Tokyo Food Radar

To keep our readers up-to-date with the Tokyo food scene, I will post from time to time some news about what’s happening in the metropolis. Keeping a finger on the pulse of cuisine here is hard, so I hope this helps you to know what you should have on your food radar.

Takashi Saito will be opening Taka by Sushi Saito in the St. Regis in Kuala Lumpur this spring. I hear the counter will be twice as big as the Tokyo main shop, so maybe it will be easier to get into? Sushi Saito in Roppongi is one of the hardest reservations to come by, harder than Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Kyoto Katsugyu, famous for its gyukatsu, has opened its first shop in Tokyo. Japanese wagyu or US sirloin is breaded and deep-fried. 1F Chiyoda 21 Bldg., Kanda Mitoshirocho 9-7, Chiyoda-ku. http://kyoto-katsugyu.com/

The Kyoto Distillery will start producing artisanal gin using Japanese botanicals in early 2016. http://kyotodistillery.jp/wp/

Mos Burger has opened an upscale burger shop MOS Classic, with an expanded menu, cocktails, and wine. 1-8-11 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku. http://www.mosclassic.jp/

Milanese pizza is now available in Tokyo at Spontini’s. The thick crust is a big change from the Neopolitan style which is more prevalent. Spontini’s has been in Milano since 1953. Two branches in Tokyo, Harajuku (1-10-37 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku) and Shibuya (1-21-3 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku), serve the pizza by-the-slice. http://www.pizzeriaspontini.jp/english.html

Fans of Omotesando Koffee were sad to see the shop close at the end of last year. Sarutahiko Coffee has opened a branch in the H.I.S. Book and Coffee shop at 1F, Barbizon 7, 4-3-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. http://www.omotesando-info.com/shop/gourmet/shop/sarutahikocoffee-omotesando.html

Sage and Fennel in Hiroo with its colorful salads and soups is mostly, but not exclusively, about seasonal vegetables. 5-19-6 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku. http://www.saf.tokyo/

Verve Coffee Roasters from Santa Cruz, California, will be opening in Shinjuku station this April. Some great information on Sprudge.com here:

http://sprudge.com/verve-coffee-are-expanding-to-japan-93357.html

Asakusa Kamiya Bar 浅草神谷バー

Kamiya Bar in Asakusa, opened in 1880, is one of Tokyo’s classic bars. Known for its signature cocktail, Denki Bran, made from brandy, gin, wine, curacao, and herbs. At 270 JPY per drink, it’s cheaper than coffee. Bottles of pre-mixed Denki Bran are popular omiyage (local gifts) that tourists can bring back home to share with their friends, is sold at a retail window on street.

The bar menu includes classic Japanese small plates like pickles, sashimi, and grilled skewers. In the winter months kaki furai, deep-fried oysters, is popular. Nikomi, offal simmered in Shinshu miso, is a signature dish and a classic shitamachi dish. Shitamachi refers to older parts of Tokyo.

The clientele is made up of a mix of locals and tourists. The second and third floors are restaurants, but it is the first floor bar where you want to go.

I wouldn’t make a special trip across town, but Asakusa is a popular area for the historic temple, Sensoji. It is also walking distance to Kappabashi, a must-visit spot for kitchenware, tableware, and to see plastic food samples. If you find yourself in the area and need a break, stop by for a Denki Bran and a few bites.

Kamiya Bar 神谷バー

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-1-1 台東区浅草1-1-1

http://www.kamiya-bar.com/

  • Kamiya Bar usually closes on Tuesday, but also on other days of the week, so do check the calendar on the bar’s website.

 

 

Sumo 101

When I first lived in Japan in the late 80s, there was a great wrestler named Chiyonofuji, nicknamed “The Wolf”. He was very strong and handsome. I became hooked on sumo. We went to Ryogoku to the Kokugikan stadium in Tokyo and watched from the cheap seats in the last row. A decade later I was invited by a friend of mine who had corporate tickets that were in the front section. It was a night and day experience watching up close. It reminded me of seeing opera in New York City. My first time, as a college student, was standing room tickets in the back of the house. After I moved to NYC and had a budget for orchestra seats, it made a world of difference.

Here are some tips for you to enjoy your sumo experience, notably the food side of things.

The sport has gone through ups and downs in popularity, and now it is hard to get tickets. When we go we prefer to sit up front in the masuseki 升席 seats that are down on the floor. However, if you are not comfortable sitting on tatami mat for a few hours, then you should get seats on the second floor.

Go early and watch the sumo wrestlers as they come in. In Tokyo the top wrestlers walk into the stadium usually between 2 and 3 p.m. They are often escorted by lower-ranking wrestlers from the same beya. Fans line up with cameras to watch them come in. You are surprisingly close. You can clap your hands and wish them good luck, “ganbatte kudasai“. Be sure to check out the backs of their kimonos as there may be lovely designs, such as the kabuki mask on Endo’s back in pink above. On the right is Tochinoshin, from Georgia (the country).

When you go into the stadium, be sure to rent the English-language radio so you can have a play-by-play. There is plenty to see in the stadium, so allow for some time to walk around.

Be sure to get a bowl of chanko nabe. In the stadium there is a banquet room that has serves up a bowl of the famous hot pot that sumo wrestlers eat.

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Bring your own food and beverages. Many sports venues allow customers to bring in their own food. We love bringing in our own food as that way we don’t waste time standing in line. At the Kokugikan you can even bring in your own beer, sake, or wine. Above are inari zushi, deep-fried tofu that is simmered in a sweet soy broth and stuffed with seasoned rice. If you are in Tokyo on holidays, then just stop by a depachika and pick up a bento and a bottle of saké. Ask for small cups at the department store as they usually have tasting cups on hand. Alternatively, a convenient store will have the essentials, beer, onigiri (stuffed rice balls), and chips.

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Watch the wrestlers come on the dohyo. You should be in your seats by 3:45 p.m. (earlier on the final day). This is the only chance you’ll see all of the wrestlers together. At the end of the day, we also like to watch the closing ceremony. One of the wrestlers artistically swings a large bow in a dramatic fashion. The sound of the drums is a sign that the day has come to an end.

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Divide your trash into paper and plastic and discard on your way out.

  • The sumo tournament in Tokyo is in January, May, and September.
  • If something unexpected happens, some spectators will throw their zabuton (cushions) towards the dohyo. It doesn’t happen often, so it’s great fun to witness.
  • Many of the top wrestlers are not Japanese. Many are from Mongolia, but other countries include Bulgaria, Georgia, and Egypt.
  • The trains can be very crowded when the day ends. Consider grabbing dinner or a drink near the stadium before jumping on the train.

Renkon Chips

Lotus root (renkon, 蓮根) are a vegetable that is hard to forget. The first time one comes across one it is fascinating to see the natural holes in the vegetable. It seems like a work of art at first.

Lotus root start to come into the market in the fall, in September and October, and continue until about January. It has a lovely dense texture and can become a bit slippery when it is cooked.

It is lovely as kinpira, sliced thin and stir-fried in a sweet soy sauce and then accented with some red chili (tōgarashi, 一味唐辛子) or seven spice (shichimi, 七味). It can be cut into thick slices, stuffed with ground meat and fried. Grating lotus root and mixing it with potato starch (katakuriko, 片栗粉) makes a chewy mochi when fried.

It is found in regional food as a local dish from Kumamoto called karashi renkon, the wholes are stuffed with Japanese karashi mustard.

At Izakaya Sakamoto we love frying it into chips. The earthy chips are great on their own or add a nice depth as a topping to salads. With a Benriner mandoline, thinly slice the lotus root. Set it on a bamboo plate or on newspapers and let it air dry in a sunny spot for 30 to 60 minutes. This extra step makes it much easier when cooking in oil. Deep-fry until it turns a golden brown and season immediately with salt.

On a side note, we were hoping to get our cooking school up and running last year, but have been so busy with our Food Sake Tokyo tours that we have not made much progress. We do currently offer cooking classes, but only to those who have kitchens in Tokyo. We will start posting recipes on this blog and will keep you updated on when our cooking classes begin.

 

Shibuya Torikatsu Chicken とりかつチキン

Katsu refers to panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) encrusted and deep-fried goods. Tonkatsu, deep-fried pork, is the most popular, but there are many others such as torikatsu for chicken. Furai is another Japanese word that is used to describe the same preparation, and is often seen with seafood such as kaki (oysters), aji (horse mackerel), or ika (squid).

Torikatsu in Shibuya is hidden on the back streets, a short walk from both Shibuya JR and Inokashira stations. This shop is often featured in magazines and television shows as a great spot for cheap eats. Diners select two or more fried items that is served with rice, julienned cabbage, and miso soup. On the counter is homemade pickles that diners can help themselves to.

It’s a popular and chaotic shop. The open kitchen on this day is staffed with three very busy aunties. They each multitask and take turns doing different jobs. If you understand Japanese it’s quite fun to watch as they ask each other for help, reconfirm orders, and often ask customers to repeat what they ordered. As diners pay on their way out, it is on the honor system and each diner is asked what they ordered so that the price can be determined. Very Japanese.

A narrow counter with fifteen seats surrounds the kitchen. There is a small table tucked into the corner which seats three, and diners are asked to use this as a communal table. As you can imagine the seats at the counter are squeezed quite tight together and there is no room to set your belongings, aside from the narrow area between you and the counter.

Smoke rises non-stop from the deep-fat fryer. The cutting board next to the fryer has been used for so long that the surface is no longer flat. The knife on the cutting board is oily and covered with deep-fried panko.

Customers at the counter are asked to bus their own dishes to the high counter into the kitchen after they are done. New diners are asked to wipe down their area if it was not done by the prior diner. It feels like you are dining at your auntie’s home in the countryside with the friendly ambience and the casual service, “please set your dishes on top”. “Sorry, but if your dining area is not clean, feel free to use the wet cloth to wipe it down.”

The menu starts at 650 JPY for two items, 800 JPY for three, and 1000 JPY for four. Some of the items include: torikatsu (chicken), tonkatsu (pork), menchi katsu (ground meat), aji furai (horse mackerel), ikafurai (squid), nasu (eggplant), kani kuri-mu (crab in a white sauce), and tamanegi (onion). In season at the moment is kaki furai (oyster).

The popular set, which comes at a discounted price, is the ninki teishoku (650 JPY) which consists of chicken, ham, and croquette. Hamu katsu may be the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen, a thin slice of ham that is breaded and deep-fried. The coating is thicker than the ham.

The rice serving is generous, so I suggest asking for gohan sukuname, for a smaller portion to begin with (see photo above). You could always ask for more rice if you would like more. It is considered impolite to leave rice in your bowl, so I try to do this at most restaurants.

On this day the crowd was mostly young students with a handful of salarymen mixed in. Many solo diners in the group. There is an old television over the refrigerator. The older people, myself included, watched the talk show program while waiting for our food. The rest of the diners were busy with their smartphones.

The tail was cut off of the horse mackerel after it was deep-fried, making it much easier to eat. The chicken was tender and juicy. The pickles made from greens this day was a bit on the salty side, so maybe take a small serving to see if it is to your liking.

This is a great local spot and hard to beat for this price. The ambience itself is worth a trip here. There are two entrances to the 2nd floor shop. One on a side street and the second off of a narrow pedestrian street on the backside of the building. Finding it is part of the fun.

Torikatsu Chicken とりかつチキン

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-16-19, Miyakoji Bldg. 2F

渋谷区道玄坂2-16-19都路2F

2016 Tsukiji Market Record Tuna by Numbers

Tsukiji 2016 tuna.JPG

  • This year’s most expensive tuna sold at 14,000,000 JPY or roughly $117,220 US dollars.
  • The bluefin tuna weighed about 200 kg (about 440 pounds).
  • The price per kilogram was about 70,000 JPY or roughly $585 US dollars.
  • The tuna came from Ohma in Aomori prefecture and was caught on January 3rd.
  • The tuna was bought by the sushi chain, Sushi Zanmai. Kimura Shacho (president) commented that 3 days of aging makes it for perfect eating for today.
  • Sushi Zanmai has bought the winning tuna the last four years in a row.
  • The 2013 year’s record tuna sold for 155,400,000 JPY or roughly $1.76 million US Dollars.
  • This year’s tuna came in at about 3 times last year’s record-winning price.
  • This is the last opening tuna auction to be held at Tsukiji Market. Next year the tuna auction will be held at the new market, Toyosu Market. The name Tsukiji will stay at the current location. The current Tsukiji Market’s outer market will remain and can keep the famous brand name that is named after the area.

Tsukiji tuna graph

Graph of the winning tuna price over the last ten years.

Tsukiji Sushi Zanmai

Kimura Shacho (president) of Sushi Zanmai. Proud owner of the best tuna at Tsukiji’s last opening tuna auction. Each year he brings the winning tuna to his main shop in the outer market. The shop is just behind him in this photo, with the winning tuna waiting to be cut into.

Japanese:

初競り はつせり first auction

黒鮪 くろまぐろ bluefin tuna

大間 おおま Ohma port

 

Dominique Ansel Bakery Tokyo

For my birthday we went to Dominique Ansel Bakery’s Cafe on the second floor of his shop. The menu has always intrigued me, especially since I saw a photo of his avocado toast.

New on the menu is chicken pot pie, which was the best pot pie I have ever had. A crispy golden crust over an umami-rich stew packed with chicken and vegetables. I woke up the next day thinking about this. The avocado toast comes with créme fraiche and a salad. The butternut squash was accented with cinnamon marshmallow squares.

The first floor of the shop is almost always full. The cafe has a full drink menu as well, including champagne and wine. There is an open kitchen and on my way out I could see a lobster roll being assembled.

Menu: http://dominiqueanseljapan.com/wp/wp-content/themes/dabjp/pdf/DAB_MENU_2F.pdf

Dominique Ansel DKA

We were so full from lunch that we celebrated at home with chef’s signature DKA, Dominique’s version of the kouign amann. This pastry is very popular in Tokyo and many bakeries serve their version of it. This one is not too sweet, has a rich texture from the buttery dough.

The shop is very popular and the line can be very long on the first floor. Reservations can be made for the cafe and sweets from the first floor can be had in the cafe, along with a drink order. The only thing that is only sold on the first floor is the cronut. From what I hear from friends in NYC, the line here in Tokyo is much shorter for cronuts.

The bakery is in Omotesando, just off the main street. It is worth the short detour if you are in the area of Harajuku, Shibuya, or Meiji Jingu Shrine. The first floor opens at 8 a.m. and the cafe opens at 9 a.m. A great spot to start your day in Tokyo.

Dominique Ansel Bakery

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-7-14 渋谷区神宮前5-7-14

shop information and access:

http://dominiqueanseljapan.com/en/contact

http://dominiqueanseljapan.com/wp/wp-content/themes/dabjp/pdf/DAB_MENU_2F.pdf

Keio Takao-san Onsen Gokurakuyu 京王高尾山温泉極楽湯

There is a brand new onsen at the Keio line Takao-san Guchi station. It is located just behind the new station, designed by Kengo Kuma. If you are going by JR Chuo line, when you get to Takao station, transfer to the Keio line and go one more station. Mount Takao is a great mountain for hiking. For those looking for an easy climb, take a ride to the top and do some simple walking around.

There are indoor and outdoor baths, a sauna, a micro-bubble bath, and more. On the first floor there is a big shokudō (dining hall), but the food was disappointing. I would go back for a beer and some small bites, but don’t plan on having your lunch or dinner here. There are many soba shops nearby that are worth the short walk. If you are looking for a very special meal, then make a reservation at Ukai Toriyama. I love coming here for lunch to see the gardens in the light.

The onsen was very busy, even though we went first thing in the morning. I imagine that in the afternoon when hikers are coming down from the mountain looking to refresh that it would be packed.

The onsen water is slightly cloudy and white and is alkaline. Most importantly, it isn’t too hot, so if you are not used to onsen, this is a good spot to start.

It’s only 1,000 JPY for adults, 500 JPY for kids, and children under 3 are free. There is a short period (only about 3 weeks of the year) that the prices go up by 100-200 JPY.

Keio Takaosan Onsen 京王高尾山温泉

Tokyo-to, Hachioji-shi, Takao-machi 2229-7  東京都八王子市高尾町2229-7

8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (last entry is at 10:00 p.m.)

Tsukiji Katou 築地かとう

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For a truly local breakfast at Tsukiji, bypass all of the sushi shops and follow the fishmongers to shops like Katou. The menu consists mostly of grilled and simmered seafood served with rice, miso soups, pickles, and a side dish.

Kinmedai, 金目鯛 splendid alfonsino, when simmered in a sweet soy broth, will melt in your mouth. I was lucky and got the head part of the fish, while my neighbor got the tail end. Dig into the head with your chopsticks to pull out small nuggets of tender meat. The eyeball is a delicacy. It is a challenge to pick up with your chopsticks. If you are successful in getting it into your mouth, suck up the tender collagen, but be sure to spit out the hard white part.

Katou’s big menu includes Saikyo miso marinated and grilled black cod, an assortment of seasonal sashimi, and seasonal whole fish simply salted and grilled. The bowl of rice is hearty, for the fishmongers who work in the market. It is impolite to leave rice in your bowl, so unless you are very hungry, it is good to ask for a small bowl of rice. In Japanese, gohan o sukuname.

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Katou かとう

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #8 中央区築地5-2-1ビル8号

This Tabelog page shows some of their other main dishes:

http://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1313/A131301/13007669/dtlphotolst/1/

Ogikubo Takahashi Soba 高はし

Takahashi is a about a ten-minute walk from Ogikubo station on the Chuo line, but worth the journey through the residential area west of Tokyo. I was meeting a girlfriend for lunch on a Tuesday. For whatever reason, many soba shops are closed on Tuesdays. But my friend had been to Takahashi before and we were in luck as it is open Tuesdays. On a side note, many hair salons are also closed on Tuesday. So frustrating…

The shop is just off of a main street and in a residential area. The menu is only in Japanese, so best to go with a Japanese friend, or have your hotel call ahead and arrange a menu.

Takahashi has a nice selection of sake as well. Dassai from Yamaguchi is on the list. This day we went with Tefu from Kokken in Fukushima. It is made with Miyama-Nishiki rice and is unpasteurized. The junmai sake is soft and food-friendly, a lovely partner to soba.

The shop brings out some deep-fried soba noodles with our sake. We started with goma-dōfu (sesame tofu), which was quite firm. The soba sashimi was cut into long strips and was a nice hint as to what was coming. The tempura included both shrimp and vegetables.

My friend was excited as fresh nori soba was on the menu. It was my first time to have it and it was lovely. A generous amount of soft nori that is reminiscent of the ocean is on top of the handmade soba. The nori soba was the seasonal soba. Can you imagine, nori having a season? It does, and it is just now ending its season, so get it while you can. Our table overlooked the soba processing room, but by lunchtime the master was done rolling and cutting the soba.

Highly recommend Takahashi, but be sure to go with a Japanese speaker or arrange your menu ahead of time. The menu is only in Japanese and don’t expect any English here. I also love that it is a bit of a walk from the station as the other customers there obviously made the trek for Takahashi-san’s soba.

Takahashi 高はし

Suginami-ku, Ogikubo 2-30-7 杉並区荻窪2-30-7

closed Wednesday and the third Tuesday of each month.