Tokyo Station City North Court – 利久

During my trip to Japan over winter vacation, I was fortunate to experience the mid-December debut of North Court, the newest expansion of Tokyo Station City. I’ve written previously about GranSta (glowing reviews), which is in the basement just beyond the Yaesu Central Underground Entrance. North Court is similar in style and content but much smaller. It’s on the first floor close to the Yaesu Central Exit…right above GranSta, I believe.

One of the highlights is a Kinokuniya with a limited selection of quality beer and bento. For me, the best part was a branch of the famous Sendai-based restaurant Rikyu (利久), which is well known for it’s 牛タン – yup, beef tongue.

Japan introduced me to a wide variety of meats I’d never had the pleasure of enjoying before, and tongue was one of these. I first had thinly sliced cuts at yakiniku restaurants, but when I went to Sendai in 2005 to take the JLPT, a friend and I randomly bumped into a Sendai-based JET while shopping. We asked for a dinner recommendation, and he (she? I can’t remember) told us to go to Rikyu. We were not disappointed.

It became a ritual for me. I had it the night before I took JLPT 2 and the next year the night before I took JLPT 1. Passed both. I went for a job interview in Sendai a few years later, and sure enough I had it before the job interview. Which I subsequently passed.

I picked up a bento to enjoy on the train ride up to Fukushima – it was fantastic. Unlike yakiniku tongue cuts, Sendai tongue is thick and beefy with riveted cuts to help the meat cook. They have that al dente texture that Japanese love (and some foreigners hate…especially when it involves things like tendons and cartilage).

Highly recommended if you’re ever looking to pick up lunch for your shinkansen trip.

Kyoto Doughnut Plant

On my recent trip to Japan, I stopped by Kyoto and stayed with some friends I knew from Fukushima. Before I got on the train back to Tokyo, I picked up some doughnuts at the new Doughnut Plant in the Yodobashi Camera a few blocks from Kyoto Station.

As you may or may not know, I’m a big fan of Doughnut Plant in Japan. This time I managed to pick up the super rare 限定 Houji-cha doughnut that is only available in Kyoto.

Unfortunately it was very disappointing, especially after I had a fantastic Houji-cha latte at Starbucks (also only available in Kyoto). The doughnut had very little Houji-cha flavor. I really couldn’t taste the difference between it an a regular glazed doughnut. The carrot cake doughnut, however, was amazing.

Although this feels a little unfair, no? Is it legal to shape carrot cake into a doughnut and call it a doughnut? I guess so. Doughnut Plant shows off their expertise by threading cream cheese icing through the middle. Very nice touch.

And to top everything off, the weather was clear enough to see Mt. Fuji from the train.

号外 – Oyster Day Shirts!

Happy Oyster Day!

This is the third year I’ve celebrated Oyster Day, and the first year I’ve made T-shirts for the event (thanks to a suggestion from a gung-ho bivalvaholic in the area). You can see year one posts here and here, and last year I began my series of Murakami translation posts on Oyster Day. This year I need the long Labor Day weekend for some final touches on what should be an exciting month of Murakami Madness, so もう少々お待ちください.

Collabo-Ramen – Bassanova

Saying my goodbyes in Japan was tough, but being able to go out and celebrate with friends (along with the hope that I’ll be back there in the not too distant future) made it a lot easier. For one of the many finales, I went out for ramen with Brian. We checked out Bassanova, where Keizo Shimamoto, author over at Go Ramen!, works. They are well known for their Green Curry Soba, which is creamy and spicy – ramen perfection. I also appreciate that they serve it in reserved sizes – it would be easy to gorge on a massive bowl, but the size keeps people coming back for more (and prevents them from becoming total fatties). Check out Brian’s photos here. Here is the last episode of Collabo-Ramen for a while:

Collabo-Ramen – Bassanova from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

In Search of Lost Ramen

On JET, my days started early and ended early – I was finished by 4:15 and had plenty of time after school to make dinner, watch TV, read and write. I could take my time. Moving to Tokyo, however, made my free time much more valuable. I spent more time commuting and had to work longer hours. For a long time my Tokyo life strategy was to eat meals as quickly as possible, meals that required little to no prep time so that I could get back to a productive activity. I am now a master of the 30-minute bowl of lentils and the 5-minute tuna fish sandwich. I have also eaten my fair share of bento.

As my time in Japan has started to wind down, I’ve found myself a little restless. I can’t really start or even continue many of my projects; I’m not working full time anymore; and I also feel a strong need to fill my Japan-sensors to full capacity before I disappear myself back to New Orleans. So I’ve been wandering a bit recently in search of small neighborhood restaurants – 食堂 or ramen restaurants, anything really. I’d always sought out great beer, but now I’ve been taking my time with food.

I have three trusty allies. The first is my map, which I wrote about here. I’ve had it for a long time but have never used it as thoroughly as Brian has. After hanging out with him a while, I’ve realized he carries it with him constantly, and whenever anyone has a recommendation for ramen or a museum, he marks it down on the map for future reference. Respect.

The second is Ramen Supleks Database. This I found via Ramen Adventures. Just plug in a station name and up pops a list of restaurants with reviews and pictures. Great Japanese reading practice. I’ve found a couple tasty places including an evil-good 家系 place in Omori and an interesting modern place near 戸越公園 – that gives you the full extent of my wanderings.

Another less reliable restaurant listings website is Tabelog. This site has more than just ramen, but it also has a bunch of restaurants that are promoted by ads. Basically you can always ignore the first two or three restaurants on any given search because they are ad-supported.

So my advice to Tokyo residents is this: Force yourself to explore the 20-minute vicinity around your apartment on foot. You might find a useful train line you never considered using before. Or a great restaurant. (Or at least a mediocre one run by really nice people.) Or just some cool neighborhoods that help you fill up your Japan sensors.

Collabo-Ramen – けいすけ二代目

My parents were here for sakura season, so Brian and I took them to our final stop on Tokyo Ramen Street – Keisuke Nidaime. I do not recommend this shop if you have cats – you will leave covered with the delicious scent of shrimp and lobster, irresistible to most felines.

This was my second time at Keisuke Nidaime. The first time I had the lobster ramen, and this time the shrimp wonton. They are both amazing, and I recommend trying both. The lobster broth is slightly thicker. I think I’ll definitely be back one more time to try the “super-thick” lobster tsukemen.

CollaboRamen – けいすけ二代目 Keisuke Nidaime from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

ジンギスカン ≠ Genghis Khan

ジンギスカン =    

Genghis Khan =  

This inequality is only sometimes true; although, when it is true, it also holds true that ジンギスカン = incredibly tasty. Check out my review of Kitaichi Club, an Oimachi Jingisukan-ery, over at CNNGo Tokyo.

The Internet is divided on the actual origin of the term jingisukan. English Wikipedia seems pretty confident in its proclamation that the grill resembled the helmets of Mongolian warlords, but I couldn’t find any Japanese links that supported that point. A link provided by Japanese Wikipedia seems to suggest that Japanese chefs gave the cuisine a cool name so that they could deal with a surfeit of sheep. It sprung up in areas with lots of sheep – Hokkaido and other parts of northern Japan – and I can totally see some chef saying, “Where else do they have sheep? Mongolia? Well, hell, let’s call it Genghis Khan.”

Collabo-Ramen – むつみや

Shop number three on Tokyo Ramen Street. Mutsumiya is a miso ramen restaurant from the small town of Tsukigata, Hokkaido. Until I started doing Collabo-Ramen, this is basically the only kind of ramen I ever had – thick, savory miso soups with bright yellow noodles and lots of garlic for flavoring. One of my friends on the JET Program theorized that miso is the least difficult ramen to mess up, which is why so many people like it. All of the other types of ramen are more subtle, and I never really bothered to seek out anything other than tonkotsu when I visited Kyushu and the occasional bowl at Ippudo in Tokyo. So Mutsumiya was very familiar. It was a solid bowl but maybe not all that spectacular or unique. Brian had their monthly special, which looked really good.

Collabo-Ramen – むつみや Mutsumiya from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Collabo-Ramen – ひるがお

I went to the Yokohama Ramen Museum in the summer of 2003, and back then I didn’t know anything except that miso ramen was tasty as hell. I walked around the exhibits a bit, took a peek at the different restaurants that had set up shop in the museum, chose a Hokkaido shop that had miso ramen, and bought my ticket at the vending machine before sitting down at a table. When I looked down at the stub, it read 塩. My first reaction was Damn, that does not say miso. My second reaction was What the hell is that kanji? The staff answered my question with a はい、しおです and delivered my bowl just seconds later. I ate the ramen, but my heart wasn’t in it. I mean, salt ramen? What the hell is that? Ramen is already pretty salty, why would you want to make it even saltier?

Ever since then I’ve been biased against shio ramen. I never ordered it and never even bothered to figure out what the deal was. That is until last Friday, when Brian and I checked out ひるがお at Tokyo Ramen Street. Brian gave me the low down on what shio ramen is:

Collabo-Ramen ひるがお Hirugao from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I think I am much better prepared to appreciate shio ramen now. Shio ramen isn’t necessarily saltier than shoyu ramen; it just uses salt rather than shoyu or miso to give the soup its punch. I still haven’t had a killer bowl of shio ramen, but hopefully I’ll be able to take a trip to Ganko in the relatively near future. Nate from Ramenate made their salt ramen sound extremely delicious. “Salt ramen topped with a layer of piping hot shrimp oil”? FUCK yeah.