Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wanderings and Eats All Around Tokyo, Our New Favorite City

After our recent trip, we might have a new favorite city.  We also had some amazing weather while we were there - endless bright blue skies and sunny days!  Below are snippets of our food and drink and activities during our days and nights there!

  On this trip we tried a few notable firsts, including gingko in the shell, roasted and dipped in salt,
 a slurpy, slimy seaweed marinated in vinegar,
 And whale!  Deep fried, it had a chewy quality and was surprisingly meaty. 
We also tried beef tongue (below). We went to an omakase dinner in Azabujuban for Michael's birthday.  We sat at a bar and were served by a chef who spoke a little English.
 Everything was very fresh and tasty.
We used the Tokyo metro to get around.  It can be really tricky to navigate and understand, especially the transfers, because some lines are private.  Looking at the map, one could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.  However, it is a beautiful, efficient and very accessible  system.  Tokyo is a huge city!
 There is also a women's only subway car during rush hour... yikes!
 On one of our weekend days, we headed to the Meiji shrine, with a stop in Harajuku for a ramen lunch.  We ate at Afuri, which had a short line.  Here I am, soaking up the sun and enjoying a vending machine coffee (Michael's obsession on this trip).  As you guys may know, Japan is the vending machine capital of the world.  You're hard pressed to go anywhere without chancing upon a vending machine.  Unlike the scandalous stories we've heard though, the only items we saw being vended were beverages.  The coolest part is that some of the vending machines are hot, serving a hot can of milk tea or cafe latte.

I enjoyed the handy dandy and very efficient vending machine, where you place your order.  I chose a yuzu pork broth ramen, and Michael chose a regular pork broth ramen.  The noodles were so tasty because they char-grilled the pork belly, making both the savory noodles and the entire restaurant smell heavenly.

This was Harajuku on a busy weekend.
 Here I am wearing a huge grin, in anticipation of ramen.
These are the beautiful wooden gates into Meiji jingu shrine and the surrounding gardens. 
We walked until we got to this incredibly serene grassy park.  Even though the grass wasn't green, the sun was out and everyone was peacefully enjoying the wide open expanse.  It was incredibly lovely.

 
We headed to Nezu museum after leaving the Meiji shrine.  Along the way, we popped into a coffee shop, which had work spaces designed so well that it reminded me of a school library.
People do not cross against the light here.  They will wait politely and quietly on the sidewalk until the light turns, and not before.  They also do not eat or drink while on the street or on any public transportation.   You will be hard pressed to find any trash cans here, whether on the sidewalks or in the subways, and you will be even more hard pressed to find any trash here.  People willingly hold their refuse in their bags or pockets until they get home or back to the office.
 The Nezu museum was beautiful, though a little underwhelming:
 
 We saw some cool looking Ferrari's near our hotel.
 We got dressed up for a dinner date out.
 We enjoyed a lovely omakase teppanyaki meal at Tera - just look at that tablescape.
 Our tasting menu started with a bang - generous, creamy portions of sea urchin atop rice and lightly toasted seaweed, and a very tasty yellowtail ponzu ceviche piled high with thin slivers of green onion.
 
  We were given an array of dipping sauces and salts.  Below, lightly seared fatty tuna, followed by ark shell, followed by a cheese omelette (slightly random, I thought) with a jalapeno tomato sauce.  Everything was delicious.
 
 We tried beef tongue (on the left) - we both agreed it was an uncanny texture of a human tongue, so that if you thought about it too much it felt like you were chewing up your own tongue.  Wagyu beef on the right.
 
 We finished with dessert - homemade ice cream with torched strawberries.  It sounds and looks simple, but it was SO so good.
 The restaurant is really hard to find - practically hidden.
Afterward, we went to an amazing bar called Campbeltoun Loch, which was an eight-seat basement bar that was stocked from the floors to the walls with rare and special bottles of Scotch.

The owner is a self-professed Scotch obsessive and at any point in time will have nearly 300 bottles open for tasting.  He also is willing to allow patrons to sample half pours, which essentially means that a person can in one night in one sitting sample very rare 25 year old whiskeys (Caol Ila, Maccallan, Laphroig, etc.) without batting an eye.  I don't actually like whisky, but it didn't matter - I loved this place.
The owner's knowledge was incredibly astounding too.  You could explain to him your taste profile and he would know exactly what to recommend.  It was all amazing, simply amazing.  Tokyo is exactly the kind of city that would nurture a person with this kind of passion, and for that I love it unreservedly.  The bottles on the right were the ones Michael sampled the night we were there. 


 On another day, we went to look at some watches for Michael for fun.  Our friends gave us the contact information for a shop called Jack Road, which sells high quality watches, many vintage, tax free.  The location felt a little random but we were willing to be adventurous.
We finally found the shop, and this beautiful vintage Breitling Navitimer caught Michael's eye.  The store had a place where you could be seated to try on the timepieces of your choice. 
 Michael also tried a modern Breitling Navitimer, but his heart already belonged to the vintage one with the black face above.
I stuck firmly to window shopping on this one.  Sometimes it's better to have something to desire, wouldn't you agree?
 On our way home we passed this delicious cake stand.  Unlike a vintage watch, a little red bean and rice cake filled pastry should never be left behind.  This is pure happiness:
On another night, before we went to dinner, we opted for an amuse bouche of a few sticks of yakitori near our hotel.  (There wasn't enough time to fit in enough meals!)  They managed to make the tofu (top tray) taste amazing - deep fried on the outside, very silky and smooth and creamy on the inside.  The chicken platter consisted of a skewer of gizzards, two skewers of chicken skin (so bad for you because it's so fatty, but so tasty) and two skewers of normal chicken meat.
 We then went to eat at JoJoen, a famous but pretty casual yakiniku (barbecue) restaurant.  We started with a salad, the only greens our bodies had seen in a long while, then promptly dived into a dizzy array of delicious pork, beef loin, beef short ribs, marinated skirt steak...
 
 We had to grill our own food but that was actually kind of fun.
 On one of the days I was at the office, Michael went to try some steak at a casual fast food joint where everyone stood eating up.  Lots of restaurants are standing only, which I kind of like.

 We had one fancy sushi place planned, at Sushi Iwa, a Michelin starred sushi restaurant in Ginza.  We both opted for a 13-piece omakase lunch menu.



 








 

We were also given a seaweed salad to start and a soup to finish the course.  This meal was delightful for the intimacy (we were seven people sitting in front of the chef) and the sanctity of the space (no one spoke on the telephone, no one spoke loudly, there was no music, and patrons whispered to each other quietly while enjoying the food).  However, it was pretty much ruined for me when I saw the different pieces of fish that I was served versus the local Japanese clientele.  It really upset me and I should have just said something.  I wanted the giant shrimp, the sea urchin, the dried huge scallop... they got so many more innovative and cool looking things that it pretty much ruined the lunch for me, Michelin star or not.  I mean, we got a tuna and cucumber roll to finish out our meal?  I am actually a bit outraged thinking about it now.

Overall, our Tokyo trip was so amazing and I'm so glad we went.  Michael thoroughly enjoyed his (amazing, extravagant, incredible) birthday present.  (I am such a good wife.) Thanks to all of our friends who gave us such good tips on where to stay, eat, and go!