Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Fine Dining"

Wednesday evening.  We dine separately.  Vegans first.  Ain Soph Ginza.  The place they went to last year.  Em and Sam really enjoyed this.  

Vegan cutlet

Taco Salad and Risotto

Blueberry cheesecake 

"Pancakes" with Ice Cream and Fruit

Sam and Em really like this place.  More about Ain Soph later.

Connie and I go to Le Sputnik on this Wednesday evening.  Looking forward to a reprise of last years meal.

Karl likes wine.

I will spare you more pictures of the wine. This visit left a bad taste in our mouths. It wasn't bad. Just not memorable.  But to this writer, there were clearly misses in some courses.

The bread was really good.  Crunchy crust.  Soft inside.  Same elegant cutlery.  Really nice glassware.  See my narrative from 2017.

1 week aged Tai wrapped around a piece of Momo (Peach) and young basil. Nice beginning. 

Bean Churro, on a Mt. Fuji lava rock that the Chef actually collected himself on a climb. Accompanied by Edamame.

Shiny skin sashimi (maybe aji?), with fresh peppercorns and passionfruit sauce.

Foie gras terrine with small green apple spears and celery root.

Squid and Wild Salmon in foam.

Dipping dots with tomato. Obviously, a cold intermezzo.

Ayu with Watermelon Vinegar sauce. The fish was sweet, and eaten whole.  I ate it.

Big miss here. Bamboo shoot with Oyster and Blue Cheese sauce, served in an inverted glass globe, filled with smoke.  Sorry no picture of the globe with smoke, but this was burnt and bitter.

Beet chips, crunchy like last year, with natural sweetness, served over Foie gras, which was excellent.

Another foie gras course, this time with french toast and maple syrup, fresh cherry preserves, topped with a vanilla bean.  Great course.

Lobster with dango in corn soup.  Not too memorable, especially served after foie gras.

Kinmedai (a fish which is usually served as sushi) with cabbage leaves.  This was also good (but not particularly memorable).

Wild chicken (actually called a bird, so maybe a squab or quail?).  Do you see the truffle chips in there?  Served with Nappa cabbage root. Tasty.

A soufflĂ©.  With cream cheese sauce.

Chocolate sheets with orange sauce.

Grapefruit mousse. With a small scoop of macha ice cream.

Final little crunchy petit fours.

Won't be going back.  The service was lacking.  Last year, we were served by two women, one of whom had excellent English skills.  This time, the waiter was not up to the meal. There were some skipped wine pairings; timing wasn't right. He seemed flustered at times, too...  

This place maintains a 4 point Tabelog rating and keeps its Michelin Star.  Maybe just a bad day?  We can't afford bad days with time being a crucial commodity.

Thursday AM.  We have reservations in the afternoon in Yokohama for Ramen (yes, reservations are necessary for the place we're going). But that's the afternoon.  We first go out to try to find

Godzilla!  Couldn't find him.  This is a statue near the Toho Movie Studio headquarters near Yurakucho.

Ended up going to Muji, and had brunch there.

Did a bunch of shopping there, and then walked back to Tokyo Station, past the Four Seasons... to Daimaru, and the nice Saryo Tsujiri on 10F.  We needed lunch!

Here's my lunch!

If you have some time, I highly recommend this place.

OK, we grab the Shinkansen to go to Yokohama.  We have our JR passes, you know! Then a quick cab ride to...

... the Cup Noodle Museum!

 I didn't think that the family would enjoy this, so that's why I never bothered to come here, but I was waaay wrong.  Everyone had a great time!  Look at Sam and Em, here!

I am older than Instant Noodles!

The history of instant Ramen!

The first one!

Sammie and Momofuku Ando.

The museum has a bunch of exhibits and neat things to do!

This is where Mr. Ando made his first creations.

The highlight of our several-hour stay was actually making our Cup Noodle and Ramen.  Two separate activities.  To make your own Cup Noodle, you don't need reservations, since the dried, cooked noodles are already made.  You just add ingredients to custom make your own!  But you absolutely have to make reservations online (several months in advance) to actually make your own little packet that you boil.

Note: not vegan.  Here is our lab.

Busy kneading the noodle dough.

Sammie is very intense with the dough.

They were very meticulous about sanitary practice.  Washing hands all the time.  And then Sammie spits on our dough, during the rolling process.

Here's our mentor, Sato-san.  We weren't allowed to go to the deep frier area.

Our finished product.

Our real finished bags.

Sorry, no pics of the Cup Noodle production, but you can find them online.

We end up taking a direct commuter train back to Shibuya, to our Airbnb.  A little bit quicker than the Shinkansen to Shinagawa, then the Yamanote...

We decide to eat Mos Burger for dinner. There is one in Shibuya on the way back to our apartment.

I'd actually never had one, even though there are many in Japan. It was very flavorful.  The picture above is our bed in our apartment.  The place was large, but there was only one chair in the whole place; you had to sit on the bed.  The kitchen was very rudimentary; we never cooked.  The neighborhood was fine, but Connie wasn't comfortable, because it was a bit of a red light district. Connie and the kids say no to Airbnb.

Connie eating breakfast.  One of the cup noodles we made the day before! Along with cabbage from 7 Eleven.

 So, we get a bit of a late start this day, Friday.  That night, we will split up again, with the kids going to Ain Soph Ripple, the "casual" Ain Soph, in North Shinjuku, while Connie and I go to a place that I've been trying to get into for years!  Den!

But first, we head to Tsukiji. Last time while the whole market is here, since the wholesale market moved to Toyosu, several miles away.  But the Outer market remains, to this day, and this is where we want to shop.  Not too many pics, see previous years posts.


I had a grilled shrimp.  It was "ok."

After shopping, we head to the Nihonbashi area, near Tokyo Station.  To Takashimaya.

I was loaded down with several heavy bags of goods, purchased at Tsukiji, and I was desperate for a coin locker.  If we stayed near Tokyo Station, I could have just dropped them off there, but Shibuya was a bit of a way away.  Sam and Em wandered away and Connie and I decide to have dessert at a small shop inside the Takashimaya.  I was just happy to have found a locker in the food court basement!  Macha ice with Azuki for Connie, and I get a Strawberry ice.  mmm

We go back to the apartment later that afternoon and prepare for a nice Friday night meal.  Sam and Em go to Ain Soph Ripple in North Shinjuku.  Ain Soph is a high(er) end restaurant mini chain in Tokyo. Ripple is more casual than the Ginza branch.  Still, I am told the food was great.

Mac and cheese.

Vegan Burger, Cheeseburger and Fries.

Ice Cream.

Connie and I head to Den.  Originally in Jimbocho, they moved to a quiet area near Meiji Jingu (much bigger, as the original location had only eight seats).  I had tried in previous years to make reservations, but failed.  Our hotel concierges failed in the past too.  One or two Michelin stars and a rating of the 17th  best restaurant in the world don't help!  I was able to get in by calling them directly a couple of months in advance.  I spoke in my best Japanese, which is only poor, at best, only to find that Noriko, the primary Maitre D spoke great English.  They had limited availability, but they had one spot which was perfect, 6 PM Friday!  Elation!  Kind of like the time I was able to secure the Kintetsu train resy's!!!

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa is a jokester, and he uses his humor throughout the meal. Even before we enter, we see this, and realize we're in the right place!

A large open kitchen where all the work is visible.  Chef Hasegawa is the man in the dark clothing.

The head table is a bit odd.  Like the head table at a banquet.  Facing the kitchen.

We sit at a conventional table. Probably a total of at least 15 or 20 seats, I'm guessing.

Ok, on to the food.  No menu selections, just the fixed course.  I opt to get the wine and sake pairing. We start with a sparkling wine (every patron gets this), along with some Yamagata Sake.

First course, a Monaka.  Everyone Japanese has had one of these.  Very crispy rice wafers with sweet azuki beans make fora refreshing snack or dessert.  But Hasegawa-san has another idea.

This has Plum and Foie Gras.  
Served cold, it was absolutely delicious.  

Next up is a sweet Corn Puree, served on Yuba puree.  Simplicity and the corn was very very sweet!

This was a nice Sake from Yamaguchi ken.  I remember that this was more dry than the others served that evening.

Dentucky Fried Chicken is up next.

Shizuoka sake, made with rice from Hokkaido.  Noriko was also the sommelier.

Ok, this is very reminiscent of Andy Lunt's gyoza chicken wing that we had in July 2010 at Andy's Place (aka Shin Hinomoto). As an aside, I highly recommend that place, though it is very smokey, as many smoke in there. Chef Hasegawa debones a chicken wing and stuffs it with rice and Matsutake mushrooms, then deep fries it.

It was very earthy and delicious.

Katsuo sashimi, very strong flavor, but not fishy.  Served with Shiso blossoms, which are plucked and eaten with the fish.

Another Yamagata sake. I don't remember its character.

Ayu with liver paste and crispy bread pieces. Not my favorite dish, but still quite good.  I ate it all.

Sake from Nagano.

They have really nice glassware!  

Kaze no Mori sake from Nara. Fruity and mildly sweet. Delicious!

Went well with this salad, one of our favorite courses.  The salad is written up in numerous online reviews, and deservedly so.  It's an eclectic collection of different fruits and vegetables which somehow all come together.

It had a very light Konbu dressing. You can guess the ingredients by looking but trust me, there is an Okra in there, along with some sweet potato and Nasu.

Winter melon soup with beef tendon, a goji berry and wood ear mushroom.

Maneki sake from Shizuoka.

Collection of pottery, cups at the entrance.

Main course: Wagyu beef in a Donabe rice pot.  

Miso soup.

Saga sake from Kyushu.

Here's the rice.  I think that he must have cooked the beef separate from the rice.  Either that or he took it out and sliced it.  It was very beefy!

Peach with yogurt. Very simple dessert.

We purchased his cookbook and got it autographed.

We'll go back here every visit!