Viron Boulangerie

Image

My go-to lunch when on a run is a sandwich from Viron. Excellent baguettes with a chewy crumb that can stand up to the crispy exterior. The sandwiches are classic French-style including pate de campagne, rillettes, and jambon.

Image

The large window display case in the front of the store has a dizzying array of sandwiches and pastries.

Image

The breads are authentic and take me back to France. The baguette is my favorite, but also excellent kouign amann and fougasse as well. Of course, much more than you would pay for in France, but it is a treat to have such great bread in Tokyo. Flour is brought in from France to make Viron’s signature retrador baguette and other breads. There is also a brasserie at each location. Viron has a branch at Marunouchi in front of Tokyo Station and in Shibuya. Now, if they would only expand and open more branches around the city.

Viron Marunouchi

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 2-7-3, TOKIA Bldg. 1st floor

03-5220-7289

Viron Shibuya

Shibuya-ku, Udagawacho 33-8, Tsukuda Bldg.

03-5458-1770

Advertisements

Depachika Fruit Sweets

Image

The muskmelons that go for hundreds of dollars exists in Japan. If you go to a fancy restaurant, like Sukiyabashi Jiro, you may get it for dessert. I should say, if you are lucky and have a nice friend who treats you to dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The muskmelon is amazing. Aromatic, juicy, and tender, and the most amazing piece of fruit that I have ever had. But, it is possible to try a few bites of the infamous melon without breaking your wallet. Check out the fruit dessert counter at any depachika. Cakes, tarts, and much more topped with pristine, blemish-free fruit cut into bite-size pieces. The muskmelon balls are above.

Image

More muskmelon, figs, and grapefruit.

Image

Marron, mango, apple pie, and more.

Image

Top left is the Mont Blanc made with chestnuts.

Some department stores have small eat-in counters in the depachika to have a glass of fresh juice or a slice of melon. Or, some shops, like Shinjuku Takashimaya, have a larger café on an upper floor. Takano Fruit Café in Shinjuku Takashimaya. Some famous fruit shops include Sembikiya, Takano, and Lemon.

Sembikiya Nihonbashi (Japan’s oldest fruit shop)

My favorite depachika in Tokyo.

Ginza Vomero – Italian Lunch in the Shadows of the Kabukiza

Image

Just behind the mammoth Kabukiza theater in Ginza is an energetic Italian pizzeria and trattoria, Vomero. The welcome is warm and there is a lot of activity in the open kitchen, especially around the wood-burning pizza oven. The 1,580 JPY lunch course menu starts off with an appetizer plate of salad and some small bites like mortadella, omelet, and focaccia. The main is a pizza, pasta, or risotto, and finishes with a dolce and cafe.

The pizza is classic Neopolitan-style with a thick, chewy, charred crust. The Margherita had a generous amount of cheese and tomato sauce and is a big pie. Good to come hungry.

Image

The lasagna was one of the best I’ve had in Tokyo with a flavorful sauce and filled with meat. I will come back just for this lasagna.

Image

We came in before the noon rush and the restaurant quickly filled up. There is a second floor with more seating and that too was full. The attentive staff are friendly and kept my glass water filled, something that gets overlooked at many places. The restaurant has nice buzz and it was obvious that many customers are regulars. A great spot for lunch in Ginza, just come early or late.

My girlfriend forgot her gloves at the restaurant. We had walked about two blocks when she realized it and when we turned back to return to the restaurant a server was running towards us with her gloves. What is amazing about this is that we had taken two turns (a left and then a right) from the restaurant.

Pizzera Trattoria Vomero

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-12-8

03-6278-8984

Japanese Fast Food Breakfast

Image

 

Most of my work is in the morning. If I can, I try to stop by a French boulangerie, like Gontran Cherrier in Shinjuku. My go-to coffee place near Tsukiji Market is Turret Coffee. Once in a while I find myself in a new neighborhood and finding a warm breakfast in Tokyo is surprisingly easy. Many fast-food chains will offer up a classic Japanese breakfast with salted and grilled salmon, a small vegetable or sea vegetable side dish, miso soup, pickles, and rice for less than 500 JPY.

On a recent morning I was near Akasaka and came across one of the fast-food gyūdon chains.  What attracted me to this breakfast was the tororo-imo, grated yama-imo (mountain potato) which becomes very slippery and slimy when grated. This with the blanched and sliced okra and soft-boiled egg. The grated potato, okra, and egg are all put over the rice and topped with soy sauce and katsuobushi flakes. I upgraded the miso soup to include thin slices of pork, tonjiru. The top right bowl is the thin-sliced beef and onions cooked in a sweet soy broth, the signature dish for lunch and dinner.

A hearty way to start the day. And, not bad for being less than 500 JPY.

Otafuku Oden in Asakusa

Ota1Otafuku in Asakusa has been serving oden for almost 100 years. It’s a great little spot for fishcakes stewed in a delicate seafood broth as well as seafood and other izakaya fare. I came recently with my friend, the food writer and reporter, Steve Dolinsky. Steve is originally from Minnesota and now lives in Chicago with his beautiful family. Steve was in Tokyo and we met in Kappabashi and did the short walk to Otafuku for dinner and an interview for his new show, The Feed Podcast, with chef Rick Bayless.

Ota2

The menu at Otafuku is written in this beautiful Japanese calligraphy on the wall. But, we picked what we waned by just looking into the large, steaming bath behind the counter.
Ota3

Our first order was zenmai (reminiscent of ferns), shimeji mushrooms, atsu-agé (thick, deep-fried) tofu, and deep-fried Satsuma-agé fish cakes.

Ota4Followed by fukubukuro (deep-fried tofu packets stuffed with mochi), kombu (kelp), and cabbage stuffed with ground meat.

Note the awesome chopstick rest, also called otafuku.

Ota5

A meal in winter would not be complete without ankimo, monkfish liver, often called foie gras of the sea.

Ota6

The hand-written menu at our counter seats. Gorgeous calligraphy.

Ota7Sashimi of kanburi (winter yellowtail). So tender it melts in your mouth.

My husband loves this fish so much we went to the most famous port in Himi, Toyama, on our honeymoon to eat this. Good stuff.

Ota8And, the collar of kanburi, salted and grilled. Garnished with pickled ginger and freshly grated daikon with soy sauce.

While most people associate oden with winter, this food is good all-year long. This night most of the customers seemed to be businessmen, although there was one young couple at the counter with us. Lots of groups coming in and there is table seating in the back, but it is most fun to sit at the counter and watch the chef manage the stewing pot. We make oden at home in the winter a few times a year, but we never make the variety of ingredients served at Otafuku. We had beer and a warm sake, both which went well with the menu. It’s a jovial restaurant filled with locals and one of the most famous restaurants in Tokyo serving oden.

Otafuku

Taito-ku, Senzoku 1-16-2

03-3871-2521

www.otafuku.ne.jp

Some of my other favorites in Asakusa in this Metropolis piece.

Tenmatsu Tempura in Nihonbashi

Image

Spring is my favorite time of year for tempura as sansai, mountain vegetables, are featured at good restaurants serving tempura. At the top of this box is udo (spikenard), which reminds me of a tender and somewhat bitter white asparagus. The other vegetable is renkon (lotus root). 

Image

Tenmatsu at Nihonbashi bridge, just between Nihonbashi and Mitsukoshi-Mae stations on the Ginza line, has long been a favorite spot of mine. I used to work at Takashimaya which is just a five-minute walk from here and would sometimes come for a solo lunch. The lunch here is a great bargain at under 1,000 JPY for tempura that is made and served to you piece-by-piece as it comes out of the oil. Here you see the chef’s work spot. Some flour that the ingredients are dipped in before being covered with an egg, flour, and water batter before being deep-fried.

Image

Here is the udo to start off the meal. At home we blanch udo and then dress it with mayonnaise. But tempura is probably the best way to enjoy it.

Image

This is a special technique when putting in items to the hot oil, to gently toss away from you into the hot oil. Part of the joy of sitting at the counter at a tempura restaurant is listening to the oil as it sputters. A good tempura chef will know when items are ready to be pulled out of the oil by the sound it makes when it is done frying. On the plate is asparagus and shiitake. My friend got two pieces of shrimp for this course.

Image

Squid and lotus root. I love the chef’s smile. 🙂

In the large round bowl is the chef’s batter mixture. He also uses two different chopsticks. A wooden pair for the flour and batter and then a metal pair for working in the oil.

Tenmatsu is in my book, Food Sake Tokyo. The chef in this photo is the same chef that is in my book. It is quite busy at lunch time so either go early or late. Be sure to request a seat at the counters on the 1st or 2nd floor. The 3rd floor is tables only and you miss out on watching the chef prepare the tempura in front of you. They are open on Sundays and holidays which is good to keep in mind as most shops in this area are closed on these days. The main shop is in Shibuya.

Note that at lunch time there is a vegetable only tempura set lunch.

Tenmatsu

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-8-2

03-3241-5840

Lunch 11:00 – 14:00 (Sat., Sun., and holidays until 14:30)

Dinner 17:00 – 21:00

Gotta Get – Hiroshima Lemosco

Image

I am addicted to a product called Yuzusco, a yuzu and Tobasco like sauce that is great for pizza, pasta, eggs, you name it. Was thrilled when I cam across this Lemosco at the Hiroshima Antenna Shop in Ginza.

Image

It is very similar to the Yuzusco, but lighter in flavor. Sometimes the Yuzusco can be too intense. Have loved this with food and next on the list of things to try it with will be cocktails, like a Bloody Mary.

This is made from lemons, vinegar, green chili peppers, and salt. No preservatives or additives. This one is from Yamato Foods.

There are so many great condiments in Japan and these make the perfect gift to bring home for friends.

 Hiroshima Antenna Shop TAU

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-6-10

10:30 – 20:00

Gotta Get – Croissant Taiyaki

Image

Taiyaki is a traditional Japanese sweet that is usually a pancake like dough that is stuffed with azuki bean paste and grilled in a fish (tai is the Japanese word for sea bream) shape. I am usually not a big fan unless they are hot off the grill as the dough gets very soft and it is just a mushy cake.

Today in Kichijoji (武蔵野市吉祥寺本町1-7-10; Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Honcho 1-7-10) I came across a new shop that just opened in early February called Croissant Taiyaki. Basically taiyaki but made with croissant dough and studded with sugar crystals before it is grilled. Brilliant. The croissant dough bakes and is crunchy and especially crispy on the outer bits. The azuki was the chunky-style, not the smooth paste. The taiyaki sells for 200 yen each and was the perfect mid-morning snack.

This evening in Shinjuku I came across a second shop at the famous Studio ALTA just outside of the Higashi-Guchi East Exit. It had a line and seemed to be very popular.

There are currently 13 shops in Tokyo, including one inside of Tokyo Station’s in the Keiyo Street section.

Croissant Taiyaki

On a Mission to Find Tokyo’s Best Banh Mi

Image

I still find it hard to believe that I can get a better banh mi sandwich in Minneapolis than I can in Tokyo. I was on a mad hunt about eight years ago in Tokyo for banh mi and then gave up after making special trips throughout the city only to be disappointed. I moved back to New York City for a short while and became addicted to banh mi. There was a shop in Chinatown near the French Culinary Institute that I would visit almost once a week, sometimes more often.

Some food colleagues here in Tokyo put this shop in Koenji on my radar. Binh Minh is the sister shop of Chopsticks which is located inside a small market near Koenji’s North Exit. I stopped by today at 11:45 a.m. surprised to see the chairs still on the tables. There was a guy in the kitchen, and I asked him if he served banh mi. He said he does, but that he doesn’t open until noon. A little late for Tokyo as most restaurants open at 11 a.m. for lunch, maybe 11:30 a.m. at the latest.

There were two options, sausage or grilled pork. I asked him about the sausage, but he advised me that the grilled pork was more delicious, and so it was decided. At noon the clock started to chime and I looked at my new friend and he said he was now open. I ordered the grilled pork banh mi, a bargain in Tokyo at only 500 JPY.

I did love the bread, a softer baguette that seemed to be toasted. There was a generous serving of fresh cilantro, which was refreshing. But, overall, it wasn’t as good as what I am accustomed to. But, I did want to put this on Food Sake Tokyo’s blog as it is the best banh mi that I have had so far in the city. I won’t make a special trip for the sandwich, but would stop by if I am in the neighborhood.

Until then, if anyone has suggestions, please do let me know! There is another shop in the city I need to check out near Takadanobaba.

Banh Minh

Suginami-ku,  Koenji-Kita 3-22-8 Dai-Ichi Ichiba

http://binhminh-tokyo.com

Note, the shop opens at noon. Holidays on Tuesdays.

Hirezake – Japan’s Weirdest Hot Saké Drink?

Image

There is still a chill in the wind and one of the fun hot drinks to warm up with is hirezake. The fin of the fugu (blowfish or puffer fish) is grilled over a flame until charred and then put into a cup of hot saké to steep. More for fun than for flavor, but a nice change-up from the hot saké or shōchū that I usually drink. We usually make hirezake from fugu fins that we buy in packs from Tsukiji Market. But, came across this the other day and had to try it. In southern Japan fugu is called fuku, which is a nice play on words, for good luck or fortune. On the package it is called fuku no hirezake.

Image

The box comes with a hiré (fin) from a fugu that has already been charred. It also comes with saké that can be heated in the microwave for a few minutes.

Image

The charred fugu hiré.

Image

It wasn’t as good as the version we make at home when we char the fins directly over a flame. I could hardly even sense any of the smokiness that we usually get. If you are visiting Japan and see it on a menu, do order it. It is a fun drink, and something I think you can only find here.