Ginza Maru 銀座圓


In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Gwen Robinson mentions a newly opened restaurant in Ginza that serves traditional Japanese lunches for only $10. She doesn’t mention the name of the restaurant in the article, but does talk about the chef, Keiji Mori, so with some research, in both English and Japanese, I found Ginza Maru. It is just off the main street of Ginza. It is a few shops down from the popular Kyushu Jangara ramen and close to a revolving sushi shop. The shop is easy to miss as it is on the second floor. Be on the lookout for the name of the shop in Japanese 圓 on a sign on the building.

The shop is a respite from the busy streets of Ginza. My girlfriend and I arrived early and were waiting outside of the shop and they kindly invited us in a bit before their opening time. There is a long counter overlooking the open kitchen and several tables. A good spot to dine solo or with a friend at the counter or come in with a group and dine at a table. We were directed to sit at a table but I asked if it would be possible to sit at the counter and were seated there.

The starters for all of the lunch sets was a creamy sesame tofu made with kuzu and a tart sunomono salad made from lotus root, young leeks, and deep-fried tofu in a karashi su miso, a classic dressing of Japanese mustard, vinegar, and sweet miso.

Sitting at the counter allows diners to watch the chefs in action. Today the chefs were pushing cooked yurine (lily bulb) through a fine sieve and grating mountain potatoes. There is a charcoal grill with a strong exhaust vent over it where fish was skewered and grilled. Being at the counter it is also easy to interact with the chefs about ingredient provenance and cooking techniques.


The tori-suki-nabe is a chicken dish that resembles sukiyaki which is traditionally made with thin-sliced beef. It is a generous portioned dish and included the gizzard of the chicken as well as a soft-cooked egg. It was a very dramatic presentation as the nabe is a large and flat ceramic pot and was covered when it was presented.


The buta-kaku-ni is a pork belly that is cooked until tender and served with simmered daikon and greens in a sweet, soy kuzu sauce. The other option today at lunch was a salt-grilled Pacific mackerel.Maru5The chefs were very easy to talk to. I believe the chef on the right spoke some English as I overheard him trying to explain the menu to a foreign couple. As we finished the meal I asked the two chefs if they had seen the article in the New York Times. They had not seen it yet. I gave them the newspaper and did a quick translation of the mention of the shop in the piece. He laughed and pointed around the room and said it explained why there were so many new, foreign customers to the restaurant that day. We were there the day after the Op-Ed piece came out. When we left there were three pairs of non-Japanese dining at the restaurant. He also said that he would have to start studying more English.

Ginza Maru is a great bargain for lunch. The restaurant does not take reservations at lunch. Dinner starts at a very reasonable 6,000 JPY for a course menu. It is in the heart of Ginza and easy to find by following the map on the restaurant’s website. Definitely will be back for lunch, and look forward to trying dinner.

Ginza Maru

Chuo-ku, Ginza 6-12-15




My friend, Jeffrey Merrihue, the founder of Chowzter, was in town recently to film a documentary on chef Yoshihiro Narisawa. Jeffrey followed chef Narisawa on a fishing expedition, a very cool imperial duck hunting adventure, and foraging in the woods. The end of his week of filming was a lunch at Narisawa and I was lucky to be Jeffrey’s dining partner for the meal. It gave us a time to observe one of Asia’s, if not the world’s, top chefs. More exciting for Jeffrey as he was with Narisawa when many components to our meal was collected. The restaurant also did an all Japanese beverage pairing of wine, sake, and some unique beverages.

I am not including photos of every course, but many highlights and all of the drinks that we had, as they are so unique and I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world that has all of these beverages in house. We were served by a sommelier who kept introducing us to new wines and saké. Having worked as a sommelier, I love watching a sommelier at work and we were in good hands. Very interesting selection of wines – all Japanese, if you can believe it. And, a handful of saké as well. Some drinks were old friends, but many of them, new to me. A treat and great adventure.

It’s a visually stunning meal, not only food, but how it is presented, much like kaiseki cuisine, so including leaves and such that remind diners the time of year. Including how we started the meal, Water in the Forest, Cuvee Narisawa. A gentle and refreshing, aromatic start to lunch.


The amuse was the Japanese forest in winter. An earthy dish including deep-fried burdock root, bitter Ishikawa herbs, snow made from okara (tofu lees), bamboo charcoal (chikutan) and even a snowman made from daikon.

DSC_0031This spring of water was a watery jelly made kanten (agar agar) and wasabi.


2009 Toriivilla Imamura Cuvee Tradition 100% Koshu. A light, aromatic fruity white wine. (Katsunuma, Yamanashi) DSC_0046Narisawa’s signature Soup of the Soil

This is one of those dishes you read about and think to yourself, really? It’s a beautiful presentation. And, what caught my ear was that the chef said that there was no salt added to the soup, that the flavor is all natural. It was very delicious. It had a lot of flavor to it. Recently Narisawa was on a documentary on Japanese television and they show him making the soup from scratch in the restaurant. Burdock root is sautéed in a pan before the dirt is added and then the dirt is sautéed for a while before water is added. And, when I saw this being assembled, it all made sense. The soup does taste of the earth, but also of burdock root. It’s a great dish and something I would ask for again in the future.

DSC_00621992 Chateau Takeda Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (Kaminoyama, Yamagata). Very fun to try a 20-year-old Japanese wine. Still had some structure to it, but elegant, as can be seen in the color.

DSC_0068Jokigen Junmai Daiginjo (Kaga, Ishikawa). I am a big fan of this saké brewery so always happy to have this.


Ash 2009. Barbecue on the seashore. Squid, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, and liquid nitrogen. Tomato puree with Kochi yuzu.DSC_0083The seasonal bread with chestnuts and moss butter.


2012 Edel Wein Riesling Lion (Hanamaki, Iwate)

Riesling Lion is a grape you’ll only see in Japan. A hybrid grape made from riesling and koshu. It tastes much more like koshu than it does riesling. A light, refreshing, and aromatic wine with some Japanese citrusy notes to match well with the deep-fried fugu (blowfish).

DSC_0090Deep-fried fugu (blowfish) with sudachi. We eat fugu from time to time at home and I am not a big fan. This was a revelation. Delicious!


Suntory Tomi no Oka (Yamanashi)

This is the fish that Jeffrey went fishing for with chef Narisawa. It is called kanburi, or winter yellowtail. It is one of the most delicious fish this time of year. It is so good that my husband and I journeyed to this same area to see it at the fish market in Himi port for part of our honeymoon. Chef just seared it so most of it was still sashimi. Rich in fat and so delicious.


Chateau Gen 1981 from Mie prefecture. A unique sake made from genmai, brown rice. Rich, like wine and a nice match to the pork in this soup.

This Okinawa dish was one of my favorites. It is made with a delicate broth, rich in umami, made from irabu (Okinawan sea snake) that is dried. It was an elegant version of dishes I’ve had in Okinawa.

DSC_0110 DSC_0117

Domaine Sogga Pinot Noir Claret 2011 from Obuse Winery in Nagano

I had the pleasure of working with Takahiko Soga at Coco Farm and Winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi. Soga-san has since moved on to Hokkaido, to open up his own winery, Domaine Takahiko. Soga-san’s family runs Domaine Sogga in Nagano prefecture, known for their wines, and this lovely pinot noir. It was served with a roasted supponSuppon is something I see at Tsukiji Market when I do tours there. It is a soft-shell turtle that is considered a delicacy in Japan. I was a bit hesitant to try it, but what better way to try a new food than with a star chef like Narisawa. It was amazing. Meaty, well-seasoned, and not at all turtle like (imagining it would taste of a lake or be chewy).


2010 Torivilla Black Queen and 2009 Sumi Tajima Beef


DSC_0142Chō Nōkō Jersey Yogurt Shu from Miyagi prefecture was an unexpected surprise. A thick drink made from Jersey milk yogurt and saké. Perfect for this saké kasu, kuzu kochi and winter citrus fruit dessert.


At the end of the meal Jeffrey and I were talking about sweets that we liked. We both said that we loved any dessert with salted caramel. So, you can imagine how delighted we were to see this striking display of macaroons, with a caramel salted one. Our waiter kindly brought us a second one so we could each have one.

Narisawa Menu

The staff kindly printed out the menu for us. I had the Ash 2009 instead of the Botan shrimp, Nanao Bay, which Jeffrey had. It was a lovely meal and would be great fun to go back in another season to see how chef Narisawa interprets a different time of year. I hope that soil soup is served again.

Thanks to chef Narisawa for a lovely meal, and to the sommelier (sorry, I didn’t get his name), who paired each course so wonderfully.

Chef Narisawa has recently collaborated with a historic and famous yōshoku restaurant, Tokyo Toyoken, that has just opened on January 15th, in Akasaka. The indefatigable chef shows no signs of slowing down. Looking forward to trying his new place and seeing what the future holds.


Minami-Aoyama 2-6-15


Gotta Get – Aonori


Tamagoyaki with Aonori

I was at Tsukiji Market with a chef friend helping her track down aonori. She was on a mission. She didn’t want to leave Japan without some. There are several shops in the outer market of Tsukiji and we visited about five of them before we found exactly what she was looking for. Aonori is a type of sea vegetable that is deep, emerald green and very aromatic. We came across flakes and a powder-like type, often sprinkled on takoyaki or okonomiyaki, but that wasn’t what she wanted.

The shopkeeper told us that that a famous tamagoyaki shop in the outer market, Shōrō, uses the aonori in their savory omelet. Here is my version using the aonori. It adds a whole new dimension to the dish.

She said that she wanted to bring it home to make a Chinese-style dish where the aonori is served with deep-fried peanuts.


The peanut and aonori dish is addictive. It is made from raw peanuts. And, it goes very well with sake.


Here is the package of aonori from Tsukiji Market.Image

This aonori grows in the water just where the fresh water from the river flows into the ocean. It’s rich in aroma, vegetal, and excellent when fried up a bit and added to the peanuts. Definitely worth picking up if you are visiting Japan.

Turret Coffee at Tsukiji

Turret Coffee is a godsend for anyone visiting Tsukiji Market. Up until now I couldn’t find a coffee shop that had espresso. Surprising considering that most of Tsukiji’s business takes place in the early morning hours. Turret is the name of the vehicles the delivery boys drive at Tsukiji Market.

Turret Coffee opened in October, 2013. Speaking with the owner, Kiyoshi Kawasaki, he said that business is a little slow. His shop is down a narrow side street off of one of the major streets near Tsukiji’s outer market. It happens to be a few steps beyond a Starbucks. But, if you don’t know about Turret Coffee, you wouldn’t venture beyond Starbucks. Now, you know. Kawasaki-san comes from the popular Streamer Coffee shop in Harajuku and uses the same beans.

Turret Coffee3

Espresso is served in ochoko, traditionally used for drinking saké.

This sign is a welcome site in the early morning. Turret Coffee has about five counter seats and two very small tables with chairs. The shop is opened seven days a week, and opens at 7 a.m. Monday – Saturday. It is located just near the Hibiya station exit #1 or #2. Just about three minutes from the main crossing of Harumi Dori and Shin-Ohashi Dori of Tsukiji’s Outer Market.

Tsukiji will never be the same.

Turret Coffee

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 2-12-6 中央区築地2-12-6






Sukiyabashi Jirō


Jeffrey Merrihue, Jirō Ono, Yukari Sakamoto

My journey to Sukiyabashi Jirō started almost a year ago. Last February I was contacted by the Chowzter website to be the Tokyo Chowzter. I was happy to join this amazing team of chowzters and helped to suggest my favorite spots in Tokyo here. Chowzter will help you in many parts of the world. Over the course of the year I have met people behind the scenes at Chowzter as well as London Chowzter, Niamh Shields, cookbook author and brilliance behind Eat Like a Girl. Chowzter founder, Jeffrey Merrihue, as been very hands on from the beginning. I remember a while back Jeffrey e-mailing me and asking if I had been to Sukiyabashi Jirō. I said no, and that I would love to go someday, especially if Jeffrey sponsor my meal. He said that when he was in Tokyo we would go. While I did not hold my breath, I never forgot, and kept waiting for news of his arrival.

Well, the great news came. Jeffrey was coming to Tokyo. He was going to be here for a week to film chef Yoshihiro Narisawa for a documentary. He managed to get a 7:00 p.m. reservation for two at Sukiyabashi Jirō in the busy month of December. We arrived a bit before 7:00 p.m. and I pointed out to Jeffrey the two other restaurants that share the hallway with Sukiyabashi Jirō. Birdland, one of my favorite yakitori restaurants in Tokyo (it’s in my book, Food Sake Tokyo) and Nodaiwa, a branch of the 5th-generation unagi restaurant. And, these three restaurants share the same bathroom in the hallway. The bathroom is far below Michelin three-star standards. But, who cares?

In the taxi on our way to the restaurant we discussed the upcoming dinner.

“Don’t take photos,” I suggested.

Do expect a fast meal. “40 minutes?” asked Jeffrey.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it is less than 30 minutes.”

We walked in promptly at 7:00 p.m. and were seated at the counter, right in front of the master. This thrilled me as I have heard of some people dining there and having their sushi made by the son and not Jirō. It’s a simple restaurant. Only ten seats at the counter and a few tables to the side. It’s not in the Ginza subway as is often misreported. It is in the basement of a building. The access to the basement happens to be a stairwell that leads to the massive subway station that is underground the Ginza shopping district.

Seated next to us were two Japanese businessmen and at the end of the counter, an Asian couple.

We were asked if there was anything we couldn’t eat and I said that I was allergic to shrimp. The son told me that I would not be getting the kuruma-ebi or the tamago as it is made with shrimp. I nodded in agreement. The son told Jirō that I would not be having these two courses and Jirō nodded.

We ordered a beer, enjoyed a well-deserved kampai toast, and washed our hands with the warm wet towels.

There was a small wet paper napkin at each seating to wipe your fingers with between pieces.

There were three behind the counter. Jirō, his son, and a young apprentice. The young boy helped keep things running smoothly by wiping down our trays every now and then and fetching our beers. The son cut all of the seafood and would lay the cut pieces on Jirō’s cutting board. Jirō would then form the vinegared rice to the texture of a soft pillow, added the cut seafood, and serve it to each of us. The only pieces the son made were the gunkan, or pieces with nori, like the uni.

At the beginning of the meal there was a nice rhythm going with Jirō serving each of the six customers in order. But, at some point, the Asian couple slowed down the pace at which they were eating and the rhythm was awry. The rest of the four of us finished our meal together. I didn’t notice, but Jeffrey said that at one point Jirō had put more than one piece of sushi in front of the Asian guy. A minor slap of the wrist?

At the end of the meal we were asked if there was anything else we would like to have. I was hoping to try kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) or tako (octopus). I asked if we could order anything that wasn’t on today’s menu and was told no. So we said that we were finished. Jeffrey looked down at his watch and said, “twenty-nine minutes”.

We were escorted to a table where the perfect dessert was waiting for us. A slice of ripe melon. You know the ones that can sell for hundreds of dollars a piece at department stores or fruit specialty stores. The best way to end the meal.

Menu for Monday, December 16, 2013

hirame – olive flounder

sumi-ika – cuttlefish

kanburi – winter yellowtail

akami – tuna

chūtoro – medium-fatty tuna

ōtoro – fatty tuna

kohada – gizzard shad

mushi-awabi – steamed abalone

aji – horse mackerel

kuruma ebi – Japanese imperial prawn

akagai – ark shell

saba – Pacific mackerel

hamaguri – common Orient clam

iwashi – sardine

uni – sea urchin

kobashira – baby scallops

ikura – salmon roe

anago – sea eel

tamagoyaki – omelet with shrimp


Japanese muskmelons, like this one, are the perfect finish to any meal. Juicy, sweet, and unforgettable. I love as this is the only photo of food that was taken this night. I know Jeffrey wanted very much to take a photo of one of the pieces of sushi.

Jiro Menu1

Sukiyabashi Jirō – Honjitsu no Omakase

Jiro Menu2

Menu for Monday, December 16, 2013.

Jiro Menu3

I really enjoyed our meal. And, I am still thinking about some of the pieces I had, three weeks later. Some of the highlights for me were the kanburi (winter yellowtail) that melted in my mouth. The hikarimono (silvery fish) like kohada (gizzard shad) and saba (Pacific mackerel) were seasoned just right, a bit salty and a nice tartness from the vinegar. The clams were especially delightful. The akagai (ark shell) is a red clam that had a nice crunchiness to it and the hamaguri was cooked just right and dressed with a sweet tare (soy reduction). The anago (sea eel) was so tender I have no idea how it was cut and picked up.

I was not served the two shrimp courses and thought I would get something in lieu, but did not. Oh well. C’est la vie. When the first shrimp course came around and there were only three pieces of shrimp on Jirō’s cutting board he asked where the fourth piece was. His son, kindly reminded him that I was not going to have any of the shrimp courses. Jirō then said he forgot, and the son had a small laugh, reminding his father that he is becoming forgetful. I shared this with Jeffrey and we all enjoyed the moment.

After we finished our melon we paid our compliments, “gochisō sama deshita”. The son went behind the register to collect payment and Jirō waited for us outside. He was gracious to let us shower him with compliments and posed for the photo that so many fans must ask him for.

I’ve spoken with many people who’ve eaten here. Some are disappointed that the meal is so fast. So, if you want to dine here, expect a quick meal. If you want to linger over your sushi, there are several other restaurants of this caliber who will let you take your time. I have also heard that he’s not nice to you unless you come in with a regular customer. I would have to disagree with that as the staff, including Jirō, were very kind to us.

Jirō is a shokunin, a skilled craftsman, and his art is sushi. My take-away from the night was that his time left at the restaurant is limited and I am glad that we could experience a meal with the master sushi chef. I will remember this evening for a long time. I am sure that I will be talking about the meal long after I forget it. But it is the experience that I will never forget.

Sukiyabashi Jiro1Sukiyabashi Jirō

Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-2-15, Tsukamoto Sogyō Bldg. B1

03-3535-3600 (+81-3-3535-3600 from abroad)

If wanting to make a reservation, check the website as they will say if they are fully booked for that month and when they start taking reservations for the next month.

Postscript notes:

As my friend Jeffrey says, “it was a religious experience”.

Another friend has just gotten reservations for an upcoming meal at Sukiyabashi Jirō. He writes that, “I’m trying not to have too high expectations, but simply enjoying the moment”. Wise man. If you are curious as to how this smart guy got a reservation at Jirō, he got it through this website: Sadly the food-tourism service is no longer being offered. Your best bet to get a reservation here is to stay at a hotel with a great concierge or to have a credit card concierge company call on your behalf. UPDATED 7 November 2014

2014 Tsukiji Market Record Tuna by Numbers

  • This year’s most expensive tuna sold at 7,360,000 JPY or roughly $70,325 US dollars.
  • The tuna weighed about 230 kg.
  • The price per kilogram was about 32,000 JPY or roughly $305 US dollars.
  • The tuna came from Ohma in Aomori prefecture.
  • The tuna was bought by the sushi chain, Sushi Zanmai.
  • Sushi Zanmai has bought the winning tuna the last three years in a row.
  • This tuna however was NOT the most expensive tuna per kg. The most expensive tuna per kg. sold at the new year’s first tuna auction went for about 40,000 JPY or about $382 US dollars. This tuna weighed in at about 168 kg.
  • Last 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 1/20th of last year’s price.

Two other interesting points that came up in today’s news. One, was that the last few years Sushi Zanmai would compete against a Hong Kong sushi shop called Itamae Sushi. This year Itamae Sushi did not participate in the auction for the winning tuna.

Also, it was noted that last year, due to poor weather conditions, that there were only 4 bluefin tuna from Ohma were offered at the auction. However, this year, fishing conditions were more agreeable and each tuna wholesaler each brought in about 30 fish.


More information on 2013’s Tsukiji Market Record Tuna by Numbers.

Osechi Ryori – New Year’s at Izakaya Sakamoto


As we were busy with Food Sake Tokyo tours through the end of the year we only had December 31st to prepare the osechi ryori, Japanese New Year’s cuisine. First thing on the morning of December 31st we went to our local depachika and picked up last minute ingredients. The department stores are always packed on the last few days of the year as people are shopping for food for January 1st. January 1 is the one day a year that many department stores and other retail shops will close. Working in food retail it is a busy day. I enjoyed my two years working at Takashimaya on these days as many regular customers would come in to pick up sake and wine for the holidays.

First, we started with making dashi from Hidaka kombu and katsuobushi. The kombu is saved from the dashi and used for making kobumaki (yes, spelled without an ‘m’). The kombu is wrapped with kampyō and then simmered in a sweet soy broth until tender.


Gobō, burdock root, is simmered in water until almost tender, then finished cooking until soft in a dashi broth. It is then tossed in a sweet sesame dressing. This dish is called tataki gobō.


This year we couldn’t find our vegetable cutters to make the pretty plum blossom shapes from carrots, so made it from scratch. Much harder to do this way of course, and the results not as pretty as they could be. These carrots will go in the simmered chicken dish.


Hoshigaki, dried persimmons, are lovely when used in pickles. These will go with julienned daikon and carrots for a colorful namasu that is seasoned with a sweet rice vinegar and yuzu.


The dried persimmons with the carrots and daikon before being pressed in the pickle pot.


The iridori is savory simmered dish of chicken, carrots, burdock root, bamboo shoots, konnyaku, and lotus root. The store was sold out of snow peas so we added the green with mitsuba.

Most of the dishes are prepared on December 31st and assembled into the lacquer boxes. On the morning of January 1 we grilled buri (yellowtail) in a teriyaki glaze.


Here is the assembled box.


We made two layers this year. Here you’ll also find a sweet omelet, datemaki, that is made with happen, eggs, and sugar. The boxes are completed with sweet black beans, kazunoko (herring roe), chestnuts in a sweet syrup, kamaboko (steamed fish cake), tazukuri (dried fish in a sweet soy with sesame seeds), and the dishes mentioned above. Many of the components are on the sweet side.Image

At Izakaya Sakamoto we also served with the osechi ryōri a savory egg custard called chawanmushi, a soup made with mochi, and sashimi of flounder, sea bream, salmon, yellowtail, pickled Pacific mackerel, and three parts of tuna – akami, chūtoro, and ōtoro.

For more information on the different dishes often used in osechi ryōri, please read this piece I wrote for about ten years ago.

We wish our friends, Food Sake Tokyo tour clients, and blog followers the best for a year filled with delicious meals – and hopefully a visit to Tokyo.