Ito Onsen – Shizuoka

Ito Onsen in Shizuoka is a lovely onsen resort town that can be reached using the cool Super Odoriko train, from Tokyo Station. Ito Onsen is on the Izu Hanto (peninsula), famous for onsen (hot springs) and seafood. The train has extra large windows, which overlooks Tokyo Bay in Shizuoka (left side of the train going and right side returning to Tokyo).

Shizuoka has many seaside onsen resort towns. Atami is popular and has many options. Ito Onsen was on our radar as it is just beyond Atami and is known for having yasukute oishii ryokan, cheap and delicious ryokan. There are also many higaeri onsen, hot springs that you can use without staying overnight.

It is the first train that I have been on with beer on tap and plenty of beer-friendly snacks. In Japan this often means dried squid or processed cheese sandwiched between seafood flattened into a sheet.

If you have small kids, this is also the only train I have been on that has a play room. Be sure to ask to get your seats near the kids room. Our kid played the whole ride going and coming. It’s Japan, so of course, the kids take off their shoes when they go into the room.

We stayed at the Ito Garden Hotel, which had a simple rotenburo (outdoor onsen) and a small kids’ room with toys. It’s not a big selection of toys, but was suitable for a six-year old. There was also a small library of children’s books in Japanese and English. The hotel is up on the mountainside and we had a room that overlooked the city and the bay.

Dinner, served in a separate room, included steamed abalone, local sashimi, and some grilled meat. While guests are dining someone goes to your room to pull out the futons.

Traditional Japanese breakfast to start the day. Local seafood & sea vegetables (hijiki and funori) highlight the menu. There is a vending machine in the hotel if you need your coffee. It was not a luxurious hotel, but simple and the food was good and plentiful.

We spent the day exploring the city of Ito which is on the bay. There is a black sand beach and in the summer it is popular. There are many shops selling himono (butterflied and air-dried seafood) and some shops are even drying seafood in front of the shop.

There is a sculpture garden on the beach which is a great spot to look over the water and to climb on some of the sculptures.

For lunch I highly recommend Fujiichi (est. 1945). The first floor is a fishmonger and the second floor is a casual restaurant. Each table has its own barbecue, which makes any meal more fun. The table gets hot, so a good excuse to have an ice-cold beer. We ordered Pacific mackerel and squid that was served raw so that we could grill it ourselves. It’s a small shop and very popular, so time your visit around the main 12 noon lunch time (when the restaurant was packed).

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There are a few pedestrian shōtengai, arcades with many small shops selling omiyage (souvenirs), sweets, and the local green tea. Shizuoka is one of the famous tea regions in Japan.

One of the shōtengai, Yu no Hana Dōri 湯の花通り, has a large souvenir shop, Izu Guricha, selling local tea. In one corner is a small shop selling soft-serve ice cream, including a sundae topped with sweetened chestnuts, azuki beans, mochi, and kinpaku (gold sheet). Shizuoka-ken, Itō-shi, Shishido, 1 Chome−2, 静岡県伊東市猪戸1丁目2ー1

Nearby is Binya Coffee with an in-house roaster. Shishido 1-5-35

We loved our two days in Ito Onsen and I look forward to coming back.

Crista

Crista is the new restaurant that is in the old Beacon space, run by the same restaurant group, Tysons & Company. Chef David Chiddo oversees the menu and if you are fan of Beacon, TY Harbor, and Cicada, then you will feel at home here.

The interior has changed and the private room has moved from the side of the main dining room to behind the bar, much more intimate. On a recent lunch the energy was not as boisterous as in the past, but more relaxed with diners seeming to linger longer.

One thing that caught my eye when we were seated was the simple dish for bread on the table. It was handmade. I was impressed by many of the dishes that came out. The tableware is Kasama-yaki from Ibaraki. The table is much warmer with these artisan dishes. A nice nod to Japanese artisans.

We started with the tuna tartare with avocado and crispy papadams and a kochi jan sauce. A nice contrast of textures and flavors. I am a big fan of the TY Harbor Caesar salads and have a hard time resisting it.

 

I loved the Beacon burger and I love the Crista burger, which is an upgrade. The US Prime-grade chuck is ground fresh daily and the fries are new. The ketchup and mayonnaise is made in-house and is oishii.

If you love pork, be sure to try the Waton mochi-buta from Gunma. Japan has great pork and this is one of them. Simply grilled, this will spoil you for pork.

Brendhan, the manager, is very friendly and walked us through the menu. He also assembled the tuna tartare with papadams. The young pastry chef spent some time in NYC which is reflected in this life-changing brownie with caramelized bananas with a caramel ice cream.

Crista is a short walk from either Shibuya or Omotesando stations. There is a nice outdoor seating area that I would like to come back to with a girlfriend when it warms up a bit more. Crista’s brunch looks great. Kim chee fried rice, huevos rancheros,

CRISTȂ

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-2-5 渋谷区渋谷1-2-5

https://www.tysons.jp/crista/en/access/

Prix Fixe lunch course 3,800 JPY

Burger a la carte 2,800 JPY

Crista Romaine Caesar Salad with Avocado 1,600 JPY

 

Food Sake Tokyo updates

We are sad to hear that in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, that the Yaoya no Nikai restaurant above the Kanematsu vegetable shop has closed. Nearby is a similar restaurant serving meals based on Kyoto vegetables, Kyo no Okazu.

Here is a PDF food-sake-tokyo-updates-20170221 of the most current updates to Food Sake Tokyo. Please print for your next trip to Japan.

 

Osaka

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Osaka is a city for great eats and should be on your radar if you love Japanese food. I have family in Osaka and have always enjoyed visiting, but have forgotten how good the food is here since I have been spending more time in Kyoto. Now I am kicking myself. Osaka is easily accessible from Kyoto and worth spending at minimum a day to try some of the signature dishes it is known for.

Takoyaki are bite-size savory balls with octopus. Covered with a sweet sauce, katsuobushi flakes, and aonori it is a great snack. Tako = octopus; yaki = grilled.

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake with toppings like pork and seafood. It is also topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi flakes, and aonori. It is usually made in front of the diner on a hot teppan, iron grill.

Mizuno 美津の is a Michelin Bib Gourmand shop in the popular Dotonbori district.

https://tabelog.com/en/osaka/A2701/A270202/27001278/

Mizuno’s original okonomiyaki is called Mizuno-yaki and is made with pork, squid, shrimp, scallops, octopus, and oysters in the winter season. We were also craving some noodles and got the modern-yaki which is an okonomiyaki with yakisoba noodles.

The shop is very popular so expect lines.

http://www.mizuno-osaka.com/menu.html#sec5

大阪府 大阪市中央区 道頓堀 1-4-15

Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku, Dotonbori 1-4-15

osaka-udon-bou

Udon is soul food for Osakans. We fell into Bou while exploring the maze of restaurants in the buildings in front of Osaka station in Umeda. A small counter with a few side tables. There were some bottles of sake in the fridge, including Kawatsuru from Kagawa prefecture. Kagawa in Shikoku is also known for udon and it was a good match.

The recommended dish is tempura chikuwa (roasted fish cake) bukkake udon with an onsen tamago. Bukkake udon are cold noodles with a very little amount of sauce. A delicious bowl and a nice finish to the day after trying so many dishes.

The restaurant was filled with regulars, many office workers from the building.

Udon Bou Osaka Honten

Osaka-fu, Osaka-shi, Kita-Umeda 1-1-3, B200 Osaka Eki Mae Bldg. Dai-3, B2F37-2

うどん棒 大阪本店
大阪市北区梅田1-1-3B200大阪駅前
第3ビルB2F37-2

http://www.udonbo.co.jp/

I’ve been to Osaka over a dozen times and had never tried Osaka-style kushi katsu. Kushi katsu are small bites that are skewered, breaded and deep-fried. The Osaka twist on the dish is that on the table is a container with a thin sauce that the kushi katsu is dipped into. Signs everywhere remind diners to dip only once, no double dipping. 🙂

OMG, this was so good and I can’t believe it was my first time to experience this, 28 years after my first visit. The shop is casual and loads of fun for kids. Like kaitenzushi shops, a toy shinkansen brings the hot items to your tableside. Vegetarians will like it here as there are many vegetables on the menu. We loved it all, seafood, meat, vegetables, and cheese.

Best of all, this shop is at Shin-Osaka station where the shinkansen arrives. I will be back!

Kushi Katsu Daruma

http://www.kushikatu-daruma.com/

There are branches throughout the city.

Be sure to put Osaka on your radar. If you are spending any time in Kyoto, see if you can add a day and extend your travels to include Osaka.

 

2017 Tsukiji Tuna by the Numbers

tsukiji-tuna-2017

Today is the first day that Tsukiji Market is open, and the first tuna auction. The most expensive is called #1 tuna, ichiban maguro, and went for 74,200,000 JPY ($632,000 USD). The buyer was a popular sushi chain, Sushi Zanmai. The president, Kiyoshi Kimura, has bought the #1 tuna for the last six years running.

It was thought that last year would be the last tuna auction at the historic Tsukiji Market. Many issues have delayed the move to Toyosu.

President Kimura has said that he will cut the tuna at 2:00 p.m. at his Tsukiji Market main shop. He will sell the tuna at regular prices. The fatty tuna, ootoro, should sell for 10,000 JPY ($100) per piece, but he’ll sell it at regular prices, so 390 JPY ($4). As tuna is a big fish, it is actually better for it to be aged for a while for best flavor and texture, but it’s hard to resist having a bite of history.

It is important to understand the value of the tuna is not worth $632,000 USD, but that this is a popular marketing and PR opportunity for whoever buys the winning tuna. The media coverage alone on television is priceless. Every major news channel covered the event and followed the tuna to Sushi Zanmai. Interviews were held all morning and in the afternoon. The coverage will extend to the evening. Tomorrow’s print media will also have it on the front of almost every paper. So yes, it’s great publicity for the media-hungry Japanese market.

Tuna by the Numbers:

  • 212 kg bluefin tuna from Ohma, Aomori
  • $3,000 USD per kg (35,000 JPY per kg)
  • $632,000 USD for the whole tuna
  • 5 times the price of last year’s tuna
  • The 2013 year’s record tuna sold for 155,400,000 JPY or roughly $1.76 million US Dollars.
  • Estimated 15,000 pieces of sushi can be made from a tuna of this size. To make it even, each piece should be sold for 5,000 JPY, but will go for only 300 – 400 JPY.

Niigata Echigo Yuzawa

Just one hour from Tokyo on the shinkansen, Echigo Yuzawa is a fun get-away to a snowy paradise. There are mountains for skiing, and even play areas for kids to sled. Even ski gear and snow boots can be rented, so no need to go up with heavy bags. We left sunny Tokyo and after passing through a long tunnel near our destination, was surprised to be arriving in a winter wonderland.

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Yuzawa Ski Park Resort

We used Yuzawa Ski Park Resort with a free shuttle from the station. After arriving we signed up for a kids’ ski lesson and rented a sled.

Yuzawa Kogen is walking distance from the station. We took a cable car from the base to halfway up the mountain where there was a blizzard and we were in the clouds.

We stayed at Taki no Yu and had our own private onsen (photo above right) in our room. The kid-friendly ryokan had Purare-ru train set in the lobby.

The cuisine was very good. Below are photos of the small dishes for the okayu breakfast (left photo) and the appetizers for dinner (right photo).

Taki no Yu. Request the Kikyou Room for the private onsen in the room. The water made my skin feel soft and the temperature was not too hot. The rotenburo, outdoors onsen, was set in snow. Soaking in a hot tub while snow falls down is so relaxing. The room we stayed in had two beds and a separate tatami room for futons. It said it could sleep up to seven, so a good option if traveling with family.

http://www.yuzawa-takinoyu.com/rooms/#con_kikyou

The station has a large shopping area for omiyage including regional food products, knives, fresh produce, and rice. Niigata is famous for Koshihikari grown in Uonuma. There are several restaurants including a sushi-ya, soba-ya, and a nice cafe for mattcha latte and soft serve made with local milk.

Ponshukan is a saké tasting room for a flight of five saké starting at 500 JPY.

There is a visitors’ center in the station that is a warm seating area and has free wifi as well as some brochures in English.

For the return shinkansen we picked up two bentō at the ekiben stand in the station. Both bentō  include a heating unit under the bentō that heats it up in five minutes. There is a big selection of cup saké sold at the station.

Echigo Yuzawa would also be an easy day trip from Tokyo. Round-trip tickets are less than 15,000 JPY. One tip, ask for seats on the second floor of the shinkansen for better views. Another tip, many roads and sidewalks have running water to keep the snow from accumulating. Be sure to go with waterproof shoes, or rent a pair of boots at the information center just outside of the station.

Niigata – Sake Tasting at Echigo Yuzawa Station

Echigo Yuzawa is a short shinkansen ride from Tokyo station, just over an hour. We left Tokyo on a sunny morning and when the train shoots out of the the Niigata mountain side of the tunnel, we were in a snowstorm. It was like a dream come true.

Echigo Yuzawa station has a special sake tasting room with over a hundred sake, shochu, umeshu, and Japanese wine, all from Niigata. The tasting starts at 500 JPY. Visitors are given a small sake tasting cup and five tokens. It’s a fun way to get a grasp on Niigata sake. There is a box with hot water for warming up the sake. Some great offerings including Hakkaisan, Kakurei, and Kubota. There were several seasonal offerings as well.

Even if Echigo Yuzawa is not your final destination, if you are passing through, I would suggest getting off the train and spending an hour in the station at this sake tasting area and visiting the many shops selling regional products.

Ponshukan

Echigo Yuzawa Station, Niigata

http://www.ponshukan.com/05_1.htm

Table-worthy Canned Goods

We keep a big variety of canned foods in the pantry, in case of an earthquake, and because Japan offers great options. Canned foods in Japan offer a wide variety of seafood and meats, many worth putting on the table with a glass of wine or saké.

Kokubu is a company that offers a colorful selection in its premium line up. On the upper right photo is simmered beef tendons from the Ginza izakaya, ROCK FISH. The sauce is so good that it’s good to have a baguette for dipping.

From left to right is: smoked kaibashira (shellfish adductor muscle), yakitori with black pepper, habanero sardines,  and Hokkaido scallops. The cans are easy to heat up in the toaster oven. Clean-up is a breeze, just rinse and recycle the cans.

There is a Kokubu retail shop, ROJI Nihonbashi, is in Nihonbashi at Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 1-1-1. http://www.roji-nhb.jp/shop/ But you’ll find these sold at supermarkets and some convenient stores.

The canned sardines, both from Kushiro in Hokkaido, and Choshi in Chiba, are standards in our menu. We will open up a can if we need to add a protein to a meal. The sardines are cooked in the cans with sugar, soy sauce, sake, mirin, ginger, and salt. The bones are tender enough that they can be eaten. “Rich in calcium” is what Shinji loves to say about this. These products, made by Maruha Nichiro for Seven & i (7-11 and Ito Yokado), are very good and cost only about 250 JPY (or less) per can.

Food Sake Tokyo Radar

Sharing food and drinks news that are on our radar.

I am most excited about the new shops that have opened up at Nakameguro’s Koukashita, including a branch of NYC’s City Bakery and a new Tsutaya bookstore, small but worth visiting. The shops are all underneath the Toyoko train tracks.

Had a falafel sandwich at City Bakery which sparked an informative list of other Tokyo shops selling falafel: Ta-im, No. 4, , and Kuumba du Falafel.

SABAR + is a new concept restaurant in Ueno’s Marui department store that serves saba (Pacific mackerel) with a bottomless bowl of rice that is blend of white and genmai (brown rice). It’s unusual to not offer a white rice only option, but the company believes that the blend is a better match with the fatty fish, and it is also better for you. Taito-ku, Ueno 6-15-1, Ueno Marui depachika B1, SABAR + (Saba plus).

Umami Burger announced this summer that they will be opening in Tokyo. No word since then, but here is the press release. The chef behind this, Adam Fleischman, is also the creator of 800 Degrees Neopolitan Pizza at Shinjuku NEWoMaN. I’ve tried going several times, but the line is always too long.

Single origin chocolate at Dandelion, from San Francisco, is in the fun neighborhood of Kuramae. Kudos to the team for picking an up-and-coming area for their premier shop in Japan (Taito-ku, Kuramae 4-14-6).

While in Kuramae, get your coffee at Leaves Coffee Apartment, which opened in May (Taito-ku, Komagata 2-2-10).

Living in NYC, I loved going to Café Habana, which felt quintessentially NYC for cubano sandwiches and grilled corn dusted with cheese and chili. I can still remember that first bite of corn with umami and heat and sitting in the restaurant on Prince Street. Café Habana is now in Shibuya (Shibuya-ku, Sarugakucho 2-11).

Near Ebisu a few shops for burgers, curry, and an izakaya, have opened up in an area called Brick Stand near Ebisu Garden Place.

Onibus Coffee has opened near Nakameguro Station (Meguro-ku, Kamimeguro 2-14-1).

Alexander’s Steakhouse from California serving aged steaks at Shinbashi Shiodome with views overlooking the city.

From Kyoto, a tea shop in Marunouchi, Wakuden’s Marunouchi Chaka(Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 3-3-1, Shin-Tokyo Bldg. 1F).

The new Tokyo Michelin guide is out and online for free.

 

 

Early Breakfast at Daikanyama T-Site

Daikanyama’a T-Site is home to one of Tokyo’s best bookstores, Tsutaya, and to a cozy restaurant, Ivy Place. Ivy Place opens at 7:00 a.m., the same time the bookstore opens, which is just next door. The frittata had a touch of Japan with shiitake and maitake mushrooms with spinach, mozzarella, and feta cheese served with a salad (1,300 JPY). The NY rye bread comes with whipped butter and house-made jam. Blueberry and smoked nuts were the jams that day. The smoked nuts jam is creamy and sweet with a hint of smokiness to it (400 JPY). Best of all, Ivy Place offers a bottomless cup of coffee for 300 JPY with any breakfast menu.

While I am not a vegetarian, I love that Ivy Place is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant with many options for non-meat eaters. The interior is like a warm American home with lots of wood and floor to ceiling windows surrounding the shop. Staff and the menu are bilingual. I am addicted to the flatbread pizza at lunch.

Ivy Place

Shibuya-ku, Sarugaku-cho 16-15

03-6415-3232

https://www.tysons.jp/ivyplace/