Nagano Azumino Okina Soba 安曇野翁 そば

Azumino Okina Soba

Azumino Okina Kamo Seiro Soba

Nagano is famous for soba, among many other things. But where to go, especially in the countryside? We asked around to friends about their recommendations, and a restaurateur told us about this lovely soba restaurant in Azumino called Okina. Azumino is a pastoral part of Nagano that has the impressive Kita Alps, Northern Japanese Alps, guarding it to one side.

The menu was very simple, only four different soba dishes. No side dishes. At first I was disappointed, as I was hoping to linger over a few small dishes before the soba. But realized that a small menu is a good thing as turnover is very quick. There was always someone outside waiting to come in, and usually the wait was not too long, even on a sunny Sunday.

This is the classic example of a shokunin, a craftsman who excels at doing one thing. In this case, it is soba (buckwheat) noodles. The soba master, Wakatsuki-san, opened the shop at the age of 40 in 1997. Prior to that he was the manager at the Tokyo branch of the famous Hakone Akatsukian soba shop.

Inside just as you walk in you can see his workshop for making soba noodles. I assume that he is there in the mornings and that he then moves over to the kitchen to cook during service. While there were waitresses, he did sometimes come out and help with the front of the house.

Check out how simple the Azumino Okina menu is.

Zaru soba – cold soba with a dipping sauce (865 JPY)

Inaka soba – thicker soba served cold with a dipping sauce (865 JPY) – this was sold out when we arrived

Oroshi soba – cold noodles served with a spicy grated daikon (1,080 JPY)

Kamo seiro – cold noodles served with a hot dipping sauce of duck and leeks, garnished with yuzu (1,400 JPY)

Azumino Okina Soba view

Azumino Okina Soba view

The view was amazing. We had the Kita Alps as a backdrop. This is the view from the from the shop.

The soba (buckwheat) comes from Nagano, Ibaraki, and Hokkaido. The buckwheat is milled at the shop and the noodles are made in house. The noodles had a little bit of a bite to them, which I really enjoyed. The tsuyu is made with kombu, katsuobushi, and donko dried shiitake mushrooms. The soy sauce is Okubo soy sauce from Matsumoto in Nagano.

The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but will close early if they run out of soba.

To get to it you do need a car or by taxi, ten minutes from Akashina station in Azumino city, Nagano.

Azumino Okina Soba

Nagano-ken, Kita Azumi-Gun, Ikeda, Nakau 3056-5

安曇野 翁

長野県北安曇郡池田中鵜3056-5

0261-62-1017

http://azuminookina.com/

We visited Okina after a trip to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba 神楽坂 九頭龍蕎麦

Kagurazaka Kyu Soba

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba

Just minutes from Iidabashi stations (both JR and the Metro) is a lovely spot for handmade soba, Kuzuryu Soba. The lunch set includes both soba and a donburi, rice bowl. The donburi options include curry rice, oyakodon (chicken and soft-scrambled eggs), and their recommendation – sōsu katsu, thin-slices of pork deep-fried and then covered with just the right amount of a sweet and salty sauce. It is such a bold and umami-rich dish that it almost outshines what we came here for, the soba.

Kagurazaka Kyu soba noodles

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba noodles

The buckwheat noodles are made from scratch in the store and if you are lucky you can watch the soba dough being sliced into thin noodles with the large, rectangular soba knife.

Kagurazaka Kyu Soba tableware

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba tableware

The gorgeous dishware is on display. Lovely lacquer and colorful tableware that is a reminder of how dining in Japanese is done first with the eyes.

Did I mention the price of the lunch? Only 890 JPY. Great bargain for handmade soba and donburi.

Kagurazaka Kuzuryu Soba 神楽坂 九頭龍蕎麦

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 3-3

新宿区神楽坂3-3

Suntory Master’s Dream

Suntory Master's Dream

Suntory Master’s Dream

A recent trend with Japanese beer companies is to produce a high-end brew for their portfolio. Suntory’s newest product to this category is Master’s Dream. This is a rich, aromatic beer with a nice balance of bitter and sweet notes. It is made with a traditional “diamond” malt, European hops, and spring water. I also love the packaging. It is in a glass bottle and what looks like a cap on top, but it is actually a plastic replica that doesn’t need a bottle opener.

Tokyo Station Yaesu Hatsufuji やえす初藤

Traditional Japanese Breakfast at Tokyo Station

Traditional Japanese Breakfast at Tokyo Station

The Yaechika mall in the basement of Tokyo Station is busy during the day, but at seven in the morning it is eerily quiet. The exit out of Tokyo Station’s basement into the Yaechika mall was closed until 7 a.m. When the gates were rolled open I followed some salarymen who were walking in the same direction and came across Yaesu Hatsufuji. I was surprised to see that minutes after opening, the shop was already starting to fill up.

I joined the line in front of the vending machine and picked a very traditional breakfast of salted and grilled salmon, pickles, simmered daikon and carrots, miso soup, seasoned nori, and rice. Service is quick and efficient and most diners here do not linger. This big breakfast is cheaper than McDonald’s, costing only 570 JPY. So cheap that I splurged and added a bowl of nattō, fermented soybeans.

Diners are asked to share tables. Most of the customers were male and the few women were escorted into booths.

Other main dish options include meat and tofu (nikudōfu), pork miso soup (tonjiru), ginger pork (shōgayaki), and some egg dishes.

I will be back. This is my new breakfast spot near Tokyo Station.

Yaesu Hatsufuji やえす初藤

Chuo-ku, Yaesu 2-1, Yaesu Chika Kita #1

中央区八重洲2−1八重洲地下北1号

http://www.hatsufuji.com/yaesu/index.html

The Future of Tsukiji Market – Tokyo Ichiba Project – Toyosu Market

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It is no news that Tsukiji Market’s Inner Market, Tsukiji Jōnai Ichiba,  will be moving in the next few years. While the government is saying 2016, our friends who work in the market are telling us it is more likely to be 2017. For sure the market must move by 2018 so that preparations for the 2020 Olympic Games can start. Last I heard the media center would be stationed here. The media center then would be taken down after the Paralympic Games and high-rise condominiums will be built here. UPDATE as of 23 Aug. 2014: Recently did a tour with some clients who are in Tokyo with the International Olympic Committee and they tell me that the press center will NOT be going to where the current Tsukiji Market is. Of course, that could always change. Also, yesterday while visiting this Tokyo Ichiba Project we queried the staff and they tell us the market will not move until 2017.

As for the Outer Market, Tsukiji Jōgai Ichiba, it will stay as it is. The Outer Market is always open to the general public. It is the Inner Market where the wholesale seafood is, as well as the famous tuna auction.

What is up with the future market? To get a better idea, be sure to stop by the Tokyo Ichiba Project museum which is located inside of the market. The museum has pictures of the future market as well as a three-dimensional models.

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Here is an overview of what the Toyosu Market will look like. One of the attendants in the museum said that the market name will change from Tsukiji to Toyosu once it moves. Perhaps the current Outer Market will continue to be called Tsukiji. It is very interesting as the models also show how the new market will be broken up into three different complexes with each building having a few floors. The monorail is also shown so that visitors will have an idea of how to access the Toyosu Market.

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A photo of the tuna auction at Toyosu. Visitors will be able to view from a second floor viewing platform and from side windows.

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The brand new facilities will be temperature controlled.

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There will be many restaurants for visitors.

What is not shown at the museum, but what has been shown on television is that a hotel will also be built here. There will also be a hot springs at the hotel with an outdoor onsen on the rooftop that will overlook Tokyo Bay. It is slightly more convenient for the delivery trucks to access, especially for those that make the trip to Narita airport. This PDF has a map of the new facility compared to the current location.

* The new market is only 2.3 kilometers from the current location.

* Toyosu Market will be accessible by the Yurikamome monorail.

* The stop for the Toyosu Market is called “Ichiba Mae”.

Tokyo Ichiba Project Museum

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1

open from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m.

camp Curry at Otemachi

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camp (small letter c) has been on my Go List for a long time. The signature curry at camp serves up a day’s recommended portion of vegetables. Most of us could probably do better at eating vegetables, so to get my daily requirement in one delicious meal makes me happy.

The curry is quite smoky. Looking into the open kitchen, it seems that each curry is made to order. There was a lot of big flames at the stove, which explains the smokiness in the dish. The mild curry includes onions, kabocha squash, cabbage and potatoes. We upgraded the dish which included some chicken wings to make it a complete dish with protein. The chicken was tough and without a lot of meat so the next time I would do vegetables only.

The other curry, which was very comforting, was bacon, corn, and onions that are garnished with cheese and a soft-boiled egg. Did I mention the bacon? This as well was mild, but rich with smoky bacon.

There are extra-large paper bibs at each setting. I consider myself a neat eater, but was surprised to see the small splatters on the white bib. I may start carrying some around for me for whenever I dine out. :-)

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Tableware is what you would take with you camping. Ice water is in a thermos on the table with silverware in a bucket. Simple interior, think wooden tables and chairs that probably came from IKEA, and the staff are in t-shirts. This shop is in a very busy business district. We came just before the lunch rush and were seated right away, but just as the noon hour came up a long line queued in front of the restaurant. There are a few branches around Tokyo including Yoyogi and camp express in Ikebukuro and Shinagawa.

Otemachi Camp

Camp Curry

Went back to camp Curry at the end of summer and had another great meal. The curry on the left is one day’s vegetables in a coconut green curry and on the right is a summer tomato and eggplant curry with ground meat and cheese. It’s a great spot, just very crowded at the noon rush, so go early.

camp Otemachi

Chiyoda-ku, Otemachi 1-5-5, Ootemori Bldg. B2

11:00 – 22:00

Chef Nicolas Boujéma of Signature at Mandarin Oriental

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There is a new French chef in town, Nicolas Boujéma, at Signature in the Mandarin Oriental. I was very curious to try his food as he has a very impressive resumé, most recently coming from Pierre Gagnaire in Hong Kong. I had the chance to interview him for Metropolis magazine for a Tastemaker piece. It’s always exciting to see a chef who is new to Japan explore the local ingredients. Boujéma is a talented chef and it will be fun to revisit and see how his cuisine evolves as he experiences the changing produce and seafood. He lives near Tsukiji Market and visits often, and says that he finds a lot of inspiration there.

Louis Roederer champagne to start, a lovely wine. This table overlooks Tokyo station, the Bank of Japan, and the historic Nihonbashi district where the Mandarin Oriental is located.

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Some lovely amuse bouche to start includes smoked eel, an aromatic muscat, and gougère.

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An earthy Australian truffle soup, ravioli foie gras, with a light vegetable broth. It is well balanced and not too heavy, and just sexy enough with the truffles. Which makes me feel guilty for indulging in something so nice before dinner.Sig4

Saffron butter and whipped butter. Excellent bread is being made in house  like this petit baguette and brioche. The saffron butter was a very nice touch.

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Tavel Chateau d’Aquéria is a lovely rosé and perfect not only on a hot summer day, as this was, but also with the sardine and tomato dish it was served with.Sig6

Lovely presentation of iwashi (sardine) that is marinated in salt, lemon juice,  and olive oil. It’s served with a refreshing tomato terrine, goat cheese from Loire, Italian ham, and mustard crouton. Again, the dish is well-balanced and not too rich, as one would expect from iwashi.

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Alsace is one of my favorite wine regions for its aromatic white wines with a crisp acidity. It is the wine I choose when we are out and celebrating a special occasion. When the sommelier brought this to the table I couldn’t stop smiling. I was told that a former Japanese sommelier at Signature married into the Hugel family and is now living in Alsace. This was riesling was nice with this next dish.

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My favorite dish of the meal was this amazing combination of truffles, waffle, braised shallots, leeks, mushrooms, and whipped cream with truffles. The leek was sliced thin and painted onto the plate. The waffle pockets were stuffed with braised shallots and served with a lovely Port sauce. And again, a hedonistic course with truffles. Had I been at home I would have picked up the plate and licked it clean. Sig9

Francois Villard Condrieu Les Terraces du Palaix. Lovely aromatics in this viognier. This floral Rhone wine is perfect for the accompanying fish main dish which reminded me of the Mediterranean.Sig10

Bouillabaise inspired cod, amadai sashimi, eggplant puree with lemon, zucchini, and fennel. The warm breeze of the south of France. A nice touch of amadai (tile fish) sashimi with the cod. Sig11

Potato espumante with saffron is a refreshing palate cleanser before the cheese course.Sig12

Macon La Roche Vineuse Gamay – lovely with the cheese! Fruity yet with a nice backbone.
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48 months aged Comte cheese which I am told is very rare. It is prepared with truffles, a white pepper cream, and shaved with some sweet jelly, and brioche in the middle. Muscat grape and dragon fruit. A luxurious course and so nice to see the cheese served three ways.

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Hakuto peaches espumante. A wonderful, light finish and a nice touch as peaches are at the peak of their seasonality in Japan at the moment. Sig15

And a few sweet touches to end a lovely lunch.

It’s always exciting to welcome a new chef to Tokyo. Be sure to put Signature on your Go List for Tokyo. Excellent food, outstanding service, knowledgeable sommeliers, and spectacular views – day or night. It will be fun to watch his cuisine evolve as he acquaints himself with the seasonal Japanese ingredients.

Signature at the Mandarin Oriental

Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-1-1

Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Reservations: 03-3270-8188

http://www.mandarinoriental.com/tokyo/fine-dining/signature/

July Seasonal Japanese Seafood

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Simmered ma-anago

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Seared katsuo

July Sashimi

July sashimi

 

Some of our personal favorites include ayu (salted and grilled), shitabirame (meuniere), shijimi (miso soup), benisake (salted and grilled), and for sashimi – surumeika, kinmedai, takabe, and isaki.

Ainame 鮎並 fat greenling (Hexagrammos otakii)

Akashita birame 赤舌鮃  red-tongued sole (Cynoglossus joyneri)

Awabi abalone (Haliotis sorenseni)

Ayu 鮎 sweetfish (Plecoglossus altivelis altivelis)

Benisake べにさけ 紅鮭 sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Dojou 泥鰌 loach (Misgurnus Anguillicaudatus)

Hamo   pike eel or pike conger (Muraenesox cinereus)

Inada イナダ young Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Isaki 伊佐幾 chicken grunt  (Parapristipoma trilineatum)

Ishidai 石鯛  barred knifejaw (Oplegnathus fasciatus)

Ishimochi イシモチ nibe croaker (Nibea mitsukurii)

Iwana 日光岩魚 whitespotted char (Salvelinus leucomaenis pluvius)

Kamasu 大和叺 barracuda (Sphyraena japonica)

Kanpachi  間八 amberjack or yellowtail (Seriola dumerili)

Katsuo 鰹  skipjack tuna or oceanic bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis)

Kawahagi 皮剥 thread-sail filefish (Stephanolepis cirrhifer)

Kihada maguro 黄肌鮪 yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares)

Kinmedai 金目鯛 splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Kisu 鱚 Japanese whiting (Sillago japonica)*or shirogisu

Kochi 鯒 bartail flathead (Platycephalus)

Kuro maguro 黒鮪 bluefin tuna (Thunus thynnus)

Maaji 真鯵 Japanese jack mackerel (Trachurus japonicus)

Maanago 真穴子 whitespotted conger (Conger myriaster)

Maiwashi 真鰯  Japanese sardine (Sardinops melanostictus)

Makogarei 真子鰈 marbled sole (Pleuronectes yokohamae)

Masaba 真鯖 Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Mejimaguro めじまぐろ young tuna (genus Thunnus) if it is a young bluefin tuna it will be called honmeji, if it is a young yellowfin tuna it will be called kinmeji.

Niji masu 虹鱒 rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Oni okoze  鬼虎魚 spiny devilfish (Inimicus japonicus)

Shijimi – 大和蜆 corbicula clams or water clams (Corbicula japonica)

Shima aji  島鯵 striped jack or white trevally (Pseudocaranx dentex)

Shiro ika 白いか  swordtip squid (Loligo (Photololigo) edulis)* or kensaki ika

Shitabirame 舌平目 (or ushinoshita) four line tongue sole(Arelia bilineat)

Surumeika 鯣烏賊  Japanese common or flying squid (Todarodes pacificus)

Suzuki 鱸  Japanese sea perch (Lateolabrax japonicus)

Tachiuo 太刀魚 cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus)

Takabe たかべ yellow-striped butterfish (Labracoglossa argentiventris)

Tobiuo 飛魚 Japanese flying fish (Cypselurus agoo agoo)

Unagi 鰻 Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica)