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:

http://honke-owariya.co.jp/en/menu/foods/

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

京都市下京区貞安前之町52

Kyoto Takashimaya Access:

http://www.takashimaya.co.jp/kyoto/store_information/access.html

Imperial Hotel La Brasserie

La Brasserie

Chaliapin Steak

Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, a Russian opera singer, was touring in Japan in 1936, and was a guest of the Imperial Hotel. He was dining at the New Grill, the predecessor to La Brasserie, even though he was suffering from a toothache, he wanted to have steak. The executive chef, Fukuo Tsutsui, came up with this dish, now called the Chaliapin Steak. Taking inspiration from the classical sukiyaki dish, he put finely minced onions on top of a steak to soften the meat and then grilled it.

The ingredients are simply steak, onions, butter, salt and pepper. La Brasserie uses aged rump steak. The onions are sautéed just enough to draw out the sweetness.

La Brasserie is a nice nod to the classic French brasseries. As it is in the basement of the Imperial Hotel, many visitors never make it down here, which is also part of its intrigue. The restaurant is popular with Japanese and reservations are highly recommended at lunch as it is very busy.

The interior reminds me of a polished up Balthazar. Red banquettes, but these are velvet. Service is professional but without the stuffiness that can be found at many Japanese French restaurants.

If you are craving something more formal, then head to the mezzanine level to Chef Thierry Voisin’s Les Saisons, which has recently started serving breakfast. I am a big fan of his cuisine.

La Brasserie at the Imperial Hotel
+81-3-3539-8073
Chiyoda-ku, Uchisaiwai-cho 1-1-1 千代田区内幸町1-1-1
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Tower Bldg., LL1

http://www.imperialhotel.co.jp/e/tokyo/restaurant/la_brasserie/

Kokubunji Tonkatsu Katsura 国分寺とんかつ桂

Kokubunji tonkatsu

Kokubunji Tonkatsu Katsura

Katsura is a homey tonkatsu shop about a kilometer north of Kokubunji station on the Chuo line. There is a perpetual line out the door. But the other day while biking by the line was shorter than usual and I joined the queue.

There is a small table in the back and a counter with tight seating. I was seated at the counter with my back to the sliding door entrance. In Japan you get used to the fact that you may have to get up and out of the way, or maybe lean in to allow someone to pass at smaller restaurants like this.

The tonkatsu comes with a generous serving of homemade pickles and a generous serving of julienned cabbage. The tonkatsu is fried in lard and panko crust is lightly colored. The meat is juicy and the portions are generous. As to be found at most tonkatsu restaurants, unlimited rice and cabbage. Budget between 1,500 – 2,000 JPY.

Katsura is only open for lunch. This is an example of a shokunin, doing one thing, and doing it very well. I wouldn’t make a special trip from the city, but if you find yourself in this part of Tokyo, it’s good to have on your radar.

Tonkatsu Katsura とんかつ桂

Tokyo-to, Kodaira-shi, Jōsui Honcho 5-7-20 東京都小平市上水本町5-7-20

Tuesday – Sunday (closed Monday and 3rd Tuesday)

11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

 

Gotta Get – Kokuto Black Sugar 沖縄黒糖

Kokuto

Kokuto

Do you know about kokutō? Black sugar that is harvested on the islands south of Kagoshima in Okinawa. It is a dark sugar that is rich in minerals and is 100% natural sugar cane. We often keep a jar of kokutō on the counter. It makes a nice little snack. Kokutō can be cooked with water to make a syrup for desserts. This with some kinako, roasted soybean powder, over vanilla ice cream, is a combination of flavors that most people love.

A friend of ours is an editor of a famous food magazine in Tokyo. He is a fountain of information and I never share a meal with him without my notebook and pen. At a recent dinner party we were talking about kokutō and he said that each island produces a different flavor of black sugar. Of course, that totally makes sense, but how different could the flavors be?

Shinji picked up five different kokutō at the Washita Okinawa antenna shop in Ginza. Each from a different island. First of all, they all look very different from each other. Who knew? And, drumroll…….they do all taste very different from each other.

Kokuto Packaging

Kokuto Packaging

These small packages are 50 grams each and cost about 200 JPY ($2 USD). Our tasting notes counter-clockwise starting at pink:

  1. Ie-shima 伊江島 (pink) *** Our favorite. Light in color, not too sweet and surprisingly salty. Rich in flavor and very natural. Will go back for this.
  2. Yonaguni-jima 与那国島 (yellow) ** Medium in color. Light in flavor, not as rich as Ieshima. A hint of saltiness. Hard texture and cut into squares.
  3. Iheya-jima 伊平屋島 (blue) * Light in color. For both of us it was too sweet, much like sugar.
  4. Tarama-jima 多良間島 (dark orange) * Dark color and very hard texture. Sweet and rich flavor.
  5. Hateruma-jima 波照間島 (light orange) ** Very dark in color. Blocks are very chewy. Rich mineral flavor.

Overall the Ie-shima was our favorite. We loved that it wasn’t too sweet and the saltiness was a surprise at first, but we came to love it. Most people love kokutō when they try it.

Note on the names. Shima means island in Japanese. Sometimes the pronunciation of shima can change to jima depending on what name comes before it.

Shibuya Ore no Hamba-gu Yamamoto 俺のハンバーグ山本

Ore no Hamba-gu

Ore no Hamba-gu

There is a chain of restaurants that specialize in a certain cuisine or a dish. The “Ore no” series includes French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, yakitori, kappō, soba, oden, and yakiniku. There are all in the Oreno Corporation and are casual restaurants, many of them standing only spots, that offer reasonable priced cuisine in a casual environment.

The other day on the bus I passed a restaurant called Ore no Hamba-gu near Shibuya station. I got off the bus and got in line. A good sign that there were people standing in line. Hamba-gu is different from hamburger. Hamba-gu are more like a juicy meatloaf that is served with rice instead of a bun. Hamba-gu is a staple of yōshoku, Western-style cuisine adapted for the Japanese palate. The lunch set is 1,750 JPY and comes with a salad, rice, and miso soup along with the burger.

The Ore no Hamba-gu seems to be not affiliated with the Oreno Corporation, but I could be wrong.

Ore no Hamba-gu has a handful of shops around the city including Ebisu, Kichijōji, and Jiyugaoka. The interior at Shibuya is like being at home with a living room feel in the back of the restaurant.

The menu offers about a dozen different types of toppings for the hamba-gu. I went with the most popular, which was Gorgonzola. The cheese sauce on top was nothing special, but the hamba-gu was stuffed with a rich serving of cheese. The hamba-gu is served in a hot bowl, the type you find at Korean restaurants. The meat is very, very hot. I should have known that looking at the sauce bubbling, but I wish they would have warned me. :-)

The restaurant has its own farm. The small salad that came with the lunch set is made with flavorful vegetables. I can still taste the sweet red bell peppers. I may go back and just ask for a big salad. The lunch set includes a small juice made from seven vegetables and fruit, including cilantro and shikuwasa, a tart citrus.

There is a nice server who speaks English. So even though the menu is in Japanese, there is someone to help you order. I highly recommend a glass of juice and getting a salad along with the hamba-gu.

Ore no Hamba-gu is a great example of a restaurant focusing on one thing, hamba-gu, and doing it very well.

Ore no Hamba-gu Yamamoto 俺のハンバーグ山本

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 3-18-5, Wada Bldg. 1F 渋谷区渋谷3-18-5和田ビル1F

www.orehan.com/shoplist/shibuya.html

twitter.com/orenohamburg

Sushi with Kids

Chiyoda Sushi

Chiyoda Sushi

When I first lived in Japan in the late 80s I would request that the sushi chef not include wasabi on my sushi, “wasabi nuki onegaishimasuI“. At one point an older sushi chef scolded me and told me I was too old to be eating my sushi without wasabi. I can now eat wasabi, but am still not a big fan. You’ll never find me buying wasabi flavored potato chips.

The other day while at our local depachika our son requested sushi for lunch. Chiyoda Sushi is an affordable chain of sushi restaurants with many take-away shops throughout the city. There was a big selection of nigiri, maki, and chirashi-zushi for take-away. The prices are quite affordable starting at a couple hundred yen. He wanted the set that we got above, which included ten pieces of nigiri and four small maki, all for only 498 JPY (less than $5 USD).

Wasabi Nuki - No Wasabi

Wasabi Nuki – No Wasabi

The only problem is that most of the sushi has wasabi on it. I asked if they could make a set without wasabi, wasabi nuki (new-key), and was told it would take about five minutes. We prepaid for the sushi and finished our shopping and then came back.

Sometimes you will find premade wasabi nuki sets at the shops. If not, ask for some to be made for you.

Nakameguro Onigily Cafe

Onigiri and Annin Dofu

Onigiri and Annin Dofu

The Nakameguro area is filled with many great restaurants, including my favorite pizzeria, Seirinkan. Just a short walk from Nakameguro station is Onigily Cafe. Onigiri is perhaps the quintessential comfort food in Japan. Rice stuffed with a savory filling that is often wrapped with nori. I almost didn’t go in as the spelling of onigiri with an l just seemed so wrong, but it was hot and I needed to take a break. From outside I could see the handmade onigiri and they looked to good to resist.

Onigily Cafe interior

Onigily Cafe interior

The interior is also inviting as it is brightly lit and there are a handful of tables and a counter at the window. I had the mentaiko and takana, a great combination of spicy pollack roe with pickled greens. The annin dōfu was the best I have had in Tokyo. I will go back just for the almond custard.

Onigily Cafe Take-Away

Onigily Cafe Take-Away

I was surprised that the onigiri that I was served had just a small piece of nori. But forgot all about that when I bit in. The rice was still warm and was lightly pressed, it was like a pillow.

This is a great spot for vegetarians as there is a good selection of vegetable-only onigiri including yukari (salted red shiso) natto, leek miso with shiso, kombu, umeboshi, soft-boiled egg, and salt. There is also a selection of vegetable side dishes including potato salad, tomato salad, pickled cucumbers, and turnips with kombu.

It was not surprising that there were many people coming for take-away. The prices range from 100 – 200 JPY with most averaging about 155 JPY, which is about the same as you would pay at a convenience store. But these are just so much better.

Onigily Cafe

Meguro-ku, Nakameguro 3-1-4 目黒区中目黒3-1-4

www.onigily.com/

Nihonbashi Soba Yudetaro 日本橋ゆで太郎

Yudetaro Summer Soba

Yudetaro Summer Soba

For the longest time I avoided the tachigui soba shops and other casual dining soba restaurants. Tachigui are restaurants without chairs. Diners order a bowl of noodles and stand and slurp quickly. Tachigui can be near train stations or even on the platforms. When I first lived in Japan in the late 80s I wouldn’t even part the curtains to go in.

But times have changed and if I need a quick meal I seek out these spots. Especially early in the mornings before I take clients to Tsukiji Market. In Nihonbashi on the back streets behind the Mandarin Oriental is a chain called Yudetaro. Taro is a popular boy’s name and it can also be part of a boy’s name like Kentaro. To boil in Japanese is yuderu, so the name Yudetaro is a fun name. Yudetaro is found throughout Japan, so it is a good spot to look for while traveling.

Seasonality is important in Japanese cuisine, even at fast food restaurants. The summer menu at Yudetaro caught my eye with tempura eggplant. I included some sansai, mountain vegetables like nameko mushrooms and ferns and also topped the bowl off with tenkasu. If you don’t know tenkasu, you are missing out. Tenkasu are the bits of tempura that fall off of the items you are deep-frying. At some tempura restaurants bags of tenkasu are given to diners. I take this home for soba, udon, or even as a crouton substitute for salads.

Yudetaro Entrance

Yudetaro Entrance

Yudetaro has chairs and tables. There is a vending machine so diners need to be able to figure out which buttons to push. If you are in luck there will be some plastic food samples in the front window or a menu with some photos. If not, do Russian Roulette with your meal, which some of our clients tell us they have done. If the staff are not too busy, someone may help you figure out what to order. When in doubt, ask them for their osusume, recommendation.

The breakfast menu is a bargain, starting at around 330 JPY and not going over 400 JPY. Lunch is usually only 500 – 600 JPY. There are plenty of optional toppings if you are hungry. Amazing when you consider this is cheaper than McDonald’s and better for you.

Yudetaro ゆで太郎

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Kabuto-cho 14-10 中央区日本橋兜町14-10

yudetaro.jp/menu.html

Akasaka Tsutsui Yoshoku 赤坂津つ井

Katsu Fry

Katsu Fry

Yōshoku, Western-style food modified to the Japanese palate, is comfort food to many Japanese. Yōshoku, written out in Japanese is 洋食, literally, Western food. Popular yōshoku dishes include croquettes, beef stew, and omuraisu, an omelet wrapped around ketchup-flavored rice.

Tsutsui is located on the back streets between Roppongi Itchome and Akasaka. I had walked by it many times and saw many well-dressed Japanese families going in. Yōshoku can be on the pricey side, but the lunch menu at Tsutsui is quite reasonable, about 1,500 JPY per lunch. We had a rice bowl topped with katsu, seafood and meat in bread crumbs and deep-fried. The hamba-gu, is like a meatloaf and comes with a cream sauce and vegetables.

Hamba-gu

Hamba-gu

 

If you want to try yōshoku, other popular shops around the city include chef Narisawa’s Toyoken in Akasaka, third-generation Taimeiken in Nihonbashi, Shiseido Parlour in Ginza, and Yoshikami in Asakusa. All of these are excellent shops.

At Tsutsui the waitresses are dressed in black French maid outfits with white aprons and push the meals out to the table on a rolling cart. I felt like I had stepped back in time. The spacious, dark interior is staffed with men in bow ties and black vests. There is a lovely walkway with a garden with stones that were sprinkled with water just before lunch service.

Tsutsui 津つ井

Minato-ku, Akasaka 2-22-24 港区赤坂2-22-24

www.akasakatsutsui.com/access.html

Koganei Kakigori Cafe Cula

Cafe Cula Kakigori

Cafe Cula Kakigori

Tokyo has just gone through the longest heat wave on history, eight days of temperatures over 35 degrees. One way to cool down in Japanese summers is with shaved ice, kakigōri. Look for the simple kanji sign 氷, usually written in a bright red kanji on a square blue and white flag.

We live out on the Chūo line and did not have the energy to head into the city. Cafe Cula in Koganei uses tennen (natural) ice. It is very delicate and melts quickly so you have to dig in. The sweet sauces are all made from scratch. I went with passionfruit and the tart and aromatic fruit was just what I needed. I am spoiled to have had such nice ice and am afraid others will be disappointing after this one.

Cafe Cula only has a handful of seats inside and the rest of the seating is outdoors under shade. It is open from 2-5 p.m. from mid-July to the end of August.

Cafe Cula

Koganei-shi, Nukui Minami-cho 1-25-4 小金井市貫井南町1-25-4

www.ristoranteosawa.com/pg95.html

twitter.com/kakigorikoganei

Some other shops for kakigori in the city:

http://foodsaketokyo.com/2011/07/29/digging-into-an-ice-cold-kakigori/

http://foodsaketokyo.com/2010/08/22/kakigori-shaved-ice-%E6%B0%B7/