Maison Kayser Kouign Amann

maison-kayser-kouign-amann

Kouign amann is a butter pastry that is rich with a caramel like crust that can be both crunchy and chewy. If you’ve been to Bretagne in France, you will know that it is famous for butter, a key ingredient in this decadent sweet.

My favorite kouign amann in Tokyo is at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Omotesando. Another one that I like is this one from Maison Kayser, which has branches throughout the city, including at Shinjuku Takashimaya.

Try it, you’ll love it. Kouign amann is very popular in Tokyo, so check out any bakery you pass. Here it is in Japanese: クイニーアマン

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

Best Mentaiko Pan in Tokyo?

My favorite Japanese bread is mentaiko panMentaiko is pollack roe that has been cured in salt and seasoned with dried red chili peppers. At home we love mentaiko raw with a bowl of rice. It can be toasted on the outside and left raw inside for an umami-rich dish with sake.

The Japanese have brilliantly come up with putting into a small baguette with some butter and toasting it. Whenever I go into a new bakery it is the first thing I look for. Not all bakeries in Tokyo have it, so if you come across it, I recommend highly picking one up.

My commute into Tokyo takes me through Shinjuku station. The South Exit area has been under construction for a long time and has recently opened up under the new bus terminal. For me, this is the best mentaiko pan I have come across in the city. It opens at 8 a.m. and this is a great way to start the day.

Le Bihan is originally from Bretagne and dates back to 1913. It has many more stores in the Kansai region. Le Bihan, also has branch in Shinjuku Odakyu depachika, Ikebukuro Seibu, and Kita Senju Marui.

Le Bihan

Shinjuku Station South Exit

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-55, NEWoMan Shinjuku 2F (inside the station gates)

渋谷区千駄ヶ谷5-24-55 NEWoMan SHINJUKU 2F

Sardine Lovers’ Lunch 新宿割烹中嶋

Chef Nakajima of Shinjuku Kappō Nakajima is often on television on a morning cooking show. His restaurant serves a multi-course kaiseki meal in the evening, but the lunch is a set lunch based on iwashi sardines.

For less than $10 USD (800 or 900 JPY), the menu options are sashimi, furai (breaded and deep-fried), nimono (simmered in a sweet soy sauce), or Yanagigawa (fried sardines cooked with eggs in a sweet soy sauce). The meal includes rice, miso soup, and pickles.

We sat at the counter and watched as an assistant chef continued to make the sashimi dish, which is actually tataki (photo, above left). It is a great preparation for silvery-skinned fish like sardines or horse mackerel. The sashimi is roughly chopped and mixed with ginger and sesame, which helps cut through the fishiness.

Fried sardines often include some of the bones, which you can chew and eat, but a warning if you are not used to it. The Yanagigawa is served in a shallow dish that is a nice combination of sardines with the softly cooked eggs.

The restaurant has a counter overlooking part of the kitchen and several tables. We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and snagged the last seats at the counter. When we left there was over a dozen people in line.

The restaurant is hard to find. It is on a quiet side street and signage is ridiculously small, even for Japanese readers. Look for the sign (photo, above right) and go down the stairs. The staff are very friendly and there is an English menu for this great lunch.

Shinjuku Kappō Nakajima 新宿割烹中嶋

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-32-5, Nichihara Bldg. B1     新宿区新宿3-32-5 日原ビルB1

http://www.shinjyuku-nakajima.com/

Map from the restaurant’s website

http://www.shinjyuku-nakajima.com/tenpo.html#main

iwashi いわし 鰯

kappō 割烹

Nakajima 中嶋

 

Shinbashi Tsurumaru Udon 新橋つるまる饂飩

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Tsurumaru is a chain of udon restaurants that I love when I need to grab a quick bite. I find myself often going to the Shinbashi branch as they are open early in the morning, from 7 a.m. It’s a great spot for a quick meal anytime of the day.

The flour for the udon noodles is from Japan. Pre-cooked noodles are boiled after each order is placed and have a nice texture and flavor. The dashi used for the broth includes katsuo (skipjack tuna), saba (Pacific mackerel), and niboshi (dried sardines). It is a delicate broth that is rich in umami.

The basic bowl of noodles is only 200 JPY. There are many types of tempura to use as toppings. I love this vegetable kakiage which is a melange of vegetables fried up in a cake. With my chopsticks I break it up and take a bit with the noodles.

As a standing restaurant there are no chairs. It takes a little while getting used to standing and slurping. Once the bowl cools down you can pick it up and slurp some of the broth. It’s a fun and very local experience.

Tsurumaru つるまる饂飩

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 1-8-6 港区新橋1-8-6

http://www.tsuru-maru.jp/

Other branches include:

港区虎ノ門2-4-1    Minato-ku, Toranomon 2-4-1

渋谷区恵比寿南1-1-12  Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Minami 1-1-12

渋谷区代々木2-11-12  Shibuya-ku, Yoyogi 2-11-12 (near Shinjuku station)

Park Hyatt Tokyo Kozue’s Tohoku Heroes

Hatsumago Sparkling

Hatsumago Sparkling

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is a lovely spot for Japanese cuisine. At lunch if the skies are clear you have a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji. At night the city twinkles below you.

Two years ago Kozue did a special Tohoku menu to show their support for three prefectures that were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, Fukshima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This year Kozue is repeating the Tohoku Heroes menu, but moving on to the other three prefectures, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.

Chef Kenichiro Ooe is from Yamagata, as is my family, so we share this connection with Tohoku. At a recent dinner at Kozue chef Ooe introduced many products and sake from Tohoku.

Koji Nishizaki, the manager of Kozue, gave lovely commentary on the sake with each course. We started the evening off with a sparkling sake from Hatsumago. Hatsumago is a lovely brewery from Sakata in Yamagata. I sold many bottles of Hatsumago when I worked at Takashimaya. It means the first grandchild. A lovely gift for new grandparents. It is only 10% in alcohol, so light on the palate and refreshing. A great start to any evening.

Hiraizumi

Hiraizumi Marubi 15, Yamahai Junmai, Akita Miyama-nishiki rice. The yeast that is used for this sake is called Akita kobo #15, where the sake gets its name. Although it is a yamahai sake, it is not too heavy as yamahai can be. A very food friendly sake.

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Chef Ooe talked about visiting the Tohoku region to meet the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen behind many of the products that they are using. For example, the watarigani crab used in this starter has a local name of gazami. I love these local colloquialism regarding food. It seems to be especially prevalent with seafood. The crab is  steamed in sake, spinach, myoga, and Tosa-zu jelly. Tosa-zu is a classic tart dressing made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. As a jelly it adds a nice texture to the dish. The Hatsumago sparkling paired well with the Tosa-zu jelly, myoga, and crab. Underneath is some kani-miso, or the offal of the crab, a delicacy and an unexpected and nice surprise. The rich kani-miso was rich and paired well with the Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai.

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Warm Aomori hokkigai appetizer with seri, maitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, and sansho was served with Hakkoda Oroshi Daiginjo. Both the hokkigai clam and sake are from Aomori, so a natural partner. I also love this dish with the accent on both edges of the bowl. Dining at Kozue is also a delight on the eyes. Each time I am here I come across new tableware that capture my attention. The Japanese eat with their eyes and taking in the vessels are part of the pleasure of dining at Kozue.

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Owan soup bowl. Check out this lovely lacquer bowl with silver and gold circles. My neighbor at the dinner, a Japanese travel writer, said, “it is September”, like I should know why this bowl is being used this time of year. Of course, the harvest moon. So here you also get an appreciation that chef Ooe selected this bowl for this dish due to the time of year.

Ichigoni

The owan soup course is a famous local dish called ichigoni of awabi and uni. I’ve tried it in the past and have never liked it, until now. Chef Ooe’s soup was rich in umami and the seafood was pristine. It didn’t hurt that there was matsutake mushrooms and other vegetables in the soup.

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Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai from Aomori, lucky if you can get your hands on this sake.:-)

PHT Kozue sashimi

Chef Ooe sashimi presentation always has a big impact. How gorgeous is this large katakuchi bowl filled with crushed ice? This is a serving for three guests. Mimmaya bluefin tuna, makogarei, and amaebi. The fresh nori is always a treat. Chef Ooe commented that it is still early in the season and that the tuna was not as fatty as it will be later in the season as the water cools down.

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Amanoto made with kuro koji from Akita. This was my favorite of the night. I wonder if it is because of the black koji – as I am a fan of Okinawa awamori spirit, which is also made with kuro koji. It was served with a Hinai jidori chicken from Akita and included a kiritampo rice ball, a classic dish from Akita. It was nice to see it elevated to this level, as it is a dish often made at home. I think this dish that this was presented in was my favorite of the night.

Sadly I had to leave the dinner, unexpectedly, and missed out on the Yamagata Yonezawa wagyu and the Yamagata soba. Dessert was a rice ice cream. I did love being introduced to new sake, a renewed appreciation for Tohoku ingredients, and seeing new vessels. If you go, I highly recommend asking to have Tohoku sake paired with your meal.

The Tohoku Heroes event runs now through November 30th, both lunch and dinner. There will be a special dinner on the evening of November 29th, where some of the producers will be in attendance. For more details:

http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/news-and-events/events/tohoku-heroes-2015.html

Shinjuku Restaurant with Kids – Mimiu

Shinjuku Mimiu

Shinjuku Mimiu

Dining out with kids can be challenging in Tokyo. One tip is to look for restaurants that have koshitsu, private rooms. You can then close the doors and the kids can play in the private room without disturbing the other diners. Adults can enjoy some conversation without worrying about the kids. Koshitsu are also nice when getting together with family or friends and you’d like some privacy.

Mimiu near Shinjuku station has several private rooms exactly for this occasion. It is a popular restaurant with families, so best to book a private room in advance. Be sure to inquire about seating. Some koshitsu have tables and chairs while others are tatami mat rooms with low tables. Ideally there will be a hole under the table with a sunken floor, called horigotatsu. These can be surprisingly comfortable.

Some other tips when using a tatami room. You’ll be asked to take your shoes off. If you need to use the rest room while dining use the sandals that are set near the room. Most koshitsu will have a bell to ring when you need something.

Mimiu has a few set lunches to choose from, starting at about 2,200 JPY. Above is one of the lunch sets. The food was not spectacular, but was passable. I was surprised that they did not have options for the kids. The set menu was definitely too much food to order another lunch for the kids, so we shared.

This location is conveniently located a minute or two from Shinjuku station. Mimiu has a few other locations in the city. When we reserved the room we were told that there was a two-hour limit.

Mimiu 美々卯

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-37-12, Shinjuku Nowa Bldg. 6F 新宿区新宿3-37-12新宿Nowaビル6F

http://www.mimiu.co.jp/

All-You-Can Drink Warayakiya わらやき屋

Searing katsuo over straw

Searing katsuo over straw

Tokyo is filled with many nomihōdai, all-you-can drink spots. Restaurants offer different set menus with a selection of beverages and a time limit. These are fun gathering spots when getting together with friends. Recently we had a reunion and the nomihōdai restaurants are fun. The staff at the restaurant bring out the different courses while refilling your drink order. These spots tend to be very boisterous. Some have private rooms if you prefer that.

Warayakiya, near Shinjuku station, specializes in seared katsuo, skipjack tuna, seared over straw. Wara means straw and yaki means to grill. Warayaki-ya is a store that grills food over straw. The firing of the katsuo is done behind a glass window. The firing is very dramatic and the smell of burning straw wafts throughout the restaurant.

Katsuo tataki - seared katsuo

Katsuo tataki – seared katsuo

The katsuo is cut extra thick and served with salt instead of the usual soy sauce. Wasabi, ginger, garlic, daikon sprouts, or thinly sliced onions are garnishes that spice up the dish.

We did a seven course dinner with beverages for two hours. The usual price is 5,000 JPY but there was a promotion so that the meal was 4,000 JPY.  Beverages included beer, shochu, sake, and cocktails. Some of the other dishes included grilled shrimp and tempura sweet potatoes.

Warayakiya has branches in Roppongi, Akasaka, Ginza, and Shinagawa to name a few locations. For the money it was better than many nomihōdai spots. We enjoyed it and I would go back again. It’s a popular restaurant, so be sure to call ahead for reservations.

Warayakiya Shinjuku Sanchome

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-15-11, Ad Hoc Shinjuku Bldg. 8F

www.diamond-dining.com/shops/warayakiya/

New York Grill Lunch at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Park Hyatt Tokyo

New York Grill buffet

One of my favorite lunch spots in Tokyo is at the New York Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The view at 52 floors above Tokyo is amazing, even when it is overcast and lightly raining. The lunch starts at 5,000 JPY and includes a gorgeous buffet of appetizers. Customers choose a main course and then dive into the buffet again for dessert.

Appetizers include flatbreads, salads, sliced meats, and much more. It’s hard not to stuff yourself with only appetizers, but make sure to make room for the main course.

We asked for seats at the kitchen counter so that we could talk with chef Federico Heinzmann. He was very gracious to talk to us about the different dishes and answer our many questions. Sitting here is also fun as we can watch all of the customers come in. It’s such an amazing spot that it is great to watch the faces of guests as they look into the open kitchen, as they check out the view, and as they walk into the main dining room. On this day it was cloudy and I expected the restaurant to be quiet, but even on this day it was busy.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Chef Federico Heinzmann’s Chicken

Argentinian chef Federico recommended the chicken as it “is the most Latin”. The chicken is marinated in orange juice, grilled and topped with a fresh salsa and served with a corn cake. Living in Tokyo the flavors are so exotic and I quickly said that I would not be sharing this with Shinji.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Australian Lamb and Romesco Sauce

Shinji was fine not sharing as he loved the lamb, which we don’t eat very often. The sauce was made with bell peppers and hazelnuts. Chef told us about how in Spain this is used as a dipping sauce for whole leeks that have been charred and peeled. it sounds like an amazing dish. The hazelnuts makes it a very meat, albeit, vegetarian sauce. Chef Federico was kind enough to share the recipes for the sauces for both dishes, so we will try to recreate some of these at home.

The wine list is rich in American wines, mainly from California. There are always interesting offerings by the glass, perfect for lunch.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Dessert Buffet at New York Grill

This is only half of the dessert buffet. There is something here for everyone, including ice cream and several sauces and toppings as well as a simple fruit salad with mango and pineapple, and key lime pie. Coffee and dessert is usually taken in the New York Bar so diners get another magnificent view of the city. Fans of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation will remember this space as it has a starring role in the movie.

Service is always impeccable here. If you are looking for a special lunch spot, the New York Grill, never disappoints. I have come in the past with girlfriends and we still reminisce about our lunch here, years later. The view, the cuisine, and the service makes this a memorable meal.

New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2

03-5323-3458

Shinjuku Station Berg

Shinjuku Station Berg

Berg Morning Plate

I love that Tokyo is so big and filled with so many restaurants that new gems keep presenting themselves. On a recent television program Berg in Shinjuku Station came up as a great B Gourmet restaurant, cheap and delicious. It is open from 7 a.m. and stays open until late at night. It is located just outside of the Shinjuku JR Station’s Higashi-Guchi. Take a left and walk about 15 seconds and it is on your left.

This morning at 7:05 a.m. the shop already had about five tables of customers and there was a line at the counter. I placed an order for the Morning Plate which comes with coffee and was just under 500 JPY. Can’t beat this.

The shop also has many hot dogs and beer on tap. There is a menu of side dishes that includes a cheese plate and other beer-friendly plates. I was so happy to see a poster for Baird Beer’s Rising Sun Pale Ale as the featured Japanese craft beer. Was tickled when a guy who had just finished his breakfast go back to order the Baird beer. If I weren’t off to Tsukiji Market for a tour I would have joined him.

Shinjuku Station Berg

Shinjuku Station Berg

Behind the counter were seven staff, all donning denim aprons with BERG stitched onto it and wearing colorful bandannas on their heads. For the life of me I can’t figure what seven people would be doing there. They were all busy and seemed to have some task.

A dozen kegs of beer were set off to one corner. A sign that this shop goes through a lot of beer. I will be back, later in the day next time. I hope the Baird Beer will still be the featured beer. I have walked by this shop for years and never bothered stopping by. Glad it’s finally on my radar.

Berg

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-38-1, Lumine EST B1

Simple map:

http://www.berg.jp/map/map.html