World’s Greatest Wine Festival

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My dear friend Yamada-san

September 11, 2001 was a day that changed my life. I had worked as a cellar rat at Windows on the World. A friend of mine, who also started out with me working in the wine cellar, had just been promoted at WOW. We had a wine class together on September 10th at WOW. He had said that some of our friends, who also worked at WOW, were out of town that week for a wedding. Steve told me that he was placing orders for wine and was now working the day shift. He had come to wine late in life but seemed to have found his niche.

But the next morning everything changed. I was downtown NYC in Soho and knew immediately that Steve was in the towers. I knew the drill for what to do if there was an emergency or a terrorist attack. Because we had training before we could start working. It was a known fact that the WTC was a target for future attacks.

The first days and weeks after the Twin Towers fell down are all a blur. But eventually I decided that the only thing that mattered for me was my family and friends. Most of my family is in Japan and I have a lot of friends in Japan as well. A day and a year later, on September 12, 2002, I moved back to Japan to start a new chapter in my life. I landed in a beautiful place called Coco Farm and Winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi. A small city an hour and a bit north of Tokyo. I could live and work at the winery for three months. It was a magical time in my life, and well needed after 9/11. Each year there is a Harvest Festival, the third weekend in November.

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The winery is staffed with developmentally disabled individuals who live on the grounds. It is their pure hearts that makes this a special place for everyone who comes to visit. On the weekend of the Harvest Festival some of them dress up for the day. Can you see the angel wings?

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They take turns wearing a large wine bottle costume.

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While others dress up as clowns. Live music is performed and many of the students dance freely around the grounds.

There are many food stations and everyone coming in gets a bottle of wine, or if you prefer, a bottle of grape juice. Visitors bring along a picnic blanket and sit on the steep hills of the vineyard.

The 2013 Harvest Festival is November 16 and 17. Entrance is 3,000 JPY. If you are coming from Tokyo, take the train to Ashikaga, Tochigi. But be warned, the lines for the shuttle bus from Ashikaga station to the winery can be very long. Taxi lines also long. So, go early!

If you can’t make it this weekend, then think about coming on another day. The winery is open all-year long with a short holiday over New Year’s. There is a café and a tasting room. My favorite wines here include a Kerner and the Coco Rose. The winery makes everything from sparkling to a dessert wine. They have a big portfolio of wines to choose from.

I still remember fondly my time there. I didn’t know if the students were familiar with what happened outside of the winery, or even outside of Japan. I was talking with one of the students and when I told him I had come from New York City, he asked abpit 9/11 right away and expressed his sympathy for New Yorkers. It is the big hearts and sincerity of these students that I hope you can see if you visit. If you go, tell them that Yukari sent you.

CNN did a lovely video on the students at the winery.

The 2013 Harvest Festival is November 16 and 17. Entrance is 3,000 JPY.

Coco Farm and Winery

Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Tajima 611

Phone: 0284-42-1194

ABC Kitchen’s Chef Dan Kluger at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

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Toast, ricotta cheese, and kabocha puree. It doesn’t get much more simple than this, yet the combination of flavors and contrast of textures was blissful. I was satisfied and ready to call it an evening as it was so delicious. The toast is seasoned with olive oil and then pan-fried. This is exactly what I love about grilled cheese sandwiches, the crispy crust and the chewy dough. Handmade ricotta and a sweet yet slightly spicy kabocha topping makes this a homerun dish. I will try and recreate this tomorrow. I am sure that the olive oil pan-fried toast will become a regular part of our repertoire.

Chef Dan Kluger, guest cheffing at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, said that it is so popular back in NYC at ABC Kitchen that some people request it for dessert. He said that the recipe is in the NY Times, NY magazine, and Bon Appetit magazine. It is also on the Today Show website and other places. Suddenly I feel as though I was a bear who has hibernated through a season of culinary greatness.

In an interview with Metropolis magazine, Kluger says that among his favorite cookbooks is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Simple Cuisine. And some of the basic concepts that Jean-Georges uses are reflected in Kluger’s dishes.

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The mushroom pizza was just such a dish. A whole-wheat crust with shiitake, shimeji, maitake, and eringi mushrooms topped with an egg. The produce shines and Kluger brings it together smartly. These two dishes are available at the New York Bar for the next two nights.

In the main dining room, at the New York Grill, expect more layered dishes, yet still very simple. There are bursts of flavors and hints of chili, but never overpowering a dish. The grilled broccoli salad is also a technique I am going to try and do at home.

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It has been fun as a chef observing Kluger and his team prepare for this event through his visits to Tsukiji and Ohta Markets documented on the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s facebook page. It’s been even more thrilling to see the dishes come to life using ingredients like tilefish (amadai) and the grapes.

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The wine pairings are fun as many of the wines are hand crafted and made in small batches like the spicy and fruity Forlorn Hope Les Deux Mathieux.

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ABC Kitchen is serving up a spicy ginger margarita and refreshing lemonade cocktail at the New York Bar along with that life-changing toast and mushroom pizza. There is a tasting course, or you can order dishes a la carte, at the New York Grill. Kluger and his team is only in town for two more nights.

I am hoping to recreate ABC Kitchen in my home kitchen tomorrow with the kabocha toast. Arigato for the inspiration.

Updated October 11, 2013:

I woke up thinking about the kabocha toast. What a revelation! Kudos chef Kluger.

New York Grill & Bar

Park Hyatt Tokyo, 52nd Floor

03-5322-1234

The Japanese Cronut

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With so many amazing bakeries in Tokyo I was very hopeful when I heard that there was a copycat Cronut in Tokyo. The famed croissant/doughnut of New York City’s Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. The bakery was already on my radar before the Cronut craze as a friend of mine had raved about Dominique’s bakery.

The Tokyo copycat version is made by a Shizuoka-based bakery called Banderole. Banderole operates many small shops in the suburbs of Tokyo. The one closest to our home is a small retail shop called Bread Basket that is located in a supermarket called Ito Yokado.

Here are the rich mattcha and the salted caramel New York croissant doughnut (as it is called on its website).

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How was it? Disappointing. Usually if something isn’t good I don’t bother to write about it. However, with the hype over the original Cronut, I have to save readers a trip to the suburbs. How could the Japanese, who are so good at imitating and improving, drop the ball on this one?

These were purchased first thing in the morning after the store had opened. The Cronut at Ansel’s bakery goes for $5.00 USD. The Japanese version goes for 160 JPY, or less than $2.00 USD. So, right there you can imagine that cheaper ingredients were used. While I haven’t had a real Cronut, I can only imagine that Ansel is using real butter. I don’t think an ounce of butter was used in making the Japanese one. The croissant part itself was not flakey but heavy and had the taste of pre-packaged cheap pastries that are sold at convenience stores, not at authentic bakeries. The flavored icings were also not at all pleasant.

I can only hope that someone else in Japan takes the challenge and tries to create a better version of the cronut.

Monsieur Ansel – please come and open a bakery in Tokyo!

Park Brewery at Park Hyatt Tokyo

 

 

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Now that the rainy season has ended summer is officially here. Temperatures are soaring and while many are cooling down at beer gardens on department store rooftops, a great all-you-can-drink craft beer offer is at the Deli in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The Deli has been doing this summer only special for five summers. Last year the food served with the craft beer was Mexican, this year it’s German.

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The hotel has soft pretzels made specially for this promotion. The pretzel is delicious and is a big size, perfect for nibbling on.

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The food that is served is a generous serving of German meats of Weiswurst white sausage, Bierwurst, Paprika Lyoner, and a pork belly Rouladen. There is a sweet mustard as well as a great sauce called obazda. I spoke with the Executive Sous Chef, Yoneda-san, who said that the traditional Bavarian sauce is made with Camembert cheese. It’s something I will try to make at home.

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Saito-san, in this photo, and I used to work at the New York Grill and Bar together. If you go, tell him Yukari sent you. He’ll look after you.

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There are two beers on the menu, both made by Sankt Gallen Brewery in Kanagawa. The aromatic and refreshing Park Brewery Ale is served each summer. The second beer changes each summer. The second beer this summer is a Citrus Amber Ale is made with an orange-like citron called shiranui. It’s slightly sweet at first but has a light bitter finish. A nice contrast to the house Park Brewery Ale.

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Here is the menu. The food comes out right away and is not replenished. It’s a generous serving of food, but if you do get hungry, you could always order something from the Deli’s menu which includes sandwiches, salads, and other small bites.

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The indoor seating fills up quickly with this event. There is also a standing area indoors.

DSCN6518Alternatively, grab a table outside in true Japanese beer garden style.

Having been to many different all-you-can-drink beer promotions in Tokyo, I can say that this is one of the best. Excellent quality beer and a smart menu that pairs perfectly with the beer. It’s worth a journey to Shinjuku for this event.

The Deli at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2, 1st floor

6 to 8 p.m. last order at 7 p.m.

Through September 16th.

*Note, it’s usually a nice walk to the hotel from Shinjuku station. However, with the heat, I suggest taking the free hotel shuttle from Shinjuku Station’s Nishi Guchi. Check the shuttle schedule here.

Sepia Chicago at Park Hyatt Tokyo

It’s always nice to go home. Ten years ago, I left New York City to pursue a career in food and wine in Tokyo my first job was as the sommelier at the New York Grill and Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It’s an amazing hotel and one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo. The views and service and food are some of the best in this metropolis known for its food and service. The views from the 360-degrees views from the 52nd floor are fabulous and if the skies are clear you can see Mount Fuji. The views are so great, as we were walking in, I spotted a few guests at the windows of the Bar with a cocktail in one hand and a camera in the other trying to capture the moment.

The Park Hyatt hosts chefs for guest residencies and this week Tokyo is lucky to have chef Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia Chicago. It is also a homecoming for Sepia co-owner Emmanuel Nony who was the food and beverage director at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in the late 90’s. He said tonight that he hasn’t been back to Tokyo in thirteen years and he looked thrilled to be back home and was at ease in his old workplace. Chef Andrew Zimmerman was also in Tokyo in 1989, but as a musician with a band. Now he returns as an artist, having exchanged his musical equipment for chef’s knives.

A big surprise tonight, especially as a former sommelier at the restaurant, was to see that Sepia Chicago worked with the Park Hyatt Tokyo to bring in some great California wines to pair with the food. The wines are making their first appearance in Tokyo, and I believe in Asia.

The New York Grill and Bar is serving the special Sepia Chicago menu tonight through Saturday, July 13th.

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I suggest if possible, come to the New York Grill (or Bar) before sun sets as it is a treat to watch the lights come up on the city below you. The house champagne is Louis Roederer, perfect for the first course.
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Foie Gras Royale – with a slightly sweet apricot and gewurztraminer jelly garnished with marcona almonds and brioche. Anyone familiar with Louis Roederer would understand how lovely this pairing is with the nuts, bread and foie gras.

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There is something relaxing about having dinner and drinks while the city is abuzz below.

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The Scholium Project “Midan Al-Tahir” White Wine, Fairfield 2011 is a blend of verdelho, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and gewurztraminer. A unique collection of grapes that is aromatic and with a nice acidity to start the evening off.
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Growing up in Minnesota I grew up eating a lot of corn. This amazing agnolotti was stuffed with a crazy, sweet and soft corn cream, with truffles, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Corn has just come to market in Tokyo so exciting to see how this Chicago chef (also a Midwest state as Minnesota is) used Japanese corn.

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Matthiason White Wine, Napa Valley, 2010 of sauvignon blanc, ribolla gialla, semillon, and tocai fruliano. Many Italian grapes do well in California as we see in this lovely wine.

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Chef Zimmerman has obviously been to Tsukiji Market since he arrived in Tokyo. Here we see black sole, shrimp, asari, and I believe tsubugai. Also, the petit grapes are umi budō, sea grapes from Okinawa.

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I loved how the staff poured in a dark green sauce made from spinach, basil, and some herbs.

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The completed dish.
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As night falls upon Tokyo the room softly lights up.
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and the city glistens below.9

Forlorn Hope “San Hercurmer delle Frecce” Barbera, Amador County 2011. Barbera is one of my fallback Italian wines when going out as it always delivers. Having spent some summers in California for work on my days off I would explore wine country. Amador County has some great wineries off the beaten path and this is just one of those treasures.

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Again Japan jumped out on this dish with the grilled Sendai kuroge wagyū sirloin, roasted maitake, and gobō chip. The acidity and fruitiness of the barbera stood up to the rich wagyū steak.

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Novy Family Wines Viognier Late Harvest, Russian River Valley. The cool climate of the Russian River Valley gives this wine an uplifting acidity.

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When I saw carrot cake on the menu I immediately thought of a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. And here is the brilliance of chef Zimmerman on a plate. The carrot cake is simply carrots braised in brown butter. The ice cream was made with cream cheese and had the flavor of carrot cake. I hope Zimmerman can sell this recipe to Haagen-Dazs and that it is sold throughout the world. The world would be a much happier place if everyone could indulge in this ice cream.

Emmanuel Nony had said that this was a dish that Zimmerman made when he was on Iron Chef America last year. He beat Iron Chef Marc Forgione in the challenge cream cheese.
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There is a chocolate dessert if you must…

Now I have a reason to drive to Chicago from Minnesota on my next visit home. Chef Zimmerman also graduated from the French Culinary Institute, a year ahead of me. Here is an interview with Zimmerman for Metropolis magazine. It’s interesting to see his favorite cookbooks and what Japanese ingredients he uses back in Chicago.

If you are in Tokyo this week, treat yourself and someone you are close to, with an evening at the New York Grill.

Five-course dinner with Chef Andrew Zimmerman from Sepia Chicago at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, ¥19,000.

Tel: 03-5323-3458 for reservations.

Sepia Chicago website

Asahi Super Dry Extra Gold Bar – Summer Only Bar

As summer is approaching Japan’s big beer companies are shaking things up with new bars and products.

Asahi Super Dry Extra Gold Bar Shinjuku opened today and will run through September 30th. It is located just outside of Shinjuku Station’s Nishi Guchi exit at Concourse MB on the 1st floor. It’s a standing bar only. One of the specialties the bar is promoting is a beer cocktail made with lemon called Black Lemon. There is also a bar in Ginza (Ginza 2-6-4) also through September 30th.

 

 

Hanami 101

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Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

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Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

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Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

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Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.

New Shops in Tokyo

Tokyo has some unique cafés where customers can play with cats, dogs, and rabbits. I was surprised to hear that there is a bird cafés, yes, more than one. There is a Falconer’s Café in Mitaka and the Tori ga Iru Café in Kiba (Koto-ku, Kiba 2-6-7) where you can see an owl, hawk, parrot, or parakeet.

Qusca in Akasaka is a ladies only café for sleeping and relaxing in Akasaka (Akasaka 2-14-3, Sakaeya Shimizu Bldg. 2F). Check out their website. The shop opened in December of 2012. It offers many services besides the napping room (complete with beds and aromatherapy). It is also a place to recharge. There are power outlets to recharge your laptop, a complimentary buffet of light snacks and drinks, free wifi, a make-up space with cosmetics and hair accessories, and the café also serves light meals (added cost for the meals). The pricing is simply 150 yen for every ten minutes.

Now through May 12th at Tokyo Station’s Ichibangai Okashi Land is Happy Turn‘s sembei shop (Tokyo Station, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Ichibangai B1, . Happy Turn is a rice cracker made by Kameda. Here you can try new flavors like strawberry, mattcha, camembert cheese, and maple.

Amour du Chocolat at Takashimaya

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Kyushu Shochu Chocolates

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Junmai Ginjo Saké and Uméshu Chocolates

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Tengumai Saké with Tsujiguchi’s Nama Chocolate

* all photos are from the Takashimaya website

If you are traveling to Tokyo between now and February 14th, be sure to stop by a department store to check out all of the chocolates that are for sale. Valentine’s Day in Japan is done like nowhere else in the world. Chocolate is given from women to the men in their lives. Not only to your boyfriend or partner, but to colleagues at work, family members, and good friends.

This being Japan, gift-giving is not a one-way street. Men return the favor to the women in their lives a month later on March 14th, White Day. However, the okaeshi, or return gift, is typically white chocolate. There is a good reason for that. No re-gifting. Also, it was interesting for me to see that on White Day, many of the older men who were returning gifts often bought much nicer presents, such as wine.

Working at Takashimaya for two years I was able to observe the retail side of this tradition. First of all, my colleagues were surprised to hear that it is only in Japan that this is done. Most of them would laugh at themselves and say how brilliant the chocolate companies are to sell so much chocolate during a holiday that isn’t even Japanese.

Most department stores attract customers to their stores by offering unique chocolates that are only available at their shop. Each year the offerings vary as do the chocolatiers who are invited to create special boxes of chocolates.

This year, Takashimaya’s offerings include chocolates from Japanese chefs like Sadaharu Aoki, who currently has a great program on NHK on making French pastries at home. Of course, world-famous chefs like Pierre Herme, Michel Chaudun, and Pierre Marcolini.

I am always attracted to any that involve any type of alcohol like the three in the photos above. Most of these unique sweets are only available this time of year. And, it is no secret that some of the chocolates that are sold this time of year is by women buying for themselves.

Department stores will hold these chocolate fairs usually the first two weeks in February. If you are near any department store, stop by the concierge on the first floor to inquire into the chocolate events. Most often they are held on the special event floor, but some are held in the depachika as well. Nihonbashi Takashimaya starts on Saturday, February 2nd. Shinjuku Takashimaya starts on Friday, February 1.