Gotta Get – Kokuto Black Sugar 沖縄黒糖



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.

Ginza Rose Bakery

Salad Lunch

Salad Lunch

I am a big fan of Rose Bakery. An English bakery that first opened in Paris and is now dotting Tokyo. This casual cafe has a large delicatessen-style refrigerator in each shop that showcases the colorful salads and baked goods. While the cakes and sweets are tempting, I am always come here for the salads.

This Plate of Vegetables is about 1,550 JPY at the Ginza shop and was 100% vegetarian. Six vegetable dishes served with a side of rustic sourdough bread. The Kichijoji branch, which I go to more often, sometimes includes some chicken or anchovies in the Salad Lunch, so be sure to let them know if you prefer all vegetables as I believe they could accommodate your request.

The Kichijoji branch is filled with suburban shoppers and stay-at-home moms, sometimes with their kids in tow. The Ginza shop which is in the fashionable Dover Street Market, was just the opposite. Hip and stylishly dressed diners and shoppers with their shopping bags from high-end designers. I definitely feel more at ease at the Kichijoji shop, which also opens at 8 a.m., while the Ginza branch opens at 11 a.m.

Many times our clients tell us that they are craving vegetables. This is a great spot to get your fill.

Rose Bakery Ginza

Chuo-ku, Ginza 6-9-5, Ginza Komatsu West Wing 7F


Ginza Kagari Ramen 銀座篝中華そば

Kagari Echika Ramen

Kagari Echika Ramen

My favorite ramen at the moment is Kagari in Ginza. The shop does a tori paitan, creamy chicken ramen. This is perfect for those of you who don’t eat pork. :-) I come here mostly for the thick, rich soup made with lots of chicken fat. The noodles are thin, which I prefer.

Recently Kagari has opened a second shop in the Ginza subway station in an area called Echika. It is close to the Marunouchi entrance to the Ginza station. The hours for this shop is 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. However, the staff said that best to come by 10 p.m. or you will be turned away.

The Echika branch has only 8 seats at a long, straight blonde counter. This shop only serves the tori paitan, either a bowl of hot noodles with the soup, or as tsuke-men, where the noodles and soup are served in two different bowls. For optional toppings I included Kyoto bamboo shoots, aji tama seasoned egg, and garlic butter. The garlic butter in this shop was (I think) garlic powder mixed into butter.

I also had a lovely bowl of seasonal vegetables as a side dish. Over a dozen types of seasonal vegetables, some raw some steamed, simple presented together in a bowl. It takes away a bit of the guilt of the hearty ramen when balanced with some vegetables. The vegetables could have been used as a garnish to the ramen, but it was a treat to try each vegetable and enjoy them for their own flavors.

I came for an early lunch and was seated right away. In front of the shop is a waiting area. I would prefer to wait here in the hot summer as it is underground and not nearly as hot as waiting at the main shop.

Kagari Honten Main Shop

Kagari Honten Main Shop

The main shop, honten, in Ginza is very popular. There is usually a long line at this shop. The sign outside of the store says “SOBA”, as the restaurant refers to their ramen as chūka soba, or Chinese noodles. One day while standing in line here a couple thought it was a soba shop and only once they were handed a menu did they realize that it was ramen. The poor woman said she was allergic to gluten but was advised that the ramen of course was made with gluten. They had stood in line so long that they came in anyways and all she could eat with rice with different toppings usually put over the ramen.

The main shop also has only eight seats. The seasoned egg here was cut in half before being placed in the bowl, which makes more sense than serving it whole as they did in the Echika branch. Also, here the garlic is fried before it is added to the butter.

The main shop also serves a niboshi shoyu, dried sardines and soy sauce, ramen. But come here for the tori paitan chicken ramen as this is their specialty.

If you go to the main shop and the line is super long, I suggest heading over to the Echika branch. Also, the Echika branch is open without closing between lunch and dinner but the main shop does close for a few hours.

Kagari Honten (Main Shop)

Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-4-1, Ginza A Building 1F    中央区銀座4-4-1銀座Aビル1F

Kagari Echika

Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-1-2, Echika Fit     中央区銀座4-1-2, Echika Fit

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



Closed Wednesday

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

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


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


Hanamaru Summer Udon Salad


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


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


Best Steak in Tokyo – Dons de la Nature


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Monday – Saturday 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Closed Sunday and holidays



Ginza Vomero – Italian Lunch in the Shadows of the Kabukiza


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.


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.


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