Chocolate Shops in Tokyo

Pierre Marcolini

Pierre Marcolini

Chocoholics should be warned that Tokyo abounds with chocolate shops. Here are just a tiny few of what tempts customers. This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine. (text follows)

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to find a man who was rich, sweet and most important, who would satisfy me. But I had no idea I would be courted by a cadre of chocolatiers. I share this with you for Valentine’s Day as there is only one me and many of them, and they are oh so sweet.

The first to tempt me was Pascal Caffet as we both work at Takashimaya in Nihonbashi. He offered me a glass of champagne with his specialty, a chocolate disk studded with hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios and raisins. I never say no to champagne, and the yeastiness from the bubbly melds with the nuttiness of his Croq’tele Noir.

I was curious to see what the competition had to offer and made a beeline to Isetan in Shinjuku. Jean-Paul Hevin warmed me up with a velvety rich chocolat chaud that had hints of warm spices like cinnamon. Jean-Paul’s café is next door to his shop, where the chocolates are on display like jewels in a jewelry shop.

Having lived in Brussels, and having been told by the Belgians that their chocolate is the best in the world, I thought it was time to pursue Pierre Marcolini. He was playing hard to get and each time I went to his shops in Ginza there were long lines of ladies waiting patiently to get a piece of him. I finally managed to squeeze a seat at the bar, and it was well worth the wait. He played it cool and offered me a scoop each of his chocolate sorbet and chocolate glace. The contrast between the two was necessary; as the glace alone was too rich, the sorbet worked almost as a palate cleanser—albeit a very rich palate cleanser.

So far so good, but it was time to be wooed by an older and perhaps wiser man. The legendary chocolatier Robert Linxe invited me to relax at La Maison du Chocolat. This may be the most luxurious of destinations in Tokyo. There is a long bar at which to sit and indulge, but buyer beware: Once you let your hair down here, it is hard to leave. These are classic creations and perhaps the most seductive of all the chocolates in town.

Finally, I was seduced by a Spaniard in Shiroganedai who offered me something unique. Oriol Balaguer’s shop is intimate if you can find it, but he blew my mind with his firecracker chocolate. If there is one chocolate you should try, this is it. I had never had a chocolate go snap, crackle and pop in my mouth before, but it was brilliant. Then he tempted me with his unique Nippon Collection featuring savory soy sauce, spicy wasabi and roasty toasty hojicha tea. But he won my Midwestern heart with a chocolate filled with crunchy bits of corn.

These are just the tip of the truffle; there are many more to explore.

I did check out a few Japanese chocolatiers, but I’m sad to say that, even though their shops were always busy, none compared with the Europeans. So indulge yourself with my sublime new friends. Theirs are not the chocolates of childhood but sweets for the savvy and sophisticated. And guaranteed to put a smile on any winter-worn face.

Pascal Caffet Nihonbashi
Takashimaya, Nihonbashi 2-4-1, Chuo-ku


Jean-Paul Hevin 
Shinjuku Isetan, Shinjuku 3-14-1, Shinjuku-ku


Pierre Marcolini 
Ginza 5-5-8, Chuo-ku


La Maison du Chocolat 
3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku


Oriol Balaguer 
2F Barbizon 32, 4-9-18 Shiroganedai, Minato-ku


Ginza Eats



Some good restaurants in Ginza from an article that originally appeared in Metropolis. (text follows)

All that glitters in Ginza is not the jewels at Harry Winston. With Tsukiji fish market on one side and downscale Shinbashi on the other, Ginza sets itself apart. Nihonbashi and Omotesando are enjoying revivals of late, but Ginza remains a classic destination, with proper pedestrian sidewalks for ginbura—strolling the Ginza.

I would like to share with you my Ginza address book: my favorite places to eat, snack or just find a refreshing cup of tea. Because shopping at Harry Winston can be exhausting.

1. Bar de Espana Pero
There are several Spanish tapas bars in the area, but Pero is my favorite. Sip sherry and nibble olives or sliced ham. 6-3-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5537-6091.

2. Cha Ginza
For a unique tea experience, ask for Cha Ginza’s matcha set. For ¥500, you will be guided to a third-floor room where the glass ceiling fills this reflective space with sunlight—and, sadly, noise from the street. Ponder the ikebana, or watch as the server meticulously measures and whisks you tea. If matcha is not your preferred cup, ask for the sencha (roasted tea) set, which is served on the second floor. 5-5-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3571-1211.

3. Ginza Bairin Tonkatsu
Ginza’s first tonkatsu restaurant dates from 1927. On my last visit I shared the place with a yakuza boss and his posse. The house specialty is katsudon, a bargain at under ¥1,000. 7-8-1 Ginza Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3571-0350.

4. Isola Blu
After living in Manhattan, I taste pizza with a jaded palate. The pizza oven here caught my eye and, although the pizzas here are not as good as at my joint in the West Village, they’re still better than average for Tokyo. 1-13-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5524-2520.

5. Kimuraya Pan
At the main Ginza Yonchome crossing next to Yamano music store is a bakery that is famous for its azuki-filled anpan bread. I prefer the kurumi (walnut) variety, which is slightly sweet and packed with nuts. 4-5-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3561-0091.

6. Komeraku
For a healthy bite, consider ochazuke, a bowl of rice with a variety of toppings such as mentaiko (spicy fish eggs), sea urchin or eel, and covered with hot broth or tea. At Komeraku you can try a few small bowls of different toppings. 7-108 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3574-1776.

7. Mitsukoshi
There are two things I never miss at Mitsukoshi. One is Kayu-An, where you can find regional treats from all over Japan; the selection is constantly changing, which makes coming back fun. The other, for Western-style sweets, is Pastel Puddings, whose nameraka pudding is simply the best. 4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3562-1111.

8. Pierre Marcolini Chocolate
If you’re fortunate enough to come on a day when there are not long lines outside the ice cream shop or the chocolate shop, consider it a gift from the gods. Exquisite sweets by one of the world’s finest chocolatiers. 5-5-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5537-0015.

9. Vin Picoeur Ginza
This restaurant calls itself a “French barbecue,” but I think of it as an upscale yakitori bar with excellent wine. Ask for “the big wine list” and they will give you access to their sister shop, Aux Amis, around the corner. 2F Ginza Izakaya Bldg, 4-3-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3567-4122.

For cheap eats in Ginza:

For other restaurants (sushi, curry, cafes and more) in Ginza:銀座/

Tokyo Bakeries

Maison Kasyer Breadbasket

Maison Kasyer Breadbasket

Tokyo has a surprising number of amazing bakeries. Some of France’s top boulangeries have set up shop in this country whose meal is based on a bowl of rice. Here are some of my favorite bakeries in the capital city. This article originally appeared in Metropolis magazine. (text below)


My first Japanese sandwich, some 30 years ago, was a revelation: egg salad simply flavored with a bit of mayonnaise and neatly tucked into some Wonder-like white bread. Even at age 6, I was quick to notice that the bread lacked crusts. Someone had actually gone to the effort of cutting off the crusts! It was the perfect sandwich. Why hadn’t the Americans caught on to this? I dreamed of having crustless sandwiches for my school lunch and being the envy of my friends. Sadly, my mother disagreed, and my sandwich paradise was as short-lived as our holidays in Japan. My passion for bread continued, however, and I even spent six weeks doing an intensive artisanal bread course at the French Culinary Institute in New York.

Times have changed, but those crustless wonders are still available at convenience stores. Even more uniquely Japanese is the cornucopia of oyatsu-pan, or bread snacks. My favorite is mentaiko-pan of spicy fish eggs smeared onto a baguette and toasted crisp. Curry-pan is a piece of dough stuffed with savory curry and deep-fried like a doughnut. Some are a mystery to me, such as melon-pan, a large fluffy piece of bread draped in a melon-flavored, sugar-like frosting. Others curious creations incorporate yakisoba, croquettes, and fruit with whipped cream.

Luckily, our options are not limited to corn and mayonnaise drizzled with cheese. There are world-class bakeries in Tokyo serving flakey and buttery croissants, crusty baguettes, light focaccia and, for those with a sweet tooth, wonderful selections of pastries.

Across the street from the Bunkamura in Shibuya, Viron has authentic French sandwiches of pork rillettes, paté de campagne, and ham and Gruyere. The flour, brought in from France, is key to their famous Retrodor baguettes. If you are going to explore one new bakery, this should be it. Rumor has it another branch will open in Marunouchi later this year.

At Maison Kayser you will find what the French say is the perfect croissant, as well as other classic French breads. They have a café in the basement of Coredo Nihonbashi and a number of department stores.

For exquisite ficelles, or mini-baguettes, and perfectly hand-shaped breads, head to L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon at Roppongi Hills. Be sure to pick up a tart au citron.

Peck is a gourmet shop based in Milan that is exclusive to Takashimaya in Japan. Here you will find focaccia drenched in olive oil, and airy ciabatta which make a great base for a homemade panini. Also at Takashimaya’s Nihonbashi store, ladies line up at Fauchon to pick up the pain de mie—an upscale version of Wonder bread—hot out of the oven. (If they had made my sandwiches out of this, I would have wanted to eat the crusts!)

This is just a small selection of Tokyo’s finest bakeries. Others include Burdigala in Hiroo, Trois Grois in Shinjuku’s Odakyu department store, and Garbagnati Milano in Roppongi. There are also artisanal bakeries such as Levain in Tomigaya and Juchheim die Meister in the basement of the Marunouchi Building, where you get hearty, rustic breads to really dig your teeth into.

Of course, good bread is not all European, but I’m still looking for the perfect bagel and an authentic banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that has become a hit in New York. It’s a baguette loaded with vegetables and meat, with tastes that explode in your mouth—sweet, salty and savory combined.
Life is too short to eat bad bread, and thankfully the Atkins diet never quite caught on here. So, when you are sick of slurping soba and your eyes roll at the idea of another onigiri, indulge at the bakery. These days, my taste in sandwiches has graduated to the Viron or Robuchon level. However, after a night on the town, the combini crustless wonders still taste as good as they did when I was six.

Donburi Rice Bowls

Magurozuke Donburi

Magurozuke Donburi

Donburi are one dish rice bowls. Large servings of rice topped with seafood, meat, or vegetables. Here are some of my favorite places to go for donburi in Tokyo. This article originally appeared in Metropolis magazine.

The photo above was a donburi that Shinji made with maguro (tuna) marinated in soy sauce, mirin, and sake and garnished with tamagoyaki. (text below)

Being single, I am harassed (yes, harassed) by my Japanese relatives on my marital status. So recently I picked up Rachel Greenwald’s book Find a Husband After 35 and started putting some of her suggestions into practice: Wear brighter clothes, carry a book that could be a conversation starter, and go out for lunch. Easy enough! I definitely wasn’t making any love connections at the company dining hall. I also had a topic to cover for Metropolis, so I turned lunch into a mission to find Tokyo’s finest donburi (simple rice bowls with toppings) and to find a husband, or at the very least a date.

My first meal was at Tenya, a fast-food tempura shop. Tenya fries your tempura after you have placed your order, quickly dips it in a savory and sweet soy sauce and serves it over a large bowl of steaming rice. Sitting elbow-to-elbow with Japanese salarymen, I tried to smile at a few of them but everyone was understandably engrossed in their food.
Bibimpa is a Korean chain that does donburi-style rice dishes. The ishiyaki stone bowls are heated to an incredibly high temperature, then filled with rice and covered with goodies. The rice in the ishiyaki gets a lovely crunchy crust to it. Toppings include spicy kimchi, beef, pork, vegetables, or my favorite, mentaiko and cheese. I was so focused on my meal I forgot to flirt.

My day off was devoted to Tsukiji; what better husband than a fishmonger? Breakfast was at Tsukiji Donburi Ichiba for their sutekidon: tender tuna cheek quickly sauteed with salt, pepper and soy sauce, and served over rice with lettuce, garnished with julienned green onions. The man sitting next to me asked me to pass the soy sauce, which I did, trying to play it cool; it was too early in the morning to be giving out my phone number.
After staking out the market all morning and still without a date, I skipped the long lines at Daiwa Sushi and headed a few shops along to Tenfusa to lunch on their tempura-style anagodon: lacy batter dressed over melting, tender eel. I tried to wink at the waiter when he brought my water, but no reply, not even a smile.

Craving a healthy donburi? Uoya in Yurakucho has an omazedon of natto, maguro, yamaimo (mountain potato), squid, okra and egg yolk. The ingredients are mixed in a bowl until it becomes a runny, gooey mass, then poured over a bowl of rice. There is simply no dignified way to eat this kind of food so, listening to the salarymen slurp it up like ramen, I decide to finish my bowl quietly and run.

Getting desperate, I headed over to my favorite local sushi shop for their chirashi zushi: sushi rice in a wide bowl covered with tuna, scallop, squid and ikura (salmon roe) with vegetables to round it out. I ask about Takuya, the only single guy there. He pokes his head out from the back kitchen to announce, in a round-about Japanese way, that he has been promoted and will be busy out back. I can take a hint.

After my unfruitful outing, I started exploring making donburi at home. Not only is it wickedly easy, cleaning-up is a snap. The simplest version is raw tuna marinated in a little soy sauce and garnished with wasabi, with other options being ikura or uni (sea urchin). Even gyudon (beef over rice, as made famous by Yoshinoya) can be whipped together in minutes: Saute thinly sliced beef with onions in a bit of oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of soy sauce for aroma. Other popular varieties include oyakodon (chicken and egg) and katsudon (tonkatsu and egg), although I don’t really care for the runny eggs on rice.
Nor, truth be told, can I imagine my husband will be a Japanese salaryman. Rachel’s book says that if you don’t find Mr. Right soon, change your habits. Anyone know where I can get a good Italian pizza?

Tsukiji Donburi Ichiba 
4-9-5 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3541-8978.

5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3547-6766.

2-1-21 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3581-5040.



Gotta Get Food Shopping Tips in Japan

Kanji Ridden Packaging

Kanji Ridden Packaging

Shopping for food in Japan can be intimidating as there is often little to no English on the packaging. Here are a few tips for some of my favorite food products and how to use them in your kitchen. This article originally appeared in Metropolis magazine: (text below)

Exploring a new food culture can be an adventure for some, and intimidating for others. Even if one can read Japanese product labels at the supermarket, deciphering what is inside the package is not always so easy. I have been eating Japanese food for almost four decades and I still find myself scratching my head trying to make sense of it all. Along the way, though, I have come upon a few delights that I would be selfish not to share. Explore and enjoy! Being curious can be a good thing.
Kinzanji miso and su miso (金暫時みそ and 酢みそ)
Miso offers itself in a myriad of ways, beyond the ubiquitous miso soup. The dressings that can be whipped up, or conveniently purchased, are also addictive. I like to keep kinzanji miso in my fridge as a savory dip for crudités of cucumbers, carrots and daikon. Kinzanji miso has a heady, sweet aroma and a chunky texture. It is a healthy alternative to creamy vegetable dips. Su miso is a blend of sweet saikyo miso and vinegar, and is commonly found as a dressing over quickly blanched dark greens, or with blanched octopus. This puckery, slightly sweet dressing can brighten up many dishes. A salad composed of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and wakame seaweed with this dressing makes for a refreshing side dish. I like the conveniently packaged su miso by Marusan. Take some along with you for your hanami picnic.

Yuzu kosho (柚子こしょう)
Something missing in Japanese food is heat. The Thais and Koreans have more than their share of spicy food—we have wasabi and karashi. So in my pantry you will find a jar of yuzu kosho. This thick, salty paste is simply yuzu, chili peppers and salt. You will find both red and green versions, depending on the color of the chili peppers. It is a great garnish for yakitori, steamed vegetables, udon or as you please. Chef Josh DeChellis of Sumile in New York City suggests putting yuzu kosho on fresh scallops and then lightly sautéing them in a pan.

Aji tsuki nori (味付き海苔)
Nori is the crispy seaweed found wrapped around maki sushi rolls or some onigiri. There is a variety of nori available on the market. The non-flavored type is used for sushi; flavored, or aji-tsuki, nori is used with traditional breakfasts. Traditional Korean nori is quite irresistible with salt and sesame oil. For a real treat, Yamamoto Noriten (available at Takashimaya) has nori flavored with offerings such as uni (sea urchin), ume (plum), mentaiko (spicy cod roe) and salmon, to name but a few. It makes a great alternative to potato chips for a healthy snack.

Nama fu (生麩)
Fu, a delicacy from Kyoto that is also a staple in vegetarian diets, is a form of wheat gluten—it is literally pure protein. Fu is either dried or nama (raw). The dried version does not have much flavor, but like a dry sponge it will soak up the liquids in which it is immersed. You’ll find rehydrated fu in sukiyaki or in a simple bowl of soup. However, it is the nama fu that makes a great, healthy snack. On a recent trip to Kyoto, I picked up two decadent flavors of nama fu, bacon and cheese. The nama fu can be lightly sautéed in a non-stick pan, without oil, for otsumami with beer.


OK, “fish cakes” may not sound appetizing; however, anything that is deep-fried should not be overlooked. Another great snack or side dish is satsuma-age, fish cakes that have been deep fried. Most likely you have seen this in the oden case at your convenience store. Some satsuma-age can be eaten at room temperature, just slice and indulge, but I prefer to quickly sauté them. At shops which make them by hand you will find a variety of stuffings, from traditional gobo (bamboo roots) to more modern fillings like corn and cheese.

Yukimi daifuku (雪見だいふく)
There are a few things in life that you never forget, such as your first kiss, high school graduation, and the first bite of yukimi daifuku. Maybe not, but if you are going to try one thing new, do try this. Vanilla ice cream covered with a thin layer of mochi that all melts in your mouth. I do not have a sweet tooth, but do have a soft spot for this treat, available at your local convenience store. (You’ll find yourself sneaking out of the house for a late-night Yukimi daifuku craving before you know it.)

Food & Wine Tokyo Go List 2008


Hachioji, Tokyo

Hachioji, Tokyo

Food & Wine magazine’s Go List for Tokyo in 2008. It includes some of my favorites like Nihonbashi Yukari, Nihonryori Ryugin, and Ginza Harutaka both with star chefs, Kimio Nonaga, Seiji Yamamoto, and Harutaka Takahashi.


Harvest Festival

Matsutake Mushrooms

Matsutake Mushrooms

Autumn is an amazing time to harvest vegetables and seafood in Japan. This article that first appeared in Metropolis magazine highlights the best of fall. (text follows)

Having grown up in Minnesota, I will always associate autumn with a crunch underfoot while walking through fallen leaves on a crisp day. In Tokyo, I have momiji, the delicate maple leaf bursting with the color of blood oranges and fire trucks. Nature also graciously gives of herself in food, and autumn in Japan is a destination for any gourmand.

Indeed, perhaps the first noticeable sign that fall has come is in the type of dishes we eat. I find myself ordering soba with hot broth instead of the cold dipping sauce. Sales of oden and warm nikuman increase at 7-Eleven. I find myself drinking shochu on the rocks less and more often than not with hot water. And just as restaurants and stores bring out their seasonal hashioki (chopstick rests) and other vessels used for food, Mother Nature provides a bounty of ingredients, from mushrooms to bonito, to savor throughout the fall.

Matsutake, the king of Japanese mushrooms, is perhaps the most prized and recognizable of the season’s bounty. It is a delicacy and somewhat rare, which explains its outrageous prices. But if the opportunity presents itself, you should try it and see if you can sense the delicate aroma of pine. This famous fungus is typically found in matsutake gohan or in a clear soup called dobinmushi. One way to try matsutake without breaking the bank is to purchase them at a discount from the vendors at Ameyoko, under the tracks in Ueno. However, I like to keep more affordable mushrooms in my fridge, including shiitake, maitake, enoki, eringi and shimeji. The simplest way to enjoy them is to sauté the mushrooms in olive oil with salt and pepper. For a quick dish to accompany a glass of sake, you can grill some shiitake caps, and season with salt and yuzu.

The fall harvest also includes Japan’s most important agricultural product—rice. Shinmai (new rice) is known for having a slight amami, or sweetness, to it and is a bit softer than rice that was harvested last year. If you’re in the mood for noodles, buckwheat is also harvested this time of year, so slurp up some soba.

Another vegetable that abounds in autumn is the potato. Satsuma imo is a sweet potato hailing from Satsuma in Kyushu, and is also the source of imo jochu. For a healthy snack, lightly fry thin slices of Satsuma imo, with the skins, then sprinkle with salt. Sato imo has a slippery texture and is often found in simmered dishes. Naga imo is the super-slippery potato found grated and served over rice with soy sauce, or sliced into julienne strips and served raw in salads.

Seafood spiking in popularity these days include salmon and katsuo (bonito), which I like tataki style, barely grilled on the outside and raw on the inside. Shioyaki sanma is also incredibly easy to make at home, because there is no need to filet it. Simply sprinkle a whole fish with salt and place in your broiler for just a few minutes on each side and voila! The innards have a sharp nigami or bitterness to them, which is part of what makes it so delicious to some. If you’re adept with your chopsticks, you can avoid this area completely. Kaki (oysters) also are in season and you can eat them raw (nama gaki) or breaded and deep-fried like tonkatsu (kaki furai).

A walk through the dessert areas of a depachika will give an indication of the fruits of the season, such as grapes, nashi (pears) and kaki (persimmons). Kuri (chestnuts) will also find their way into rice dishes as well as many desserts. They are often referred to by their French name, marron. Fresh ichijiku (figs) served with a cheese plate make a nice end to a dinner. And although you may not be a fan of wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweets, take time to check out the beautiful designs. Naturally, momiji is a recurring theme in many different confectionaries, and they are truly works of art.

What to drink with all of this? I am reminded by my sake colleague at Takashimaya to try some good-quality nihonshu that is great when slightly warmed. Or perhaps an imo jochu, or one that is dear to my heart, kuri shochu, light on the palate with a faint amami. Whatever you choose, you are sure to revel in the gifts of nature in the fall.

Soy Right – Tofu Basics



An article from Metropolis magazine about the different types of soy products and my favorite soy shop in Tsukiji Market and a restaurant in Ginza: (text follows)

Low in calories, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins—sure, tofu’s good for you. But, you may ask, how good can it taste? Tofu has gotten a bad rap, and understandably so. Tofu-based products outside of Japan are often bland and uninspiring. But the variety of products and the quality of tofu available here are reasons enough to give it another chance. Tofu and other soy products come from daizu, or soybeans. Sitting down at the izakaya with a bowl of edamame is to enjoy soy in its simplest form. But there’s much more to it than these humble beans. Read on for a crash course.

Momen, kinugoshi, yakidofu
The basic block of tofu is usually either momen dofu (regular) or kinugoshi dofu (silk). The softer of the two, kinugoshi is very delicate and used primarily for soup, or for hiyayakko. Hiyayakko is simply tofu with a variety of toppings, typically grated ginger, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), thinly sliced negi (green onions) and soy sauce. You can also a variety of non-Japanese items, like olive oil, balsamic vinegar or kimchi. Momen dofu is used for tofu steak, mabo dofu (the spicy pork and tofu dish at Chinese restaurants), and most other tofu dishes. Try adding small cubes of tofu to your next salad. Yakidofu (grilled tofu) is used for sukiyaki or other hearty nabe.

Abura-age, atsu-age, ganmodoki
Deep-fried tofu has a nice hagotai (bite) to it and is easier to cook with because it’s not as delicate as other varieties. Abura-age and atsu-age are similar except that atsu-age is thicker and is not fried all the way through, leaving it soft in the middle. You’ll find abura-age on noodle dishes, such as tanuki udon, or with rice, in the slightly sweet inari zushi. It’s also a nice alternative to regular tofu in miso soup, and goes well with stir-fried vegetables. Ganmodoki are deep-fried balls of tofu mixed with grated yamaimo (yam) and other vegetables, and can be found in oden.

Yuba, koyadofu, okara
Yuba is the delicate skin taken from soy milk and can be purchased fresh, frozen or dried. Fresh yuba can be served sashimi-style with soy sauce and wasabi. It has a creamy, rich texture to it. You’ll also find it in suimono (clear soup). Koya dofu is the “freeze-dried,” sponge-like tofu often found in nimono. Okara is the lees leftover from making soy milk and is rich in fiber. Often it will be mixed with vegetables, soy sauce, dashi and mirin. Try okara as a replacement for mashed potatoes when making potato salad or croquettes.

Soy milk is trendy right now, as it’s believed to help you lose weight. You can find it at the supermarket in flavors like mattcha, royal tea and coffee. Unflavored tonyu has a rich texture, much like heavy cream. Add it to your next nabe, hearty chowder or gratin. Keep in mind that it burns easily and the soup should only be allowed to simmer. And although tonyu looks like milk, it should not be used as a substitute because it has only about one-fifth the calcium as dairy milk.

Often seen sprinkled over mochi, kinako has a lovely toasted nutty flavor. It’s made from toasted soybeans that have been ground. Add a tablespoon to a glass of milk and you have a healthy, all-natural version of the diet shakes. For a wafu sundae, top vanilla ice cream with kuromitsu syrup and kinako. In the morning, try it over buttered toast with cinnamon.

Where to go?
Your local tofu-ya may be the best place to start experimenting with soy. Every depachika will also have a tofu shop. If you’re near Tsukiji, stop by Noguchiya Tsukiji Honten (03-3544-8812) in the outer market. They are extremely friendly and have just started selling tonyu soft ice cream. Look for tofu made from locally produced soybeans, such as Noguchiya’s from Aomori-ken. Another alternative is to try a variety of dishes at a tofu restaurant. My favorite is Yamato in Ginza (03-5537-6060). Yamato has a diverse menu that’s not limited to tofu, so carnivores will be fine.

Food & Wine Magazine’s 2009 Tokyo Go List



My contribution to Food & Wine magazine’s 2009 Go List for Tokyo:

Japanese chefs are dictating the world’s dining trends with their fierce devotion to seasonality and respect for aesthetics.


Chef Harutaka Takahashi may have a Michelin-starred resume, but he isn’t showy. He turns exceptional seafood into perfect sashimi and sushi in a simple space down the street from Tsukiji Market.
We loved: Anago (eel) broiled in a sweet soy-based sauce.


Native New Yorker Ivan Orkin faced skeptics when he opened a 10-seatramen counter in the Setagaya neighborhood almost two years ago. But now, ramen connoisseurs make pilgrimages to eat his homemade noodles doused in a chicken-and-seafood broth and topped with luxurious slabs of roast pork or nests of pickled bamboo shoots.
We loved: Whole wheat noodles with slow-cooked charred pork topped with a spicy sesame-and-peanut salad.
Insider tip: Ask for the gentei, or daily special.


At this tiny tempura temple, baskets of seasonal vegetables sit on the counter waiting to be battered, deep-fried and served right out of the bubbling oil. Chef Fumio Kondo carefully monitors the temperature of the oil and the cooking time to create a delicate, crisp shell. He serves sweet soytsuyu dipping sauce on the side, but purists stick to salt.
We loved: Lacy nests of julienned carrots and Satsumaimo sweet potato.


At this 100-year-old reconstructed sake brewery, the classic kaiseki courses, like seasonal sashimi and seared wagyu, are delicious. The highlight is soy in several forms, including decadent twice-cooked tofu and freshly made tofu simmering in a hot pot of creamy soy milk.
We loved: Deep-fried tofu spread with dengaku miso.
Insider tip: The gift shop sells jars of the sweet dengaku miso.


Revered chef Hiromitsu Nozaki owns several other places in Tokyo, but he likes to hang out behind the counter at his little kappo restaurant (a relaxed relative of kaiseki) in upscale Hiroo. Nozaki preaches the philosophy ofshun, or seasonality, as he assembles gorgeous dishes like uni-toppedshimeji mushrooms.
We loved: Abalone with kimo (liver) sauce and toasted nori.

Hot Food Zone: Kagurazaka

Once renowned for its geisha houses, this area near Iidabashi Station is now called “Petit France” for its many brasseries, bistros and wine bars. Also here are some of the best places to eat nearly every style of Japanese cuisine, like steamed dumplings at 50 Ban, tempura at geisha house–turned–restaurant Tenko and traditional sweets at Baikatei.

Where to Eat Near: Omotesando’s Shops


Hidden behind the Omotesando Hills shopping complex, this is a classic spot for humble tonkatsu: fried panko-breaded pork cutlets made from prized regional breeds like Okinawa’s red benibuta hog.


At this luxe new teppanyaki restaurant, Venetian glass and European art set a fancy stage for chefs grilling extraordinary seafood, vegetables and marbled beef.


Seafood from the Izu Peninsula, brought in daily, elevates the reasonably priced lunch specials at this excellent restaurant on a side street behind Comme des Garçons.