I traveled back to Tokyo in October and have meant to post my chow diary. Things are kind of slow these days on this board Japan-wise, other than Omotesando pizza hunts, so here goes....Will post in installments. I've tried to detail prices, locations, and include photos.
I purposely avoided the wretched food on the flight over to indulge in my mother-in-law's spread the first hungry night I arrived. I was expecting a small sashimi platter with a few of her homemade dishes. As it turned out, she wasn't sure what time I would arrive and so waited for me to get there before ordering the sashimi from a neighborhood sushi place, rather than the usual and dependable Odakyu Department store fish. Bad idea. Both Dad and I agreed it was lousy quality chu-toro (fatty tuna), hotate (scallop), ika (squid), and a few other things. Just wasn't fresh. The meal was saved by mom's plump and delicious haru-maki (spring rolls). Loaded with shrimp and two kinds of onions, along with garlic and ginger, it was worth it all to go through a whole plate full of those bad boys. She had made the mix earlier and simply rolled them up and fried them on the spot. Having sat in their own juices all day, each roll bursted with flavor.
In Tokyo, met up with friends in Harajuku not far from "Fujimama's Restaurant". Ended up right across from there, down the small side street, at the little gyoza (chinese dumpling) shop called Harajuku Gyoza Lou. Just a U-shaped counter and a few tables. We sat at the counter and went through several rounds of yaki-gyoza (grilled) and sui-gyoza (lightly boiled). Nothing mind blowing, but definitely tasty. A pleasant surprise were the little side dishes they offered. Fresh cabbage in a light vinegar and oil, bean sprouts with a dollop of tangy meat sauce, and sliced cucumber with miso paste for dipping. I liked all three, but ordered seconds on the fresh cabbage. Then, things then started to pick up steam. Yoyogi Park, a party in Kamiyacho, ridiculous pubs and karaoke, plenty of drinks to go around a few times. Suddenly the day was all gone and it was late in neon Tokyo and we hadn't eaten. Where to go? Against my better judgment and my wishes really, we ended up at "Zabon" in Roppongi. Used to be one of my favorite ramen shops. A thick miso broth with slivers of pork and interestingly enough, julienned cabbage and chopped crusty fried onion. Zabon's ramen wasn't the type to finesse you with a subtle broth. It was the type that wacked you on the head and let you know it was there with a bold miso flavor and the sinful fat of some poor creature...Hmm, that doesn't sound as romantic as I meant it to be. But please understand, this was one of my serious "go to" shops. Unfortunately these days, it's really gone... downhill it seems. I had gone the year before actually and hadn't been happy with my ramen and had left it half eaten. I ate even less this time. What's the problem? Don't know exactly. But the oilyness and fat seems to settle funny toward the top. And the noodles seem overly starchy. The chashu (pork), which I once praised, started to seem like overkill. There's different guys working there now too. Cheerful older Japanese guys instead of the grumpy Chinese guys who used to be there. Perhaps the trade-off is angst for quality. Regardless, I'm sworn to Ichiran in the neighborhood for a late night ramen fix. Who knows though, Zabon could turn it around.
Restaurant: Harajuku Gyoza Lou
Dish ordered: yaki,sui-gyoza, small side dishes, oolon-hai (shochu cocktail)
Price: less than 1500 JY
Dish ordered: Miso-chashu
Price: 1000 JY
Here's a photo of my exact order I found on some guy's ramen page. Guess there's always someone more hardcore than you. Note- this picture looks rather appetizing. Photo (not mine): http://www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~tacky/pho...
Here's the Japanese link to Ichiran which seems to be expanding with more and more shops in Tokyo every month- http://www.ichiran.co.jp/index.html
After waaaay too much shochu in Tokyo, it wasn't until the evening I could eat. As it was, had some dinner plans after 8pm, and driving around in my friend's car all day, was limited in dining options to a local conbini (convenience store). It wasn't a 7-11 or Lawson is all I can remember. One of those 2nd or 3rd tier chains in Japan. I grabbed a bag of soy nuts and spotted an interesting little tsukune (chicken ball) onigiri (rice ball) in the prepared food section. Not my usual bag of tricks, but I had the guy heat it up in the oven and for 130 YEN, it was a tasty little treat. Washed it down with some Mitsuya Cider which is a Japanese soft drink with about twice the amount of carbonation of other soft drinks and doesn't taste like cider really, but like..I don't really know what. White grapes or something. Anyway, this all kept my stomach in equilibrium till we found a restaurant. We were meeting a friend and had driven around the area near Tsurugamine station in a totally, and I mean totally, anonymous part of Yokohama, looking for a promising izakaya type place. All the requisite chains were represented but we finally settled on a small place with blackboard specials written outside. They were all seafood dishes. Our kind of place.There was just one guy working there by himself. A couple of tables had small groups and a couple of tables had yet to be bussed. Anyhow, on to the chow. We settled on a chu-toro, hotate, and uh, something else sashimi set, hiyako (chilled tofu), nama sazae (raw conch?), edamame, and a few other things I can't remember. Maybe some kara-age...The tofu was real nice. Nothing fancy. A standard Japanese dish- a block of tofu topped with some katsuo bushi (smoked bonita shavings), chopped green onion, and grated ginger. Add a dash of soy sauce on top and it was all simply devine. This would probably be $6-8 in NYC but was less than $3 on this menu. The fish and hotate were good and fresh. The highlight was definitely the sazae. (Always reminds me of "Sazae-san", the name of a popular long running cartoon in Japan). We had a choice between having it steamed or raw and went with the raw. Sazae has a great consistency. A kind of snap in the way it feels in your teeth. Difficult to express in English, but when you eat fresh shellfish you can understand it. The chef had simply sliced it up for us and we dipped it a bit in soy sauce and plowed through it. Except for the very end of it buried in the shell, it's not a bitter food and really has, I think, a pleasent strong flavor. And unlike, say oysters, won't linger in your mouth in a stubborn way.
Restaurant: no idea of the name
Cuisine: seafood izakaya
Dish ordered: sashimi, tofu, fried chicken, sazae
Price: It was a group thing. But I paid less than 3000 JY. Closer to 2000.
Here's a photo of sazai sashimi: http://www4.ocn.ne.jp/~marukyu/new/ry...
Here's a photo of Sazae-san: http://www.nikotama-kun.jp/fuukei_mus...
Next posting: fast food tempura, more ramen, and the maybe the best Indian food in Tokyo.