How do 4 Russian-cuisine neophytes eat through 19 dishes and 24 drinks at Tokyo’s
most adored (and perhaps only?) Belarusian restaurant? Give them some vodka and a menu.
A dark dark dark black beer (highhhhhly recommended) and a double shot of ice cold Stolichnaya vodka in a frozen shotglass. Flanking an unspectacular thoroughfare near the Russian Embassy, lies a world in which vodka passes as water, and yuppies on Atkin’s diets run for dear life. On a recent outing with my 3 adventurous eating companions, our quest to self-challenge our own gastronomic familiarity was met with equal prowess played by the part of a very adept team of Belarusian chefs and waitresses who slung comments like, “You guys can really drink, huh?” I’ll take that as a compliment at a Belarusian restaurant any day.
Another vodka and black beer round began the journey. We started with the smoked salmon crepes, rolled with capers and decadent cheese sauce, which we knew we’d be seeing again. The potato pancake stuffed with warm baked meat and the stuffed paprika (red and yellow spliced bell pepper) showed us that what’s on the inside really counts. The stuffing trend continued with a few Golubtsys (stuffed cabbage rolls) and what my friend so eloquently describes as “Sumpin’ with sumpin’ inside”. But where he lacked verbosity, he made up for with appetite, challenging the burly white-hatted chefs to a duel of culinary adventure. Another black beer, another double shot of Stolichnaya vodka. And it was then that they pulled out their trump cards. The perfection of the Sour Cream Pork Stew left us begging for seconds; tender soft pork cutlets in tangy sour cream sauce sang a duet with the Beef Stroganoff, the Bolinchky, and as foreshadowed, another 4 orders of the salmon crepes.
While independent since 1990, the former USSR republic has continued to develop and refine its own distinct culinary culture. At one time, Belarusians used to be scornfully called bulbashi, or potato-eaters. Now though, restaurants like Minsk are showing Tokyoites the superlative truth, one dish at a time.
Minsk [Belarusian Home Cooking]
1-4-2 Azabudai Minato-ku, Tokyo
What? Has TokyoFoodie.com turned into an adult site? Well, not yet anyway! But the sexier that sushi gets these days, it’s little wonder that the above picture might be censored by your Japanese company’s internet security. A new underground group of architects, designers, and sushi chefs in West Tokyo has created a series of sushi parties, in which expert sushi chefs (think Tsukiji) combine top-quality sushi with modern sculpture-esque creations, chill lounge music, and a deep red speakeasy-like bar replete with models, sushi connoisseurs and designers. It ain’t cheap, but that manages to weed out the kaiten-sushi
scum crowd. As red lounge music filled the warm air, bursts of raw hirame wrapped around asparagus covered with black pepper filled our taste-buds. Soon after platters of salmon nigiri, came the toro, more than satisfying the purists who gave suspiciously peering eyes at the ikura wrapped in warm avocado on a bed of soft marinated cabbage.
The hamachi decadence and aforementioned Avocado wrapped in alternating layers with tuna heaven will thank you for bringing your appetite. The concoctions were accented with spices and novel combinations of fish and vegetables which look like mini cities filled with ikura people and mackerel freeways. Keep an eye out for these secret sushi extravaganzas happening around Tokyo. Sushi is in evolution.
Sexy Sushi Party
Secret Locations around Tokyo on the Den-en-toshi line.
Watch TokyoFoodie.com for announcements.
Well believe it or not, there are people here in Japan that actually don’t like sushi. Fair enough. But the other day I talked a friend, who doesn’t like sushi, into trying it out one more time before giving up, in a place of my choice. So I took her to Midori Sushi in Umegaoka, a sushi restaurant which gets a top grade in my black book for taste.
This trip ended up turning my friend’s sushi disliked mind 180 degrees towards the raw fish! (Hint: make sure you try out the aburi maguro ) Not only is the sushi in Midori Sushi extremely delicious but also very cheap. This combination of taste and low cost attracts people all over, so prepare to enter a queue. We had to wait in the queue, outside, for about 15 minutes in the pouring rain before getting into the queue inside the restaurant. This place is on my regular list and I have had to wait up to one hour!
Umegaoka 1-20-7 [Map],[web] Open 11am-2, 4:30-10:30pm (LO) daily. Tel: 3429-0066, 3429-1166
Midori Sushi is also in Ginza, Shibuya and several other locations but can’t guarantee the price nor the taste.
梅ヶ丘１－２０－７。[地図],[HP] 開いている時間は毎日午前１１時から午後２時までと４時半から１０時半がLO。電話：3429-0066, 3429-1166
If you walk out of this restaurant, and you haven’t loosened your belt, you haven’t truly had a Shamaim experience. Meaning “from the sky” in Hebrew, Tokyo’s premier Israeli restaurant serves up nonstop rich flavorful plates of everything from the familiar falafel, breaded steak, fried chicken and hummus to the rarer spicy carrots, garlicy tahini, tomato soup and basmati rice with lentils. Their all-you-can-eat set is incredible and diverse and even my friends who are *gasp* picky eaters, still find enough to satiate even their most tumultuous hunger.
Years ago, as legend goes, when Shamaim was merely an Israeli bar, the owner made falafel once a week. The demands for his falafel were so frequent that eventually the logical thing to do was open a full restaurant. The only complaint I could ever have with Shamaim is that the food is heavy, so heavy; walking home from Ekoda after a Shamaim visit is like lugging a suitcase through Shinjuku during rush hour. But alas, this is perhaps my own fault. An added treat for when you need some non-Japanese food and culture, is the bellydancing performances on Friday nights. Sure to bring out the hava-negila in your tastebuds.
Ekoda station on the Seibu Ikebukuro line.
Exit and turn right, pass McDonalds, then turn right at the T in the road. It’ll be 10 seconds down on your left. Second Floor.
If you want a ghetto style bar then this is the one! Hidden inside a maze of old style Japanese shops, I would guess that burglar alerted people would think twice before entering the maze at night. For the ones who dare to enter can find Namazu in the corner, closest to the Shimo station.
All wrapped in plastic to keep the heat inside during winter where no more then ten Japanese sized people can fit in. The owner serves cheep booze (glass of beer 300yen) from his single square meter booth surrounded by low volume acid jazz. On summer nights there are tables outside and loads of local Japanese… cozy but raw. Open day and night.
Shimo-Kitazawa 2-24 [Map]
Walking into Aveda, the spa and shop in Aoyama in which one could not possibly help but feel pampered by the bio-organic raw materials, offers of massages, aromatherapy, and yoga mats. Not to be overlooked though, is the attached Pure Cafe, a little bit of edible pleasure which leaves one walking out essentially levitating. Every day, Pure puts together sets, and you can choose your essentials, from soups, sandwiches, salads, cookies, and other dishes like vegan lasagna and torte.
I feel required to cover at least the iceberg of the Tokyo vegan scene, and even as an avid omnivore, I wholeheartedly recommend this spot to both my health-conscious friends, my hippie compatriots, and my omnivorous foodies. People often get scared away from veggie food, but Pure doesn’t just mash together a bunch of moldy vegetables into unrecognizable pate, they create simple dishes with simple sauces, food that looks like what it is, and that makes you feel like you are eating a gourmet forest. Also check out their organic wine and beverages and coffee and apparel to go!
5-5-21 Minami Aoyama
Bio Ojiyan Café
For those of us who grew up on oatmeal, eating a bowl of porridge hardly seems sufficient for dinner. But toss on some organic kimchi, grated daikon, raw tuna, and *gasp*, a hot dog that looks like a flower, and you’ve got yourself one grown-up bowl of ojiyan. This Shimo-kitazawa mainstay, although half-hidden just downhill from the quiet west exit, is frequently crowded, with fashionable hipsters and tired musicians drinking a wide array of teas, juices, and interesting natto-covered oatmeal bowls.
There are myriad varieties of toppings for your basic ojiyan concoction, and interesting seasonal ones abound in set-form as well. The homey atmosphere and large windows opening up to the street seem to swell with the rotating art exhibits which cover the exposed concrete all the way back to the couches in back. It’d be hard to remain stressed in an environment like this. The food is light yet filling, and the ambience always makes me feel at home. I’ll be moving in next Wednesday.
Bio Ojiyan Café
Shimo-kitazawa, West Exit.
Exit, turn left, and walk 2 blocks downhill
(Also a branch in Harajuku, but we recommend the relaxation and understatement and unpretension of the Shimokitazawa one.)
It would be quite an assumption to never dine in the depths of the malls attached to Tokyo’s train stations. Some station concourses have elegant oyster bar patios and expensive martini-lunch grills. The remainder of train station fare, most people presume, is usually limited to bentos and the ubiquitous to-go omiyage and set departments in the basements of many department stores.
Imagine my surprise then when I stumble across delicious authentic CHEAP Thai food (actually run by Thai people) in the heart of Shinjuku station. Keawjal has daily sets both for lunch as well as dinner, and an overwhelmingly extensive menu of all your favorite Thai dishes. They even have a little market on the side so you can buy ingredients to continue your spicy Thai feast at home. Where would we be without little cans of lychees soaking in syrup? You won’t impress your date with the candle-less group-at-a-table style seating, though you will earn some points for knowing about the best underground train station Thai food in Tokyo.
Shinjuku Station, Lumine 1
(Near the Oedo line entrance)
Hungry in Shibuya around noon? Curry-Yasan (カレーやさん) will totally take care of that. Be prepared to enter a queue though, which might make you wonder if Yon-sama is eating in there.
This tiny restaurant serves huge curry dishes with enthusiasm. My nutrition instinct tells me that one plate contains no less than 150.000 calories, but is somehow still very cheap – only 700 yen! Though I’m not sure what the owner is thinking closing the restaurant before 1pm, make sure you enter the queue early… and make sure you are hungry like the wolf!!!
Monkey fur, Zebra skin, jaguar, goat, and cow hide were draped around the periphery of the modified commercial basement and for a minute I felt like I wasn’t in the form-fitted establishments of minimalist-design-obsessed Japan. Ethiopian/Eritrean food was one of my reliable favs back in Berkeley/San Francisco and finding it delish and authentic in the middle of Naka-Meguro really made my January.
We went with the Mesob set course and although we were avid eaters, after African samosas, mango daiquiris, a bottle of honey wine, a cassis martini, wild goat and chicken kebabs, and somehow french fries?, we were barely unable to finish the main event: Injera (Ethiopian spongey bread) loaded with various lentil, lamb, and chicken dishes.
I’d go back there every week if my stomach, tastebuds, and wallet could handle it. It’s like an explosion in your mouth with a tumeric soundtrack spinning spicily sauntering sauteed chili pepper alliteration.
Oh! And they play reggae too!
Queen of Sheba comes highly recommended, and would make a great impressive date or a novel group outing. A bit pricey, especially with honey wine and interesting Ethiopian cocktails, but well worth the adventure.
Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. 1-3-1 Naka–Meguro. Meguro-ku. Tokyo JP, 153-0061. Japan. Phone +81 (0)3 3794 1801. http://www.queensheba.jp