Focacceria Altamura

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A gift from my cousin, some focaccia from a shop in her neighborhood. These are as focaccia should be, light, airy, with a crispy crust and moist crumb. Very simple flavors of rosemary, zucchini, and tomatoes. Tokyo is filled with great bakeries, and this is a good one to know about if you find yourself near Kagurazaka station.

Focacceria Altamura

Shinjuku-ku, Yamabukicho 5 Banchi

03-6265-3842

Martiniburger in Kagurazaka

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Once while private cheffing for a Japanese executive, my client asked me to make him a “hamba-gu”. I heard “hamba-ga-” an American-style hamburger. I went to Whole Foods and picked up some ground beef and buns. Later that evening when I presented the hamburger he laughed, in a good way. He said (in Japanese), “Yukari-san, I said hamba-gu not hamba-ga-“. Wow, was I embarrassed. I asked him to give me some time and I went back to the kitchen and made a Japanese-style hamba-gu. Japanese burgers, “hamba-gu” often are mixed with onions, eggs, milk, and bread, making it like meatloaf. The Japanese burger is often served with rice.  He loved it, and, I loved the original hamburger that I made for him.

And here, you see the predilections of a Japanese when it comes to hamburgers. For many Japanese they are happy with a meatloaf like hamburger. Which is why, whenever I have a hamburger at a Japanese restaurant I always clarify if the burger is 100% ground beef or if it is a Japanese-style burger. If it’s the Japanese-style I go back to the menu and order something else. Why? Because I much prefer the burgers I grew up with in Minnesota.

Which, is why I was thrilled when I heard about Martiniburger. It was covered in some Japanese magazines when it first opened. And then Robbie Swinnerton’s article in The Japan Times confirmed for me that this is what I was craving.

Martiniburger is on the quiet back streets of Kagurazaka, away from the crowds on the main Kagurazaka Dori. About a three-minute walk from Kagurazaka station on the Tozai line. It’s a sleek restaurant, with floor to ceiling windows that showcase the dramatic bar and clean lines of the restaurant.

Eliot Bergman, a former graphic designer, now restaurateur, has his fingerprints on the restaurant, from the cool bar to the menu with photos of food. He also has good taste in music. When I asked Eliot about the music he said, “we play a wide mix of vintage and contemporary blues and jazz, including a number of New York artists, as well”. Which explains why I felt like I was back in New York City.

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I asked him where he got inspiration for Martiniburger. He said it was from “when he was living in New York City and enjoyed the cocktails and burgers from P.J. Clarke’s”. P.J. Clarke’s is an institution in Midtown known not only for its burgers, but also its steaks. This all makes sense when the burger is presented, complete with creamed spinach and Béarnaise sauce.

The signature burger, the Martiniburger, is as I love it, 100% beef, from Australia, and with a good sear on the outside. It’s also served on an English muffin, which is how I remember my first New York City hamburger in Greenwich Village. (Coming from the Midwest I remember thinking how brilliant to put a burger on an English muffin and started making my burgers like that back at home.) Other offerings come on custom-baked buns. The creamed spinach and mashed potatoes also remind me of home. To top it off, a slice of Oreo New York Cheesecake, which is not too sweet, and also a dessert you don’t see too often in the metropolis.

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Bergman has said that he wanted to do something different with his restaurant, so he’s not serving any French fries. He said that the clientele, mostly Japanese, are fine with it. If anyone isn’t happy with it, it’s usually an American.

Martiniburger is open from Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays 11:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. Bergman says that it is a neighborhood restaurant with many coming from the area offices for lunch or after work. On weekends it is not uncommon to see kids and strollers as it is a kid-friendly shop.

It’s one of Tokyo’s best burgers. Now, if Bergman would only open Martiniburger around Tokyo. Maybe on the Chuo line, please?

There is Brooklyn Lager on tap, another great taste of New York City. What more could a person want, except for maybe some French fries?

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The menu is well designed, easy to read, and includes lots of colorful photos.

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I came for a late lunch, but can only imagine how lovely this bar must be at night.

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The colorful and brightly lit interior is inviting. Seating is comfortable, making it easy to linger over dessert and coffee.

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Martiniburger

Shinjuku-ku, Nakazatocho 31

03-6280-8920

11:00 – 23:00 (until 22:00 on Sundays)

closed Mondays

opened in October 2010

closest station: Kagurazaka on the Tozai Line

Food Gifts/Omiyage from Tokyo 東京のお土産

Omiyage most often describes gifts that you pick up while traveling that you bring back to your family, friends, and colleagues. For example, on a trip to Kyoto I may select some local jizake or wagashi for friends. For my colleagues at work I may pick up a box of yatsuhashi, a popular confectionary that Kyoto is known for.

It is important when selecting gifts that they are purchased at the correct price. You don’t want to give a gift that is too expensive or the recipient may feel the need to reciprocate, often referred to as okaeshi. I learned about this while working at Takashimaya. The occasion determines not only how much would be spent on a gift, but also how it may be wrapped.

If you need to send a gift to someone bring along their address and phone number. Most shops will arrange for a delivery service, many times for next-day delivery.

The gift-giving ritual in Japan is for another blog post, so for now, just my tips on what to look for and some suggestions for some of my favorite gifts from Tokyo. And as we enter the holidays, if you are invited to a friend’s home, consider bringing along one of the items listed below as a show of your appreciation.

Tips – look for gentei or limited production items. Shun or kisetsu are used to describe seasonal items. Alternatively, koko de shika meaning that the produce is sold only there or ima shika - that it is only being sold for a limited period.

Some popular omiyage at the moment include Baumkuchen, sweets in the form of a small sandwich, or rusks which are toasts, usually sweetened with sugar and maybe some butter.

Here are my favorite gifts from Tokyo.

Sawanoi Bon

Sawanoi Bon

Tokyo has a surprising number of sake kura (breweries) and this always makes for a nice gift for anyone who appreciates nihonshu. My personal favorite Tokyo sake is Sawa no I from Ome in Okutama (Western Tokyo in the mountains). On a personal note, I love this sake so much we served it at our wedding. Sake can be purchased at the sake department in depachika. Alternatively, Hasegawa Saketen is a wonderful sake shop with a few branches in the city.

Japanese knives are the perfect gift for anyone who loves to cook. Here is my list of knife shops in Tokyo.

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Karintou from Nishiki Hourin.   These sweet crackers come in flavors like shichimi tougarashi (seven spice), negi miso (leek and miso), kinpira gobo (burdock root and carrot), and kuro koshou (black pepper). The shop is in Tokyo station’s basement in an area called GranSta. It’s easy to find as there is usually a long line. The karintou are sold in small packs so it is fun to pick up a few different flavors. This is an example of koko shika as the karintou can only be bought here – nowhere else in the world.

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku is a Japanese confectionary shop specializing in Western confectionaries. In particular, I love their cigares which are sold in pastel tins. Think delicately thin butter cookies rolled into a cigare. I often bring this as an omiyage as a hostess gift. Yoku Moku can be found in almost every depachika.

Confectionary West

Confectionary West

Leaf Pie from Confectionary West are another popular Western style cookie that is rich with butter and sugar. The main branch is in Ginza but most depachika also sell these addictive cookies.

Mamegen's Shiokaki

Mamegen's Shiokaki

For some savory osembei (rice crackers)  look no further than the shiokaki from Mamegen in Azabu Juban. I usually buy these as omiyage for myself. Like Doritos or whatever chips you are addicted to, you can’t stop once you start. Mamegen is known for their flavored nuts and beans in fun flavors like wasabi, mattcha, or uni. Mamegen also can be found in most depachika.

For traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionaries) I always find myself going to Suzukake in Shinjuku Isetan. I am a sucker for its simple packaging and no matter what you get, it is always delicious. In particular, ask for the seasonal  nama wagashi.

For more modern wagashi, check out the mattcha babaloa from Kinozen in Kagurazaka or the confectionaries at Higashiya Ginza.

Yagenbori

Yagenbori

For a special gift, create your own shichimi (seven spice) from Yagenbori in Asakusa (Asakusa 1-28-3). The shop sells its own recommended version, but you can develop your own flavor on the spot. Be sure to pick up a wooden dispenser while there (see photo above).

Lemon's Grapefruit Jelly

Lemon's Grapefruit Jelly

Finally, for a real treat, select some seasonal fresh fruit from Sembikiya or Lemon or Takano. Melon is perhaps the most famous food gift, notably for its price which can be a few hundred dollars for one. But there are a variety of fruit that changes throughout the season and at a variety of prices. My cousin is a big fan of the fruit jellies which are packaged in the shell of the fruit.

Got a question about my favorite nori shop in Tsukiji Market. It is Maruyama and their information is listed below in the comments section.

What and Where to Eat in Tokyo

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga at Nihonbashi Yukari

I often am asked for restaurant suggestions in Tokyo. Wow. Where does one begin? The food is amazing, from the high end kaiseki restaurants and sushi counters to the neighborhood ramen shop or izakaya. Even on a budget it is very easy to eat well in Tokyo.

Let me put here just some of my recommendations of restaurants based on the types of food one should try when visiting. Also, one should consider location as the city is so big and there are so many great restaurants, it may not be necessary to traverse the metropolis.

Sushi – Ginza Harutaka or Kyubey for high end. Both are in Ginza.

Low end sushi – Tsukiji Market outer market. I like Nakaya for their donburi.

Tonkatsu – Maisen (Omotesando) or Katsukura (Shinjuku)

Soba – Yabu Soba (Kanda) NOTE Yabu Soba suffered from extensive fire damage on 2/19/2013 and is temporarily closed, Kanda Matsuya (Kanda), or Narutomi (Ginza)

Tempura – Kondo (Ginza), Zezankyo (Monzennakacho), or Tenko (Kagurazaka)

low end tempura – Tenmatsu (Nihonbashi)

Tofu – Tofuya Ukai (Shiba Koen)

Pickles – Kintame (Tokyo Station or Monzennakacho)

Meat – Ukaitei teppanyaki (Ginza or Omotesando) or New York Bar and Grill (Shinjuku)

Izakaya – Yamariki (Morishita) or Saiseisakaba (Shinjuku or Monzennakacho)

Kaiseki – Nihonbashi Yukari  (Nihonbashi) or Waketokuyama (Hiroo)

Ramen – Ivan Ramen or Ippudo (Ueno) or Kyushu Jangara (Nihonbashi or Harajuku)

Unagi – Nodaiwa (Higashi Azabu)

Monjayaki – Okame Hyottoko Ten (Tsukishima)

Yakitori – Birdland (Ginza) or Isehiro (Kyobashi)

Oden – Otafuku (Asakusa) or Ogura (Ginza)

My short list of where to drink in Tokyo.

A similar list of culinary highlights in Tokyo from Indagare.

And, now that Tokyo Sky Tree has opened up, here is my shortlist of shops in the Solamachi Mall at the base of the Sky Tree.

Digging into an Ice Cold Kakigori

On summer visits to Japan as a child my favorite sweets were kakigori topped with milk. Only when I grew up did I realize that it wasn’t milk but it was sweetened condensed milk. No better way to cool down in the Tokyo heat than a bowl of shaved ice topped with a sweet syrup. Flavors like mattcha and azuki, mango, or anzu (apricots) will have you smacking your lips. Many kanmidokoro (Japanese cafes with traditional sweets) serve kakigori, but usually only for the summertime so this is the best time to dig in.

Here are a few places to dig into kakigori in the summer. Shops usually put a small flag outside with the kanji for ice on it. 氷

Mihashi

Mihashi

Mihashi’s original shop in Ueno (Taito-ku, Ueno 4-9-7) opened during the Edo period. This location, in the basement of Tokyo station in the area called Ichiban Gai, is more centrally located.

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station, Ichiban Gai B1

Morinoen

Morinoen

Walking around the historic Ningyocho district is always fun. Morinoen is a tea shop that specializes in houjicha. Here is their houjicha kakigori. You can smell the houjicha being roasted out on the street. Pick up a bag of the tea while you are here to take home. It’s great both hot or cold.

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-4-9

Naniwaya

Naniwaya

Naniwaya in Azabu-Juban is renowned for its taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes stuffed with azuki).  It’s been grilling taiyaki for over a century. Step inside and grab a seat for an anzu (apricot) kakigori.

Minato-ku, Azabu-Juban 1-8-14

Kinozen

Kinozen

Kagurazaka is also a fabulous place for walking around and Kinozen is my favorite place for a kakigori.

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 1-12

Toraya

Toraya

Toraya in Ginza serves up a yummy ichigo (strawberries) kakigori.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 7-8-6, 2nd floor

Kintokiya in Kagurazaka 神楽坂のきんときや

Kintokiya

Kintokiya

Kintokiya きんときや

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 2-10 新宿区神楽坂2-10

Phone: 03-3260-4151

10:00 – 20:00 (Sundays and holidays until 19:00)

no holidays

www.kintokiya.com (Japanese)

This tiny wagashi sweets shop has items based on with imo (sweet potatoes) and kuri (chestnuts). There are also some classic sweets including yokan and dango. In the summertime pick up a purple sweet potato soft cream.

Kinozen in Kagurazaka 神楽坂の紀の善

Window Shopping at Kinozen

Window Shopping at Kinozen

The ever-present line at Kinozen

The ever-present line at Kinozen

Kinozen 紀の善

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 1-12 新宿区神楽坂1-12

Tel. 03-3269-2920

11:00 – 21:00, Monday – Saturday

12:00 – 18:00, Sunday & holidays

Closed the 3rd Sunday of each month

no website

 

Kinozen is one of the cities popular kanmidokoro. Located just next door to Fujiya, Kinozen too often has a line out the front door. Their signature dish is a modern mattcha babaloa. The babaloa made from Uji mattcha is delicate with tsubuan (chunky azuki) and whipped cream is a nice ensemble of flavors and textures. The kakigori in the summer of shaved ice colored with flavored syrups are irresistible and offer a respite from the heat and humidity. There is also a selection of items to go, including the mattcha babaloa.

Fujiya in Kagurazaka

Fujiya

Fujiya

Peko-chan grilled cakes

Peko-chan grilled cakes

Grilling the Peko-chan cakes

Grilling the Peko-chan cakes

Peko-chan

Peko-chan

Fujiya 不二家

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 1-12 新宿区神楽坂1-12

Tel. 03-3269-1526

10:00 – 22:00, Monday – Friday

11:30 – 19:00, weekend and holidays

www.fujiya-peko.co.jp (Japanese)

Fujiya is a chain famous for affordable Western-style sweets. Normally nothing to line up for, however, this Kagurazaka branch is the only shop in Japan where you can purchase Pekochan-yaki. Pekochan is the darling mascot of the Fujiya sweets chain. The outside is a pancake like dough grilled and filled with azuki, chocolate and some seasonal flavors like mango or mattcha. The windows allow you to watch the process of the cakes being made while you are standing in line.

Shotengai Shopping Arcades – Walking Food Tours of Tokyo

Shotengai

Shotengai

I love the shotengai, Japanese shopping arcades. Filled with ma and pa shops selling tofu, fresh produce, rice, pickles, miso, and other basics of the Japanese pantry. This article recently appeared in Metropolis magazine and features five of my favorite shotengai in Tokyo.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/street-eats/ (text follows)

While the one-stop food shopping at Tokyo’s depachika is an amazing experience, the gourmet eats come with a high price tag. At the other end of the spectrum are the places where most Japanese do their daily shopping: neighborhood shopping streets known as shotengai, where you’ll find mom and pop shops selling vegetables, fish, meat, rice and even handmade tofu. The Tokyo Shotengai website (http://meturl.com/shotengai) lists over 550 of these shopping streets; here are some of our favorites.

KAGURAZAKA 神楽坂

This foodie neighborhood is filled with many fantastic shops along the main drag. Try 50-ban (3-2 Kagurazaka) for its steamed buns, Kintokiya (2-10 Kagurazaka) for wagashi made from sweet potatoes, and the gorgeous Rakuzan (4-3 Kagurazaka) for tea. Isuzu (5-34 Kagurazaka) offers a variety of Japanese-style sweets and, if you walk along the street far enough, Baikatei (6-15 Kagurazaka) has fantastic handmade wagashi. Nearest station: Iidabashi

NIPPORI 日暮里

Just outside of Nippori station lies the Yanaka shotengai—very typical of what you would imagine an old-style shopping street to be like. Two of the area’s meat shops are famous for their menchikatsuNiku no Sato (3-13-2 Yanaka) and Niku no Suzuki (3-15-5 Nishi-Nippori). Goto no Ame (3-15-1 Nishi-Nippori) has a colorful selection of candies. There are many options, including deep-fried tofu balls known as ganmodoki, at Musashiya (3-9-15 Yanaka), oyatsu-pan (snack breads) at Atomu Bakery (3-11-14 Yanaka), and skewered and grilled seafood at Fukushima Shoten (3-13-4 Yanaka). Note that a lot of the shops are closed on Mondays.Nearest stn: Nippori. www.yanakaginza.com

NINGYOCHO 人形町

The historic Ningyocho district is always a delight to visit. While you’ll find many shops selling the local specialty, ningyoyaki (small cakes filled with azuki bean paste), there are many other interesting stores. On the famous Amazake Yokocho shotengai is Futaba Tofu (2-4-9 Ningyocho), with a variety of tofu products and also the sweet, creamy drink for which this street is named. Hojicha tea is the specialty of Morinoen (2-4-9 Ningyocho), while the long line outside the tiny Yanagiya (2-11-3 Ningyocho) is a testament to the popularity of its taiyaki sweet-bean cakes—considered one of the three best varieties in the city. Ningyocho’s most famous restaurant may well be Tamahide (1-17-10 Ningyocho), renowned for its oyako-don rice bowls. Nearest stn: Ningyocho.

KICHIJOJI 吉祥寺

Just north of Kichijoji station is Sun Road, a covered shotengai filled with many small shops. Among the several worth exploring are traditional German bakery Linde (1-11-27 Kichijoji-Honcho) and Meat Shop Sato (1-1-8 Kichijoji-Honcho), which is famous for its menchikatsu and wagyu and which also has a popular restaurant on the second floor, usually with a long line. Okashi no Machioka (1-15-1 Kichijoji-Honcho) will have your eyes spinning with all of the different types of candies, sweets and snacks. In the evening, the Harmonica Yokocho strip is filled with small restaurants that are perfect for a drink and some nibbles. Tecchan is a popular yakitori spot—if you can squeeze in (1-1-2 Kichijoji-Honcho). Nearest stn: Kichijoji.

AZABU-JUBAN 麻布十番

This popular foodie street in the heart of the city is easy to navigate. The renowned Mamegen (1-8-12 Azabu-Juban) tempts customers with over 90 varieties of flavored rice crackers, including uni, wasabi and curry, but it’s the shio-okaki (deep-fried and salted) that are irresistible. The taiyaki at the extremely popular Naniwaya Sohonten (1-8-14 Azabu-Juban) are made by the shop’s fourth-generation owners. Hasegawa Saketen (2-2-7 Azabu-Juban) has well-selected sake, shochu and umeshu. If you’re craving meat, the yakitori at Abe-chan (2-1-1 Azabu-Juban) will hit the spot. Alternatively, slurp up some soba noodles at Nagasaka Sarashina (1-8-7 Azabu Juban), notably the delicate, white sarashina noodles. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.

Kagurazaka – 50ban for Stuffed Buns 神楽坂50ban

50ban

50ban

50ban

50ban

Kagurazaka 50ban 神楽坂五十番

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 3-2

03-3260-0066

9:00 – 23:00, Sundays & holidays until 22:00

www.50ban.com (Japanese)

The lines at the top of the hill are for the chukaman savory and sweet steamed buns at the popular 50ban. With over two-dozen types to select from including shrimp, pork, kaibashira (scallops), cheese, curry and sweet ones like custard or coconut. This is the perfect street food for walking around. The refrigerated window showcases the manju and shumai. The staff suggests getting them cold if you are going to steam them at home.