Tag Archives: winter

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 )

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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/

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.)