Last night, President Barack Obama arrived in Tokyo on the first leg of a multi-day trip to Asia. It was dinner time, so Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took him out for sushi at a cozy little restaurant in Ginza called Sukiyabashi Jiro. Yes, that’s the Michelin three-star sushi restaurant that is featured in the acclaimed documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” If you haven’t seen the film, you should definitely check it out — it will give you a deeper for appreciation for sushi and the level of effort and attention to detail that goes into making the very best.
A few weeks ago, Tokyo was hit with its worst snowstorm in about 20 years. Depending on how you look at it, it was either a bad time to go out for dinner or a perfect time, given that I went to a cozy izakaya called Warayakiya (わらやき屋) located on a side street just off of Roppongi Crossing. But given the high marks it has gotten from several of my friends and professional reviewers on the internet, I figured that it would be worth the adventure through the wind and snow.
Late last year, Ippudo (一風堂) conducted an in-house ramen development competition. The winner of the contest was a Hakata Black Curry Ramen, which the general public can now try at Ippudo stores across the country for a limited time only. I finally got the chance to try it earlier today, and it was delicious.
Last week, I took another trip to 246 Common in Omotesando, where I had a gorgeous bowl of Okinawan stewed pork belly (rafute) served over rice. There were two pieces of pork — the meat on one piece was well-marbled with fat, while the other looked like a tea sandwich featuring a couple of layers of meat sandwiched between fat. A lot of folks will probably be turned off by the fattiness, but if you don’t have a problem with it, you’ll be richly rewarded with some amazing tasting pork. Two thumbs up!
It’s interesting how something that seems so simple like tempura — vegetables and seafood that is deep-fried in batter — can either be unsurprisingly cheap or surprisingly expensive. For most people living outside of Japan, the tempura you find in your local Japanese restaurant is probably tasty but on the less expensive side of the spectrum. Even in Japan, you can find tempura in convenience store bento, fast food restaurants, and even made right at home.
So why can tempura get so expensive, perhaps costing hundreds of dollars for dinner? I’m sure one of the reasons is the use of fresh, high-quality ingredients that tend to cost more. Another is that high-end tempura is labor intensive, with each piece deep-fried perfectly and immediately served one at a time, so it doesn’t get cold and soggy from sitting out.
When people think about Japanese beer, they usually think of mass produced brands such as Kirin Ichiban or Asahi Super Dry. They probably don’t know that there’s a burgeoning industry of craft breweries in Japan that make a wide variety of good tasting beers. So I’ve decided to launch a series of posts exploring craft beer and craft beer restaurants in Tokyo.
Last week, an elegant black box from arrived at my house — a gift from the famous ramen chain Ippudo. I have an Ippudo point card and have been steadily collecting stamps for each bowl my family and I have eaten (see my previous posts on their tonkotsu and seasonal ramen). Recently, I got enough to become a Premium Member, which meant that I received a black membership card that entitles me to free kaedama for myself and guests for a year, among other things.
But what about the black box?
Omotesando is widely known as being a very posh and fashionable neighborhood, a place to shop at high-end luxury stores. That is why 246 Common, essentially an outdoor food court/farmer’s market made up of a collection of food carts and specialty shops, is so completely — and wonderfully — out of place. I’ll use an analogy from Los Angeles: If Omotesando is Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive, then 246 Common is like a piece of the Venice neighborhood, with its laid back bohemian vibe, plopped down right next to it.
Nakameguro is a quiet but popular residential neighborhood in Tokyo, an oasis of calm compared to the hustle and bustle of other parts of the city. Situated along the Meguro River, it is also one of the best places in Tokyo to see cherry blossoms in the spring. A number of trendy restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops line the river and surrounding streets.
One of these restaurants is called N_1221. It may sound a bit like a World War II-era secret Japanese government project, but it’s actually a cozy eatery that utilizes fresh organic ingredients to create simple, delicious dishes with Mediterranean and Japanese influences. Although it is not a vegetarian restaurant, it does offer tasty seasonal vegetable dishes that makes it a good casual place for omnivores and herbivores alike. It’s one of three ambiguously named restaurants that emphasize organic ingredients, the other two being N_1155, also in Nakameguro, and N_7110 in Futakotamagawa.
When people first hear me mention burnt miso ramen, they usually think it sounds intriguing and want to try it. However, some folks are a little more skeptical. After all, how good could burnt anything really be? But rest assured, the burnt miso ramen at Gogyo (五行) is among some of the tastiest ramen I have had so far in Tokyo.