Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Last few days in Tokyo

Last full day in Tokyo.  Wet and Windy.  Great, superb dinner the night before, for all of us.  Still waiting for pictures and some narrative from the kids, as they went to Ain Soph, and dropped a Benjamin plus there (actually, technically, they dropped a "Fukuzawa" there, but that is ok). The remnants of a typhoon are roaming through Honshu, with wetness all over.  Not heavy but enough to be very irritating.  Can't cross a street without getting wet.

I try to plan a full day completely under a roof, including Shinjuku, but I didn't quite succeed.  Much of Tokyo is easy to do either underroof or underground.  But you have to know what you're doing.  I know Tokyo Station very well, and get from Marunouchi to Yaesu, and almost to Takashimaya way in Nihonbashi without getting wet.  Even almost to the Imperial Palace too.  But Shinjuku is a challenge.  I just don't know this place well.  If I had a choice, I would rather know Tokyo Eki, since it is a more high end area (we're snobs) and is the long distance train hub of Japan.  Shinjuku is arguably the commuter hub of Tokyo.

A breakfast of Kuri yokan, ringo, Matsuya Cider candies and 7-11 potato chips, Connie's favorite food of all time!  

We get to Shinjuku.  Easy.  But I get off on the wrong exit.  Once you do that, you're screwed.  Advice:  use Google maps to plan your exit strategy from a train station.  Sometimes, the proper exit is at the rear of the train.  Sometimes the proper exit is at the front of the train.  Sometimes at the middle.  While one is still on the train platform MAY be the last time you have the opportunity to get your exits right. In other words, you can't get there from here!!!  Even after several years of going through stations, it is still challenging to me (but I love puzzles).  Em is trying to navigate on her own in Tokyo now.  She'll be good in a few decades.

We find a vegan friendly ramen place called Afuri.  Here is a self timer pic at the counter...  Sam is right above the camera.

Below, see the dipping sauce for Connie's Yuzu Tsukemen.  The young 'uns get vegan ramen, seen further below.

Here is my non vegan tsukemen!

I would give Afuri a thumbs up.  Tabelog is ok, rating wise, likely because Japanese are very critical raters of food.  Tripadvisor is much more generous.  I would go back again.  I admit, I messed up with ordering on the vending machine.  I put in a Fukuzawa, not realizing.  I kept pushing a button, not realizing that the coupon kept coming out each time I pushed the button.  I bought 4 tsukemen bowls for me!!  Ha!  I decided to look dumb, like a dumb foreigner.  I told the lady that I mistakenly ordered way too many bowls.  She was nice, she smiled, and she said not to worry.  She quickly came back with extra money for a refund!

We finally got to Tokyu Hands at Takashimaya at Shinjuku, but not before we actually had to walk outside.  I think there was a way to get there without getting wet.  But I even put my tail behind my legs and went to a tourist info office to ask if there was a way.  The kind woman said there was, but it was really complicated.  Forlorn, feeling like a failure, I told the three women I was with that we should walk in the rain across the street to get to Takashimaya.  My head hung down.

Tokyu Hands takes a back seat to Loft.  Nuf said.

We get back to our room at the Four Seasons.  We again decide to divide and conquer.  Connie and I go back to Shichisai!!!  This time it is less busy and there is no line.  We sit down and get a nice view of the noodles being made.  Mmmm  Sapporo.

These noodles were good.  Not great.  A bit overcooked.  The egg, also, just slightly overcooked.

But noodles still chewy.

The girls meet up with us and we end up back at Mihashi.  Connie is turned off on this place, the place which provided much pleasure for us for many humid, hot summers in Tokyo.  Too icy of ice, rather than fluffy ice.  She thinks it is ice, premade.  Could be.  The service is not as nice as before either...

I had gotten a Baum Kutchen at B1F at Takashimaya, to have with a Sapporo Classic for my decadent dessert.  But this Baum Kutchen wasn't good.  I only ate a quarter.  Not moist, and too dense.  Too bad.

OK, last day in Tokyo.  Sun is out and there is no sign of the typhoon rain of the day before.  I make an executive decision to go to Sensoji in Asakusa.  A quick jaunt on the Ginza line gets us there. We walk along some of the shopping arcades and this sign catches my eye. I didn't realize that Mc delivers.


The kids lighting up their stubs.

We're headed back on the Ginza line to Tokyo Station.  Sammie had too much the night before.

We decide to go to Saryo for lunch and dessert.  A really nice place we went to in what-seems-like-forever-ago.

After lunch, and checking out, we head to Haneda on the Yamanote and Monorail.  We get there really early, and have a relaxing time roaming around the International departure hall of Haneda.  I am eyeing Rokurinsha!!!  Sammie wants Rokurinsha tsukemen, but doesn't want to eat the dashi, so we need to find shoyu.  I have a great idea.   I go to the sushi place and order Kappa and Oshinko.  I ask for extra shoyu.  The lady pours more, and I say a little more!  Twice!

Sam is happy.

No Sapporo.

We get three tsukemen's and I eat all the meat from them!

Eggs a bit overdone, but the noodles are superb.

Airplane food, meh, even on JAL.

Well, another trip which was superb!!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dinner at Le Sputnik

This is an edit of the prior post.  Some content change about the dippin' dots and the mushroom crepe.  And some otherwise OCD stuff to make things accurate.  Re-read if it's important to you!

Also, I hate blogger.  It is far from intuitive.  But I'm stuck with it, I think.  I figured out, finally, font issues.  Ugh.

This meal was just fantastic. I'm putting this out there early (and out of order) for Cal, who'll be dining here on the 23rd. We ate here on Saturday, the 16th. I know I am behind by at least a week, since, as I write this, we're heading for home later today. I'll catch up on future posts, once back in the USA.

I'd heard about this place a bit from the folks on the Japan board of Chowhound. Under the radar, unlike Robuchon or L'Effervescence, this place is not on the must-go-to list of the well-to-do in Tokyo. Also, much more of a value for the ¥. But even Le Sputnik isn't cheap, unfortunately, as little extras like a ¥1200 bottle of plain French bottled water (Tokyo tap water tastes just fine to us) add up.

It's French-Japanese Fusion, with French concepts by Takahashi, a France trained chef, using the best Japanese sourced (obviously!) ingredients. So, the best of all worlds. Opened just over 2 years ago. Hard to find. Google maps has this place street-viewed with a photo from 2014, with construction right at the location, so you have to look on Tabelog to see what it looks like from the street.

Also, we went when it was raining. We borrowed a couple of the Four Seasons' umbrellas, which helped. Connie wore fashionable running shoes and I wore my Marmot rain jacket (but a long sleeved shirt and tie). What the hell, we're tourists!

This restaurant also was very fastidious about our reservation. We went through our always-reliable concierge, Akhil (who, by the way, answered the phone way back in 2010, when we first landed in Narita, because we wanted them to meet us at the Tokyo Eki). At least five times, the restaurant contacted Akhil, who in turn, contacted us about details.

First, it was about Connie's preference for no-red-meat. NOT an allergy and she would have eaten it if served. Then about this and that. On the day of the dinner, they contacted Akhil, who then emailed me while we were out and about at the Aoyama Farmers Market, because we initially indicated a preference for dining in the main dining room (we're people watchers) rather than a private dining room. There was, apparently, a big shindig going on in the main room, and they didn't want the commotion to wreck our time there. I told them that it didn't matter. We wouldn't mind even if one of Stupid-Kim's bombs hit while dining. We'd enjoy watching any commotion. As it turned out, it seemed to be a work gathering, and it was extremely sedate.

Again, a reminder that you can click on pics to see more detail.  This really was a great meal!

Dig in:

Their glassware is paper thin, and pleasant to hold. I got the wine pairing for ¥6500, though I added on later to make it close to a Man-yen. Not being a wine expert, I won't comment on whether this was a value, but it hit my fancy, for sure.

1. Amadai (lit. Sweet Snapper), stuffed with a strip of white celery and Japanese Pear. The Amadai is aged 10 days, to give it more Umami, per our Server/Sommelier.

This was paired with a Japanese Koushu wine. Koushu is a highly evolved Japanese grape. This wine is a late harvest with significant residual sugar like at the level of a fine German Spatlese by my palate, but still with 12.5 % alcohol

2. Young Bean Churro, served aside Edamame, which was cooked to a very tender consistency. It also tasted very buttery, with perfect salt balance. All perched atop a Volcanic rock (not edible). The rock was “harvested” by Takahashi-san on Mt Fuji

Paired with a Chardonnay

The Server/Sommelier is very knowledgable. I could tell that she speaks French, the way she pronounces French words or at least she has learned decent French.

Her English wasn’t as good as the other Japanese server but it was still quite good. These two Japanese women were the only ones who ever came to our table, and the service was impeccable.

3. Hokkaido Corn with Almond Foam, topped with Uni

Paired with the same Chardonnay as above. The corn was very sweet. I’m not sure what the firmer, round, about 2.5 cm white thing was on the bottom.

4. Two baby fish deep fried on top of a deep fried Gobo Bird Nest, served with a Gobo vinaigrette dipping sauce. Atop the nest, one is smiling at me (I think that if fish had eyelids, it would be winking at me).

Paired with the first Koushu Wine. Our server tried to be very careful about how to pair the wines, but often the eater/drinker didn’t do a very good job following her directions, likely due to ignorance about wine. Nonetheless, it didn't detract from the enjoyment. The nest was pretty greasy, given that it was deep fried, so we only ate a little of it. Our server even said that it was filling, so be careful!

Their baguette was superb. I had read that he gets his bread from Maison Keyser, a patisserie which Takahashi trained at for a time. They have locations worldwide, with three in Tokyo.

The crust was not the palate scratching type, but still crunchy, and the inside stood up to the butter. The butter was brought out early in the meal, but the bread wasn't brought out until the Gobo course, so it had a chance to get soft. I actually prefer ice cold butter, so that chunks are eaten with the bread. Connie likes her bread toppings very evenly spread.

Their flatware was also really really pleasant to hold. I want some for our home. Ours at home is old and tired and really, well, old and tired.

5. Nashi (Eggplant) topped by a smoked fish, served with a slice of Ichijiku (Japanese common Fig). The fish was topped by baby greens, all served under a clear glass dome filled with smoke (real smoke, not some molecular concoction).

Paired with a French white wine; again, it went well with the dish, but it didn’t quite meet my fancy. This dish reminded me of Church back in Salinas, because the smoke smelled just like the Senko that filled the church. The Japanese server smiled and knew exactly what I meant when I indicated this.

6. Foie Gras, served two ways

The first was as a cold terrine with Sweet Beet chips arranged as petals of a flower and served with Beet puree artwork, his signature dish featured on his website, with the plate dusted with beet powder. Labor intensive, so only one of these is served per table, as our server points out.

The second is warm, with tender greens and espresso sauce (too strong, and detracted from the foie gras flavor) dusted with gingerbread crumbs.

Paired with a sweet red wine from France which did go well with the Foie Gras

7. Roasted Lobster in the shell with residual Lobster butter on the inside of the shell, served with Coconut foam, and tiny sprigs of Fennel. Inside was the Lobster and a bit of an avocado. This was really good!

Paired with a dry Manseng from France (Manseng, which I have heard of — kiitakoto arimasu) but never had before. This also went well with the shellfish

Bits of crumbs left behind, seeming to spell a message.

8. Oh man, the dishes just keep coming, this one is a mushroom dish. Poached egg crepe, served aside a dollop of mushroom ice cream (very very smooth), dusted all over with mushroom powder. Connie corrects me and says that the crepe itself was made with mushroom powder but still an egg inside. I have the word “truffle” in my notes, but I don’t remember what that means, except, obviously, there was some truffle in this dish. There were flakes of truffle sprinkled on the crepes, according to Connie.

Paired with a dry white wine from France, which didn’t make me go “wow” (in other words, not memorable). I think that the cold ice cream didn’t really go well with the crepe, but Connie liked it…

9. Next was our “fish dish,” according to our server. She said that our appetizers are done now! Ha ha! This was “harvested” fish, which I don’t think means farmed, since a place like this doesn’t seem to fit that. We think it means wild caught fish, but since the Japanese language is different, well... I think the folks who know some Japanese understand what I mean about this confusion.

I don’t know what kind of fish, but it was of a uniform, not flaky, texture, very good.

Paired with Paternel Cassis Blanc de Blanc, quite dry, and it did taste fine!

The fish was on a small bed of Ika, sauteed to tender, with a blanket of cooked cabbage

Shared some wine with Karl while Connie wasn't watching and he was tipsy.

10. Main course. Quail meat, served on the bone, both thigh and breast, with a Black Olive, Quail stock and red wine sauce. Quail sourced from Saitama, cooked with trumpet mushrooms, red grapes, and a single cooked purple baby onion, the same size as the grapes, which I ate whole (sweet with still some crunch, with mild flavor that doesn’t linger for two days).

This was paired with 2015 Old Vine (Vieilles Vignes) Santenay

This dish was superb. I ate this with my hands, holding the bits of bone that stuck out. Manners be damned. We got this dish instead of the usual rare Venison, because Connie doesn’t eat red meat. She was offered Quail or Pork, and she chose Quail.

Upon being seated at arrival, our server paid careful attention to our dietary requirements (which they had already asked about, as noted above). Since they (both our concierge and Le Sputnik) were almost OCD about making sure things were correct, they wanted to be sure.

I assured them that there was no actual food allergy and that they would not have to call 119 (their equivalent of 911) because Connie would drop dead eating something.

They asked me if I would like the Venison and Connie get the Quail or if both of us should get the Quail. I said Osusume, or “up to the chef” -- whatever he thought would be best for the experience. We both got the quail, and I'm not disappointed, since I am not a huge fan of gamey meat (but I do love rare red meat, like they serve their venison).

11. Here is our dessert. Momo with red basil leaf and a red basil gelee, served with a green basil ice cream, dotted with dipping dots (frozen bits of sweet stuff with a more coarse texture than the US variety), actually made with red basil.

I told our server that these were called dipping dots in the US (I don’t remember what she said they’re called here in Japan), even though they aren't exactly the same thing.

12. Whoa. Another dessert. Chocolate and vanilla banana (like molten desserts) “cake," topped with gold (yes it is real gold) flecks, and with a hot rum-raisin hazelnut liquid poured over the top, melting the “cake," which then revealed a mango and passionfruit lava that oozed out. Talk about run on sentences... Actually, not even a full sentence! But it tells the story, and that's what language is all about, not rules!

I also have rum raisin and banana written in my tasting notes, but I admit that I don’t remember how that played into this dish! 

Thin chocolate wafer, with a ring of chocolate ice cream and a ring of banana ice cream, melted by hot hazelnut syrup, revealing the mango-passionfruit "lava."

Sorry for all the edits!  I'm leaving my errors out there...

13. Wow, a third dessert, a green tea powder dusted cream puff made with Wasanbon sugar from Shikoku (cane sugar), served with a roasted green tea (Hojicha) cream served on a puddle of Olive oil with salt garnish, to be eaten with the sweet cream

Served with our choice of drink; we both chose plain hot tea! It was also Hojicha.

And at the end, we walked into the rain to the train station. This meal took three and a half hours! 6 PM to 930 PM. It is located in a very narrow alley, and a dumb taxi guy drove into a narrow restaurant entryway, and couldn’t get out. Some guy (a bystander?) had to guide him as he went back and forth to get out. We were trapped.

So Con and I waited in the rain (with umbrellas) while the taximan tried to maneuver.

Finally he did, but not until after several minutes.

But all during this time, the chef, Takahashi-san, along with one of our servers, is out in the rain, waiting for us to leave, a half block away. Bowing to us, just like at Iwa, until we turn the corner...

All in all, we would definitely go back.  A no-brainer!  I'll make my reservations right now!