Could This Be Tokyo’s Best Coffee? Chatei Hatou

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One of the great pleasures of giving food tours in Tokyo is meeting passionate people who introduce me to spots in Tokyo. The metropolis is so big that it is impossible to make it to every shop that you want to go to. Sometimes it takes someone to put a shop back on your radar. This was the case with Chatei Hatou. I first came across in it Oliver Strand’s piece in the New York Times Magazine. It’s in Shibuya, an area that I often go to. However, it is in a part of Shibuya that I rarely get to. So, it was on my Go List, but not high on the list. Until a great client who knows his coffee told me that I absolutely must go and check it out. He warned me that a cup of coffee would set me back $15. He also mentioned that while there were a variety of cups behind the counter, that customers did not select one, but that the master would size me up and choose one for me.

I finally found myself in the back streets of Shibuya. Walking in the area I realized I must be somewhere in the vicinity of Chatei Hatou and I pulled out my Go List and made a beeline for the shop. Well, beeline is a stretch, as I did get lost once. That’s good for a city where most streets do not have a name.

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Just down a side street off of a major street and up a few meters from the Lacoste. The narrow shopfront sticks out on the street. It has charm and character and could have been modeled after a ski house in Europe.  The interior is dark and there is a lot of bric-a-brac on the walls on tables. I am guessing accumulated over the years as it opened in 1989. Walking in I knew I was back in Japan as it did smell of tobacco smoke. Bummer, but it wasn’t too smoky and I had to try what my friend said was one of the best coffees in the city.

I was seated at the counter, just in front of the master. I ordered a demitasse of “old beans” as it appears on the menu (900 JPY). I was told it would be bitter and he pointed to the demitasse cups. I nodded in approval and the dance began. The beans were grounded, put into a sock, and then the master used a small, flat wooden spatula and shaped the ground beans in the sock into a mountain shape. He then started to slowly and purposefully pour hot water onto the grounds. What I was amazed at was that he did not put the sock over a coffee pot or cup. He continued to pour water and the grounds started to expand and soak up the hot water. After pouring for a while he finally put the sock over a small glass carafe to capture the coffee. I was mesmerized at his attention to each detail. Hot water was poured into my demitasse as he finished up the coffee. He put the carafe down behind the counter. I am not sure if he was heating it up or what. But after about a minute of my cup being warmed he poured the coffee into the cup and presented it to me. Quite the ceremony. And, a very good cup of coffee. Dark, yet smooth, and only slightly bitter.

The other customers were a mishmash of chatty housewives, single people reading books, a group of guys holding a business meeting. It was surprisingly full at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday night. If it were smoke-free I would plan on going back soon. Am glad I took the advice of my friend. It is a unique look into the coffee culture in Tokyo.

Chatei Hatou 茶亭 羽當

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-15-19

03-3400-9088

11:00 – 23:00

no holidays, even open on Sundays

Butcher Brothers in Kanda and Nihonbashi

Butcher's Brothers

Butcher’s Steak Plate 肉屋のステーキプレート

Craving a hearty lunch after an early morning tour to Tsukiji Market and depachika, I stopped by Butcher Brothers in Kanda. I had stopped by last week but came right during the lunch hour rush, noon in Japan, and there was a line out the door. So was thrilled when I opened the door and was warmly greeted. It’s a boisterous restaurant, lots of welcoming customers, repeating orders, and thanking customers. All the more noisier if you are at the counter overlooking the open kitchen

The lunch menu is very simple, the steak plate (900 JPY, photo above), roast pork (800 JPY), and a curry (500 JPY). The steak plate was a lot of food. I asked for a smaller portion of rice and am glad I did. The steak was medium rare, just as I like it. A meaty piece, not the tender wagyū that is prevalent throughout the city. Americans will feel back at home with this big cut of meat that is hot off of the grill. My neighbor had the pork and it looked good. Had I been in back in New York City I would have started up a conversation with him, but I didn’t. The curry also looked good so I have two more reasons to come back.

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My seat was at the counter and as a chef it is always fun to see the action in the kitchen. The food was great, and at this price, one can’t complain. I wish the meat was seasoned with a bit more salt. And, it is too bad that the salad isn’t tossed with the dressing in a bowl and then served. But, that is not keeping me from coming back. The wine list is very affordably priced and the dinner menu is a big one, and it makes sense to come back with a group of friends, order a few bottles of wine and share several different plates. Note, lunch is Monday – Friday only.

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On a recent visit I had the grilled pork plate, a bargain at 850 JPY. It is a thick cut of pork, my cut had a rich amount of fat as well. It was well seasoned and I prefer it to the steak plate and will be back for this dish. This day I was seated at the counter, at the same spot I sat at last time. I was the only woman at the counter. My counter mates included two men working for a delivery company, both who ordered extra-large portions of rice, which can be had for no extra charge.

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One option is to add curry to your rice plate for an additional 50 JPY. Do it. It is a smoky curry that is unlike any curry I have had in my years in Tokyo. The rice serving is very generous, geared towards the area salarymen which make up most of the diners at lunchtime. This portion is a half size and I couldn’t even finish this.

Be sure to grab a complimentary cup of coffee-to-go on your way out the door. Smart idea of the restaurant to include coffee with lunch, but only as take-away.

Butcher Brothers

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi-Hongokucho 4-5-10

03-6225-2936

Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:00-11:30 p.m.

Sat. 4-11:30 p.m.

closed Sunday and holidays

Gotta Get – Tomizawa’s Deep-Fried Okra

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We came across these deep-fried okra at Tomizawa. The okra are deep-fried until light and crispy. Not at all oily. Surely they must be better for you than potato chips, right? Well, that is what we tell ourselves. We are seeing lots of fried vegetables sold at the markets, but most of them are non-memorable. These are different. We can’t get enough. The okra are not always in stock, so call ahead before you go. Just wanted to put this on everyone’s radar. We will stock up on some as hanami, cherry-blossom viewing season, is just around the corner. This will be great for any picnic.

Tomizawa is a chain of shops that specialize in dried goods. We go to our local Tomizawa when looking for spices or ingredients for baking. There is a big shop in Machida. Not necessarily worth a big trip to Machida, but worth checking out if you are in the area.

Tokyo shops can be found at: B1 of Yurakucho Lumine, 8F of Shinjuku Keio, B2 of Ikebukuro Seibu, and Shibuya Seibu.

Tomizawa homepage:

http://www.tomizawa.co.jp/shopguide/

 

 

Gotta Get – Sansai Mountain Vegetables

 

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Today at lunch I was reminded of what a special time of year this is. This gorgeous katakuchi bowl was presented with simmered octopus, fava beans, and fukiFuki is the stem of a bog rhubarb. It is no relation to the rhubarb I grew up with in Minnesota. It looks like a thin celery and has a somewhat similar texture, although more refined and elegant.

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This time of year when sansai (mountain vegetables), like kogomi ferns, spring up from under the leaves that have covered the ground over winter. Angelica trees start to bud and the tender greens, tara no me, are harvested. And one of my favorites is the bitter butterbur, fuki no to, that is best when served as tempura. Some of these can be blanched and served with a splash of soy sauce.

If you are visiting Japan this spring, be sure to have a meal at a tempura restaurant that serves sansai. If you go out to an izakaya, ask them if they have any dishes with sansai. Some sansai are only around for a few weeks, so carpe diem.

Ginza New Castle Curry

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New Castle Curry in Ginza was a great little spot for a bowl of spicy curry topped with an over-easy egg. When I last went, while researching my book, Food Sake Tokyo, it was a second-generation shop in an old, wooden building in the glamorous Ginza district. While shiny new buildings were built up around it, New Castle was a treasured spot for many. Only one type of curry was served here, but at different portion sizes, with or without the egg. Each dish was named after a station on the Keihin-Tohoku line like Kamata or Shinagawa. I was so excited to include it in Food Sake Tokyo, as it was that unique little mom-and-pop shop with really good, simple food.

Sadly New Castle closed down two years ago. I would walk by in mourning, sad that I didn’t make it in one last time. I wasn’t the only one. I often saw others stop and stand in front of the shuttered shop, almost offering up a prayer, or perhaps reliving the spicy curry. So, imagine my thrill when I heard that the third-generation has opened up a New Castle Curry, still in Ginza, a few blocks away from the old location.

New Castle was packed when I came in recently for lunch. Many of the customers were obviously regulars as they didn’t even have to call out a station name like “Omori”, but just said that they’ll have the usual. I started off with a green salad and had the Kamata (photo above) for 740 JPY. For Japanese curries it is on the spicy side. The menu suggests first trying just the curry, then some curry with rice, and finally with the egg.

This new spot can not be compared to the old spot as it had so much charm and character, developed over 66 years in one spot. It was a dark restaurant and even the lights felt as if they were covered in dust, giving off only a faint light. The new spot is a long counter overlooking an open kitchen with a few seats off to the side. The back wall of the kitchen is a bright red color. Some bottles of whisky lined the back wall. No one ordered whisky at lunch, but I imagine at dinnertime a few glasses are shared amongst friends.

The family is very warm and welcoming and it’s a great bowl of curry. The location is not as convenient as the old one, which was closer to Yurakucho. The new one is closer to Showa Dori. But, it’s only a few blocks off of Chuo Dori, the main drag of Ginza. The third-generation oversees the kitchen while his father greets the customers and manages the cash register.

The curry is just as I remember it. Spicy, savory, and satisfying. Welcome back New Castle. You have been missed. The shop was closed for about a year before this reincarnation opened last year. Restaurants like this is what makes Tokyo such a great dining city. Great food that has been passed down for generations. The energy in the new spot is very different from the last one. It feels as it has new life and a renewed spirit.

In this Japanese blogpost, you’ll find a lovely photo of the second- and third-generations, as well as photos of the outside of the shop so it is easy to find.

Ginza New Castle

Chuo-ku, Ginza 2-11-1, Ginza Land Building B1

03-6264-0885

Tuesday – Friday 11:30 – 20:00

Saturday and Sunday 11:30 – 17:00

closed Monday and holidays

Gotta Go – Utsuwa Kenshin

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Asato Ikeda-san’s gorgeous pottery. I first came across these at Den in Jimbocho.

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Saké tastes better when served in something this beautiful.

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Bob Tobin and Hitoshi Ohashi of the Tobin Ohashi Gallery first introduced me to Kenshin Sato-san of Kenshin Utsuwa. When I asked chef Zaiyu Hasegawa-san of Den about these cups he too said that Kenshin Utsuwa would have these. I have been following Kenshin Utsuwa on Facebook as he  hosts many special events around the city. I contacted Sato-san and placed an order for the cups. Here I am picking up the cups and pourer. What I am holding is not what I bought, but a piece he had in his gallery.Image

Kenshin Utsuwa is a small, but well-stocked gallery in between Shibuya and Omotesando. I got lost finding it, so be sure to have a good map. This day there were several gorgeous pieces from a potter in Hokkaido.

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If you want to invest in some handcrafted pottery, be sure to visit Kenshin Utsuwa while in Tokyo. First though, call ahead and make sure the shop is open. As he hosts special showings throughout the city he often closes the gallery. The Kenshin Utsuwa Facebook page always is updated with his current shows.

Utsuwa Kenshin

http://www.utsuwa-kenshin.com

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-3-4, Star Building 2F

Phone and Fax: 03-6427-9782

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