Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Niseko Trip Report - Days Three and Four

The rest of our time in Niseko consisted mostly of skiing and onsen dipping.
 Night skiing, or, more accurately in this case, night snowboarding, as Michael decided to pick up a new sport with less than three hours left on his rental on the last night (crazy, but impressive).
The onsens are a large part of the magic of the Niseko experience (at least for me) - I swear the hot mineral water really soothes your muscles and aches and pains!  There are quite a few rules of etiquette, which the locals helpfully illustrate on placards with four languages:

Basically, you have to be very clean and very nude.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Niseko Trip Report - Bang Bang

We went to check out this izakaya restaurant, Bang Bang (which incidentally was so successful that there was also a Bang Bang 2) on the Friday night of our trip.

We ordered nonstop yet again...

 Oysters to start.  Very delicate, briny and tasty.
 The oysters were so tasty we got another platter.

Scallop sashimi.

Chicken yakitori.

Fried pumpkin.

Pork and organ skewers.
 Liver and beef tongue skewers.
 Chicken skin skewer.
 Chicken sausage wrapped in shiso leaf skewers.
 Spicy fried chicken.
 Fried tofu with fermented soybeans.  The interior is a slimy slightly stinky texture that's not for the faint of heart. 
Pork cartilage skewer.   I actually didn't try this one but my friends said it was delicious.
Deer skewers, a special that night.  Surprisingly delicious and much more tender than I expected. 
 Another platter of fried chicken.
 Roasted eggplant topped with bonito flakes.  I love how the eggplants here are green!
 Dessert to finish the night.  The apple tart with ice cream (not shown) was my favorite.  It was devoured before I could take a picture.

Bang Bang was pretty good, but overall I think I still like Ezo Seafoods the best.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Niseko Trip Report - New Goggles and Plodding on the Slopes

On this trip I came to acknowledge the cold hard fact that my skiing skills have completely deteriorated.  I don't know what happened.

It's like rather than getting faster or better at skiing each time I go I get slower.  I swear I would ski uphill if I could.  In fact, my parallel turns pretty much consist of my turning my skis uphill as much as possible.
You can see Michael in my goggles in the picture above!  I bought these at the ski shop and I really liked the rainbow reflection and the white rim.  I felt like a real snow bunny, even if in my actions I was anything but.  We were waiting for that one snowboarder to get out of my way but he was so slow.

Here are some other pictures I snapped while skiing or riding the lifts/gondolas:

 Taking a break… perfect with the soft serve ice cream for which Hokkaido is famous.
 I had the soft serve before I had the soba…this soba was paired with tasty wild vegetables at Boyo-So, a restaurant halfway up the slopes.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Niseko Trip Report - Ezo Seafoods

Ezo Seafoods at Niseko deserves its own trip report.  We ate here on Thursday night and it really set the bar.  It was a bit hard to find though - it's buried behind a mound of snow!
What a fabulous place!  If you come to Niseko this is a must.  We went all out and told Jamie, the restaurant proprietor, to please go ahead and give us everything good.

I was a little nervous at our carte blanche request, basically not restricting the restaurant except to emphasize that we wanted king crab, and oyster, and blue fin tuna, and oh yeah, scallops, and sea urchin too...

You know what?  It was so worth it.  In the order of appearance at the table:

Wow, just wow.  These king crab legs were so amazing.  Probably my favorite.

The sea urchin was so tender.  The bluefin tuna was amazing, so tender and sweet.
 This platter of oysters needs no further explanation.
This was a huge scallop lightly seared sitting atop a bed of cabbage.
Grilled squid with a wasabi mayonnaise sauce.
The crab was so good we got seconds.
The uni was so good we got seconds.  And we also got some scallop sashimi.  I loved both of these items - so tender and lightly sweet.

Funny story about this next one - the waitress plopped it down declaring "Breast cheek".  And we all looked at each other and thought, what the heck are we eating?  Not particularly timid about food, we all dove in, thinking the dish was ribs (which seemed a bit incongruous).   What does that look like to you?
Turns out?  The woman meant "braised" and "cheek" didn't refer to beef or pork but rather fish!  It was braised fish cheek!  Just think about the size of the fish to have this be its cheek.  This dish was really good - incredible flavor and fall-off-the-bone melt-in-your mouth fish.  

This was a platter of cabbage.  Just because.  Vegetables are good for you.
This was a seafood medley (fish and clams) cooked in a tomato and lemon sauce.  The lemons had been cooked for so long that they were full of melt-in-your-mouth concentrated tart flavor -- I ate them!
 The last dish to finish off the night - a fragrant clam soup.  My only issue with this one was that there were too many spring onions.  And I didn't think they should have sullied the broth with tomatoes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Niseko Trip Report -- Days One and Two

Hi everyone!  We're back!  Our trip to Niseko, Japan, was pretty great.  We arrived at Chitose Airport at just after 3 pm on Wednesday (Japan being an hour ahead of Hong Kong) and we were immediately whisked away in a private van by our impatient driver.  The ride from the airport to Hirafu Village took two hours through climbing, winding hills.  However, we were blessed with very clear roads and good weather, as this same journey can take up to four hours in snow or bad conditions. 
We stayed in an apartment at the Freshwater, which was really nice, its only flaw being slightly thin walls.  It was a two bedroom apartment with an attached en suite studio, a big kitchen with dishwasher (yay!), a jacuzzi tub and separate washer dryer.  The trend continues where we stay at much nicer places than where we live... We were blessed with a beautiful unobstructed view of Mount Yotei, which I understand is not always possible because when it snows visibility is not good.
The pictures above were actually taken the next morning.  On our first night, we could not ski because we arrived at just after 6 and night skiing stops at 8:30 in Niseko.  Instead we headed to Abu-Cha-2, a popular ikazaya in the Hirafu Village that serves lots of drinks and food.  
 Typical of Japan, no one even batted an eye at the huge plush teddy bear that was sitting at the bar.
 They had a ton of whiskeys and sakes and beer.
 The place was bigger than it looked.  There was a very rowdy and slightly sloppy wedding celebration happening in the main front room, and then lots of families and groups eating at tables throughout the back.
We ordered a refreshing radish and shiso salad to start, some yakitori skewers, a delicious salmon hot pot, and a delicious beef sukiyaki pot (last one not pictured). 

 The next day we rented our ski gear and headed for the slopes. We didn't have as early of a start on Thursday because I had a pesky call that ran for nearly three hours.  Unbelievable!  But thankfully then it was done and there was not much immediate follow up.
As you can see, there wasn't that much fresh snow during our trip.  We had a nice lunch at the Lookout Cafe near the mountain peak.
 This is the sweet view from the restaurant.