Savory Unagi

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Ikebukuro Tobu is Tokyo’s largest depachika with over 200 food stalls. The depachika is spread out over two floors and two buildings, and is worth a careful peruse. The restaurant floors on the upper five floors of the department store offers tempura, tonkatsu, sushi, unagi, and much more. The restaurant floors are packed on weekends, but a great option for weekdays. The unagi shop, Aji no Miyagawa, grills the fresh water eel and glazes it with a sauce that is not sweet. It is a nice change from the cloying sweet soy that is often found at unagi-ya. The unajū box of rice topped with grilled eel and sauce, but on this day, the lunch set called out to me, including sashimi, and simmered vegetables. The clear soup includes the eel liver. This lunch is about 4,000 JPY. Aji no Miyagawa’s main shop is at Tokyo Station. There are a few branches in the city.

Aji no Miyagawa 味乃宮川

Toshima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-1-25, Ikebukuro Tobu, 12th Floor

 

 

Simmered Pork Belly Curry Pan

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Ikebukuro Tobu is Tokyo’s largest depachika. While exploring it recently we came across what is one of Tokyo’s great curry pans, bread filled with curry and deep-fried. This one caught my eye as it is called 豚の角煮カレーパン buta no kakuni kare-pan, simmered pork belly curry bread. The bread is studded with shards of bread that when deep-fried crisp up like croutons, offering a nice contrast to the tender pork belly inside. The curry is not very spicy, but just a hint of spice. This is definitely one of my favorite curry pan in the city.

Pan Rizotta is a bakery inside of Ikebukuro Tobu. This is the only Pan Rizotta in Japan, so the only place you will find this simmered pork belly curry pan. If you are in luck, as we were, the 揚げたて agetate sign will be out indicating it is hot out of the deep-fryer.

Pan Rizotta Bakery at Ikebukuro Tobu

Toshima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-1-25

http://www.tobu-dept.jp/ikebukuro/

Tobu can be accessed from Ikebukuro station.

Sushi Chain to Put on Your Radar

Living in Tokyo it’s good to have a few sushi chain on your radar, especially if  you are parents and dining out with kids. Some popular sushiya on the budget side include Midori Sushi, Sushi Zanmai, Sushiro, Choshi Maru, and Kurazushi. One to know about is Uoriki, which is not only a sushiya, but also a seafood retail shop, so the company is buying a lot of seafood and can offer sushi menus at a good value.

Uoriki is unbelievably cheap for what it is offering. The set lunch in the upper right photo was only 1,290 JPY ($13). Check out the size of the anago (simmered sea eel). It also included ikura, chutoro, scallop, and shrimp.

The bottom photo is of silvery skinned fish, which took me a long time to get used to, but now I love these. At lunch this was only 750 JPY and consisted of: Pacific saury, horse mackerel, sardine, Pacific mackerel, and gizzard shad. As these are the fishy in flavor, they are often garnished with ginger, garlic, chives, or even pickled in salt and rice vinegar to make them more palatable.

A very easy branch of Uoriki Sushi to get to is in the Shibuya station building in the Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. There are a few shops on the Chuo line which we frequent. The take-away sushi is also very cheap and is usually made without wasabi so it is kid-friendly. Wasabi is served on the side.

The name, Uoriki 魚力, literally means strong fish. What a great name for a seafood retail and restaurant chain.

Uoriki Sushi

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1, Tokyu Toyoko-ten Depachika B1

渋谷区渋谷2-24-1 東急百貨店西館B1F

Other branches (in Japanese):

http://www.uoriki.co.jp/tenpo/index.html#insyoku

I was recently interviewed for this piece for Saveur magazine, by Laurie Woolever:

http://www.saveur.com/conveyor-belt-kaiten-sushi

Focaccia and Ciabatta in Tokyo

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My favorite Italian bakery in the city is Peck, which is only found at Takashimaya, both in Nihonbashi and Shinjuku, as well as at the shops in the suburbs. Peck is a gourmet shop in Milano that dates back to 1883. The selection includes Italian cheeses, cured meats, pastas, olive oils, and other pantry staples. There is also a selection of prepared dishes as well as some sandwiches.

I am addicted to the focaccia and ciabatta at Peck. The ciabatta freezes well, so I’ll cut up a few pieces for the freezer and warm it up in the oven toaster.

Peck is perfect for an impromptu picnic in Shinjuku Gyoen park, which is a short walk from the Shinjuku Takashimaya. Pick up some breads, cheese, and meat and swing by the wine shop for a bottle of wine.

If you come across great Italian breads in Tokyo, please let me know.

Peck at Takashimaya

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

I'll Have What Phil's Having at Den

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having at Den

It all started a little over a year ago. An email from a producer in New York City wanting to know if we would help with the filming of a new food show for PBS. The program would travel around the world with Phil Rosenthal. I was more than happy to help and was lucky to film at Nihonbashi Takashimaya as I had worked there about ten years ago in the sake department. It was fun to see many colleagues still there, and to share with Phil the secret rooftop that so few people, even Japanese, know about.

I was happier than a kid on Halloween when I found out we would be filming at my favorite restaurant in Tokyo, chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. It is one of those spots that is hard to get into, so filming there would be a very special treat. The restaurant would open up for just us before service. The program does a brilliant job of capturing chef Hasegawa’s personality and the cuisine. He was so kind to fry up some Dentucky Fried Chicken for the crew after filming was done.

Then came the tough decision, to ask Phil into our home for dinner or not. Until now we have kept our son’s photo off of social media. Opening up our apartment for the world to see was not as much of a concern as was including our kid. I thought that even if our son was filmed, it would only be in the periphery. You’ll have to watch the video to see his cameo.

I was happy to see that Phil also made it to two other special restaurants, Narisawa and Kyubey. Also places that should not be missed, if you can get in.

The video is here:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365570558/

I don’t know for how long it will be online, so watch it while you can. It is an hour-long show. We appear at 14:15, 33:30, and 43:15, but please, see the whole show.

The Amazing Crew

The Amazing Crew

We’ve already heard from new clients saying that they are inspired to come to Tokyo. That is Phil’s goal with this program, and how awesome to see it come true. We had a blast with Phil and his team and are honored to be included.

Chikalicious NY Dough’ssant in Tokyo

Chikalicious Dough'ssant

Chikalicious Dough’ssant

For a limited time, Chikalicious NY dough’ssant is available at Ginza Matsuya. I still have yet to try a Cronut, but today while walking through Ginza Matsuya I saw what I thought was a Cronut. There are a few shops making these in Tokyo. The only one that I have liked until now is The Roastery’s New York Rings in Omotesando. The others are all wanna-bes.

The caramel and almonds dough’ssant is very sweet. To be honest, I think it is too sweet for the Japanese market. I shared this with a friend and half was just the right amount. That being said, I will try to make it back to the shop to try another flavor, like creme brulee or mattcha, before the event ends.

The staff said that these would only be available for a month. Not sure when it will end, so go soon.

Ginza Matsuya – Chikalicious NY

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-6-1

Depachika Fruit Sweets

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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.

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More muskmelon, figs, and grapefruit.

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Marron, mango, apple pie, and more.

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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.

Tokyo Food Guide

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photo by Olen Peterson

We can demystify Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest seafood market,

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and introduce you to a new sushi neta, like kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) that is pink, slightly sweet, and is succulent.

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Introduce you to a wide variety of Japanese pickles.

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Lead you to a special bar where cocktails are made with seasonal fruit and vegetables,

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or to a bar serving craft beer and sweet potato chips.

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Explore the unique izakaya culture from smoky grilled meat joints
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to saké specialty restaurants and discover the subtle nuances of saké through flights of saké,

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or through the native distilled spirit, shōchū. Yukari was the first non-Japanese to pass the shōchū advisor exam.

DSCN5688Explore street food on the side streets of Tokyo,
depachika sugar grapesphoto by Nancy Matsumoto

or to my old stomping grounds, Takashimaya depachika, to discover sugar-coated muscat grapes and

depachika sashimi matsumoto

photo by Nancy Matsumoto

seasonal sashimi.

Food Sake Tokyo guides are a chef and Japanese fishmonger. We are Tokyo’s food guides. Please contact us here for more information on our market tours.

Tokyo Station Car Bento

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I love shopping for bentō boxes. Bentō are convenient meals, be it for a picnic, while traveling on a train, or when I am too rushed to put a meal together. Japanese schools are now on their summer holidays and Tokyo station is busier than usual with travelers. Inside of Tokyo station there are several areas that sell a wide variety of bento boxes, especially in the basement GranSta area. I also like going to Daimaru department store and the basement depachika that is next to Tokyo station. This fun, kids bentō is from Daimaru at a shop called eashion. It was only 600 JPY. The company’s website even gives some basic information about the bentō including ingredients and calories.
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Bentō usually include five different colors: red, green, yellow, black, and white. A colorful meal ensures a healthful meal. And, often the different dishes are cooked in a variety of methods, giving different textures and pleasure to the palate.DSCN6203If you are traveling with your kids through Tokyo station on summer holidays, look out for fun kids’ bentō. I also saw a Hello Kitty bentō and a panda bentō. Some bentō, like this one, can be recycled. We just wash the removable white partitioned plastic interior and the blue car exterior.

eashion also had a great selection of adult bentō as well, so great for one-stop shopping. If you are going to ride on the bullet train, then be sure to stop by the saké department and pick up a beer or a small bottle of saké for the trip. Ask the cashier for small plastic cups.

I stopped by recently to buy a bentō during the week and did not find it. I was told that it is only sold on the weekends.

Bon voyage!

Hanami 101

Hanami3

Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

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Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

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Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

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Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.