html

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba 神楽坂 九頭龍蕎麦

Kagurazaka Kyu Soba

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba

Just minutes from Iidabashi stations (both JR and the Metro) is a lovely spot for handmade soba, Kuzuryu Soba. The lunch set includes both soba and a donburi, rice bowl. The donburi options include curry rice, oyakodon (chicken and soft-scrambled eggs), and their recommendation – sōsu katsu, thin-slices of pork deep-fried and then covered with just the right amount of a sweet and salty sauce. It is such a bold and umami-rich dish that it almost outshines what we came here for, the soba.

Kagurazaka Kyu soba noodles

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba noodles

The buckwheat noodles are made from scratch in the store and if you are lucky you can watch the soba dough being sliced into thin noodles with the large, rectangular soba knife.

Kagurazaka Kyu Soba tableware

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba tableware

The gorgeous dishware is on display. Lovely lacquer and colorful tableware that is a reminder of how dining in Japanese is done first with the eyes.

Did I mention the price of the lunch? Only 890 JPY. Great bargain for handmade soba and donburi.

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba 神楽坂 九頭龍蕎麦

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 3-3

新宿区神楽坂3-3