Tokyo’s Coolest Tea and Spirits Bar

souen-gyokuro

One of the most magical tea tastings I have experienced was at Souen. The original shop was in Nishi-Azabu at a terribly inconvenient location. Souen has moved to Minami-Aoyama’s Spiral Building on the 5th floor, which is easy to access. Woo-hoo!

Souen offers a simple tea with wagashi tasting, but the flight of tea and tea-infused spirits is an experience that can only be had here. Allow time for for the full course, I believe we were there for almost two hours, which included some shopping in the tiny retail shop.

gyokuro-w-wagashi

The afternoon started with a sampling of different infusions of gyokuro. The savory and meaty tea was steeped in warm, not hot, water, bringing out notes and aromas I have never experienced with green tea. After the tasting with the wagashi, we were presented with the steeped gyokuro leaves and some ponzu. We were instructed to dress the gyokuro with ponzu and eat. It was like a rich spinach sunomono, and a perfect palate cleanser before the tea-infused liqueurs.

We were presented with four different spirits that were infused with four different tea leaves. The alcohol is very strong and the pours are generous. Be sure to have big dinner plans following a full flight. I have had the date stuffed with butter and walnut before so I was thrilled to be reacquainted with it, and preferred it with the spirit than with tea.

souen-whisky

The tea-infused Japanese whisky was served with iburigako, a smoked daikon pickle from Akita, and pickled greens, this too was a nice match.

souen-wagashi-selectionGuests are presented with a selection of wagashi for the final course. A friend and I couldn’t decide on which to get so we each ordered one and they kindly cut them so we could each try both.

The course ends with a green tea spirit and we selected a cinnamon and apple jelly with a sweet that included ginkgo nuts.

This is a very special experience. Even a cup of tea is lovely here. There is a wall of windows overlooking Aoyama and Shinjuku, but that contrasts the quiet tea space. Reservations recommended. We tried walking in earlier in the week and could not get in.

Souen

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-6-23, Spiral Building 5F 港区南青山5-6-23

http://www.sakurai-tea.jp/

New Breakfast Spot at Tsukiji Market

tsukiji-uogashi-shokudo

Uogashi Shokudō breakfast

There is a brand new place to have breakfast at Tsukiji Market that is void of tourists and offering a value priced meal. There is a new facility, Tsukiji Uogashi, with about sixty retail shops for seafood and produce on the first floor. The first floor is open to the general public after 9 a.m. Prior to that it is for trade people only. The second floor is administrative offices and is off limits to visitors.

The third floor is a new shokudō (dining hall) that is run by a non-profit organization to supporting Japanese seafood and produce from Tsukiji Market. The recommended breakfast, only 650 JPY, included a small grilled fish filet, simmered fish with daikon, miso soup, pickles, and rice. The breakfast above was only 800 JPY and was a large serving of yellowtail and daikon simmered until tender in a sweet soy broth.

The dining hall on a recent morning was very quiet, only a handful of customers. The dining hall is so new that many don’t know about it yet. I was seated at a counter overlooking the open kitchen. The staff were very friendly and genki (enthusiastic).

The shokudō is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch prices too are reasonable, with a sashimi donburi for only 1,000 JPY or a sashimi set lunch for 1,200 JPY. I highly recommend starting your morning here if you will be visiting Tsukiji Market.

Chūō-ku, Tsukiji 6-26-1, Odawarabashi Ren 3rd floor, Uogashi Shokudō

中央区築地6-26-1小田原橋棟 3F

http://www.tsukiji.or.jp/forbiz/uogashi/

My Go-To Brasserie

My go-to brasserie is Girandole at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The menu includes many classics like Salad Nicoise (2,300 JPY) and Pate de Campagne (2,600 JPY). I love the Japanese twist on the salad which included seared tuna. The pate de campagne is dense without being heavy.  There is a nice selection of wines by the glass. Service is professional without being stodgy.

The Petit Lunch is a good value for 2,500 JPY which starts with a soup or salad, main, and dessert. The restaurant is on the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku. There are a handful of seats along the window, but I prefer the cozy banquettes. At a recent dinner here there was a family celebrating a baby’s first birthday in a corner semi-private room. We’ve come with our young son and the kid-friendly restaurant made us feel at home.

Girandole at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2, Park Hyatt Tokyo 41st Floor

https://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/Girandole.html

Our Local Burger Shop

I love a good burger. While I was born in Tokyo, I grew up in Minnesota eating burgers and fries. There are some good burger shops in Tokyo, but it’s nice to have a local spot that we can decide to go to at the last minute and not have to make a special trip into the city.

Jimmy’s Diner is our local burger shop serving a generous portion of fries and a meaty burger in an American diner interior. There are booths off to one side and a counter overlooking the kitchen.

The menu is simple, a burger with many different toppings. The burger is made with Japanese beef and the bun is from my favorite local bakery. The onions are raw, but Jimmy is kind enough to sauté them upon request. The fries are crispy and the serving is big, but if you are hungry, you can request a bigger serving for a small supplement, but only if you are really hungry. The serving in the photos above are the regular serving.

I believe Jimmy’s is closed on Monday. Call ahead to be sure if you are making a special trip here. Jimmy’s Diner is about a five-minute walk from Kokubunji station’s north exit. Jimmy (Hirakawa Hajime-san) and his wife run the kid-friendly shop. It’s open on Sundays.🙂

Jimmy’s Diner

Kokubunji-shi, Honcho 2-14-5 国分寺市本町2-14-5

https://www.facebook.com/Jimmys-DINER-1219940928032747/

Vegetarian Sushi in a Traditional Japanese Home

Just south of Nishi-Ogikubo station on the JR Chuo line is a quaint kominka, traditional Japanese home, with a restaurant and retail shop. Re:gendo offers nutritious meals in a rustic setting that is worth a trip out of the city. A good friend put this shop on my radar and she even knew to pre-order the vegetarian sushi when she made the reservation. The set made with seasonal vegetables is only made in limited numbers and if you don’t reserve it in advance there is a good chance you can’t have it. The shop is popular so it is best to make reservations. The menu is rich in vegetables, but not exclusively vegetarian.

The photo on the left is the menu, which folds out of a what looks like a Japanese wallet. The sushi included two made with fruit, mango and strawberries, along with pickled vegetables, tempura, a savory custard, and a hearty miso soup.

The retail shop features tableware, kitchenware, and ingredients. Many of the items sold here are handcrafted. If you like some of the dishes used for your meal you may find it sold in the shop. The Nishi-Ogikubo area is fun to walk around and carefully peruse, so plan on spending an afternoon here.

After each meal I leave nourished and inspired to eat better and to surround myself with beautiful things.

Re:gendo りげんど

Suginami-ku, Shoan 3-38-20 杉並区松庵3-38-20

http://re-gendo.jp/

 

Tempura-ya That Should Be on Your Radar

On the back streets of Kagurazaka in the basement of a modern building is Tempura Arai. The entrance to the restaurant is a small door that one must bend over to enter. Tempura Arai is the sister shop to the famous Tenko that opened recently and should be put on your Go List. The contrast to the father’s shop is striking as Tenko is a former geisha residence and has some history to it while this is modern with sleek lines.

At the moment Tempura Arai is open for lunch and lunch is very reasonable with the tendon starting at 1,400 JPY and a full course at 5,000 JPY. However, I believe that the shop may only be open for lunch on Saturdays only starting in the new year. The evening course starts at 8,500 JPY which is a good price.

Part of the tempura experience is listening to the items as they fry in the oil. Tempura Arai is intimate enough that you can hear each item as it cooks in the hot oil.

We did the lunch course, the tempura is light and delicate and finishes with a kakiage cake over rice. The shop has sake and a selection of wine as well. The restaurant can do vegetarian only upon request, but I believe the vegetables would be fried in the same oil as the shrimp and seafood.

Tempura Arai 天婦羅あら井

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 4-8, AGE Bldg. B1

新宿区神楽坂4-8 AGEビル B1

http://tempura-arai.jp/

Savory Unagi

unagi-aji-no-miyakawa-ikebukuro

Ikebukuro Tobu is Tokyo’s largest depachika with over 200 food stalls. The depachika is spread out over two floors and two buildings, and is worth a careful peruse. The restaurant floors on the upper five floors of the department store offers tempura, tonkatsu, sushi, unagi, and much more. The restaurant floors are packed on weekends, but a great option for weekdays. The unagi shop, Aji no Miyagawa, grills the fresh water eel and glazes it with a sauce that is not sweet. It is a nice change from the cloying sweet soy that is often found at unagi-ya. The unajū box of rice topped with grilled eel and sauce, but on this day, the lunch set called out to me, including sashimi, and simmered vegetables. The clear soup includes the eel liver. This lunch is about 4,000 JPY. Aji no Miyagawa’s main shop is at Tokyo Station. There are a few branches in the city.

Aji no Miyagawa 味乃宮川

Toshima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-1-25, Ikebukuro Tobu, 12th Floor

 

 

Simmered Pork Belly Curry Pan

curry-pan-pan-rizotta

Ikebukuro Tobu is Tokyo’s largest depachika. While exploring it recently we came across what is one of Tokyo’s great curry pans, bread filled with curry and deep-fried. This one caught my eye as it is called 豚の角煮カレーパン buta no kakuni kare-pan, simmered pork belly curry bread. The bread is studded with shards of bread that when deep-fried crisp up like croutons, offering a nice contrast to the tender pork belly inside. The curry is not very spicy, but just a hint of spice. This is definitely one of my favorite curry pan in the city.

Pan Rizotta is a bakery inside of Ikebukuro Tobu. This is the only Pan Rizotta in Japan, so the only place you will find this simmered pork belly curry pan. If you are in luck, as we were, the 揚げたて agetate sign will be out indicating it is hot out of the deep-fryer.

Pan Rizotta Bakery at Ikebukuro Tobu

Toshima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-1-25

http://www.tobu-dept.jp/ikebukuro/

Tobu can be accessed from Ikebukuro station.

Japanese Curry with Some Fried Pork

ouroji-tondon

Tonkatsu on its own is a great dish, as is curry, but combined as katsu curry is a great way to hit two sweet spots in one dish. Ouroji 王ろじ is a tonkatsu shop on a quiet back street near Shinjuku Isetan. Katsu curry here is served in a bowl and is called tondon (tonkatsu donburi). The rice is from Niigata and is the right texture and slightly sweet. The curry is not at all spicy, and in the Japanese-style, so if you like heat, look elsewhere. The tonkatsu is a thick piece with a crispy coating that is dressed with some sweet sauce over the curry. Ouroji opened in 1921 and it has an old school feel to it.

Ouroji 王ろじ

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku3-17-21   新宿区新宿3-17-21

Sadaharu Aoki

sadaharu-aoki

Sadaharu Aoki is a Japanese pastry chef who first made his name in Paris before moving back to Tokyo. His retail shop with a café near Yurakucho station is a nice spot to rest your feet and rejuvenate with French pastries, some with Japanese flavors like yuzu, mattcha, and wasabi. The mattcha served at his shop is on the sweet side and is served hot or iced.

patisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 3-4-1, Shin-Kokusai Bldg. 1F

千代田区丸の内3-4-1新国際ビル1F

http://www.sadaharuaoki.com/boutique/tokyo-en.html