Craft Beer – Yoyogi Watering Hole

Watering Hole near Yoyogi station is a great spot to try Japanese and imported craft beer. I felt like I was back in the US with the stickers on the wall and refrigerator. The menu is basic, fish and chips, mac n’ cheese, seasonal pickles, and rice crackers. Sadly, I believe the sweet potato chips are no longer on the menu. Bummer.

Watering Hole opens from 3 p.m., for those of you who are here on holidays, or if you finish work early. Friendly staff who help answer my questions about the brews. Check their website as they update their beer menu daily.

Watering Hole is a short walk from Shinjuku Takashimaya.

Watering Hole

Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-26-5-103 渋谷区千駄ヶ谷5-26-5-103

Shinjuku Kaijin 海神

Kaijin literally means the God of the Seas, a perfect name for this ramen shop that does not use meat. The seafood soup at Shinjuku Kaijin changes daily based on what seafood is in season. The broth, while rich in flavor, is light and refreshing on the palate. The fish that goes into the broth is written out daily on large white paper that is hung up on the wall.

The menu is read from right to left, top to bottom:

本日のアラ   honjitsu no ara  today’s seafood scraps (head, bones, etc.)

真鯛   madai   sea bream

平政   hiramasa   kingfish (in the same family as yellowtail)

太刀魚   tachiuo   cutlassfish or beltfish

甘鯛   amadai   tilefish

穴子   anago   sea eel

Ara refers to the head, bones, and other scraps of fish that can be either simmered in a sweet soy broth and carefully picked over when eating. Here at Kaijin the chef uses the ara scraps to make the soup stock. Salt is added to the broth. The noodles are thin, which is exactly what this broth needs. It is garnished with julienned leeks, and a chicken and a shrimp dumpling. If you have an allergy, be sure to tell them, ebi no arerugi- ga arimasu.

If you have a big appetite, be sure to order the grilled onigiri (rice ball) and put it into the soup when you are done with the noodles. The salty yuzu koshō paste is also a great way to add depth to the ramen.

Kaijin also has shellfish ramen, like asari (littleneck clam) or hamaguri (Orient clam). I have tried these, but much prefer the complexity of the seafood ramen, their signature dish.

These are the signs in front of the Shinjuku shop. It’s a smaller shop with counter seating for five, a table for four and a table for two. There is often a line going down the stairs, but it usually moves quickly, as this is a quick meal. Be sure not to linger after you’re done eating if there are people waiting.

There are three branches in Tokyo at the time this blogpost was written. I have been to the Kichijoji shop, which is close to the station, but the soup was too salty and I won’t go back. The Shinjuku shop is also near the station and where I go. A new shop has also recently opened in Ikebukuro.

Shinjuku Menya Kaijin

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-35-7

Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Minamicho 1-5-9, Kumamoto Bldg. 2F

Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro 1-19-2






Sarabeth’s, a restaurant from New York City that serves classic American breakfast dishes like French toast, eggs Benedict, and yogurt with granola and fruit. After breakfast the menu features salads and sandwiches. There are a few branches in Tokyo as well as a shop in Osaka. The Japanese are crazy for pancakes, so Sarabeth’s is often filled with locals digging into ricotta pancakes.

Tokyo Station: Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-8-2, Tekko Bldg. 2-3F

Shinjuku: Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-38-2, Lumine2 Bldg. 2F

Shinagawa: Minato-ku, Konan 2-18-1, atre Shinagawa 4F

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


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

Map from the restaurant’s website

iwashi いわし 鰯

kappō 割烹

Nakajima 中嶋


Shinbashi Tsurumaru Udon 新橋つるまる饂飩


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

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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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