I had my very last lunch with my two best friends at AW Kitchen Laplatina. My friends know my style and favorite food (vegetable) picked a perfect place for our last meal together. It was a beautiful sunny day and the restaurant's spring decor with plum trees gave us a warm welcome.
Amuse-bouche : cabbage mouse corne
We selected the three course lunch menu (2800 yen) plus my favorite Bagnacauda to start with. Their amuse-bouche, a cabbage mouse corne, was light but full of cabbage flavor.
One of the most simple and dynamic dishes was my favorite bagnacauda. Bagnacauda is an Italian warm anchovy and garlic oil dipping sauce and it was served on a small flame to keep it warm. Bagnacauda is usually served with vegetable sticks but AW served a whole vegetable bouquet so you can eat every part of vegetable including the green part of carrots. The creamy and thick bagnacauda sauce was just incredible with their beautiful, fresh vegetables. Their bread was also excellent to dip in the sauce. I was in heaven.
For my first course, I picked the bonito capriccio with shungiku. Shungiku is known as garland chrysanthemum, chrysanthemum greens or edible chrysanthemum in English. It is a leafy herb with a bitter flavor. The common use of this green is in soup or a hotpot but I really loved eating it as a salad with fresh capriccio. It is a trend everywhere to make uncommon greens into an edible salad.
My friends picked fennel and rock fish carpaccio and vegetable terrine.
We selected two fresh pastas for our main pasta course. We could do three but instead they suggested to increase the volume of two pastas so each of us could share. The first one was a trofie arrabbiata. Trofie is a pasta shaped like a small fish (see the photo above) and their special arrabbiata sauce was very mild yet bursting with tangy and sweet tomato flavor - an excellent example to showcase the flavor of the vegetable.
The other pasta dish was a white bolognese with Nanohana (rape or canola in English) and chicken with rustici pasta. I love a white bolognese sauce and I cook it at home often. The light sauce with chunks of chicken with slightly charred nanohana was great combination.
They offered us another dish but we wanted to save some room for the desserts.
The desserts included a mikan (Japanese tangerine) and strawberry terrine, carrot custard pudding with chocolate sorbet and yuzu and caramel rolled cake with vanilla ice cream. Then they brought out a big vase with pretty flowers with sticks of homemade mashmallow. The passion fruit mashmallow was especially good.
We also enjoyed the impromptu dessert they made for us. It was a grappa sorbet made with liquid nitrogen. The sorbet had a wonderful smooth texture. Both the waiter and I agreed that both lemonchello and campari would make a good sorbet as well.
And at the end of the meal, I had a detox tea : )
Such a wonderful lunch. I can't find any other words to describe it.
Pasta House AW Kitchen Laplatina
1F Takanawa Duplex
2-3-23 Shirokane, Minato-ku
I was amazed my ability to eat another dessert after a huge three course lunch at AW Kitchen. But my friend really wanted to take me to this cafe that specializes in tomato.
Celeb has more than 10 different kinds of fresh tomato juice and sparking tomato juice and a variety of tomato-based desserts. They also have a lunch and dinner menu and every item has some form of tomato in it. They even have a course menu.
Their rolled tomato cake was my friend's recommendation and we could not resist to order tomato tiramisu as well. They both had wonderful tomato jam inside. It was hard to believe I was eating a tomato. I really recommend to try the roll cake. It is just fabulous. Since I will never be able to find that back home, I am determined to figure out how to make it myself.
Céléb de Tomato
1F Aoyama Luca Building
2-2-2 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku
A trip to Japan without eating sushi is like a trip to Italy without eating pasta.
Of course, with so many places to choose from and only a modest amount of time (and money), I wanted to pick a good one. My friends gave me several recommendations but the one we wanted to try was closed for renovations. Since it was my husband's last day, we had to choose an alternative in the same neighborhood. We went to a newly constructed building next to Osaki station that has many restaurants in it. When I was there a week ago, I saw a sushi place and I remembered it looked good to me so we decided to go there.
Sometimes, sushi restaurants are stuffy and intimidating, especially high-end sushi places. But this one is very welcoming and easy going in order to attract a younger, familiar crowd.
From top left: Tai (sea bream), Ika (squid) and Hamachi (yellow tail)
Second row: Toro (fatty tuna) and Maguro (tuna) combo plate
Third row: Aji (Spanish mackerel or horse mackerel) and Katsuo (Bonito)
There are two ways to order sushi when seated at the counter. Omakase or okonomi. Omakase is a chef's course and they just give you what the chef thinks is good on that day. Okonomi is ordering what you want to eat so you have to tell the sushi chef what you want. You don't have to tell them everything you want to all at once. You start with two to three kinds at the time. Some restaurants ask you if you want one or two pieces of each kind, but many places give you two pieces automatically. So if you want to eat a lot of different kinds, you can ask them to give you only one.
Some sushi experts says there is a certain order you have to follow. I just simply eat whatever I want but I usually start from white fish which has a milder flavor and I usually end with my favorite blue fish kinds. My first order was tai (sea bream), Ika (squid) and Hamachi (yellowtail). The flesh of the tai was firm and fresh and the ika was crunchy. I met many Americans who don't like squid sushi. I think that is because they have never had a really fresh good quality one. If they are fresh, it is not chewy and fishy at all.
Then I moved on to my favorite: blue fish. I ordered my favorite Aji (horse mackerel). Their prime season is May through August but you start seeing the good Aji from around March through September. I also ordered Katsuo which is in prime season right now. Blue fish sushi usually comes with ginger and scallion on top. They were irresistibly good. Altogether I had 5 different kinds of sushi, two pieces each and the price was only 1,000 yen ($11). Unbelievable price and relatively good quality fish.
My husband likes tuna and while he only had one chance for lots of Japanese fish, he decided to get the maguro zukushi (assorted tuna sushi) because in the USA there is often only one kind of tuna and he liked the idea of trying all different kinds at once. There were negi-toro roll (fatty tuna and scallion roll), fatty tuna nigiri, akami (lean tuna nigiri), aburi (charred) tuna nigiri and a few pieces of tamago (egg omelet). All this for about 1,000 yen ($11).
Later, I found out that this is actually a small sushi chain owned by a large food company who runs many levels of food and sushi restaurants around the country. No wonder they can offer that quality sushi with that price. I like the individual owned sushi places usually but I have no complaints with this small chain.
1F Think Park, 2-1-1 Osaki
Another Japanese spot we tried is a sophisticated izacaya on a little street in the busy Roppongi district called Mifune. From the entrance to the interior design, the place was very beautiful with details that were inspired by a Japanese dojo. Japanese movie lovers may recognize the name of this restaurant. Mifune is the name of the famous Japanese actor who was in Kurosawa's Seven's Samurai and that actor is the theme of this restaurant. Each table enjoys rustic woods, comfy seating and luxurious space to help you enjoy the food and conversation.
Their Otoshi (amuse-bouche) was braised squid. It had been braised until it was very soft. While we were examining the menu, we had our drink ready. Shochu mix with soda (sour) is not my usual choice but they use unique, natural mixers like kabosu (Japanese lime) and ginger and it sounded very refreshing to me that night. My husband who would be in Japan less than two days stuck to the high quality sakes. He picked the one Niigata prefecture called "Taiyouzakari". It is slightly dry with mild aromas and a refreshing taste.
For food, we choose Japanese leek and pork salad; their signature chicken wings (two flavors: black (black pepper) and red (red pepper)); wild mushroom and bacon on hot plate; tofu, leek and chicken hot pot and rice for making congee afterword; and assorted pickles. This may seem like a lot of food but when eating slowly, little by little, over 3-4 hours with time for drinks and conversation Japanese izakaya style, it makes for a wonderfully leisurely meal.
Every dish we ordered was terrific. Simple but perfectly cooked food. Our favorite was the chicken wings. They were crispy, juicy and spicy (I can't eat very spicy food but it was the right amount of spicyness). I liked the black one better than the red one but the rest of our group loved both.
Dinner was about 4,000 yen per person including (a lot) of (really good) drinks.
7-18-7 Nankai Building 1F,
Roppongi, Minatoku, Tokyo
Miso ramen (left) and Negi ramen (right)
One thing that my husband and I have to eat while in Japan is ramen. More specifically miso ramen. I had my ramen fix the first week but since I had a tsukemen, I had not enjoyed a hot bowl of ramen yet. We were determined to have a ramen lunch today, we just did not know where to go. There are tons of good ramen shops and we were just hoping to find something good while we were strolling throug the city. We ended up being in the Akasaka district at lunch time and we focused on a small street where lots and lots of restaurants are. We found this ramen shop when we saw a couple people ducking inside the small door so we decided to follow.
My husband had miso ramen (850 yen or $9) as he wished and I had negi ramen (900 yen). They use Sendai miso (red miso) and when I tasted it I knew it would not be my husband's favorite. My negi ramen had much softer and creamier soup which I really enjoyed. I also liked the crunchy yama kurage (wild plant) they used for the topping on my ramen.
Their noodle was the thick wavy kind which is good with miso based ramen. The price was a little too high, I thought, compared to others based on the volume and quality. But it still hit the spot.
Akasaka Ramen (Akasaka Honten)
3-13-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Every time I come home, I always come here. It is a typical Japanese Izakaya that offers great food and a good selection of sake and shochu at a very reasonable price. Even better, it is only 5 minutes from my home. So I always bring my family here and treat them.
The main menu has not changed at all over the years but they always have a special seasonal manu as well. They serve good quality fresh fish so we usually order tons of sashimi and fresh oysters to start. That night, we had, kanpachi (amberjack), katsuo (bonito), maguro (tuna), uni (sea urchin), mirugai (giant clamb), tai (sea bream) and fresh oysters.
After we had some yakitori and kushiyaki (chicken meatballs, chicken thighs with Japanese leeks, trumpet mushrooms wrapped with pork), shrimp cream croquettes, shrimp salad with crunchy potato, dried fish and grilled rice balls with miso glaze.
This whole feast plus loads of sake and shochu was about 15,000 yen ($170 for four).
Daizen Robata Bistro
1-10-7 Higashi Gotanda
sasage-na (left) and wasabi-na (right)
I found these two new greens I have never seen in the supermarket so I bought and brought them home to cook them immediately.
Sasagena is a bean sprout from small red beans. It has a very neutral taste but has a wonderful crunchiness. I sauted it with mixed Japanese mushrooms and garlic and simply seasoned with salt and pepper. A simple but great dish to enjoy the texture of these unique Japanese sprouts.
Another green I got was Wasabi-na. You might guess that it is the green part of the wasabi root and I thought the same thing so I wanted to try. However, after I researched about it at home, I realized it is not the green of wasabi. It is the same family as a mustard green but with a more spicy flavor - hence the name. I was a little disappointed it had nothing to do with wasabi but it tasted good. I made a salad with avocado with sesame dressing.
There is a new hot trend in Tokyo: vegetable restaurants. Every time I come back to Japan, picking good restaurants that serve organic vegetables was one of my favorite things to do because I really love Japanese vegetables. So I have been thrilled by this new trend that has provided so many new options. When my friends suggested a new veggie place, I was very excited to go.
Nouen means farm and Roppongi Nouen restaurant changes their concept every month or so based on the vegetables in season in different parts of Japan. When I visited, they were featuring farmers from Iwate prefecture in the north part of Japan. It happened to be the kick off night and there were guest speakers including several local farmers who raised the vegetables we were about to eat. The owner of the restaurant explained that he wanted to create an experimental restaurant for small to mid-sized farmers around the country to showcase their produce just like a music hall serves for musicians (the owner is also a professional musician).
After the introduction, the strawberry farmer took the microphone and the welcome drinks were served. It was apple cider made from local Jonagold apples mixed with sweet and ripe strawberries. They could make only 600 bottles this year. The light pink color was so appropriate for this season and the flavor was a little sweet but refreshing without too much carbonation.
welcome drink, apple and strawberry cider (left) and welcome vegetable (right)
Next was a "welcome vegetable". Two kinds of salt baked potatoes and grilled daikon and nagaimo without any sauce so you can simply enjoy the flavor of the vegetables. One of the potatoes (pictured on the top right) had a beautiful yellow color and looked like a sweet potato, but it tasted like a normal flavorful spud.
After this they served a sample of fresh tomato juice. They used a tomato (Momotaro) that has less liquid and it takes about 11 tomatoes to make one 150ml bottle of juice. It is less intense than I expected and it was very easy to drink.
We moved onto the appetizer plate.
The top left photo is kabocha pumpkin and spinach soup. The spinach was grown under the snow and was much sweeter than usual spinach. The kabocha base was very sweet and creamy. Top right is cooked cereal grains topped with grated Chinese yam (tororo) and special soy sauce. It is a simple traditional Japanese food. Bottom left is fresh carrots and daikon pickles with tomato gelée. The best of all was a fried oyster. This was the best fried oyster I ever had in my life. The oyster was wrapped with a rare seaweed called Matsumo (Ragid Hornwort) and fried. The oyster melted in my mouth with saltiness from both the oyster and seaweed. The seaweed also provided a slight crunchiness and sea aroma.
After a sake tasting break, our first main course was served.
First, a jumbo shiitake mushroom stuffed with home cured bacon, caramelized burdock and roasted tomato with garlic oil. The shiitake mushrooms you find in the U.S. market are usually scanty, I think. This one was very meaty, very similar to a portabello mushroom. The mushroom soaked up the bacon jus and even though the mushroom itself did not seem to have any seasoning, it had a lot of flavor. It was just yummy.
The second main course was beef carpaccio. The beef from this farm had less fat and lots of protein. It was a beautiful red color. I don't eat beef normally but even I thought it was excellent. The texture was very similar to tuna. The combination of the spicy mix green salad and the special dressing made from miso marinated green pepper sauce was superb. I definitely want to try to make this dressing at home.
The feast kept going. At this point, I was 102% full but the aroma of the hot pot was just irresistible and I forgot how stuffed I was. Inside of the pot was thinly sliced daikon, Japanese leek, Japanese heirloom free-range chicken and a mountain of grated daikon on top. In Iwate, they put their local cracker called Nambu senbei in the hot pot. The already delicious stock became yummy beyond your imagination from all the sweet winter vegetables and chicken. In Japan, we always use this amazing stock to make a final, extra dish by adding rice or noodles to make congee. In this restaurant, we poured the stock over a special rice dish (ochazuke). The rice was cooked with seaweed and some cereal then right before we ate, we added a pile of salmon roe, cod flakes and crispy rice grains. I wanted to start over from this course so I could enjoy more. As you can imagine, I was beyond full and could not eat much.
And yet, there was more to come. Of course, we can't end without dessert. Luckily it was a light dessert plate featuring Japanese strawberry (brand name is Tochiotome). The plate included a strawberry gelato with dried strawberries and caramel sesame flavored cracker; a fresh jumbo strawberry with strawberry salt; and rice flour mochi with strawberry candy bits in strawberry syrup and lemon olive oil soup. The strawberry farmer told us that eating it from the stem is the best way to eat.
Eating wonderful food accompanied by the great conversation with the farmers who made the produce was such an amazing experience.
I understand that Roppongi Nouen was not meant to be staying open for a long time but I really do hope they are still open when I go back there again.
6-6-15 Roppongi, Minato-ku
I have to eat ramen at least once during my stay. There was an article in New York Times recently about ramen so many of you know how crazy we Japanese are about ramen. My home is in a city that has maybe 100,000 or more ramen shops so there are plenty of choose from. I randomly picked this place based on some ramen review web site.
It was a little late for lunch but it was good because otherwise people would probably not appreciate my taking photos of ramen during a busy time. At these kinds of small ramen shops, people order, eat and leave in a matter of 10 minutes.
My original target at his ramen shop was miso tonkostu ramen (miso and pork broth) but I saw the sign that they started the new menu, wafu (Japanese style) Tsukemen (noodles dipped in thick broth) and I could not resist.
The noodles were very thick and had so much bite to it. They then put this noodle into a small bowl of thick broth made from pork bone and some bonito dashi. The flavor of the pork and bonito broth was very unique but I wished the bonito flavor was a less strong. It looked small but it was actually more than satisfying. I wondered at the end if I could ask for more stock to add into my dipping dish to make a nice soup to drink at the end? Do people do that?
4-2-2 Oosaki, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
from top left; collagen tofu (amuse-bouche), micro-tomato, grilled broad beans,
pork and organic lettuce shabu shabu, match pudding and yuzu sorbet
For my first night out with my old friends, I requested a Japanese restaurant that focuses on organic vegetables. My friend suggested to go to Roppongi Nouen but it was closed that night. We managed to go there following week (read about Roppongi Nouen here) but for that night, we selected a restaurant called One Garden in Nishiazabu district.
One Garden's concept is, believe or not, "anti-aging". One of the current food trends in Japan is food with collagen gel to nourish your skin while you are eating. I don't know if anyone actually believe it works, but it can't hurt to try!
[I missed the chance to take photos of the restaurant itself because I just saw my best friends and forgot everything but chatting with them.]
Many Japanese restaurants have a cover charge, usually a very small amount like 400 yen ($5), and in exchange they bring a small appetizer (sort of a mandatory, paid amuse-bouche). Here they served collagen tofu. The tofu was made of organic soy beans from Kyushu mixed with collagen topped with dashi (stock)/collagen gel and fresh wasabi. The tofu was very creamy yet it had a wonderful gelatin texture very similar to panna cotta. We washed it down with some champagne. For an appetizer, we picked cheese and avocado marinated in miso (650 yen), organic tomato salad with bonito dashi gel (950 yen) and grilled broad beans (about 650 yen). And since I was dying for good fish, we selected the assorted sashimi plate (2,600 yen) which came with yellowtail, bonito (in season right now), tuna, sea bream and fresh bamboo shoots.
The main course was their signature dish: Kagoshima black pork and organic lettuce shabu shabu (2,600/person). We ordered only for two persons but it was plenty for four. They make the stock from chicken and pork bones and they added a "special collagen" made from sea bream scales. The stock was full of umami flavor and I truly enjoyed the fresh lettuce and thinly sliced daikon cooked in this amazing soup. They brought two different cuts (thinly sliced) of pork. They use black pork from Kagoshima which is the equivalent of Kobe or Mastuzaka beef. The meat was amazingly tender and the fat had a great umami without being oily. It is the king of pork.
We shared two desserts. A green tea pudding with special collagen (550 yen) and yuzu sorbet (550 yen). They were both very delicious but to be honest, I was a little tipsy and I don't remember much.
We had two bottles of wine and the whole meal was about 7,000 yen per person.
Besides the food, the service was top class. But I realized after three weeks of my stay in Tokyo, every restaurant had amazing service quality. I just forgot that all Japanese restaurants are like that.
2F Fujimizaka Place, 3-17-29, Nishiazabu,
Minato-ku, Tokyo, 106-0031