Ginza Lunch – Hachidaime Gihey 銀座米料亭 八代目儀兵衛

 

Hachidaime lunch

Hachidaime lunch

At home we cook our rice in a donabe (ceramic pot). It is much faster to cook the rice in the donabe than it is in a rice cooker. Better yet, if you can cook it properly, the donabe will give you a nice okoge, charred crust. A Kyoto restaurant that specializes in rice that has a small restaurant in Ginza, which is a lovely spot for lunch. Here is a standard set lunch (about 2,500 JPY) that includes sashimi, tempura, yuba, and teriyaki Spanish mackerel as some of the dishes.

Hachidaime vegetarian

Hachidaime vegetarian

The vegetarian lunch (about 1,500 JPY) is a delight which included nama fu (wheat gluten), tempura, and tofu. Both lunches included roasted nori, salted kombu, pickles, miso soup (which is made with katsuo so not vegetarian). Both also included chirimen sansho (sardines with sansho berries), so also not vegetarian. But, if you are vegetarian you would be satisfied with the rest of the meal.

Hachidaime okoge

Hachidaime okoge

The rice has a lovely texture, and is all-you-can-eat. Here is the lovely okoge crust that is so treasured in Japan.

Hachidaime exterior

Hachidaime exterior

The Ginza restaurant is small. Just a handful of tables and it is a popular shop. We saw many diners turned away.

On our way out the staff called out the traditional Kyoto thank-you, okini.

 

Ginza Kome Ryotei Hachidaime Gihey 銀座米料亭 八代目儀兵衛

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-4-15

中央区銀座5-4-15

03-6280-6383

Closed Wednesday

http://www.hachidaime.co.jp/ginza/

You can see the lunch and dinner photos with prices here:

http://www.hachidaime.co.jp/ginza/menu/

Sukiyabashi Jiro and Masuhiro Yamamoto

Sukiyabashi Jiro and Masuhiro Yamamoto

Sukiyabashi Jiro and Masuhiro Yamamoto

Jiro Ono, master chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro recently celebrated his 89th birthday. Yesterday it was announced that the Japanese government is awarding him with a special honor for his contributions and hard work as a sushi craftsman. Today there was a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan and here are just some of the juicy bits. In attendance was food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto, Jiro Ono, and his eldest son, Yoshikazu Ono.

Jiro started working in a kitchen at the age of eight, so he has been in this craft for 81 years. Yamamoto said that Jiro is still far from retiring.

Jiro was awarded a distinction, similar to a Living National Treasure, when he was 80-years old. This new award is not usually given to individuals but to groups, so this new award is very unique.

During the introductions the interpreter said Sukiyaki Jiro (instead of Sukiyabashi Jiro) to which Yamamoto politely corrected her and mentioned that there is in fact a person who is called Sukiyaki Jiro. :-)

Yamamoto-san said that he believes that Sukiyabashi Jiro is the cleanest restaurant in the world. He went on to say that Jiro says 50% cooking and 50% cleaning.

At Sukiyabashi Jiro Yoshikazu will cut the seafood and Jiro will form the sushi in his hands. This is how it is done now.

Regarding standing all day for work, Jiro said that since he started working in a kitchen from the age of 8 he was too busy to do his homework so at school he was constantly being made to stand in the hallway, so he’s used to standing all day.

The movie, Dreams of Sushi, had a big influence for Jiro. That before the movie he was famous in Japan, but since the movie he moved into a cult-like status.

About 70% of the diners at Sukiyabashi Jiro are foreigners, so for some Japanese dining there they say that it doesn’t feel like they are in Japan.

Sukiyabashi Jiro

Masuhiro Yamamoto, Jiro Ono, and Yoshikazu Ono

Jiro believes that part of truly enjoying sushi comes from eating it properly. For this reason, he teamed up with Yamamoto to write a book, Jiro Gastronomy. There is a section in the book that describes how to properly eat sushi.

Jiro is an innovator. For example, Yamamoto said that in the past shrimp was boiled in the morning and then served to the customer later in the day, but that Jiro will wait until the customer has arrived until boiling it. Yamamoto also used the example that 30 years ago sushi courses usually started off with tuna, but that Jiro started serving white fish like flounder or sole before moving onto tuna.

Very interesting fact-checking on President Obama dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The restaurant opened for Obama and Abe only after the regular customers finished their meals, so no customers were told they had to give up their reservations.

The left-handed Obama is very good at using chopsticks.

Obama ate all of the omakase sushi course. Some rumors were saying that Obama had only eaten a few pieces, but this is not true.

Jiro Gastronomy

Masuhiro Yamamoto contributed to Foodie Top 100 and to Jiro Gastronomy

These are two books that were given out to journalists at the press conference. I will include these in a blogpost so stay tuned.

Chicken and Waffles in Ginza – CLOSED

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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

Hanamaru Summer Udon Salad

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It’s that time of year again. The weather is warming up and restaurants are starting their summer menu. Japanese restaurants, even fast food chain restaurants, offer menus that change throughout the year. This time of year many restaurants offer lighter fare, often featuring salad greens and generous vegetables. Each year I look forward to the summer salad at Hanamaru Udon, a chain of udon restaurants, with locations throughout Tokyo.

This year’s summer salad udon offers a full day’s of vegetables served over udon noodles for the bargain price of 500 JPY (about $5). The udon noodles are cooked and then quickly chilled in ice water and then topped with lettuce, carrots, daikon, deep-fried kabocha squash, okra, and some boiled chicken. Diners are offered the choice of a dressing, either creamy sesame or ginger. Here is a close-up photo on the company’s website. The other noodle bowls here are great, but the salad udon dish is one that I go back to often, especially in hot Japanese summers.

Hanamaru Udon restaurants are great for a quick meal. We went recently on a weekend and the shop was filled with families and school kids (both high school and college). If you are looking for a healthful meal and are on a budget, or are just craving some vegetables, check out Hanamaru Udon. The shop’s logo is an orange flower.

There is a shop in Ginza at Ginza 3-10-9, Kyodo Bldg. B1, and shops throughout the city.

Japanese Kissaten – Ginza Tsubakiya

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Some twenty years ago friends brought me to this coffee shop in Ginza. It was my first time in one of these classic kissaten 喫茶店 (coffee shop). I had no idea that such places existed. It felt as if we had stepped back in time. The coffee was (and still is) expensive, but one could order exquisite cakes or sandwiches, and sit there for as long as we wanted. Tsubakiya is an old-school kissaten in the heart of Ginza, perfect for some quiet solo time or for meeting friends.

Recently a friend was visiting from overseas and we decided to meet for coffee. Of course there are great spots in the city, like Omotesando Koffee or Turret Coffee, but not all are ideal for lingering over conversation. So I returned to Tsubakiya, and nothing seems to have changed.

Tsubakiya sits on the corner, just a block off of the main Chuo Dori. The coffee shop is on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building. The 3rd floor is non-smoking, which is good to know as some of these older shops can be filled with smokers. There is a stairwell that leads up to the shop from the street level. The dark interior is a nod to the early 20th century Taisho era (1912-1926). Waitresses are in black dresses with white aprons and completed with a frilly white cap. A cup of coffee starts at 1,000 JPY, and I believe refills are for about 300 JPY. The coffee is made with a siphon and the cup I had was very smooth. A great spot if you are looking for a quiet cup of coffee in Ginza. It opens at 10 a.m., another reason why we chose this spot as other coffee shops don’t open until 11 a.m.

Tsubakiya is part of Towa Foods and has a few shops throughout the city.

Ginza Tsubakiya

Chuo-ku, Ginza 7-7-11, Sugawara Denki Bldg. 2F and 3F

03-3572-4949

Best Steak in Tokyo – Dons de la Nature

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The assignment came from my boss in London, to seek out and eat the best steak in Tokyo. Tough assignment from Chowzter, but Shinji and I were up to the challenge. We were surprised when we called Dons de la Nature and got in within a few days. Seems that this restaurant is not yet on everyone’s radar.

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The restaurant is located in an unassuming basement on the main Chuo Dori street in the Ginza shopping district. Walking into the corridor leading to the elevator we feel as though we are in the wrong spot, until we spot the window filled with wine bottles and the name of the restaurant. We arrive and the okami-san (female manager overlooking the front of the house) is very friendly and down to earth. She takes our jackets and brings us to our table.

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Saga sirloin on top and Yonezawa filet on the bottom.

This evening there are only two options of steak, a filet from Yonezawa in Yamagata and a sirloin from Saga. The sirloin is highly marbled and has more fat than meat. The filet, while meaty, still has a nice amount of shimofuri, the white fat that is flecked throughout the meat. The steak is cut into 400-gram portions and cooked in one piece before it is cut and shared, so couples must agree on the same cut. The sirloin looked too fatty so we agreed on the filet.

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While the interior is tired and service is casual, the cuisine on the plate is taken very seriously. Chef Otsuka trained as a French chef and it is reflected in his carefully assembled salad topped with fresh crab legs, Japanese tiger prawn, and salmon. The consommé is classically made and I quickly forget about the environs and focus on the food.

The steaks start at about 30,000 JPY each ($300 USD) which is shared between two people. That is before soup and salad. There is also a course menu which starts at 21,000 JPY per person. We took wine by the glass but there is also a long list to choose from of mostly French wines.

The raising of kuroge wagyū (black-haired Japanese cattle) in Japan is very different from what you’ll find outside of Japan. The cows are grass-fed the first eight months of their lives. Each farmer selects the feed he believes to be best for the wagyū, such as soybeans or corn or straw. The last four months of their lives the cows are not fed straw anymore. We asked chef Otsuka if it is true that wagyū are fed beer and he said some places do, but that it is actually quite rare. But, he did confirm that wagyū are massaged daily. This is what helps to give the beef the shimofuri marbling that it is so famous for.

Chef Otsuka came to our table and talked about how he selects his wagyū. He only picks the best that he finds at the wholesale market so his inventory is constantly changing. He has no preferences or loyalties to any region, but will pick what is the best that day at the market.

The wagyū is first dry-aged for one month, increasing the natural umami in the meat. The second month it is wet-aged. At this point the fat in the meat turns into amino acids, adding even more umami to the meat. The aging is all done in-house.

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Chef Otsuka could see that we were so curious about our dinner as we peppered him with questions and he generously invited us into his kitchen. The meat is skewered and then cooked in a kiln that was custom built for the sole purpose of grilling the meat with intense heat. The charcoal used at Dons de la Nature is made from Kinshu binchotan. Binchotan is a charcoal made from a Japanese oak tree. And, while many places may say that they use binchotan for grilling, the best quality binchotan is said to come from Kinshu, and the stock is very limited. Some binchotan is not even Japanese. We were told the binchotan can bring the oven to a temperature of upwards of 800 to 1000 degrees Centigrade.

Chef Otsuka seasons the wagyū with salt and pepper, skewers the steak, and then puts it into the kiln over the binchotan. He then closes the kiln and listens for the sound of the fat in the wagyū melting and falling onto the hot binchotan. The charcoal then starts to smoke, adding another layer of flavor to the steak. An Argentinian chef friend of mine recently told me about the seven ways to cook meat in Argentina and one of the methods was in a similar kiln. I wonder if this is where chef Otsuka came up with the idea.

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The recommended serving for the steak is medium rare. The outside is just seared in the middle is still red. The steak is presented whole and then is cut at the table into two pieces for each person.

The steak is incredibly rich in umami. The contrast in texture from the crispy seared outside to the tender, rare inside is a treat. As the steak is marbled with fat it almost melts in your mouth. After my first bite “oh my God” came out of my mouth. I didn’t realize it until I heard the okami-san laughing. It was, hands down, the best steak I have ever had in my life.

In speaking with chef Otsuka after our meal he said what makes his steaks so unique is the searing in the custom-made kiln. Otsuka explained that most restaurants cook steak in a pan over a gas heater and that the sauté pan can only get up to about 250 degrees Centigrade. He also said that as wagyū is so fatty that when it is cooked in a pan that it is cooking in its own fat. And, that the searing directly over charcoals is the method that he thinks is ideal for Japanese beef.

This is what makes his steak the best in Tokyo, if not the best in the world.

 

Dons de la Nature

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-7-6

03-3563-4129

Monday – Saturday 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Closed Sunday and holidays

http://dons-nature.jp/e/steak.html

 

 

Ginza Vomero – Italian Lunch in the Shadows of the Kabukiza

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Just behind the mammoth Kabukiza theater in Ginza is an energetic Italian pizzeria and trattoria, Vomero. The welcome is warm and there is a lot of activity in the open kitchen, especially around the wood-burning pizza oven. The 1,580 JPY lunch course menu starts off with an appetizer plate of salad and some small bites like mortadella, omelet, and focaccia. The main is a pizza, pasta, or risotto, and finishes with a dolce and cafe.

The pizza is classic Neopolitan-style with a thick, chewy, charred crust. The Margherita had a generous amount of cheese and tomato sauce and is a big pie. Good to come hungry.

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The lasagna was one of the best I’ve had in Tokyo with a flavorful sauce and filled with meat. I will come back just for this lasagna.

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We came in before the noon rush and the restaurant quickly filled up. There is a second floor with more seating and that too was full. The attentive staff are friendly and kept my glass water filled, something that gets overlooked at many places. The restaurant has nice buzz and it was obvious that many customers are regulars. A great spot for lunch in Ginza, just come early or late.

My girlfriend forgot her gloves at the restaurant. We had walked about two blocks when she realized it and when we turned back to return to the restaurant a server was running towards us with her gloves. What is amazing about this is that we had taken two turns (a left and then a right) from the restaurant.

Pizzera Trattoria Vomero

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-12-8

03-6278-8984

Gotta Get – Hiroshima Lemosco

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I am addicted to a product called Yuzusco, a yuzu and Tobasco like sauce that is great for pizza, pasta, eggs, you name it. Was thrilled when I cam across this Lemosco at the Hiroshima Antenna Shop in Ginza.

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It is very similar to the Yuzusco, but lighter in flavor. Sometimes the Yuzusco can be too intense. Have loved this with food and next on the list of things to try it with will be cocktails, like a Bloody Mary.

This is made from lemons, vinegar, green chili peppers, and salt. No preservatives or additives. This one is from Yamato Foods.

There are so many great condiments in Japan and these make the perfect gift to bring home for friends.

 Hiroshima Antenna Shop TAU

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-6-10

10:30 – 20:00

Ginza New Castle Curry

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New Castle Curry in Ginza was a great little spot for a bowl of spicy curry topped with an over-easy egg. When I last went, while researching my book, Food Sake Tokyo, it was a second-generation shop in an old, wooden building in the glamorous Ginza district. While shiny new buildings were built up around it, New Castle was a treasured spot for many. Only one type of curry was served here, but at different portion sizes, with or without the egg. Each dish was named after a station on the Keihin-Tohoku line like Kamata or Shinagawa. I was so excited to include it in Food Sake Tokyo, as it was that unique little mom-and-pop shop with really good, simple food.

Sadly New Castle closed down two years ago. I would walk by in mourning, sad that I didn’t make it in one last time. I wasn’t the only one. I often saw others stop and stand in front of the shuttered shop, almost offering up a prayer, or perhaps reliving the spicy curry. So, imagine my thrill when I heard that the third-generation has opened up a New Castle Curry, still in Ginza, a few blocks away from the old location.

New Castle was packed when I came in recently for lunch. Many of the customers were obviously regulars as they didn’t even have to call out a station name like “Omori”, but just said that they’ll have the usual. I started off with a green salad and had the Kamata (photo above) for 740 JPY. For Japanese curries it is on the spicy side. The menu suggests first trying just the curry, then some curry with rice, and finally with the egg.

This new spot can not be compared to the old spot as it had so much charm and character, developed over 66 years in one spot. It was a dark restaurant and even the lights felt as if they were covered in dust, giving off only a faint light. The new spot is a long counter overlooking an open kitchen with a few seats off to the side. The back wall of the kitchen is a bright red color. Some bottles of whisky lined the back wall. No one ordered whisky at lunch, but I imagine at dinnertime a few glasses are shared amongst friends.

The family is very warm and welcoming and it’s a great bowl of curry. The location is not as convenient as the old one, which was closer to Yurakucho. The new one is closer to Showa Dori. But, it’s only a few blocks off of Chuo Dori, the main drag of Ginza. The third-generation oversees the kitchen while his father greets the customers and manages the cash register.

The curry is just as I remember it. Spicy, savory, and satisfying. Welcome back New Castle. You have been missed. The shop was closed for about a year before this reincarnation opened last year. Restaurants like this is what makes Tokyo such a great dining city. Great food that has been passed down for generations. The energy in the new spot is very different from the last one. It feels as it has new life and a renewed spirit.

In this Japanese blogpost, you’ll find a lovely photo of the second- and third-generations, as well as photos of the outside of the shop so it is easy to find.

Ginza New Castle

Chuo-ku, Ginza 2-11-1, Ginza Land Building B1

03-6264-0885

Tuesday – Friday 11:30 – 20:00

Saturday and Sunday 11:30 – 17:00

closed Monday and holidays

Ginza Maru 銀座圓

Maru1

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Gwen Robinson mentions a newly opened restaurant in Ginza that serves traditional Japanese lunches for only $10. She doesn’t mention the name of the restaurant in the article, but does talk about the chef, Keiji Mori, so with some research, in both English and Japanese, I found Ginza Maru. It is just off the main street of Ginza. It is a few shops down from the popular Kyushu Jangara ramen and close to a revolving sushi shop. The shop is easy to miss as it is on the second floor. Be on the lookout for the name of the shop in Japanese 圓 on a sign on the building.

The shop is a respite from the busy streets of Ginza. My girlfriend and I arrived early and were waiting outside of the shop and they kindly invited us in a bit before their opening time. There is a long counter overlooking the open kitchen and several tables. A good spot to dine solo or with a friend at the counter or come in with a group and dine at a table. We were directed to sit at a table but I asked if it would be possible to sit at the counter and were seated there.

The starters for all of the lunch sets was a creamy sesame tofu made with kuzu and a tart sunomono salad made from lotus root, young leeks, and deep-fried tofu in a karashi su miso, a classic dressing of Japanese mustard, vinegar, and sweet miso.
Maru2

Sitting at the counter allows diners to watch the chefs in action. Today the chefs were pushing cooked yurine (lily bulb) through a fine sieve and grating mountain potatoes. There is a charcoal grill with a strong exhaust vent over it where fish was skewered and grilled. Being at the counter it is also easy to interact with the chefs about ingredient provenance and cooking techniques.

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The tori-suki-nabe is a chicken dish that resembles sukiyaki which is traditionally made with thin-sliced beef. It is a generous portioned dish and included the gizzard of the chicken as well as a soft-cooked egg. It was a very dramatic presentation as the nabe is a large and flat ceramic pot and was covered when it was presented.

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The buta-kaku-ni is a pork belly that is cooked until tender and served with simmered daikon and greens in a sweet, soy kuzu sauce. The other option today at lunch was a salt-grilled Pacific mackerel.Maru5The chefs were very easy to talk to. I believe the chef on the right spoke some English as I overheard him trying to explain the menu to a foreign couple. As we finished the meal I asked the two chefs if they had seen the article in the New York Times. They had not seen it yet. I gave them the newspaper and did a quick translation of the mention of the shop in the piece. He laughed and pointed around the room and said it explained why there were so many new, foreign customers to the restaurant that day. We were there the day after the Op-Ed piece came out. When we left there were three pairs of non-Japanese dining at the restaurant. He also said that he would have to start studying more English.

Ginza Maru is a great bargain for lunch. The restaurant does not take reservations at lunch. Dinner starts at a very reasonable 6,000 JPY for a course menu. It is in the heart of Ginza and easy to find by following the map on the restaurant’s website. Definitely will be back for lunch, and look forward to trying dinner.

Ginza Maru

Chuo-ku, Ginza 6-12-15

03-5537-7420