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/

2017 Tsukiji Market Calendar

Shinji Sakamoto by Sushi Geek

The 2016 Tsukiji Market Calendar is out. We are still offering tours to the market, as the move has been postponed until the end of 2017 or possibly spring of 2018. There is also a chance that it will never move.

Calendar link is below. Avoid any days with RED.

http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/calendar/2017/

FYI – the tuna auction is closed to visitors from Dec. 1, 2016 – Jan. 14, 2017.

http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english/tsukiji/index.html#VisitorsRules

Japanese Egg Salad Sandwich

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Wa’s Egg Salad Sandwich

Shinjuku Station’s NEWoMaN area at the South Exit, inside of the JR station, has the only branch of Wa’s Sandwich. Wa’s Sandwich’s egg salad is made with mayonnaise, shio kōji, and sweet Saikyō miso, perhaps Japan most Japanese sandwich? The seasonings are light, so it’s hard to perceive. But, the bread is a very good quality. It’s not cheap, at 500 JPY. But it’s a big sandwich with thick-cut slices of pan de mie. Next time I go back I’ll try one of their other sandwiches. There is a colorful selection to choose from.

To put things into perspective, Japan’s famous egg salad, from 7-11, is a reasonable 220 JPY.

Wa’s Sandwich

Shinjuku Station NEWoMaN at Shinjuku JR South Exit (inside the station)

https://www.newoman.jp/shop/shop_details.php?id=86

Nakameguro Sumi-Grilled Yakitori

Maru, just a few minutes’ from Nakameguro station, is a great lunch spot for sumi (charcoal) grilled yakitori. The chicken, Amakusa Daiou, from Kumamoto, is called the king of chicken, and is known for it’s rich in texture and flavor.

The oyako-don (900 JPY), on the left above is a popular dish of chicken and eggs cooked in a sweet soy broth. Oyako is literally mother and child, a fun name for this dish. The sign of a good oyakodon is eggs that are just heated enough so that the whites just start to gel. The semi-scrambled eggs become a sauce for the chicken and rice.

The yakitori-don (1,200 JPY) includes three smokey skewers, grilled over charcoal: white meat, gizzard, and thighs with leeks. Two tsukune meatballs, a raw yolk, shishitō and nori round out the dish. Lunch sets include pickles, chicken soup, and a rich tiramisu.

Nakameguro is a hot area at the moment as several restaurants, including a hip City Bakery and Tsutaya bookstore have opened up under the tracks, in an area called Nakameguro Koukashita. On a recent visit the new shops were swamped, so we were happy to find quiet refuge at Maru.

Sumibiyaki Maru 炭火焼 Maru

Meguro-ku, Nakameguro 2-12-2 W. Nakameguro 1F

目黒区上目黒2-12-2 W. Nakameguro 1F

Fend Off Colds with Ginger Kuzu-yu

 

ginger-kuzuyu

Kuzu was first put on my radar by the famous vegetarian chef, Yumiko Kano. Kano Sensei is a prolific cookbook author with 29 cookbooks, all vegetarian, except for the very last one, Okazu Salada, which is vegetable-rich, but does introduce a bit of fish and meat.

At a cooking class Kano Sensei talked about the health benefits of using kuzu instead of katakuriko (a potato starch) as a thickener. She said that kuzu warms up the body while katakuriko cools the body down. Kuzu is also rich in flavonoids, a strong antioxidant. Here is a hon-kuzu that we like: http://www.morino-kuzu.com/en

A friend of mine told me that she and her husband were advised by their doctor to take kuzu to fight off a cold that they both felt they were coming down with and it worked like a charm. Influenza is spreading in Tokyo at the moment and so I started drinking a thick slurry of kuzu mixed with grated ginger and honey when I too started to feel like I was catching something. It has kept the cold from setting in and I love the ritual of making the drink.

Look for hon-kuzu 本葛 本くず in the supermarket. Do not use katakuriko (potato starch).

Ginger Kuzu-yu

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon hon-kuzu

1/2 Tablespoon grated ginger

honey

In a pot add 1 Tablespoon of hon-kuzu to 1 cup of cold water. Mix until the chunks of kuzu dissolve. Turn on the heat and continue to mix until the color changes from white to almost transparent. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 Tablespoon grated ginger. Add honey to taste.

kuzuyu-mattcha

Mattcha green tea and black sugar is a classic combination in traditional Japanese sweets. This mattcha kuzu-yu is a refreshing and earthy afternoon tea, here served with sweetened black beans.

Mattcha Kuzu-yu

1 cup water

1 Tablespoon hon-kuzu

1/2 Tablespoon instant mattcha

kokutō (black sugar)

In a pot add 1 Tablespoon of hon-kuzu to 1 cup of cold water. Mix until the chunks of kuzu dissolve. Turn on the heat and continue to mix until the color changes from white to almost transparent. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 Tablespoon instant mattcha. Add kokutō to taste.

http://yumiko-kano.com/index.html

 

 

 

Le Pain de Joel Robuchon

One of my favorite bakeries in Tokyo is from the famous chef Joel Robuchon, for savory breads made with excellent ingredients. Le Pain de Joel Robuchon has recently opened near Shinjuku station in the NEWoMaN mall. Imagine one of France’s top chefs creating breads and sweets using French and Japanese ingredients? I love the l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon restaurant, but don’t often have the time to sit through a meal, so the boulangerie is a alternative to get my Robuchon fix.

On the left above is a foie gras toast topped with apple and pink peppercorns croque monsieur, the right is my favorite, a cheesy potato bread with lardons. Crispy cheese bits contrasted with potato bites and meaty bacon. How many shops do you know serving foie gras croque monsieur?

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Joel Robuchon mushrooms and walnuts

Seasonal breads like this bread with maitake, shimeji, and eringi mushrooms with walnuts change throughout the year. All of the above breads are best reheated in a toaster oven. The green olive fougasse never made it home, it was too hard to resist, and I highly recommend it.

The Roppongi Hills shop has no seating area, but the Shinjuku shop does have a small café seating area by the bakery. There is also a retail shop in the Shibuya Hikarie B2 depachika.

Le Pain de Joel Robuchon

Roppongi Hills, Shinjuku NEWoMaN, Shibuya Hikarie

http://www.robuchon.jp/en