Dakshin “Truly South Indian” Near Tokyo Station

Curry and naan at Dakshin Yaesu

Curry and naan at Dakshin Yaesu

The Kyobashi side of Tokyo Station outside of the Yaesu exit has many restaurants hidden away down narrow streets or in the basement of boring buildings. Dakshin is one of these spots that is worth seeking out. I only happened upon it as my regular Indian spots for dosa, Dhaba, had a long line out the door. I had come too late in the day, it was just 12 noon and I knew better. Dhaba was not so popular ten years ago. I headed towards Tokyo Station and saw the menu and sign for Dakshin on the street level. “Truly South Indian” caught my attention. I went down the stairs and Dakshin too had a line out the door, but I made a mental note to come back, and am glad that I did.

The shop opens at 11 a.m. and I came at about 11:15 a.m. expecting it to be quiet. Was surprised to see the shop already about 1/3 full, and not all the customers were Japanese. While there is dosa on the menu at Dakshin, everyone in the restaurant was eating naan so I followed their lead. I was seated at the counter facing the open kitchen where the naan oven is. I was given the last seat at the counter which happened to be right in front of the oven for baking naan. At first I was excited as it is always fun to see the naan being stretched out, slapped into the oven, only to be later plied out by a long steel tool. But when my neighbors left I asked if I could be reseated away from the oven as it was getting hot. The restaurant filled up quickly after I was seated and by the time I left there was a line out the door.

The three curries today were a mutton, lentil, and shrimp. Instead of the shrimp curry I tried a side dish that sounded like onion tempura, I wish I hadn’t. It is best to leave the deep-frying to the tempura masters. The naan was excellent and served hot out of the oven and the curries also did not seem to be tempered for the Japanese palate. The businessman next to me kept wiping the sweat off of his face with his handkerchief.

Dakshin

Chuo-ku, Yaesu 2-5-12, Prairie Bldg. B1 中央区八重洲2-5-12プレリービル B1F

Tsukiji Market’s Take no Shokudo 多け乃食堂

Take no Shokudo - yaki kamasu

Grilled barracuda at Take no Shokudo

It is said that there are 500 shops and restaurants at Tsukiji Market’s outer market. Finding a particular one can be a challenge. A friend had told me that I had to check out Take no Shokudo. “It is just down one of those narrow streets just before the stoplight”, he had advised. Problem is that there are three narrow streets. We snaked our way up and down and were relieved to find it, just as our search was coming to an end. The noren, cloth banner that marks the entrance, was pushed together so the kanji was hard to decipher, but we had arrived.

Sliding open the door we asked if there were seats available. The three tables were full but we could be seated at the counter, which we preferred so we could look into the open kitchen. A cutting board was filled with boiled potatoes, which was made into potato salad, a classic izakaya side dish.

The lunch menu included tuna sashimi, seafood fried as tempura or breaded with panko and deep-fried, called “furai” in japanese, grilled fish and arani, simmered fish heads. We asked what fish they recommended for grilling and were advised either the collar of salmon which was very fatty, or kamasu, barracuda. I ordered the kamasu (1,100 JPY) and was surprised at how bit it was. It comes with some grated daikon. Pour some soy sauce onto the daikon and eat with the grilled fish. Great garnish to the simple dish.

Takeno Shokudo - arani

Fish heads simmered in soy at Take no Shokudo

Shinji, the fishmonger, ordered the arani (1,300 JPY), which was four different types of fish heads simmered in an intense sweet soy broth. The fish heads included salmon, yellowtail, and two smaller fish. Eating this dish requires dexterity with your chopsticks and lots of sucking bits and pieces from the bones. Diners must also be very careful as there are many small bones in the dish so eat with caution.

Take no Shokudo menu

Take no Shokudo menu

The meals were rounded out with a small dish of pickled cabbage and carrots, rice, and miso soup made with clams. I hear this spot is a great spot for drinking at night as there are many small plates to be ordered, mostly made with Tsukiji seafood. A shokudō is a cafeteria and often serves up home-style dishes. The walls of the shop are lined with signs listing many seafood dishes. It would be great fun to carefully peruse the selections over a beer and order dish after dish. In order to survive in a restaurant like this you not only need to be able to read Japanese, you need to know about a wide variety of seasonal Japanese seafood. Oh the fun. :-)

Absolutely no English here, so come with a Japanese speaker. Take no Shokudo is not open for breakfast, just lunch and dinner.

Take no Shokudo

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 6-21-2

Gotta Get – Deep-fried Chicken Skin

Deep-fried chicken skin

Deep-fried chicken skin

God bless the person who thought about deep-frying chicken skin. These crunchy bits are seasoned with aonori, sea vegetable flakes, and salt. It is sold at one of my favorite depachika in Tokyo, at Shinjuku Takashimaya. The yakitori stall, Toriyoshi, is filled with skewered chicken parts that are grilled and seasoned with salt or a sweet soy-based sauce. There is also boneless fried chicken nuggets and chicken wings. But it is the cup of deep-fried chicken skin that I am addicted to.

Note that it is not always in stock. Don’t go right away when the shop opens at 10 a.m. I think it is put out around 11:00 a.m. or even later. But, don’t go too late in the day as it often sells out. A big cup of chicken skin sells for about 350 JPY. The perfect snack for an ice cold beer, saké, or shochu on the rocks, if it lasts until you get home. I often dip into the cup on the train ride home and it often disappears in no time.

Toriyoshi at Shinjuku Takashimaya

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-2, B1

Closest station is JR Shinjuku Shin-Minamiguchi (New South Exit)

 

Deep-Fried Oysters at Tsukiji Market’s Odayasu

Deep-fried oysters at Tsukiji Odayasu

Deep-fried oysters at Tsukiji Odayasu

“Where is your oldest son?”, queried the waitress to the fishmonger at the next table. “He is back at the shop following up on some last-minute orders”, said the older man in rubber knee-high boots. While tourists line up at sushi restaurants next door, my favorite spots at Tsukiji Market are where the fishmongers go. Odayasu is one of these shops. I am the only non-Tsukiji worker. It’s obvious as everyone else is wearing the fishmonger’s outfit of dark blue pants and a vest covered with pockets.

The deep-fried oysters are a popular dish at Odayasu. Six juicy oysters breaded in panko and deep-fried until golden brown. The classic accompaniment is julienned cabbage and tartar sauce. I asked for a small serving of rice as the usual portion would be too much.

Odayasu is a tonkatsu restaurant, so many of items are breaded and deep-fried. The menu also includes seafood meuniere, sashimi, and salmon sautéed in butter.

Kaki Fry - Deep-Fried Oysters

Kaki Fry – Deep-Fried Oysters

Another look at the oysters.

The signature near the kitchen is Hideki Matsui’s. :-)

Odayasu 小田保

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #6

4 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Dosa at Kyobashi Dhaba

Dosa by Dhaba

Masala Dosa by Dhaba

I remember ten years when I first had a dosa at Dhaba in Kyobashi. I was in heaven. It immediately brought me back to the first dosa I had in Singapore a decade before. I couldn’t believe that this was in Tokyo and that I didn’t know about it. Luckily I was working at Takashimaya in Nihonbashi and would come here for lunch from time to time. A decade ago I could usually walk in and get a seat right away. On a recent lunch I was surprised to see a line out the front door.

Dhaba India is a sweet spot for Southern Indian in Kyobashi, a very short walk from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu exit. Many of the diners are eating dosa, and the naan is great, but I come here for the dosa. Breaking up the crispy dosa shell is great fun, until it comes to an end. The curry doesn’t seem to be modified for the Japanese palate. The Masala Dosa here at lunch is 1,400 JPY.

It’s a bustling restaurant, filled with a mix of area salarymen and office ladies. Try and avoid the noon lunch rush.

The only thing I find strange about this shop is that they do not let diners look at their iPads during the meal. I could snap a quick photo of my lunch, but was asked to put it away. I was told that there was a sign on the outside of the restaurant, which there was, about this ban on electronics. I guess this is a good thing and a habit we all should be doing.

Dhaba India

Chuo-ku, Yaesu 2-7-9, Sagami Building

 

Tenfufan’s Bottomless Bowl of Dumplings 天府舫

Suigyoza at Tenfufan

Suigyoza at Tenfufan

The heat and humidity is starting to become unbearable in Tokyo. One way to survive is to eat hot and spicy food as it induces sweat which helps cool you down. I was meeting a Japanese girlfriend for lunch in Shinjuku and we agreed on Shisen cuisine. Tenfufan in Nishi-Shinjuku has been on my radar for a while because it has an all-you-can-eat suigyōza (boiled dumplings) offer with its set lunch, a bargain as most lunches are under 1,000 JPY.

An online website (not the restaurant’s) said the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. We showed up at 11:15 a.m. and were surprised to see a sign on the outside of the shop that said lunch starts at 11:30 a.m. I pushed open the door and the kind owner said that they do not open until 11:30 a.m. but as it was so hot outside that we could be seated early. A pot of iced tea and two cups were set on the table and we started to peruse the menu.

The owner said that all set lunches come with the boiled dumplings. He pointed to a small table set off to the side and said that once service starts the dumplings would be there. “Self-service” he added. There is something about growing up in America, at least in the Midwest, that inspires me at a buffet to dig into as much as I can. I was so surprised to see the tables of salarymen near us taking only a few dumplings and not going back for seconds. I stopped after my second visit, but I am sure that had I gone with an American we would have gone back for thirds. The dumplings are stuffed with meat, the skins seem to be made from scratch, and the spicy dipping sauce hits the spot. Don’t bother with the soy-seasoned eggs that are also on the buffet.

Shirunashi Tantanmen at Tenfufan

Shirunashi Tantanmen at Tenfufan

The shiru-nashi tan tan men is one of their signature dishes, along with the suigyōza. Shiru-nashi means without soup. Underneath the ramen noodles were some peanuts and a hot sauce that comes and catches you by surprise after the fact. It’s not too spicy and is rich in umami. The side dishes included a bland fried rice, an unmemorable egg-drop soup, and some bean sprouts with carrots. But who cares when the dumplings and ramen were exactly what we had come for, spicy, delicious, and rich in umami.

Shortly before noon the shop was filled. Mostly salarymen who must be working in the area as the shop is on a side street. When we left there was a line out the door. 80% of the diners were having either this dish or the mabo dofu. This meal came to 880 JPY, including the dumplings. I will be back.

Tenfufan 天府舫

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 7-4-9

 

Tokyo Ramen Street’s Rokurinsha Tsukemen 六厘舎

Tokyo Ramen Street

Tokyo Ramen Street – Rokurinsha Tsukemen

Rokurinsha’s tonkotsu tsukemen is one of the city’s most sought after bowl of ramen. Tsukemen is an interesting way to eat ramen if you are not used to dipping noodles in a broth. In Japan we often eat soba, udon or sōmen with a smokey soy dipping sauce, so the concept is not too wild. Unlike the traditional bowl of ramen where the noodles and savory broth are together, here they are separate. Grab a few noodles with your chopsticks, dip in the broth, and slurp away. There is a spoon if you want more of the broth.

Tokyo Ramen Street in the basement of Tokyo Station has eight ramen shops all lined up next to each other. Note that the basement shopping area of Tokyo Station is massive. Be sure to head to the Yaesu side of Tokyo Station. There is a map in English if you click below on Tokyo Ramen Street in the address section. I recommend it as a place to go to for ramen as you do have the option of checking out what the other shops offer and the location can not be beat. Most travelers in Tokyo will pass through Tokyo Station at some point. However, most people who come here want to join the line of customers waiting for a seat at Rokurinsha, which is by far the most popular ramen shop. The line is usually filled up with salarymen in white shirts and ties. But the same could be said for many restaurants in Tokyo Station as there are many train lines going through this station and the financial district is near here.

Most likely you will want to order the ajitama-tsukemen for 950 JPY, which includes all of the basics as shown above, including the seasoned egg (ajitama). The umami-rich broth is tonkotsu, based on pork bones, and this is a meaty, in-your-face soup. As you can see, the toppings include a soy-marinated hard-boiled egg, a thin sliced of pink and white naruto fish cake, toasted nori, julienned leeks, and some pork pork belly. There were extra packets of powdered katsuobushi, smoked skipjack tuna, but the dish had enough flavor it did not need any more help. For some it may be too complex, the meaty broth and the smokey fish powder. The thick, straight noodles seem perfect for this dense broth. What some may not care for is the cold noodles being dipped into the hot broth. The temperature of the broth drops quickly and the fatty soup is not as enticing as when it is hot. Regardless, it is very popular and it’s rare that there is not a line to get in here, even first thing in the morning when it opens at 7:30 a.m.

Rokurinsha at Tokyo Ramen Street

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Eki Ichibangai B1

While here,  be sure to pick up the regional flavored Kit Kats at the shop across the aisle. Details in this Metropolis article.

Takashimaya Patissieria Sweets Counter

Shinjuku Takashimaya

Takashimaya Patissieria

If you have a sweet tooth be sure to visit Shinjuku Takashimaya’s Patissieria in the depachika. The concept is brilliant, over a hundred signature sweets from patisseries throughout Tokyo all displayed together. Carefully peruse the sweets and upon selecting one, or two if you like, take a seat at the counter and order a coffee and enjoy.

Shinjuku Takashimaya

Takashimaya Patissieria

Even on days when I don’t have time to sit down, I do try and glance through the display case as the offerings are constantly changing. As can be expected, aside from the classics, many are influenced by the seasonal ingredients.

Takashimaya Patissieria Mont Blanc

Takashimaya Patissieria

My view from the counter with a Mont Blanc. Shinjuku Takashimaya is located just outside of Shinjuku JR Station. Take the Shin-Minami-Guchi, New South Exit, take a left and you will walk into Takashimaya in one minute. Follow the escalators down to the basement.

Takashimaya Patissieria

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-2, Shinjuku Takashimaya

Village Vanguard Burgers in Kichijoji

Village Vanguard in Kichijoji

Village Vanguard Double Cheeseburger

Walking into Village Voice in Kichijoji I felt like I was up North in Minnesota. The beer signs lining the wood-paneled walls, the beer on tap, and the smell of burgers and fries. It’s a popular spot and we came right after they opened for lunch. Within about fifteen minutes it was packed and then a line started out the front door.

Small bites like chips and avocado or onion rings come out very quickly. The burger follows right after. The burgers are more like one will find at a diner, thin and cooked through. Toppings are generous and it’s a satisfying meal. The cheese are gooey slices, Velveeta perhaps? And even the bun has sesame seeds on it. Small things, but something one would appreciate if they spent anytime eating burgers in the USA.  The only downside would be making a special trip here to find a long line. So time your visit wisely, either come early or late, but not at prime meal times.

Village Vanguard in Kichijoji

Village Vanguard Interior

The red bar stools facing the kitchen are a nod to Americana. The other diners this day were all Japanese, many of them girls digging into big burgers with glee. There are many burger shops in Tokyo that are trying to feel like America, this is one spot that has nailed the interior, music, and cuisine.

 

Village Vanguard

Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Honcho 2-10-1 TY Bldg. 2F

武蔵野市吉祥寺本町2-20-1 TYビル2F

 

Chicken and Waffles in Ginza – CLOSED

Image

So sad to report that this sweet little spot in Ginza is closed now. I hope they open up in a different part of town like Harajuku or Shibuya. Updated September 30, 2014. (Thanks to a twitter follower for letting me know about this.)

The stark contrast of the high-end fashion stores in Ginza to the hip interior of Soul Snacks is welcoming. The second floor café at Soul Snacks has one of my favorite interiors in this part of town. Comfortable couches, vintage artwork on the walls, and Ebony magazines from the 70’s immediately bring me back to America. Young Michael Jackson in the background also helps. I already want to go back to just chill out in the cool environment. The owner, Ralph Rolle, opened Soul Snacks Cookie Company in NYC in 1996. Rolle, formerly a drummer, hence the great soundtrack.

Soul Snacks was put on my radar by Kamasami Kong and a YouTube video of this new shop on Ginza’s Chocolate Street. The first floor is a cookie shop, but I came for the chicken and waffles (1,200 JPY). Place your order and pay on the first floor and wait for it on the second floor café. The fried chicken is unlike anything we find in Tokyo. It had a nice kick to it, perhaps a celery salt? Whatever it is, it is good. Too bad the chicken are drumettes and not true drumsticks, as they are small and go down quickly. The waffle is nice and comes with an American-sized portions of butter and maple syrup.

It makes sense that the cookie shop is on Ginza’s famed Chocolate Street as many shoppers in this district are looking for sweets. I will be curious to see how many people are ordering the chicken and waffles as it is a dish more suited to the young crowd in Harajuku or Shibuya. I will go back someday for the cookies, but this was such a lovely meal that ended on a sweet note I wasn’t tempted by the variety of cookies. I will, without a doubt, be back to take in the cool space and music in the cafe.

Soul Snacks (opened May 2014)

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-5-9, OZIO Building

03-6264-1527