Category Archives: Neighborhoods

It never gets old

It never gets old.

Fujimamas and the state of Cuisine (AKA Gordan Ramsay is an asshole)

It’s a sad state of affairs when the former Fujimama’s restaurant in Harajuku (which originated as tatami factory) is now a TGI Fridays, that corporate bastardization of fake American food which has destroyed countless perceptions about cuisine in the USA.

Some of us see this as the overall trend for cuisine worldwide, when even high-end haute cuisine Michelin-starred great restaurants are replaced (or at least overshadowed) by Joel Robuchon / Bobby Flay / Emeril / Gordan Ramsay celebrity dog food. Or is it merely the byproduct of the global economic meltdown, where it’s become more important to prepackage everything. Remember when Gordan Ramsay was caught using prepackaged food and simply reheating it? From the Scotsman newspaper (2009):

“A spokeswoman for the celebrity chef – who has previously said it is a crime not to use fresh food in cookery – issued a statement after it was discovered that pre-prepared food was being bought in, heated up and sold with mark-ups of up to 586 per cent at one of Ramsay’s high-profile restaurants and three of his gastropubs in the capital.

It has been reported, however, that fishcake portions bought in for £1.92 were being sold for £11.25 at one of Ramsay’s pubs, while sausage rolls costing 75p went for £3.50.

Head chef Darran Ridley, of GR Logistics, told the Sun newspaper that they provided “the majority of the food for Foxtrot Oscar” and added: “We do coq au vin at £2.60 a portion, leg or thigh, in a bag with a sauce. All you have to do is pop it into a pan of boiling water and reheat it.”

Full Article Here: http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/Ramsay39s-new-Fword-frozen-ready.5182757.jp

When you think about the direction this whole world of food is headed, TGI Fridays is only a step or two below Gordon Ramsay’s prepacked microwavable kitchen dinners. But a hell of a lot cheaper.

Cinematic Japanese Food

Have you seen Kill Bill?

Remember the restaurant that housed the big fight scene when Uma Thurman killed all those guys?

Did you know that is based on a real restaurant in Tokyo?

This is how many conversations begin, which culminate in a trip to Gonpachi. As one of the most well-known Tokyo establishments, Gonpachi offers a casually minimal, though consistently adequate foray into non-sushi Japanese cuisine. Of course, they have a sushi bar as well, though the real draw here is the atmosphere.  Gonpachi, run by the massive restaurant company Global Dining, has locations in Ginza, Shibuya, and Odaiba as well, in addition to Fukuoka and Bevery Hills (!) but any Tokyoite can tell you that the one to wow visitors with is the Nishi-Azabu branch.

The soba is not only homemade, but arrivers can watch chefs knead the soba dough through big pane windows. The tempura is perfect, as are some of the “grilled things-on-sticks”. We recommend the duck with wasabi, the toro (bluefin tuna belly), the foie gras, and especially the Gindara, a stupendous black cod glazed with miso and grilled so the consistency is soft and flakes off into bite-size morsels like sea bass. Everytime I’m there, I ponder just asking for 10 orders of gindara.

The drink menu is not only extensive and covers all the basics, but they threw in a few interesting cocktails to wow your parents. The dessert menu was created by Stephane Vieux, which means the presentation always competes with the combinations of tastes; for an unforgetable end to your Japanese barn dinner, indulge in a Warm Chocolate Cake & Sesame Ice Cream or the Kuzumochi & Kinako Ice Cream with Black Sugar Syrup.

Ok, I need to admit something. Almost all my Japanese friends hate this place. Seriously. To them, this is not fine dining, barely Japanese food, and overpriced stereotyped Lonely Planet fodder. I don’t necessarily disagree in premise, it is after all, a big wooden barn decorated to look like a Japanese restaurant on a movie soundstage. Although for visitors, Gonpachi may just fullfill the basic Japanese sterotypical dishes which are so often lost in the modern Tokyo of nouvelle and fusion. This is the kind of restaurant that your family will write group emails to their middle-aged European friends about. Just ask Quentin Tarantino.

Gonpachi

03-5771-0170

1-13-11 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0031

http://www.gonpachi.jp

A Tokyo Mexican Restaurant Primer

The last thing you’d expect to be eating in Tokyo is Mexican food. In the greatest culinary capital of the world, inundated with myriad options of all types of Japanese food, curious oddities from other parts of Asia, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Singaporean food as good and authentic as the best found in those countries, why would any foodie consider eating food from Mexico?

Well, believe it or not, there are some crazy folks who, after living in Tokyo for so long, crave other types of sustenance. For those spicy-searching creatures, I’ll take a quick look over Tokyo’s Mexican restaurants. Please don’t be too depressed. You couldn’t have expected Oaxaca.

La Fonda de La Madrugada – Harajuku

Harajuku station: Jingumae 2-33-12-B2.

This Disney-esque mock up of what they want you to believe Mexico looks like will make you vomit. [ed: That was eloquently put.] This mistake of a restaurant is what happens when a developer decides that interior design is more important than food quality and service. Who cares if half the dishes are just tasteless doughy/meaty things soaked in canola oil? At least it’s festive! While the menu is certainly more diverse than most of the local Mexican joints, the food is all saturated in grease, the waiters are untrained, slow, and uninformed, and the food, well… if a waiter doesn’t spill a plate of it on your lap (this happened to my friend), and they don’t charge you for multiple plates that were never ordered (this happened to my other friend), and they don’t mess up your order and bring you other dishes (this has happened to almost everyone I know), the food will probably make you vomit all over Omotesando Street (this happened to me). Still, the mariachi band is nice.

La Jolla – Hiroo

03-3442-1865. http://www.la-jolla.jp/

Hiroo Station: Hiroo 5-16-3, Koyasu Bldg. 2F.

We award our La Jolla our Runner-up prize. A relative newcomer on the Mexican scene, and located in the foreigner haven of Hiroo, La Jolla has in freshness what it lacks in style. The food, while approaching Junkadelic’s grandeur, is served drably and people often complain of feeling like they are eating in an office building. In terms of offerings, it seems like they photocopied Junkdelic’s menu, though they get props for deciding to add more variations, like fish tacos. We expect that as La Jolla grows up, it will focus on its ambiance a bit more, for although the food gets high marks, the complete dining experience is still lacking that bit of excitement.

Junkadelic – Nakameguro

03-5725-5020.  http://junkadelic.jp/

Naka-Meguro station: Kami-Meguro 4-10-4. Open 6pm-2am.

One of the only palatable Mexican restaurants in Tokyo, Junkadelic shines as a (not-so) hidden gem in the backstreets of Nakameguro. Frequently full of the salsa-seekers and huge-ass-margarita sippers of Tokyo’s international community, Junkadelic retains the position for the second year as Tokyo Foodie’s Mexican Restaurant of the Year! The chimichangas, fajitas, and burritos are large, fresh, and affordable and though some complain about the authenticity of the cuisine, the taste more than compensates. Start with a large order of nachos, try a few GIGANTIC and strong margaritas (in flavors locos likeguanabana and mora), order a main dish or 3, and make sure you ask for chipotle salsa – it’s not on the menu, but they will smile their devious smile when you ask, and it will be the wings on your new-found Mexican angel. Junkadelic was started by a Japanese guy who lived in San Diego, traveled around Mexico, and couldn’t find any acceptable Mexican cuisine when he returned to Tokyo. Theinside is decorated like a Mexican courtyard during a family reunion, and they project skateboarding videos on the wall, acompanied by **not-cheesy** mexican music.

Other Ones

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but there really isn’t that much edible Mexican food in this city. There are other places to be sure; Corporate places based on plasticized Tex-Mex upscale Taco Bells line Roppongi and Shinjuku (La Fiesta, El Borracho, El Patio, Salsita, Rosario) and overpriced attempts at Fancy Mexican Food (The new La Colina in Tokyo Midtown, opened by the aforementioned Fonda De La Madrugada, and just as under-performing, though costlier).

We tried to warn you. It’s not our fault.

We came here for the sushi anyway.

Count on the French

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Maison de la Bourgogne

Before writing a review, I try to reserve judgment until I have eaten at a place at least three times. No need to get too excited if I had just happened to be lucky and come in on a day when the fish had just been delivered, my waiter was in a great mood, and the reservation for the best table in the house had been canceled and given to me instead. Writing about Maison de la Bourgogne, however, I could not be more sure that the great service and food were consistent: I have eaten here more times than I could count.

Located in what is quickly becoming the French-district of Kagurazaka, Maison de la Bourgogne is the quintessential sidewalk café. A wine bistro with an extensive wine selection and simple, authentic French fare, the weekday lunch set is my recommendation. At ¥1500, the set is beyond a bargain. After starting with an amuse of pate on toast, there are five each of different hors devours, mains, and desserts to chose from. Coffee or tea is also included. The hors devours themselves are large in portion, the refreshing country pate and classic quiche dishes both come with an accompanying side salad (My favorite is the soufflé, though it does not). The main dishes also do not disappoint. Offering a changing menu of both meat and fish options, they are always full flavored and hearty. Desserts have included crème brulee, crunchy tarts, and homemade hazelnut ice cream and sorbets.

The staff is also incredibly friendly, and I have on more than one occasion been given a complimentary sparkling wine with my meal. Even in the winter, the heat lamps make the patio seating bearable, although the interior is cozy as well. That this bistro is one of many French restaurants in Kagurazaka only highlights how much it’s food and service stands out.
http://www.wine-bourgogne.com/

What the hell is this food?

Grill Manten Boshi

Grill Manten Boshi is a type of restaurant that is certainly seen fairly often in Tokyo, and yet, I don’t think there is yet a name for it. The décor of false brick and dark wood is decidedly western, as is the menu of California wines, beef and tongue stew, onion soup, and gratin. And yet it is a kind of charming, idealized western character that is itself uniquely Japanese. I will admit that the Azabu-juban branch of this popular chain is the most convincing, with its basement location in a smaller building better lending itself to a cozy old-world feel. In the Ikebukuro location, at the top of the Tobu Department Store’s Spice restaurant area, the décor may seem rather contrived, however, the nighttime view from the 14th floor is a plus.

The menu features various sets, as well as reasonably priced main dishes that offer sizeable portions. Some notables on the menu are omelet rice curry, rolled cabbage, hayashi rice, and hamburg steak. All of which fit into this category of western-ish Japanese food. The truly remarkable dishes, in my mind, are the beef and tongue stew and the chicken mushroom gratin. The large steaks of beef cheek and tongue are soft enough to cut with a fork, and the rich and piquant stew is slow cooked and added to week after week. The gratin is smooth, creamy, with flavorful chicken leg meat and perfect with the crunchy grilled cheese on top. Grill Manten Boshi has been occasionally featured on Japanese television, showing how the chefs create such a uniform and smooth béchamel sauce for their gratin. All of the white sauce, once made, is folded into a large cheesecloth, and twisted to strain the sauce through. The process alone takes two chefs to handle. I certainly wouldn’t try it at home, but the result is a decadent dish, and nothing like the frozen gratin I sometimes pick up at the grocer.

The main draw of these restaurants, as you might guess, is not the camp décor. At the typical fast food omelet rice joint, it can be hard to understand why this spongey egg dish, often with orange tomato rice, was created at all. The omelet rice at Grill Manten Boshi, however, is moist and melds well with the heavy beef stew. The dish is simple, and does not try to put too many tastes one plate (ever had a fast-food omelet rice with tomato rice, half-curry, half cream sauce, and tonkatsu on top?). Grill Manten Boshi’s execution of this and other western-influenced Japanese favorites, explains why these dishes became favorites in the first place.
Grill Manten Boshi (グリル満天星)

Azabujuban, Tokyo 1-3-1 Apoli Biru(アポリアビル) B1F

〒171-8512 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 1-1-25 Spice Ikebukuro Tobu 14F (スパイス池袋東武14F )

Rock-Paper-Potatoes

Gyros Hero

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Located less than five minutes from Takadanobaba station, Gyros Hero is the ideal spot for a study date, and yet I rarely find it full of students, or full of anyone for that matter. Inspired by the Greek islands, the white and blue motif of this casual sidewalk café/restaurant is clean without feeling sterile. With wireless internet, and even an in house computer, provided, I head over here when I want to focus and get some work done. It doesn’t hurt of course, that I hardly have to spend money to do so.

With gyros costing only ¥390 (¥580 for a gyros set), I can eat a great hot lunch here, for less than a coffee at Starbucks, and, unlike Starbucks, they don’t kick you out after an hour. My favorite is the classic tzatziki gyro, the cool yogurt flavor mixes well with the ground meat, fresh tomatoes, and soft bread. The last time I went they also had a tasty lamb gyro special for the day, which was a treat. Vegetarians can try the mozzarella and tomato gyros, Greek salad (unfortunately short on the feta cheese I found), or falafel and fries, which is great, albeit small.

At such low prices, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of service. Recently deciding to brave the outdoor patio, my friend and I were still a bit chilly, even with the provided blankets. Without our even having to ask, the cheerful manager/owner(?), who remembers the customers’ names, came outside to make sure we were alright, and set up a space heater by our table.

So what are the downsides? Well, there is only one. Part of the charm of this place for me has always been the “jyan-ken potato”. Every customer used to play “rock, paper, scissors” with the manager for a free small order of French fries. On my last two visits, however, this game has been noticeably absent. I’ve been too shy to ask why, but on your next visit, see what happens and let us know…

http://www.gyros-hero.com/

Girly desserts with a view

LOHB

I hate to say it, but this is the girliest restaurant I have ever been to. I have more than once noted that all the patrons are groups of young women, with the exception of the occasional couple on a date. Why is this, are women more susceptible to the promise of healthy dining? Perhaps. Case in point: the last time I dined with so many women was at a “detox tabehodai” (all you can eat). An oxymoron of course, made only more ridiculous by the fact that it included hearty beef curry amongst its buffet.

But back to Lohb, a restaurant with the so-called “Natural&Healthy[sic]&Beauty” theme: in addition to be generally populated by women customers, there is a true sense of pretty in the décor, which incorporates water, crystal, plants, and lush, cushiony seating. The upstairs couches (pictured above) seem like they’d be ideal for a date, although I have not tried them out. Seated by the window downstairs on my visit, I recognize immediately at least one feature that should be attractive to any visitor. The full glass walls of both floors of this restaurant look directly out onto Shibuya Station crossing. My tourist friend was delighted, however, when she immediately began snapping pictures on one visit, we were told—both in English and Japanese—that photos were not allowed. When we pressed the matter (after all, we were not taking photos of the restaurant’s interior), we were told that the buildings across the street would make the restaurant pay money if they allowed visitors to take photos of the very public and often photographed square.

With a good fifteen photos already in the can, we shrugged off this odd rule and checked out the menu. There did seem to be some genuinely healthy dishes, as well as a great selection of unusual cocktails, many boasting high vitamin content. The most interesting and healthy choices came from the changing seasonal menu, which featured a few different dishes using wild rice, and we enjoyed a smooth risotto. Off of the year-round menu we liked the beef carpaccio, although how it would benefit our beauty, I’m not quite sure. We also had a light, albeit unremarkable proscuitto and rucola pizza, and some nama harumaki (fresh spring roll), which fit the healthy bill, but did not wow us .

We finished off with the dessert plate (pictured above), which was definitely the highlight. Everything on it was just as it should be: sweet, rich, and probably pushing us on the road towards heart-attacks. So do not come to Lohb for the healthy food. Do not come for the photo opportunities. Come when you want a great view, food of a solid quality with some seasonal stand-outs, décor done all the way, and maybe when you want to impress a girly-girl.
LOHB

渋谷区道玄坂2-3-1 LikesBldg 4・5F
TEL 03-3464-1919

Crepes: the slow food version

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Au Temps Jadis Creperie

Tucked away on a little side street between Shibuya and Harajuku, it is not a surprise that the existence of Au Temps Jadis Creperie was passed down to me through a string of friends, each showing it to the next as a secret, sweet discovery. I, for one, hate the fake whip-cream-filled crepes sold in stands all around Shibuya and Harajuku both, and when I was invited to meet a friend for a crepe brunch; I agreed only to be polite.

She took me to Au Temps Jadis, of course, and as soon as we climbed down the brick staircase into the airy dining room, past the red-checkered tablecloths and out onto a patio table by a marble fountain, I realized that dining here had not been an idle suggestion. The fragrant smell of cheeses and eggs cooking was phenomenal, and we settled into our menus, choosing between savory crepes such as salmon and cream cheese, and sweet ones such as banana chocolate.

I settled in to my Orangina and spinach, cream sauce, and ham galette, savoring the richness of the flavors, freshly combined as to still remain distinct. The lunch set comes with a salad and a little dessert of a small sugared cream puff. Although it started to rain and we were moved inside, the early afternoon atmosphere of this busy place so delighted us that we moved on to after-lunch hot cocoas, which were creamy and a perfect finish.

No matter when I return to Au Temps Jadis Creperie, each time the decadence of flavors and homey atmosphere feel like the perfect Sunday morning retreat.

http://www.many.co.jp/jadis/salon.html

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Come for the ambience, not the food

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The Canal Cafe

The Canal Café offers two possible dining options: the restaurant side café, which promises pizza and pasta in a traditional restaurant setting, and the deck-side café, which allows you to purchase food cafeteria style and bring your pet to dine by the canal with you. Visiting the deck side is a great idea for hanging out alone or with friends on a warm day. Soaking up the sun while watching children out in rowboats with their fathers is a pleasant backdrop for a long conversation.

On a recent winter afternoon, I visited the restaurant side for the first time. Sitting outside by the water, the view and ambience were equally as pleasant as the deck side, however, I wrongly expected the food there to be of a higher caliber than it’s take-out-style counterpart. Settling into a menu featuring a full page of pizza options, I was disappointed to find out that there were no pizzas being served that day. My friend and I ended up ordering a panini set and a curry set, and I ended up being disappointed by both. The Panini was not in fact a grilled Italian sandwich, rather it was a cold sandwich served on toasted French baguette. Not bad, but hardly remarkable. The Thai green curry was mediocre, and I became immediately suspicious that it had come out of one of those instant curry aluminum bags.

Once finished with our quickly cooling tea, my friend and I tried to get closer to a heat lamp that may or may not have been on (we couldn’t quite tell). Looking out onto the canal, people had started to rent out boats for the afternoon, and I watched a pig-tailed child lean out over the edge of a rowboat to feed some carp. The sun came out, and I started to think that maybe it isn’t always about the food after all.
http://www.canalcafe.jp/cafe/