Tag Archives: hearty

You can dress her up but you can’t take her out

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Chabuya

When my favorite neighborhood ramen shop closed to open a bigger, fancier restaurant in Omotesando Hills, I nearly cried. Chabuya had operated two separate shops in Gokokuji, a dimly lit, shio-ramen shop that seated about eight, and a brighter, larger miso-ramen shop with glass windows to the kitchen to watch the noodles being made. Shio-ramen has always been my personal favorite, and I frequented the smaller Chabuya, buying a meal ticket from the machine at the door and sitting down to the stylish long black stone table, so uncharacteristic of the usual utilitarian ramen shop design. The ramen was beautifully presented, and the chashu (pork) was sliced paper-thin; the best I had tasted.

After successfully opening Mist in Omotesando Hills, Chabuya is back in Gokokuji, with a few changes. Sadly, the smaller shop has not re-opened, but I have now made a few trips to the remaining Gokokuji Chabuya. Still brightly lit, the meal ticket machine has been replaced by a suited host, who walks you the three feet to your seat at the counter, and hands you a menu. The new menu now offers both the miso and shio varieties, and the broth is just as rich and satisfying as I remembered. Extra pork can still be added, and I definitely recommend it.

The feeling of the shop has changed, however. On more than one occasion, I have been left to wait for my waiter to order. Candles now on the tables are out of place and combined with the waiter/host, they give the feeling of a restaurant trying to dress up as more than it is. What was once a refreshingly simple ramen shop is now a pretentious one, but the ramen will keep me coming back.
http://www.chabuya.com/

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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.

No need to break chains

Imahan

Restaurants where I can slide my feet back and forth against tatami mats are always soothing. As is this restaurant, where I slide my feet along the smooth wooden raised floors, decorated in tradition style, down the hall to the private tatami mat room in which we are seated. The small stone garden by the window is a nice touch, and I am surprised to learn that Imahan is a chain.

Chain restaurants are definitely not just cheap fast food joints, as I have learned in Japan, and lately, I’ve been devoting some time to trying out some of Tokyo’s benchmark institutions, despite the fact that they’ve often parlayed their success into better real estate and multiple locations. Imahan is definitely one of these. Established 112 years ago, and with locations throughout the city, Imahan is not exactly off the beaten path. As someone who likes to try out little, family-owned, or funky hole-in-the-wall places, however, Imahan was certainly off my beaten path.

We started with smooth thick sesame tofu, steamed root vegetables, and cool squid salad, and continued on to a delicious sashimi plate in our set lunch. Then onto a clear stew with mushrooms, beans, carrot, and daikon, which was hearty and satisfying. But of course it was the unforgettable main event that we had come for: the meat for the sukiyaki/gyunabe was marblelized and set out in large, thinly sliced pieces. Unlike some lower market joints, two waitresses in kimono arrived to cook the sukiyaki for each end of our table. The sauce was very shallow in the pan, they always seemed to know when to add more, exactly when to turn the meat over, and just how long each vegetable needed to be cooked.

At the end, each individual bowl of raw egg was served with the sweet meat and vegetables at just the same time. The juicy meat and egg were gone in seconds, and to my surprise, our bowls were taken away. Unlike at other sukiyaki restaurants, we were given fresh egg in our bowls for each helping. So on the second go around, the ratio of egg to sauce to meat to vegetable was completely unchanged, and perfect. I had no idea sukiyaki could feel so luxurious.

Of course, as most sets do, there was some sort of dessert at the end. An ice cream? A sorbet? Was there tea? In the amazement of having eaten such phenomenal dish, I have to admit anything that followed was quite a blur.
Imahan

Suzunoya Head office Building 6F
1-20-11 Ueno Taito-ku, Tokyo

TEL: 81-3-5688-0754

(Also other locations throughout Tokyo)

What were we drinking?

Joumon

While most restaurants in Roppongi polarize into the super posh or decidedly not ( China Café 8, anyone?), somehow the Joumon vibe has avoided ending up on either end of the trashy-flashy spectrum. Right in the middle, the inspired design of Joumon is cool, while somehow still earthy and warm. This a laid back yet impeccably decorated joint would seem more part of the scene somewhere quirky and hip, and yet here it is, just down the street from Asahi Television headquarters.

Specializing in kushiyaki, all the traditional favorites were delicious and taken off the grill at the exact right moment. We loved the hearts, pork calbi, and tsukune, and the lotus root wrapped in bacon was good enough that we ordered seconds. Happily puzzled to find a cheese section in the kushiyaki menu, we enjoyed the skewered smoked cheese and camembert.

There were also some unexpected treats to change up the rhythm of our meal. A stewed pork dish was smooth and light, and an enormous croquette bomb, sitting in tartar sauce with a soft-boiled egg in center was rich and crunchy. We also sample the foie gras liver pate, which while irreproachable, would have been better as part of a different meal, with wine perhaps, which we were not drinking.

What were we drinking? Oh boy. Here is where Joumon really shines. The selection of shochu is the speciality, although the variety of choices is matched in pretty much any other drink category. Our friendly and genuine waiter led some of us to the “Kureha Royal” Umeshu, a unique plum wine made using Earl Grey tea, which was truly a revelation.

The only weakness to this otherwise strong menu was the dessert. While the brownie, creme brulee, and quickly forgotten third dessert that we ate were tasty, even the ones I can remember clearly didn’t leave much of an impression.

Sometimes a place can be impressive simply by being solid in all areas. Joumon is definitely worth a second visit, although after this first one, we are already planning to become regulars.

Joumon

5-9-17 Roppongi

Minato-ku, Tokyo

03-3405-2585

Modernizing the Quaker, Aggrandizing Porridge

Bio Ojiyan CaféOjiyan

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

http://www.mfs11.com/

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.)