Sunday, November 4, 2018

To Tokyo! (plus a LONG daytrip to Sendai and Matsushima)

Ok, Monday AM, we depart Ise.  We walk the couple of blocks from our hotel, the Pāru Pia, and grab the train from Iseshi Station to Nagoya.  We could have paid some bucks and taken the Kintetsu Luxury train, but our JR pass works for this leg, so we get the Mie train for "free."  I'm not sure why, but the train was delayed for at least 30 minutes and we almost missed our Shinkansen connection to Tokyo.  Also, I don't know why, but I got really anxious about this...  If we missed the connection, just go to the Midori no Madoguchi at Nagoya station, use our passes and get new green car tickets for the next train.  If it were a crowded time, like Golden Week, Obon, or New Years, we'd be very stressed, but the green cars are seldom full at other times of the year.  Anyway, we maneuver through Nagoya station to the Shinkansen tracks and board our train.  We made it with just a couple of minutes to spare.

By the way, the Mie train was two cars long, and it is really just a commuter train.  An hour and forty minute ride.  We had "reserved" seats, but only 1/2 of one car was reserved.  We had a bunch of empty seats in that area, and the rest of the car was packed at various points between stops.  Plus there was an awkward point, because the seats were set up facing each other, and for a few minutes, a lady with reserved seats had to squeeze into a facing seat (our luggage was in the way). She was very polite and said, repeatedly, it was fine.  

So, we get to Tokyo Station about noon, and we have some time to kill before checking into our Airbnb apartment in Shibuya.  I worry about our Yamanote ride from Tokyo Station to Shibuya with our luggage, but then I get the great idea to get reserved seats on the Narita Express, which travels from Tokyo to Shibuya.  

Anyway, we have several hours, so Connie and I walk to Shichisai, about seven blocks from Tokyo.  Em and Sam go to T's Tantan for lunch. I love Shichisai!  I am much more into Assari broths nowadays, unless it is a really good quality Tonkotsu.  Shichisai moved from Ramen Street in Tokyo Station several years past, and the lines are really non existent.  They have (relatively) English friendly ordering.

Here you can see them making the noodles from scratch.

Oh, very nice.

More about our Airbnb in a later episode.

The following AM, Tuesday, we go to Sendai, Shiogama, and Matsushima.  Matsushima is a beautiful town on the Tohoku coast, with many small islets in the protected bay with Pine trees growing.  It is, along with Amanohashidate and Itsukushima in Miyajima, considered one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan.  Now Connie, Sam, and Em can say they've seen it all. 

We're slow in getting out of the apartment, and we nearly miss our Shinkansen to Sendai.  I had reserved seats on the JR East website a month prior, and there was a snafu on picking up the tickets the day before...  Typical Japanese efficiency fail...  So, we had to get an earlier train to Sendai, and a later train coming back later that day.

This is not generally recommended as a day trip, but the Yamashita's don't do things the conventional way.  Besides, it's "free," and we usually don't mind train travel.

We get on the wrong car, to boot.  We were on the ultra luxury car (Gran Class, above Green Car), and when I realize this, we rush out the car to the other car...  Phew.  

Anyway, our Green car seats were nice.  Here's a pic of the fancy bathroom.

It goes pretty fast too.  Speedometer app on my iphone.

Transfer at Sendai to a local train to Shiogama station.  A 20 minute walk to the Shiogama fish market.

Not crowded.  This place is away from all the tourists.  Very quiet.  Too quiet, because the vendors often would hound you to purchase.  Basically, you buy a tray with miso soup and hot rice, and you go around to the various booths, and purchase, a la carte, what you want.  This is a very large commercial fish market, and the area we are in is just a small part of the overall market, but large enough to get way more variety than we need.

Seating for the four of us with plenty of empty seats.  This market closes early, so you have to eat breakfast only.

Really fresh Uni and Prawns

For those who want their fish cooked, there is a man who will cook your food for ¥100.

We take a short train ride to the Shiogama Pier to get a "luxury" cruise to Matsushima (about 30 minutes).  This is the modern pier building.

Our luxury outdoor seats.  One of us isn't really thrilled.

One of the islands.

All these little islands are named.  There's also a story attached to each.  I didn't understand the Japanese.  I wasn't paying attention.

Matsushima is a very touristy town on the Tohoku coast.  It was heavily damaged by the March, 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  But because of the bay, and the islands, it was spared catastrophic devastation like other areas in Tohoku.  It came back to life in less than a year.

Below is a storefront.  What caught my eye was the white sign.  Click to read it.  Amazing.

After being tourists, we get on board the local train back to Sendai.  We had a couple of hours to kill there.  We stayed in the Station area.  Sendai is a major metropolitan city in Tohoku, with over a million people.  They even have a T's Tantan restaurant there, which Sam and Em ate dinner at, while Connie and I had Tonkatsu.  It was amazing how much time it took us to figure out what to eat!  Though some of the time was taken up at the Muji store in the station.

Our Tonkatsu was quite good.  In my experience, many Tonkatsu places in Japan have English menus.  Also, they very often have a premium pork offering, which I almost always get.  This includes Katsukura, probably my favorite Tonkatsu restaurant in Japan (even though it is a chain with many many branches).

Connie and I have a system.  She gets the least expensive offering, has a few bites, because she is vegan, you know.  The rest goes to me.  I get the small portion of the premium offering and we share. Nearly always, at most Tonkatsu places, you get unlimited refills of rice and cabbage, so she fills up on that.

This was very very good!

Here is a restaurant storefront with miniature models of their food.

Sendai Station, with one of the Hayabusa Shinkansen trains.

Ok, Wednesday AM.  We still haven't gone out to explore Tokyo.  We first go to Tsukiji.  We wonder if this is the last time we'll see the excitement of the market.  However, now I learn that the Outer Market is still bustling with rude tourists, and big crowds.  The wholesale market has moved a few miles away, and just opened in October.

A sweet treat.

Two tots cooling off with ice cream

After purchasing a bunch of stuff, we head to Asakusa, and Sensoji.  There is Skytree in the background.

There is a famous place that makes Melon Pan in Asakusa, and we get one.  I think it is ok, but not really worth a lot of effort to get one.

This is, however, worth the effort.  Cooling off in the hot humid weather, this frumpy old man looks happy.

OK, we get hungry again, and we decide to get sushi.  Easiest to just go to a Kaitenzushi place.  I find one, using Tabelog.  Quite good, and very reasonable.  Sammie went crazy.

The day isn't over yet.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Pardon the Interruption

OK, this is not Japan.  It's Canada.  Actually, this is Canada Place, built for Expo 86.  Five Sails, in Vancouver.

We decided, kind of at the last minute, to go to Vancouver, in mid September.  I haven't forgotten to finish my narrative about our summer trip to Japan, which I'll finish...  We arrived on a rainy Friday night at YVR, took the "train" to our hotel at the waterfront.  Decided to eat at Miku, a really nice Japanese restaurant, spitting distance from the Pan Pacific Hotel.  We get there about 9 PM and it is really crowded, and we sit outside, a bit chilly, but with blankets and heaters, and it is cozy.

Not traditional Japanese faire.  Their specialty is their pressed nigiri, just like Mackerel in Kyoto.  This nigiri is seared a bit with a flame to add some flavor, again, obviously, non traditional.

We left stuffed.  I had their Sake sampler, and a couple were misses, but a couple were nice!

The next AM, we went to Heirloom, a Vegan cafe in the South Granville area.  We have our Compass cards, and this makes transit pretty easy, from our hotel.

This looks like slices of prime rib, huh?  Actually french toast.

My virgin Bloody Mary.  Too early in the day for booze.

We travel around Vancouver on a rainy Saturday, and end up in Gastown.

 and Chinatown.  The old Chinatown.

Not a huge deal!

In Chinatown, there is a vegan pizza joint called Virtuous Pies.  Actually, not too bad.  The mushroom and arugula pizza was very aromatic.  My favorite.  The cheeses were all vegan.  "ok."

We roam around Canada Place on our walk back from Chinatown and Gastown.

The waterfront is very picturesque.

Sunday AM means breakfast. Below are two pics of our complimentary breakfasts in our hotel.  We're high up, about the 21st floor, with nice views of the harbor, Stanley Park, and North Vancouver.

These are not the same day, by the way.  The breakfast's were the same each day, but the seating was different...

Sunday AM also means yum cha.  Especially in places with a Cantonese presence.  Like San Francisco.  Like Hong Kong.  Like Vancouver.  Chinatown in Vancouver is kind of an armpit.  Sorry, no offense. Richmond, south of Vancouver is where the action is.  It is kind of spread out, though, and not really compact like Chinatown in SF.

Anyway, there are several really nice Dim Sum places in Richmond.  With some research, I decide on Fisherman's Terrace in Aberdeen.  Really close to the Canada Line Aberdeen station, in a large Asian mall.  We get there just after opening.  We actually already ate breakfast, so we weren't hungry.  But that doesn't matter, does it?  It's about a half hour wait.

This place is crowded, but really good!  Shrimp dumpling in Shark Fin soup.  Not really PC, but very very tasty.

This was a highlight.  At the end of the meal, we had porridge and these sweet sesame Jin Doi.  Maybe a bit sweeter than ideal, but soooo good.

This yum cha was way better than any we've had in the Bay Area in recent past.

That night, even though we're still full, we decide to go to Sura.  One of my patients, a Korean-American foodie, told me we should go here.  They have two branches, one in the same mall as Fisherman's Terrace, and the other on Robson Street, a few blocks from downtown.  He did not steer us wrong.  Hands down, the best Korean restaurant I've been to.

They're famous for their lunch, but we went for dinner.  Sorry, I was so taken aback by my Galbi, that I didn't take many pics.

My Galbi was separated from the rib bone, which was plated for presentation.  It lacked the typical gristle of Galbi that we're all used to.  This meat was melt in the mouth, like A5 in Japan.  I'll be back

Monday AM.  Sammie flew back to SF very early this AM by herself, since she had to work (hers was a Friday afternoon to Monday morning vacation). After our nice breakfast, we bus to Granville Island to visit the Public Market.  It is an indoor mall with numerous high end foods.  Because we have lunch resy's, we have to avoid eating.  The public market is crowded on weekends, but this Monday AM isn't too bad.  This place is definitely recommended for tourists.

OK, we catch the bus to Dynasty, a "fancy" Cantonese restaurant on Broadway, a trendy area of Vancouver.  Not an Asian food area.  We were "treated" by relatives of in-laws, who were out of town, so it was just Em, Connie and me.  This was "fancy" yum cha.  Here's our order:

The food was really, really good!  We had to go vegan for our group, except for me...

We would be "treated" again the next day, but for dinner.  

That night, we eat at Fable.  It was recommended by Connie's acupuncturist.  It is one of the most recommended places to eat in Vancouver. I think it was very good, but not quite as good as the Asian cuisine we had in Vancouver.  Warm bread.


I had pasta and Connie had Salmon, while Em had a salad.

Next AM, here's a view of Gastown, the Heliport, and the Seabus terminal, from our hotel room.

This AM, our last full day in Vancouver, we go to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.  A free shuttle bus from Canada place.  Expensive entrance fee though.  About $45 Canadian bucks each.  But Connie gets us AAA discounts (Em carries her AAA card!  Why?), and a College discount ticket (she looks like an Elementary student!!!) for a few bucks off.

But, I say it's worth it.  They spend bucks to keep the area clean and safe, and it is beautiful.  The structures really do fit in to the forest, and it is really fun.

It's like you are in Endor, during a peaceful time, with treehouses and cliffwalks.  HIGHLY recommended.

We rush back to Downtown Vancouver, because, though not hungry, we have to eat.  Right?

We have to go to get Sura's bargain lunch, right?

So, Sura is the place we ate dinner two nights ago.  But the lunch is the bargain. They have a $15 and a $20 lunch special.  We have a nice dinner planned, so we go for the $15.  We go back to the Robson Street location.  The Capilano shuttle drops us off just a couple of blocks from the restaurant, just in time to be there at opening.  We have to eat early to have room for dinner, you know!

We get all this food.  We eat it all, and wonder, how we're going to eat dinner.

After dinner, we roam around the Kitsilano district, a trendy area which houses many little boutique shops.  Note that we visit a number of stores that originated in Vancouver.  Like Lululemon, Fluevog and Arc'Teryx.   It's actually amazing that we're in a foreign country, but it feels like the US, with several Whole Foods on street corners.  Canada also doesn't have a chump as chief exec.

We walk to Kitsilano beach and park.  Very peaceful.

We then take a short bus trip back to Dynasty for our last dinner in Vancouver.  I have to say that this was the most expensive meal I have ever had.  Again, treated by our very very generous relatives of in-laws, who live in Vancouver.  They have a relationship with Dynasty, no doubt.  This place was really fantastic, but this meal was really over the top.

We only order four dishes, really.


King Crab.

Vegetable dish (pea sprouts).

A Yuba doufu dish.

Sorry, not too much of the vegetable tofu dish is visible.  I was in too much awe of the other two dishes.

The geoduck was served three ways (actually, maybe four).

Geoduck Sashimi.

Sauteed gently.

Geoduck soup.

This is the "fourth" way.  The stuff that the Geoduck was cooked with to make the soup.  I really like to eat this, though it is said that it has all the flavor cooked out.

King Crab, live.

Here, you can see the veggie dishes, with the tofu.

Steamed King Crab legs.

Deep fried King Crab knuckle fried rice.

The deep fried King Crab knuckles.

Tapioca dessert.

A great trip!!!

Thank you to the relatives of our in-laws.  Thank you very much!

I'll get back to Japan really soon!