Shibuya Tare Katsu Don

The signboard outside of this small shop near Shibuya station caught my eye. Vegetables and thin slices of pork dressed in panko bread crumbs, deep-fried, and dipped in a sweet and savory soy sauce over a bowl of rice. Donburi are large bowls of rice with toppings. Tare refers to the sauce that clings to the vegetables and pork. Tare katsu don is a regional dish from Niigata prefecture, which is just north of Tokyo.

This shop uses organic soy sauce. The pork is Waton Mochibuta. The rice is koshi ibuki, from Niigata, famous for its rice.

I had walked by the shop several times but it was always full. Recently I spotted a single seat at the counter and swooped in. I ordered the yasai hire katsu don, vegetable and pork donburi (930 JPY). There is also a vegetable only donburi for 830 JPY.

It takes a while for the food to come, which is a good sign at fast food shops. You can see the chef deep-frying the vegetables and pork and dipping it into the sauce.

On this day the vegetables included sweet potato, eggplant, baby corn, and broccoli. There was a cherry tomato, but it was only deep-fried, not breaded. The pork was cut thin. If you were in the mood for meat you could do pork only.

The shop is only one minute from the Keio Inokashira line exit, or 3 minutes from the Shibuya JR station.

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-5-9 渋谷区道玄坂1-5-9



Ogikubo Takahashi Soba 高はし

Takahashi is a about a ten-minute walk from Ogikubo station on the Chuo line, but worth the journey through the residential area west of Tokyo. I was meeting a girlfriend for lunch on a Tuesday. For whatever reason, many soba shops are closed on Tuesdays. But my friend had been to Takahashi before and we were in luck as it is open Tuesdays. On a side note, many hair salons are also closed on Tuesday. So frustrating…

The shop is just off of a main street and in a residential area. The menu is only in Japanese, so best to go with a Japanese friend, or have your hotel call ahead and arrange a menu.

Takahashi has a nice selection of sake as well. Dassai from Yamaguchi is on the list. This day we went with Tefu from Kokken in Fukushima. It is made with Miyama-Nishiki rice and is unpasteurized. The junmai sake is soft and food-friendly, a lovely partner to soba.

The shop brings out some deep-fried soba noodles with our sake. We started with goma-dōfu (sesame tofu), which was quite firm. The soba sashimi was cut into long strips and was a nice hint as to what was coming. The tempura included both shrimp and vegetables.

My friend was excited as fresh nori soba was on the menu. It was my first time to have it and it was lovely. A generous amount of soft nori that is reminiscent of the ocean is on top of the handmade soba. The nori soba was the seasonal soba. Can you imagine, nori having a season? It does, and it is just now ending its season, so get it while you can. Our table overlooked the soba processing room, but by lunchtime the master was done rolling and cutting the soba.

Highly recommend Takahashi, but be sure to go with a Japanese speaker or arrange your menu ahead of time. The menu is only in Japanese and don’t expect any English here. I also love that it is a bit of a walk from the station as the other customers there obviously made the trek for Takahashi-san’s soba.

Takahashi 高はし

Suginami-ku, Ogikubo 2-30-7 杉並区荻窪2-30-7

closed Wednesday and the third Tuesday of each month.

72 Seasons – Guest post by Janice Espa

Tokyo is enthralling.

If like me, you can’t get enough of this city, then you’re probably on the go from early in the morning.

Tokyo dining, though delicious, can leave you dumbfounded. Dinner plans, which many times require a reservation, are easier to plan around than deciding what to have for lunch when caught in the midst of exploring the city.

When this happens, and lunchtime pangs spring up, unsolicited, a really great option is 72 Seasons. Shichi Jyu Ni Kou – a Japanese restaurant specialized in both kaiseki and teppanyaki cuisine – is in the basement of the Tokyo Station Hotel. It is a midday dining haven.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m equally as happy grabbing a snack or five from the smorgasbord available at department store food halls (depachika), or to eat the donburi of the day while sitting on a counter, or graze on a set of mixed yakitori skewers while standing. However, when your legs can’t take it anymore and you long for a bit of serenity, places like Shichi Jyu Ni Kou are an oasis. Serene, secluded, delicious, and right in the heart of the city’s movement.

I sat in the restaurant’s kaiseki section and opted for the bento box of the daily. I felt it not only offered the most variety, but also, seasonality and a well-balanced portion for lunch. There’s an introductory teishoku menu which features a grilled fish of the day, a more extensive “kaiseki in lighter style”, and several a la carte options to add to the set lunch meals.

The amuse bouche was a spinach ohitashi, with the works: edible flowers, shaved katsuo sprinkles, and ikura. Splendid. Followed by a lacquer box filled with steamed mussels, nimono stewed vegetables, an assortment of tempura, and a few pieces of sashimi.

The hassun, artfully plated, had grilled tai (snapper), a piece of tamagoyaki – my favourite addition to any plate, one piece of oshizushi (pressed sushi), a portion of sweet and savoury chestnut paste, cubes of sweet potato, and stewed burdock.

All of those flavours along with miso soup, steamed rice, and roasted tea for 3800 JPY. I was delighted.

To finish the meal, a different tea was served with a choice of dessert: fruit or kokuto purin (Okinawan black sugar pudding). I had the latter, which was caramelized on top like a cold crème brulee, wonderful, just wonderful.

The full menu is not available in English, though a general description of it is. Front of the house service is courteous, and the waitresses, beautifully dressed in kimonos, are helpful and accommodating.

There is a second location of Shichi Jyu Ni Kou, in Roppongi. However, if you’re in central Tokyo, and want an hour of serenity before continuing your sightseer trail, I strongly recommend paying this restaurant a visit.

Shichi Jyu Ni Kou
The Tokyo Station Hotel B1F,
1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Tel +81-(0)3-6269-9401


Open Daily
Lunch 11:00a.m.~ 3:00p.m.(Last Order 2:00p.m.)
Dinner 5:00p.m.~11:00p.m.(Last Order 9:30p.m.)

Janice Espa photo

Janice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in San Francisco where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.

Manseibashi Hofbackerei Edegger-Tax

Tokyoites have yet another European bakery to add to a rich list that includes Viron, Maison Kayser, Peck (exclusively at Takashimaya), and Gontran Cherrier. What makes this new shop unique is that I believe it is the first bakery in Tokyo from Austria. For German bakeries there is Linde in Kichijoji. (Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Honcho 1-11-27).

Hofbakerei Edegger-Tax is at the Manseibashi mall conveniently located between Kanda, Akihabara, and Ochanomizu. It is one of Austria’s oldest bakeries (1569), and fills a gap in the city for these European breads. Linde is a great shop, but Kichijoji is a hike out of the city center.

The shop opens at 8:30 a.m. on weekdays, and 11:00 a.m. on weekends. There is a lovely selection of bread, sandwiches, including open-faced sandwiches, and pastries. I’ve been to the original shop in Graz, Austria, and at the time, the most impressive memory was the colorful selection of open-faced sandwiches.

Hofbakerei Edegger-Tax

Chiyoda-ku, Kanda-Sudacho 1-25-4, Maach ecute Kanda Manseibashi



Mugi to Olive Clam Ramen at Manseibashi

Mugi to Olive Clam Ramen

Mugi to Olive Clam Ramen

Mugi to Olive has been on my ramen radar for a while. The chef behind the restaurant is trained in French cuisine. Ramen bloggers and Japanese media, both print and television, rave about the clam soup ramen. But it jumped to the top of my list after seeing it mentioned in this great piece in the New York Times by Ingrid Williams:

The hamaguri (common Orient clams) are from Kuwana in Mie prefecture. A region famous for its hamaguri. The Daisen chicken is from Tottori prefecture. The base to this bowl of ramen starts with excellent ingredients. The thin, straight noodles are made from domestic flour and are al dente. The toppings include a generous portion of refreshing mitsuba (trefoil) greens, and Daisen chicken. The yamaimo (mountain potato) and naruto (fish cake) is deep-fried in olive oil. On top of that, a half-dozen hamaguri clams. The tare is made from soy sauce and chicken fat. On the table is a jar of shallot oil which added even more umami to the bowl.

The article mentions the branch in Ginza but we went to the Manseibashi store. When we left the shop was mostly women. The Manseibashi area is fun to visit as there are some great shops. Manseibashi is an old station in Tokyo that is no longer being used. The shops are under the tracks of the Chuo line.

The bowl is full of umami and has a rich flavor of clams. It is obviously made by a trained chef using good ingredients. It also has a Bib Gourmand recommendation from the Michelin Guide.

Mugi to Olive

Chiyoda-ku, Kanda-Sudacho 1-25-4, Maach ecute Kanda Manseibashi S10


I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

I'll Have What Phil's Having at Den

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having at Den

It all started a little over a year ago. An email from a producer in New York City wanting to know if we would help with the filming of a new food show for PBS. The program would travel around the world with Phil Rosenthal. I was more than happy to help and was lucky to film at Nihonbashi Takashimaya as I had worked there about ten years ago in the sake department. It was fun to see many colleagues still there, and to share with Phil the secret rooftop that so few people, even Japanese, know about.

I was happier than a kid on Halloween when I found out we would be filming at my favorite restaurant in Tokyo, chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. It is one of those spots that is hard to get into, so filming there would be a very special treat. The restaurant would open up for just us before service. The program does a brilliant job of capturing chef Hasegawa’s personality and the cuisine. He was so kind to fry up some Dentucky Fried Chicken for the crew after filming was done.

Then came the tough decision, to ask Phil into our home for dinner or not. Until now we have kept our son’s photo off of social media. Opening up our apartment for the world to see was not as much of a concern as was including our kid. I thought that even if our son was filmed, it would only be in the periphery. You’ll have to watch the video to see his cameo.

I was happy to see that Phil also made it to two other special restaurants, Narisawa and Kyubey. Also places that should not be missed, if you can get in.

The video is here:

I don’t know for how long it will be online, so watch it while you can. It is an hour-long show. We appear at 14:15, 33:30, and 43:15, but please, see the whole show.

The Amazing Crew

The Amazing Crew

We’ve already heard from new clients saying that they are inspired to come to Tokyo. That is Phil’s goal with this program, and how awesome to see it come true. We had a blast with Phil and his team and are honored to be included.

Park Hyatt Tokyo Kozue’s Tohoku Heroes

Hatsumago Sparkling

Hatsumago Sparkling

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is a lovely spot for Japanese cuisine. At lunch if the skies are clear you have a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji. At night the city twinkles below you.

Two years ago Kozue did a special Tohoku menu to show their support for three prefectures that were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, Fukshima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This year Kozue is repeating the Tohoku Heroes menu, but moving on to the other three prefectures, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.

Chef Kenichiro Ooe is from Yamagata, as is my family, so we share this connection with Tohoku. At a recent dinner at Kozue chef Ooe introduced many products and sake from Tohoku.

Koji Nishizaki, the manager of Kozue, gave lovely commentary on the sake with each course. We started the evening off with a sparkling sake from Hatsumago. Hatsumago is a lovely brewery from Sakata in Yamagata. I sold many bottles of Hatsumago when I worked at Takashimaya. It means the first grandchild. A lovely gift for new grandparents. It is only 10% in alcohol, so light on the palate and refreshing. A great start to any evening.


Hiraizumi Marubi 15, Yamahai Junmai, Akita Miyama-nishiki rice. The yeast that is used for this sake is called Akita kobo #15, where the sake gets its name. Although it is a yamahai sake, it is not too heavy as yamahai can be. A very food friendly sake.


Chef Ooe talked about visiting the Tohoku region to meet the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen behind many of the products that they are using. For example, the watarigani crab used in this starter has a local name of gazami. I love these local colloquialism regarding food. It seems to be especially prevalent with seafood. The crab is  steamed in sake, spinach, myoga, and Tosa-zu jelly. Tosa-zu is a classic tart dressing made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. As a jelly it adds a nice texture to the dish. The Hatsumago sparkling paired well with the Tosa-zu jelly, myoga, and crab. Underneath is some kani-miso, or the offal of the crab, a delicacy and an unexpected and nice surprise. The rich kani-miso was rich and paired well with the Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai.


Warm Aomori hokkigai appetizer with seri, maitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, and sansho was served with Hakkoda Oroshi Daiginjo. Both the hokkigai clam and sake are from Aomori, so a natural partner. I also love this dish with the accent on both edges of the bowl. Dining at Kozue is also a delight on the eyes. Each time I am here I come across new tableware that capture my attention. The Japanese eat with their eyes and taking in the vessels are part of the pleasure of dining at Kozue.


Owan soup bowl. Check out this lovely lacquer bowl with silver and gold circles. My neighbor at the dinner, a Japanese travel writer, said, “it is September”, like I should know why this bowl is being used this time of year. Of course, the harvest moon. So here you also get an appreciation that chef Ooe selected this bowl for this dish due to the time of year.


The owan soup course is a famous local dish called ichigoni of awabi and uni. I’ve tried it in the past and have never liked it, until now. Chef Ooe’s soup was rich in umami and the seafood was pristine. It didn’t hurt that there was matsutake mushrooms and other vegetables in the soup.


Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai from Aomori, lucky if you can get your hands on this sake. :-)

PHT Kozue sashimi

Chef Ooe sashimi presentation always has a big impact. How gorgeous is this large katakuchi bowl filled with crushed ice? This is a serving for three guests. Mimmaya bluefin tuna, makogarei, and amaebi. The fresh nori is always a treat. Chef Ooe commented that it is still early in the season and that the tuna was not as fatty as it will be later in the season as the water cools down.


Amanoto made with kuro koji from Akita. This was my favorite of the night. I wonder if it is because of the black koji – as I am a fan of Okinawa awamori spirit, which is also made with kuro koji. It was served with a Hinai jidori chicken from Akita and included a kiritampo rice ball, a classic dish from Akita. It was nice to see it elevated to this level, as it is a dish often made at home. I think this dish that this was presented in was my favorite of the night.

Sadly I had to leave the dinner, unexpectedly, and missed out on the Yamagata Yonezawa wagyu and the Yamagata soba. Dessert was a rice ice cream. I did love being introduced to new sake, a renewed appreciation for Tohoku ingredients, and seeing new vessels. If you go, I highly recommend asking to have Tohoku sake paired with your meal.

The Tohoku Heroes event runs now through November 30th, both lunch and dinner. There will be a special dinner on the evening of November 29th, where some of the producers will be in attendance. For more details:

PBS – I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

Phil Rosenthal at Zaiyu Hasegawa's Den

Phil Rosenthal at Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den

We are so very excited to have been included in Phil Rosenthal’s upcoming food show on PBS, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Here is a sneak preview of his Tokyo show:

It was great fun showing Phil around some of my favorite Tokyo spots, including chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. I don’t want to say too much more. You’ll have to see the show. Phil also travels to other cities around the world. He’s a lot of fun and his commentary is great.

The show premieres on September 28th. Let us know what you think about it.

Making Tofu with Sonoko Sakai in San Francisco

Guest post by my friend, Janice Espa, on a tofu class she took recently.

After years in the film industry, traveling the world, and becoming more and more passionate about food, Sonoko Sakai decided to follow her culinary path, learn traditional Japanese techniques, and start teaching.  She established the Common Grains initiative to teach people about the cultural roots of Japanese cuisine.

Sonoko Sakai Sensei

Sonoko Sakai Sensei

Today, Sonoko runs workshops all around the US – yet her Los Angeles base is where she’s found most of the time teaching lessons on onigiri, soba, umeboshi pickling, cooking with rice in all of its forms, cooking with shio koji, and tofu-making.

I had the opportunity to catch one of Sonoko’s master classes while she was up in San Francisco for a series of events. My appreciation for tofu has been incremental.  It was always present as a ‘bonus’ item: from soups in Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian cuisine) to many South East Asian stir fries and noodle dishes, but it wasn’t until I visited Kyoto that I became aware of tofu as the star, and not a side dish.  Since then, I’ve become picky about the flavor I find in particular commercial tofu brands. Thus, upon coming across Sonoko’s workshop, I was eager to learn hands-on, and understand the tips and tricks behind sweet, smooth, homemade tofu.

Bean to Water Ratio Chart

Bean to Water Ratio Chart

For the workshop, Sonoko introduced herself and described the two types of tofu we’d be making on the day, she briefly discussed the process start to finish, and immediately got everyone on their feet. In a nutshell, making tofu goes like this:

  1. GRIND
  2. COOK
  4. PRESS

In depth, however, the process is specific, measured, and rewarding.

Tofu starts with good soybeans – which Sonoko recommended purchasing online from a non-GMO organic seller. They must be soaked in water for at least eight hours, then blended until creamy, a soybean slurry. This slurry is simmered with additional water, and cooked for about ten minutes. With a colander, the by-products are separated, the okara is reserved for later use, and the milk is transferred back to another pot. Coagulant, previously diluted in water, is added to the hot soy milk and slowly, but surely, curds begin to form.

Ladling the curdled milk into prepared boxes

Ladling the curdled milk into prepared boxes

By paying close attention, choosing the right type and amount of coagulant, and stirring the soy milk closely, tofu is made.   During the workshop, some groups chose to use nigari (magnesium chloride), others gypsum (calcium sulfate). It was great to be able to compare both results and taste the differences.  We also learned that fresh soy milk, comparable to light cow’s milk, is best for firm tofu, while thicker, rested soy milk, equivalent to whole milk, yields better results for silken tofu.

I preferred the nigari, hands down. It is in fact sweeter.  Now, when I’m at the supermarket browsing through brands of organic tofu, I pay closer attention to the label.

Earlier that morning, we had prepared the boxes for the tofu by lining small aluminum trays with holes punched through them, two pieces of cotton cloth lined on top. Traditional wooden Japanese zaru boxes have holes in them, plastic ones are also available, or a colander may also be used. The do-it-yourself (DIY) version is simple to make if you don’t have the necessary tools or can’t access a tofu making kit.

Tofu: pressed and ready for tasting

Tofu: pressed and ready for tasting

For silken tofu, the coagulant is mixed directly into thick soy milk. It is placed into a small container and steamed in a pot with boiling water, just like making chawanmushi, a savory Japanese egg custard.

Steamed cups of silken tofu

Steamed cups of silken tofu

From beginning to end Sonoko made sure we not only understood what was happening to the soon-to-be tofu, but also that the residue resulting from different steps of the process be put to good use.

This was my favorite part of the lesson:

From the whey, we made a most flavorful miso soup.

From the lees (okara), we made croquettes.

From the chilled soy milk, silken tofu topped with sweetened ginger syrup.

Okara and vegetable croquettes

Okara and vegetable croquettes

With the momen or pressed tofu, we served hiyayakko: cold tofu with soy sauce, freshly ground ginger, and scallions. We also made shirae-ae (a tofu and sesame paste) to coat green beans and cherry tomatoes, and serve as a salad.

Pressed tofu, cut into squares for hiyayakko

Pressed tofu, cut into squares for hiyayakko

The rules that apply to great tofu are the same as everything else in healthy, seasonal Japanese cuisine: organic and well-sourced grains followed by personal preference on which coagulant to use.

A fun, eye-opening experience, delicious in every step of the way. I’m ready to start sourcing my utensils to tackle some tofu making at home, and will be raving about the sweetness of the simplest miso soup elevated by the whey of soybeans.

Tools and ingredients

Tools and ingredients

The $160 tofu class was held at the San Francisco Cooking School.

For more on the tofu-making workshop and a recipe request, feel free to contact Janice.

To learn about the Common Grains initiative and Sonoko’s upcoming events, please visit:

Common Grains –

Sonoko’s blog –

Janice Espa photo

Janice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in San Francisco where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.

Email:  janicespa at

Kyoto Honke Owariya Soba 京都本家尾張屋

Kyoto Owariya Tempura Soba

Kyoto Owariya Vegetable Tempura Soba

Owariya is a Kyoto soba shop with a rich history, that can be traced back hundreds of years. I love the branch in Takashimaya as it is near many popular sites such as Nishiki Market and Gion. As the shop is in a department store, it is also kid-friendly.

The vegetable tempura soba (1620 JPY) included sansai, spring vegetables, and the dark red Kyoto carrot. We ordered a kake soba (756 JPY), soba with hot broth, and topped it with fish cakes.

Kyoto Owariya Kake Soba

Kyoto Owariya Kake Soba

Owariya is on the 7th floor of Takashimaya.

Owariya’s website includes photos and an English menu:

If you like shōchū, you should definitely try the soba shochu served with soba-yū, the hot water that the soba is cooked in.

Honke Owariya at Kyoto Takashimaya

Kyoto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Teiammaenocho 52, Kyoto Takashimaya 7th Floor


Kyoto Takashimaya Access: