Category Archives: Ebisu

Jamaican me hungry

Aalawi

This is serious comfort food. Comfort for when you’re sitting collapsed on a sidewalk corner crying because you’ve been lost in the Tokyo streets for three hours and missed two appointments. I’m serious. This is exactly how I first enjoyed one of Aalawi’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sandwiches, just after I first moved to Japan.

I had gotten takeout from this small restaurant in Ebisu, and while I left it sitting in its brown paper bag far longer than I’d planned, it still did the trick. The flavorful barbecued jerk chicken was heaped into a large sandwich of wheat bread, with fries and coleslaw on the side. Not a dainty sandwich, and certainly not a polite one to be eating on the street, but delicious.

I’m relieved to say that other than that first encounter, I have always eaten in at Aalawai’s. The exterior seems to be an elaborate diorama of a barbecue where I might prefer some real, usable outdoor seating, but inside, the bright muraled wall really punches up the casual décor at what is a fairly small restaurant. The constant reggae music in the background as well as heat from the open kitchen also add to the atmosphere (if you’re sitting at the bar on a summer day, the heat adds perhaps a little too much).

The jerk chicken or pork I’ve ordered has continued to be savory and satisfying, either in sandwich form, or next to rice. The restaurant uses its own original seasonings for the meat, and the result is a flavor that I’ll admit has stopped me from exploring other parts of the menu. On my list for future visits, however, are the stews and fish dishes on the menu, as well as the hard to find vegetable dishes, like collard greens.

Aalawi Ebisu 1-26-13. Tel: 03-5793-5027.

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Singapore (surprisingly) done right

Hainan Jiifan Shokudo

We walk through the pebbled entrance to Hainan Jiifan Shokudo and sit down to check out our paper placemats, which give us some “how to’s” on the specialty of the house: Singaporean Chicken Rice. Surprisingly, our cute placemat describes (in comic strip fashion) both how to eat it, as well as how to cook it. It’s a full recipe in fact, measurements and everything. Chicken, rice, sauce, cook the rice in chicken broth: doesn’t sound too hard, right?

Before we grab our placemats and head home to cook, however, we take a look around at the black and cream contrasting décor, which, with some flowery details, looks warm and not stark. The glass walls let in afternoon sun comparable to that of a sidewalk café, and their large, heavy, black-rimmed panes help the place look grounded and aged, not glossy. Impeccably designed this small restaurant has somehow managed to be both stylish, comfortable, and pretty (a decidedly un-stylish word).

So we’ll stay.

We order curry with roti parata, the famous chicken rice, shrimp and squid stir fried with cracked black pepper, and fruity cocktails and Singaporean beer. The seafood arrives first, and we chew on the perfectly cooked shrimp and squid, crunching down on the large chunks of black pepper, coarsely chopped. Sop up the last of the black pepper sauce with some jasmine rice, and we are ready to dig in to the chicken curry. Topped with plenty of fresh cilantro, the curry is rich and spicy; perfect with the flaky, light roti parata. The roti parata, just as fresh as one from a street stand in Singapore and still almost too hot to touch, tears off easily into strips to dip into the curry. We order some more to enjoy with our curry number two, thinner, and with a tomato base.

And of course the chicken rice. A deceptively simple dish, Singaporean Chicken Rice is not as easy as it sounds, and a Singaporean friend says this is one of the few places that gets it right. The rice is perfectly infused with chicken flavor and not at all greasy. The chicken is moist and perfectly cooked, sliced and ready to be dipped into a combination of the three vibrant sauces. We gobble it up, trying different ratios of rice to chicken to sauce, only looking up when our waiter stops by to refill our sauce trays.

A little mango pudding and we are on our way, stopping as we pay to notice that Hainan Jiifan Shokudo sells an attractive cookbook including many of the dishes we had eaten or salivated over on the menu. Admiring all the color pictures we thumb through and consider trying to recreate our Hainanese/Singaporean experience at home. But we put the book down and pay, knowing we’ll be back.

海南鶏飯食堂(Hainan Jiifan Shokudo)

Ebisu 1-21-14, Costa de Verano 1F. [behind Zest]

Tel: 3447-3615.

Your evening is Ubcra

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Kyo Restaurant Ubcra

When I’m headed off to some romantic mysterious land, this is how I imagine the luxury dining car. Kyo restaurant Ubcra is warm, dark, and cozy, and its design takes full advantage of the small, rectangular shape of the building as small booths line the walls single-file and give you the feeling that you are entirely alone. For a little more excitement, seats at the bar provide a great view of the cooks preparing yaki-tori, and modern couches and tables at the balcony are a great place for people watching through the restaurant’s two-story glass front.

The extensive menu (in both English and Japanese) makes this upscale izakaya an ideal place to become a regular. Choosing from yaki-tori, sashimi, tempura, nabe, salads, and more, my favorites in past visits have included a light and crunchy lotus root tempura, fried to perfection, to be dipped in wasabi salt. Also notable is the tororo sashimi salad and the tsukune (I’ve heard a rumor that the chicken here is free-range but…). Of course, as it is Kyoto-style fare, yuba is featured fresh, wrapped around shrimp and cream cheese spring rolls, and in croquettes. Pages of options for drinks show a good mix, particularly of shochu, and the specialty cocktails are great, particularly the soy milk one (although stay away from the mojito, which tastes like soda with a little Listerine thrown in).

Having the same owner as the cheesy aquarium walled, over-designed Bar Luxis down the street, Ubcra is surprisingly chic and relaxed, with food to match.

Kyo Restaurant Ubcra

1-3-11, ebisu-nishi, shibuya-ku, tokyo

Phone 03 5428 5057

Open 7 days a week, 5pm-5am