Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Our final day

It's been a long, long road--okay, it's only been three weeks. But we have certainly broken much new ground (and bruised many feet) since mid-July, and finally our time overseas is coming to a conclusion.

So how does Megan choose to go out? With a bang, of course. More of a culinary explosion, really. Let's recap, shall we?

Last night I said we MUST experience Kobe beef while we're in Japan. It is imperative. I'm sure that there are many restaurants that prepare Kobe in Tokyo, but my Tokyo Encounter only mentioned it in one restaurant's description: Seryna, which is in the Roppongi district. (The "least Japanese part of Japan," according to the guide. Full of nightclubs, shopping, a mall which is a completely sustainable life force unto itself. It was neat.) Vin Chou, the French fusion yakitori restaurant we'd visited in my last blog, was listed in the same price range as Seryna so I wasn't overly concerned.


For one thing, Seryna apparently occupies its entire building. Like, multiple floors going up. We're met by a maitre d' who escorts us to our seat adjacent to a pretty rock garden diorama and then we are waited on by geisha-esque girls with immaculate grace and graciousness. If this wasn't enough of a blaring red siren, one look at the menu provided the final push into alarm. Courses for one starting at about $80. Nothing of inferior quality--the best crab, the best tuna, the best beef. Enter the Kobe. Available as a carpaccio appetizer for $50, in shabu-shabu (essentially soup in which you cook your meat) for $140, or cooked on a STONE brought from a northern part of Japan for $150.

Well, you're only in Tokyo once.

I ordered the Toro sashimi. ($60.) Toro is the most tender part of tuna. It was so pale pink and buttery, absolutely exquisite. Alternated between plain, dipped in soy sauce and grazed in wasabi for very different experiences. I was already doing the happy food dance.

But it was rather overshadowed by the sight of our geisha laying thin strips of fat-laced beef on a smooth slab of superheated granite, barely needing a minute to rest before she slid them loose with her chopsticks and flipped them. She arranged pairs of the steak artfully and presented them to us with two different "steak sauces" for dipping--one tomato based, one soy based. Wowee. This steak was so full of flavor and juice and richness. It was a 180 g portion split between us, which I eyeballed as approximately 6 oz each? Not much, in other words. You'd never know it from how delicious and satisfying that meat was. There was no question of hitting up a McD's after THIS meal.

I can't overemphasize how much the atmosphere enhanced the meal. The geisha were immaculate and though we were the ones being served, we felt nothing but respect for THEM. A crystal glass of some iced honey liqueor was brought to each of us before our meal, and cups of hot tea provided throughout. We were one of very few occupants and the air felt...reverent. It made each bite contain a sense of communion. Just absolutely lovely.

Anyway, good eats. I will cheerfully go back to eating my dad or my husband's grilled steaks, but I am definitely glad that we experienced that calibre of Japanese haute cuisine.

Today, we found our way to the Meguro Parasitological Museum for funsies. It was too tiny and too untranslated to really capitalize on the oogy factor, much to my disappointment. A long hike later, we are lost and hop on a transfer line to get back to our hotel. On our way, the Shibuya sub station's "food court" catches my attention. Oh my GOSH, such a buffet! No Sbarros here, that's for sure. This is obviously a place that people come to pick up food for home and parties. Bento ("lunchboxes" filled with artfully arranged snacky treats), boxes of sushi and sashimi shaped into flowers and designs, each of the colors blending with the rest, different combinations of salads and cold cuts. Just fascinating.

So I finally got my unagi (eel) sashimi. It was GOOD. Also a bento of dumplings and potstickers and tempura-fried treats and a shrimp ball.

Tonight, I plan to watch as Tavis packs the last couple of items that he hasn't already packed as I've been typing, and if we recover from stuffing ourselves on subway "fast food," then we may make our way back to Akiyoshi for more skewers of grilled chicken. It's a sad day when I'm looking forward to eating my fruits and veggies again. Oh well, making the most of today!

Rosie and James got back to Korea successfully so we are going to duplicate the train route they took. We will be back before 6pm Wednesday evening! Mass uploading of pics and revision of blog will commence.

I'll save final words for later. This isn't really a goodbye. Just a....good eats.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Good eats, mild let-downs

The past couple of days have been a bit more low-key on the energy-o-meter. Something about walking for 4 hours a day sort of took it out on my ankles, so we've been treading trodden trails and reprioritizing our restaurant "must eats." Yesterday scored a culinary victory for us but a couple of disappointments as well.

Disappointment #1: Harajuku. Sunday is supposed to be the big "all the cosplay, gothic lolita, punk rebels, Jpop, and all other flavors of non-conformity fun come out to play" day. Unfortunately, it was raining all day so all we got to experience was a river of umbrellas in the tightly-packed alleyways. Not so much with the eye candy, alas. We are heading back out there with Rosie and James this morning--it won't be as large-scale as yesterday should have been, but we ought to be able to see SOMEthing.

Disappointment #2: DDR. If any of you reading this are not aware, Tavis and I are big enjoyers of the video game series Dance Dance Revolution. If the name is not a clear enough indication, it came from Japan, so we were looking forward to finding a video arcade in Tokyo and playing it in its country of origin with many of the ridiculously talented otaku (nerds) to be found here.

We searched about 3 arcades in varying regions before we found an employee who knew of a place that had a DDR machine. Seriously. This is like, last year's game or something, and nobody plays it anymore! There was one lonely little DDR board set up in the corner, with no crowd at all. We played a couple of rounds but it felt sort of surreptitious and unrewarding, no hecklers or admirers or even observers amidst the action in the arcade. Sigh. Always sad to find out you just Aren't That Cool.

Anyway, back to happier things: eats! We went to Vin Chou, a french fusion yakitori place recommended in my Lonely Planet. It was by far the easiest place to find out of all the restaurants so far. Hurray! We might actually be getting the hang of this place!

Tavis ordered the prix fixe menu, which included:

  • An appetizer of potato salad (ha!) and a quarter of a cabbage to cleanse the palate in between courses of greasy meat. Sadly, this was just about the most vegetables I've eaten here.
  • Quail. Very good, not charred beyond flavor like most of the quail I've had
  • Skewer of duck. Also very delicious. I do so love duck.
  • Skewer of chicken livers. My first livers! I loved them. Tavis didn't care for the consistency.
  • Skewer of chicken gizzards. Flip the roles; I hated the consistency and found the flavor so-so, but Tavis thought they were great.
  • Dish of pickled vegetables, including red bell pepper, lotus root and cauliflower. Mehh.
  • Bress chicken thigh. Bress is apparently a region in France known for their great chickens. This was a great chicken. Wish there'd been more.
  • Skewer of asparagus rolled in pork rib. Very tasty!
  • Chicken soup. Strangely, this might have been my favorite flavor of the night. They spent a lot of time developing the flavors in the little sake glass of stock. It was fabulous.

To that, I added:

  • Skewer of grilled quail eggs. I actually have never eaten a quail egg before. This was probably not the best way to try them. The flavor was okay. Grilling made the outside a very strange, rubbery texture.
  • Cheese plate. We had a yummy brie, a very nice spicy blue that was thankfully lacking in sourness, and a tasty hard cheese that I suspect was mimolette because it was bright orange. But I'm still definitely no expert in fromagerie.
  • Foie gras in a teriyaki sauce. Again, Tavis didn't care for the texture but I liked it quite well. Not my favorite thing and I probably wouldn't order it again. Much to the relief of the collective outrage assembled. Yes, I eat foie gras. There's a special level of hell (probably like B.1 or something, you have to take a separate elevator to get to it) for people like me. They probably fill a small room with irate noisy geese and push me in. Anyway, I digress.

It was a great meal and I enjoyed the progression. But Tavis and I agreed that if we were just craving a good, tasty meal, we would go back to Akiyoshi, the first yakitori place, and spend 1/4 of the money for as much flavor and probably more enjoyment. And larger portions. Ah well, a good experience all the same.

A culinary side note: the big dessert thing here in Tokyo are crepes. Like, crepes stuffed with a variety of sweet things and rolled up like a waffle cone. The kids here go NUTS for them and these creperies are everywhere with their big beautiful plastic models of every possibly combination of flavors. They tend to have:

  • A layer of fluff, such as whipped cream, custard or ice cream
  • A layer of fruit, such as strawberries, bananas or apples
  • A layer of cake, such as chocolate cake or cheesecake
  • Additional drizzles of chocolate or caramel

Insert the happiest heart attack here. And also, WHY do we not have these things in the States? We clearly are way too fat as a nation to need them....but that sure wouldn't stop us from eating the heck out of them! So I dreamed the other night that I bought a shack with the intentions of turning it into a creperie. Check back in in a few years to see if my dreams become a reality.

Last but not least, our shopping adventures. Minimal, really--we've bought a bunch of souvenirs and our kimonos are lovely and authentic, so we've been toning it down on the expenditures. But we found a place called Tokyu Hands which has several branches and encompasses about 7 floors per branch. Think of it like one part Home Depot, one part World Market. Anyway we found some neat wall art there. And on the 8th floor, they had a cat cafe set up. Pets aren't very common, what with the limited living conditions and all, so there are cafes with tons of cats where people pay to come in and snuggle. This one looked really cool and had lots of interactive walkways and stairs on the walls and hideyholes for the cats to enjoy, but dealing with the crowd of exuberant kids was probably more than most cats would care for. It made me sad and lonesome for my pups. (Also I saw a cat with a white 0 on her sides and it made me miss my Flannel very much.)

Should've put that higher, don't want to end on a sad note! Oh. Rosie and James decided to stay in Hamamatsu another night last night and so are getting into town....right about now, actually. They should be at our hotel in half an hour and then we will venture forth and have more adventures in Harajuku and a nice lunch before they have to get to Narita and fly back home. It's been great visiting with them. Hopefully we have more culinary win to speak of at the end of the day--Tavis and I are hunting down a place that serves Kobe beef. Noms await!