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Posts from the ‘Japanese’ Category

International Intrigue: Yo! Sushi

yo sushi beltI don’t generally get excited about U.K. imports that interpret Asian cuisine. I still haven’t been to Wagamama, though I do frequent Wasabi at least once a week because it’s a block from my office and they have passable ready-made poke bowls–and just added bizarrely flavored popcorn to their repertoire. (This routine made me recently think about lifestyle creep. When I started my job–jesus, ten years ago–I wouldn’t spend more than $5 on lunch and now don’t blink at $12. I’m still too cheap to spend that daily, though. I only go to the office two to three times per week so it’s justifiable.)

yo sushi menu

But Yo! Sushi? I can stand a little novelty. Conveyor belt sushi has never really thrived in NYC and, sure, it’s not the highest quality or the best value in the city. You could do worse, though, for entertainment while dining, and you’re not restricted to what whizzes past you. You can order both sushi and non-sushi items from the menu.

yo sushi collage

When I first showed up at 6pm, there were only a few plates passing by but by 6:30pm the rotating display was much fuller. Seven plate colors dictate prices: from a $3.50 green to an $8 yellow. I think I spent around $35 with a cup sake and a few beers but I by no means consumed a lot of food. There were some shrimp tempura rolls in there, off-belt scallop nigiri, tuna carpaccio, all shared.

yo sushi fruit salad

 

You could pay $4.50 for fruit salad, if you’re that kind of monster.

Despite this branch being touted as the first US location, that’s completely untrue. Just like Uniqlo when it first came to America, Yo! Sushi originally tested the waters in a few New Jersey malls and then shuttered so quietly no one seemed to notice it coming or going. There are now also locations in Boston, Sarasota, Florida, and at Westbury Commons. 

Yo! Sushi * 23 W. 23rd St., New York, NY

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Two Meals in Eugene

mame duo

Mame It took the longest time to realize this restaurant was pronounced mah-may not like mame as in Auntie. Sushi in Eugene is something I never thought I’d care to experience but I told my sister I would take her and her husband out for her birthday and she chose this place, which requires reservations weeks in advance, not typical of this town, because Mame is tiny but also because it has a good reputation.

The sushi was very good, a mix of traditional and creative. I didn’t parse it. We were just drinking a well-priced Honjozo sake and having a good time. (The server animatedly described every single bottle on the menu. This would be weird in NYC–or I suppose, Tokyo–but she was just excited about the list she’d put together.) Omakase starts at a bargain rate $20 so I went wild and asked for $40 per person.  The top photo illustrates what was presented for three. My fear was that Mame wasn’t the best idea for my sister’s vegetarian husband (both former vegans) was unfounded. Duh, it’s Eugene. He was presented with tons of vegetarian sushi, a noodle dish, followed by hand rolls that he couldn’t finish, and we were only charged $30 because the chef (I think the partner of the server) didn’t think the ingredients merited $40. The dinner was capped off with a free red bean cheesecake for the birthday girl.

My sister, with a critical eye, said that none of the diners looked like neighborhood types. I couldn’t tell because I have no idea what passes for upscale in Eugene. I had just seen a man with a hook for a hand in a bar. I guess not living under a bridge? The bathroom isn’t inside the restaurant. It’s outside, around the back. We were joking, after my sister returned, that a homeless guy was camped out in the bathroom and the wildly ebullient server overheard (there’s no private conversations in this space) and apologized. Eugene is very earnest.

The Vintage Probably not my first choice for brunch. The website makes it seem more modern, but it’s kind of fusty. Can you shoehorn a restaurant in a old house (I don’t think this is only an Oregon thing but it’s definitely not an NYC thing) and make it feel otherwise? I don’t really even do brunch but I hadn’t seen my friend from college for at least eight years and this was her pick (everyone in Eugene is more money-conscious than I’m used to in NYC, and I don’t hang out with anyone rich–this friend had been at the same retail job for 15 years, making $2.25 above minimum wage–and I didn’t want to inadvertently choose someplace pricey). There was a 20 minute wait for a table and another 20 minute wait for food. It’s all crepes during the day and fondue at night, in a two-story old house, self-described as “quaint.” Enough said.

Chains of Love: Benihana

I was in Las Vegas for business, which sounds more important than it was, but I can’t not mix business with pleasure so I turned it into a mini-vacation since I happened to be there during my boyfriend’s birthday (who has the same birthday as my ex-boyfriend and my sister’s ex-husband, all different years) and flights from where he lives (Portland) are fast and cheap.

We’d planned the Benihana birthday when I was in Portland a few weeks prior. Neither of us had ever been. There is one in Beaverton, the only in Oregon, but on spur of the moment there were no reservations until 8:45pm (the restaurant closes at 9:30pm) and as I’ve learned (once years ago when I attempted to walk-in at the Edison, NJ location) you have to have reservations if you want to be subjected to the whole dinner and a show thing. I even signed up for the $30 off coupon if you dine in your birthday month. That’s really the only way to do it because Benihana is not exactly cheap, though you do get soup, salad, shrimp appetizer, rice, and ice cream. My Splash ‘n Meadow (hibachi steak and shrimp) was $42. (Strangely, this combo doesn’t appear on the Oregon or NYC menus).

benihana interior

There is a newer Benihana location on the strip but I was not risking it with a new-and-improved modern version. Benihana should not look like it was designed in 2016. This restaurant at the Westgate, neon visible all the way from my hotel, the El Cortez, downtown Vegas (distances are super deceiving in this flat, plunked-down city–Benihana was three miles away) was sprawling with little indoor fountains, bridges, and semi-private rooms. And most impressive to me was a roving photographer who would take your photo before the meal had begun, posing and staging diners like I haven’t encountered since my senior portrait, and putting two images in a padded display binder to sell you as you left. I had never encountered this practice, which I thought was extinct, yet there was a woman with a camera doing the same thing at the Peppermill where we went afterward, my third time at the infamous fire pit lounge. This time I had a valid excuse, “Thanks, but we just got our picture taken.”

Usually I’m opposed to communal dining. On my left was an adult child and spouse taking parents out to celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary. The father, wearing a baseball cap, arms crossed and stony nearly the entire meal, was not having any of it. On my right were women from somewhere in the South, one 30something and single, the other 40ish with a teenage daughter at home who was also celebrating a March 22 birthday, and were there for a different conference than mine and appeared to already have a few drinks in them. They were old pros at Benihana, made sure to tell staff it was the boyfriend’s birthday and were even trying to finagle free photos (no dice). Two of the six strangers had dietary restrictions (one, no shrimp, the other no meat at all, which if you have a legit allergy, um, the food is all being cooked on the same grill) and concerns were voiced about the sauce being too spicy.

benihana trio

I haven’t spoken about the food because it’s not really the point. You get your onion soup, salad with miso-ginger dressing, and chicken fried rice. My steak and shrimp had fine texture, and my medium-rare request was granted, but the beef barely tasted of anything despite lots of a vaguely teriyaki-ish sauce and butter splashed on it while it was grilled.  It reminded me of when I get desperate and buy meat at a C Town.

Whatever, Yan, who was Chinese, did the shrimp flipped into the toque trick, made lots of puns, “Have you ever seen butter fly?” as he plopped half a stick with his spatula, and…

benihana love

…clearly was a romantic at heart. All that you could hope for celebrating a birthday in Las Vegas.

benihana photos

And I even paid $40 for the not-super-flattering, dough-faced (far more common than doe-eyed, I’m afraid) photo, something I normally would not do, but being in a long distance relationship, I’m a little more frivolous when we get together every few months. The photographer said I reminded her of her sister-in-law “she has pin-up bangs too” and was trying to find a photo of her and I was cringing inside because I was worried she’d show me a chunky rockabilly chick. (I’ll own my growing plumpness but I think I dress fairly modern/contemporary. The default style in Vegas if you’re not touristy or preppy is ‘90s burlesque. I did not see a single person in four days that could be characterized as “hipster,” despite that tired term now being devoid of meaning.) The sister-in-law ended up being an attractive blonde with a flower in her hair, similar age as me, honestly a little too old for that look if I were being judgy. (Dita Von Teese is the only example I can think of as a 40+ woman who can get away with that retro style. It ages you after a certain point.) But everyone, servers, bartenders, Lyft drivers, was so nice in Vegas–or maybe everyone is chatty everywhere except NYC–I felt obligated to engage when my instinct is to brush off. It’s kind of scary now that I think about it. Considering I work at home 2-3 times per week and rarely go out on weekends these days, I think I had more extended conversations with people I just met in those four Vegas days than a month in NYC.

Benihana * 3000 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland (and Outskirts) One More Time

biwa quad

Biwa I suppose Portland Dining Month is much like New York Restaurant Week, except that I never partake of the latter. I only accidentally stumbled upon the prix fixe at Biwa because I had one last meal and it seemed negligent that I’d never been despite it being open for a decade. (Not really a completist though–not in a hurry to try oldies that passed me by while I’ve been hanging out in NYC a la Nostrana or the Coquines, Jacquelines, and Davenports of the world). It was a super great deal for $29 despite abysmal photographic evidence. Lots of otsumami, all nice (miso sesame cauliflower, pickles, dashi ricotta dip with rice crackers, pickled and fried mackerel) a little salmon sashimi with umeboshi, and then all at once daikon salad with salmon roe, buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) with I think pears, kimchi fish stew with rice cakes (could eat Korean rice cakes until I barf), and hojicha ice cream (a nice respite from matcha). I supplemented this with Washington State oysters, three Capital and three Churchpoint served with a yuzu kosho (an ingredient that everyone seems into all of a sudden) sort of sorbet. Oysters are strangely more expensive in the NW than NYC; even the happy hour prices are more than our typical $1 per.

langbaan multi

Langbaan Second time (first here) 13 months apart and the monthly rotating menus were both Central Thai! Glad it’s my favorite region and obviously everything was new (more seafood, less meat, and a different butterfly pea flower blue rice dessert) this time. Langbaan remains one of my favorite restaurants in Portland and I was able to get a table for two without advance planning because there are often cancellations if you get on the waiting list. 

808 grinds

808 Grinds Oregon isn’t particularly close to Hawaii but maybe if you drew a line from the islands to the continental United States, Portland would be on a direct path? (I don’t think so.) There is a substantial Hawaiian presence in Portland, though. I remember church people having luaus with poi and kalua pork when I was a kid and now my boyfriend has lots of Hawaiian (though of Japanese heritage) transplant friends through judo. You’ll have no trouble tracking down poke and moco loco in the city. Everyone likes the guava chiffon cake here, which I did try, but the mochi-textured coconut squares that I don’t know the name of are better. I’m still not convinced scoops of mac salad and rice are compatible. 

babica duo

Babica Hen My sister came up to my mom’s neck of the woods (she just moved to Lake Oswego and is already decamping to Tigard) for a birthday brunch. I hate when people order the same dish (though it’s kind of mitigated when you have a party of 5) so I didn’t copy my mom’s showstopping chicken and waffles with sweet potato mousse and coconut-rum caramel and ordered a special of beer battered chicken and an orange-whiskey sauce instead and it was kind of spartan and I began regretting my petty rule.

helvetia trio

Helvetia Tavern I had never heard of this place though it apparently is famous for its jumbo burger. I imagine Guy Fieri has been here (this does not seem to be the case). And it is a jumbo double-patty burger, more jumbo than this photo conveys, deliciously oozing “fry sauce” served with more fry sauce on the side for fries and onion rings.  I only wish that 75% of the time I enter a car (and Skyline Blvd. is no joke for the queasy) I didn’t end up wanting to puke. Maybe I’m allergic to all the wet moss, ferns, mushrooms, and general greenness.  I discovered that pot helps with this sensation so took to carrying a low THC vape in my purse specifically for this purpose. This is very un-NYC behavior. I feel like I have developed West Coast and East Coast personalities.

boxer ramen

Boxer Ramen Once again, I was on the verge of puking before I had this bowl of non-traditional tonkatsu ramen set before me so I can’t say for certain that it was extra porky, a little too much so, or if I was just sensitive. I wouldn’t be one to normally complain about extra chashu, though. And I loved the black garlic oil. They were sadly out of okonomiyaki tots.

st jack duo

St. Jack  I will concede that Portland has really great happy hours, at all levels of dining. I suspect it’s the case because no one seems to ever work, despite stupefying rising rents, or at least not 9 to5. They were packed at 4pm on a Thursday. My $5 fried tripe and $6 chicken liver mousse, not my $12 burger. I just realized they serve $1 oysters during the first hour of the 4-6pm happy hour so maybe I was wrong about my above statement.

lighthouse trio

The Lighthouse I’ve become more familiar with the 20-mile stretch of Route 30 between Portland and Scappoose than I would ever care to. There are all these outskirty places you pass through with names like Linnton and Burlington but they are still technically Portland (and I always thought it was Sauvies Island, not Sauvie Island, but whatever, everyone calls it Fred Meyers, not Fred Meyer). The Lighthouse is an amazing maritime-themed bar that looks rougher than it is from a moving car at night, smokers out front. Sure, it’s a dive and no one blinks an eye if you start drinking before noon, but the bartender, a woman in jeans and a tank top who seemed to know everyone coming in for lunch, was playing Beach Fossils and other such bands that rotate on my Spotify Discover playlist, which totally didn’t jibe with the atmosphere and blue collar clientele.  But that is Portland. The wings, burger, and pork tacos were just ok. I would definitely return for drinks, though. Pro tip: a few storefronts down you can gawk at baby chicks, five different breeds, at Linnton Feed and Seed. Also, between the Lighthouse and Linnton Feed and Seed, is another bar/restaurant called Decoy which serves diner fare and apparently also Chinese food. I’m definitely going to get crab puffs when I’m in town next.

ixtapa trio

Ixtapa I ate lunch at this cheap Ameri-Mex Scappoose near-institution as well as eating a takeout chimichanga during my boyfriend’s dad’s 70th birthday party. The dad reported the runs the next morning. I can eat fried tortillas, melted cheese, and refried beans, with abandon, no problem, and I hope this is still the case in three decades. I also had no idea that there were so many White Russian variations, which only stood out because I had my first White Russian on this trip. Not at Ixtapa (at Holman’s).

 

 

International Intrigue: Uogashi

It’s getting harder to keep up with all of the Japanese (and Roman, and Korean, and Malaysian) imports lately. I could be more on top of things. Sometimes I’m just not very inspired.

uogashi room

 

I went to Uogashi at least a month ago, but I haven’t written anything about it because it didn’t make me feel anything one way or the other. It’s my own fault. I was a walk-in and was seated at a table–I like the curtains though–rather than the counter.

uogashi duo

 

As I’ve come to learn, omakase just isn’t the same when it’s presented all at once on a plate. It goes too fast and I like a deliberate procession. You enjoy each piece of nigiri more when it’s assembled in front of you, and you wait in anticipation of what’s next. I didn’t even attempt to take in the rattled off descriptions of my $45 Uogashi Sushi Moriawase set, though obviously there is salmon, big eye tuna, medium fatty tuna, and shrimp.

uogashi sushi

 

The value and quality is there, though. And I’m fairly certain the $38 and $45 sets, two sushi, two sashimi options, are served in one go regardless of where you are seated. I’m glad we’re getting more sushi options in that hazy middle between utilitarian and waiting-for-a-promotion precious. I could be convinced to go again.

Uogashi * 188 First Ave., New York, NY 

International Intrigue: Ikinari Steak NYC vs. Tokyo

 

ikinari steak interior duo

Tokyo vs. NYC

Unlike the first US outpost of Afuri, the Ikinari Steak that popped-up near St. Marks in that international chain mini-district held down by Ippudo and Tim Ho Wan, was almost identical to the one I visited in Shibuya, just swapping Japanese staff for locals. Oh, and also that it was at capacity while the similarly sized Tokyo branch was maybe one-third full also around 6pm on a Friday night. A line started to form at the cutting and weighing counter and a good-natured staff member who was acting as ring-master, shouted a few times, “Stand close to the wall as you can!” which definitely wouldn’t happen in Japan, though no one seemed to mind.

ikinari steak cutting

Four cuts of steak were offered in Japan: rib-eye, tenderloin, US Angus beef sirloin, and Japanese beef sirloin. Hamburg was also an option–hamburg steak is rampant in Japan–but maybe that doesn’t translate to the US. I chose the latter, 200 grams, and the most expensive at 10 yen per gram. The US is also using grams (though they provide a handy conversion table on the menu) and lists rib-eye, filet, sirloin, and a combo of scraps. I went with the cheapest cut, sirloin at 8 cents a gram, also 200 grams.  I paid roughly the same price: $17 in Tokyo and $16 in NYC but clearly the US’s prices are higher. Both are non-tipping restaurants, though, which I love.

ikinari steak duo

Tokyo vs. NYC

You’ll get the same corn on the side, browned garlic and butter on top, and onions underneath, which get great char as they mingle with the juices. This is not dry-aged prime steak, though it’s not quite the Tad’s (r.i.p.) of Japan either. The sirloin was not supermarket steak bland, picking up smoke from the grill, and the little rim of fat adding extra lushness (if you prefer lean, just ask the butcher to remove it). You can add garlicky soy-based “J-sauce,” garlic paste, mustard, and wasabi, which are stationed at the standing tables. I don’t recall that it was recommended you order your steak rare in Japan–there are lots of signs stating this in NYC–I ordered medium rare both times. Rice and salad (radish or green) are extra. I skipped salad this time because I don’t care about roughage, but they are selling bottled dressing at the register so I guess someone likes it.

ikinari steak basket

I also love the foldable baskets for storing your coat and bag, found at Japanese restaurants everywhere, some taking the form of little hammocks adhered to the bottoms of bar stools,  though there was only one allotted for my face-to-face solo standing table, and the gentleman before me had commandeered it. (I’m also in love with the current season of Baskets, just FYI. Louie Anderson is genius as Christine.)

ikinari steak order

You verbally tell the meat cutter what you want here while you brought a little wipe-off card, filled out by a server, to the counter in Japan. This wouldn’t be a bad idea in NYC since I had to repeat myself a few times and with the crowds, the staff has high potential to become overwhelmed. 

They really think of everything.

They really think of everything

ikinari steak facade duo

Tokyo vs. NYC

I did not eat at this Bunkyo branch (there are over 100  locations in Japan) but I only just noticed the same style basket outside with what I assume to be clothing freshener. The East Village facade is more minimal, no menus out front, though there is a photo, out of frame, of the same executive chef.  

I haven’t even mentioned the standing concept yet because it’s not really that weird, though Americans prefer to sit even for tapas. There’s no one rushing you, and you can have your steak re-heated if it gets cold. Of course, it’s not leisurely either, and supposedly the price reflects the high turnover. This also reminds me that the Japanese Michelin-quality standing restaurant that was promised for Manhattan in 2013 never came to fruition. Perhaps the seeming success of Inkinari Steak may pave the way for similar concepts.

Ikinari Steak * 90 E. 10th St., New York, NY

International Intrigue: Afuri Portland

It recently dawned on me that I’ve become a townie.

This development is surprising since I didn’t grow up in a college town or go to school in a college town, which were one and the same, so that label has never had any resonance. But I’ve come to recognize the provincial symptoms: nostalgia for the bad old days, suspicion of the new, disdain for outsiders with seemingly more money than sense.

I wasn’t shocked that a bowl of ramen at the new(ish) Afuri in Portland cost twice as much as in Tokyo because like most modern humans I look at online menus before I dine at restaurants. And I’m not outraged. Objectively, it’s a really good bowl of ramen. I’m not saying it’s not worth $16 (even though Manhattan-priced Ippudo is $15). But food doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and this is as good as any example what’s weird with the New Portland.

Afuri is located in an area that now some like to call the Central Eastside Industrial District, three blocks from dive, My Father’s Place, that I used to call lovingly, “Cum on the Grill,” and just up the street from a friend’s $2,000/month design studio, which will triple in rent in a few short years.

franz

People in Portland are living in tents like it’s no big thing. Maybe everyone is too stoned to care? (Though the city, because it was traditionally do-goody, has always had a disproportionate amount of homeless.) I vaped nice and legal anxiety-quashing high CBC/low THC weed 75% of the days I was there (I was never a stoner in my youth, which is a feat in the NW) and still think there are way too many dispensaries and billboards advertising cannabis. Even local white bread Franz Bakery (that employed a delivery driver who rear-ended and totaled my parked Chevette in the late ‘90s—I will never forgive them) has cutely illustrated vans now saying “Get Portland Baked.”

Post-college, I lived on $425 a month, which my step-dude leaked to my Oregonian boyfriend a few weeks ago coupled with the advice,”Don’t ever apologize for being working class,” and the year I moved, 1998, I made roughly $14,000, the result of an $11 an hour, full-benefits, part-time (by choice) government job. (Library pages at NYPL in 2017 make $11 an hour.) Twenty years later, and practically no one I know, friends and family, makes over $40,000 a year in Oregon. (Though I haven’t a clue how much clothing design brings in, and I’m aware of an NYC transplant frenemy who earns $70,000, likely a step down salary-wise, and pays $1,800 for a studio apartment.)

content

Why should I care? I have a well-paying job, low overhead, no dependents, and most importantly, I don’t even live in Portland. It offends me that studio apartments in my hometown cost more than my mortgage and maintenance in Queens. And yes, Queens is still NYC. It offends me that job searches using “content” as a keyword turn up grocery store clerk positions.

Ok, back to the food. Nomad.PDX just morphed from pop-up to permanency with a $160 tasting menu, which Eater defended thusly “But remember, 20 courses for $160 is still peanuts when compared with most prices in other cities.” Not really. Sure, I wouldn’t even give it a thought in NYC. I still think that’s aggressive pricing in Portland. I once let my guard down and tried the $125 Nodoguro “Hardcore Omakase” and I can’t remember anything about it. Everyone I’ve encountered in the restaurant industry is nice, the staff are always very earnest, but there’s a lot of pretense. I almost laughed at a recent dinner when a server asked if I wanted the short or long explanation of the Venica “Talis” Pinot Bianco he was pairing with the mushroom larb. Short, please. And for what it’s worth, the $80 tasting at Langbaan is a great value.

afuri-trio

Tokyo style

 

Ok, now back to Afuri. The Portland branch shares the ramen in common with the Tokyo original but that’s where all resemblances end. Afuri, at least in Harajuku, isn’t a hole in the wall. There’s an upscale feel but there are only counter seats, you place your order by feeding change to a vending machine and handing the ticket to the host/cook, and there’s very little to contemplate beyond ramen or tsukemen.

afuri dining

The Portland restaurant is vast, with a separate bar, counter seating, and at least twenty tables, freestanding and along the wall of windows. There was more than one party that consisted of grown children accompanied by confused parents, very similar to Williamsburg. There is a wine list, cocktails, the menu has a callout box featuring five ramen on the upper right side, and the rest is devoted to hot and cold appetizers, robata offerings (St. Helens Farm beef tongue, Jacobsen salt, black pepper, scallion, sesame oil, lemon, anyone?) and sushi and sashimi. It would almost make sense for the US restaurant to use that strange SE Asian naming affectation and call it something like Yuzu by Afuri indicating its lineage but broadcasting a different concept.

afuri ramen portland

Same bowl, same ladle spoon, extra metal plate.

 

I wasn’t asked if I wanted the standard chu-yu (chicken oil) in my yuzu ratanmen or the extra oil. It came with a marked sheen on the surface and was definitely heavier than the Japanese version. The magic of Afuri’s ramen is that it is extremely rich and concentrated but still manages to be light. I hate to use the word “clean” to describe food, though I almost felt energized the first time I ate it. This bowl still had the nice citrus tones that complemented the spice, but there was no way I could eat a pancake soufflé afterwards like I did in Tokyo. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed my quick Sunday afternoon meal.

But maybe I wouldn’t have if I lived there. That’s the rub. I’ve been toying with moving back to Portland, I guess for love, but I just can’t justify it when there are scant professional jobs there and my cost of living is less in NYC. I never thought I’d have much in common with rent-stabilized natives of Bushwick, yet now I’ve been gentrified out of my hometown and it’s still kind of a shithole. Keep Portland weird, you guys!

P.S. If rumors are to believed, Afuri is going gangbusters in Portland. A second downtown branch is supposedly already in the works.

Afuri * 923 S.E. 7th Ave., Portland, OR

Shovel Time: Gen Yamamoto

threeshovelI planned to drink at more bars for obsessives (Benfiddich was not terribly far from my apartment but it was too early or closed the days I was nearby) and also ones that had female bartenders (horrible headline warning). That didn’t really pan out. I am glad that I did make it to Gen Yamamoto.

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(I had intended to take the subway there, just off two days in Seoul where I took buses and subways all over with ease, but the multiple train and subway lines from different companies was confounding and at this particular station there wasn’t a map in English so you couldn’t safely choose your end stop. I realize NYC is an anomaly but subways are so easy when it’s not distance-based. Plus, you don’t have to hold on to your ticket to exit. So, we hailed a taxi in desperation and even though he was driving at a respectable speed, it soon became clear we would be late. I was phobic of being tardy in Japan because I know it’s very frowned upon. Hilariously, I was scrolling Google maps in the taxi and I accidentally hit the link to call Gen Yamamoto. I never ever call places, it’s totally anxiety-provoking, so I was surprised that I didn’t hang up. On the spot, I just said I had a reservation at 5:30 and would be five minutes late. I was thanked profusely, and then again in person, and now I wonder if I’ve been living my life wrong all this time. We were five minutes late, but the three other people who shared our reservation all arrived later fyi.)

I naively thought we would order the four-drink $39 omakase, but I hadn’t gotten into the rhythm of Tokyo yet. When you’re seated it’s so peaceful and the bartender takes so much care, it would almost be insulting to not stay for the additional two cocktails. (Also, it’s slightly awkward to leave when there are three other guests that are staying.) There’s a time for slamming a bowl of ramen and another for sipping seasonal cocktails.

gen grid

  • Gooseberry with sparking rice wine
  • Barley sake, Granny Smith, green tea
  • Filtered sake. I wrote “Nihinga pear sweeter 1 month after harvest” but there does not appear to be something called a Nihinga pear. I’m assuming it was a misheard city or region because on the online menu (which has completely changed) each fruit is assigned an origin.
  • Cotswold gin, ginger, yuzu. Everyone seemed to like this the most, because it had more of a kick and was less subtle than the drinks made with sake.
  • Suntory whiskey, water, ume. Yamamoto was a huge Suntory fan, which was interesting. One of the couples from LA asked his favorite whisky, expecting something esoteric. It’s the consistency that he prizes.
  • Roasted sweet potato, milk, chocolate

More on drinking in Tokyo in The Middle Ages.

Gen Yamamoto * 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045, Japan

Shovel Time: Kurauzo

twoshovelI kind of regret not eating at any yakiniku (grilled beef) restaurants but I feared paying $50 for a few bites of wagyu. Kurauzo couldn’t be more opposite. Because I’d already eaten dinner (never opposed to second dinner/fourth meal on vacation) I was just tagging along with the beau’s jiu jitsu crew, also from Portland, in town for the annual judo Grand Slam (which only coincidentally coincided with my trip). These are paleo-ish folks so meat, no beer, salad substituted for rice.

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You can choose different cuts of steak, by the gram. Hamburg steak with demi-glace, beloved by Japanese (I wasn’t convinced to try it), is also featured. And no one blinks if you get a steak and hamburg combo.

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I had 200 grams of a very meaty, slightly tough cut that I’m struggling to remember (I can’t find any English info online about this place) the name of. I’d not heard of it before, but was swayed by the menu’s claims that it was favored by the Japanese (also that it was like $13). Steaks are accompanied by green beans, corn, potato wedges, and rice, obviously. You can’t not have rice with your meat. A salad course is first. The raised circular spot on the hot cast iron tray is for further grilling your meat.

This restaurant looks like a chain, yet it’s not (it’s so Japanese it doesn’t have a website). There are, however, lots of similar low-cost steak concepts in Tokyo, one which has promised to open in NYC at any moment. More on Ikinari Steak later…

Kurauzo * 4 Chome-1-3 Ueno, 台東区 Tokyo 110-0005, Japan

Shovel Time: Old Imperial Bar

threeshovelOld Imperial Bar along with Suntory Eagle Lounge and others I assumed I’d yet to discover, I thought would make a great, visually dazzling article for some sort of outlet. But of course, this was already done by Monocle nine months earlier. You can gawk at the slideshow even if you’re not a subscriber (I am not).

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On a weekday afternoon, is was all but empty. Just one man who stopped in for coffee, laid a bunch of paperwork on the table, then left in a hurry, and a lone woman drinking a fruity cocktail at the bar.

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It’s assumed if you do wander to the farthest reaches of the mezzanine level, you’re there intentionally. I was given a few architecture volumes with pages marked when I sat down.

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If I’m understanding correctly, the hotel due to earthquakes and disrepair has been built and re-built for over a century, and one iteration was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. That version was demolished in 1967 but pieces like the mural in this bar were restored.

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I couldn’t get enough of these menus that looked decades old but clearly had modern prices; $19 for that American Clubhouse Sandwich. Cocktails were Manhattan hotel bar prices.

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I ordered the signature Mt. Fuji (old tom gin, maraschino, lemon and pineapple juice, cream, egg white) even though I knew it would be milder and sweeter than preferred. I had to switch to a martini next, schooling the boyfriend who stopped drinking before he was legal drinking age. He asked “Which drink has the most alcohol for the price?” Well, I wasn’t going to let him order a Long Island Iced Tea in Tokyo.

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It was a miracle I only smoked one cigarette in Tokyo, and off my apartment’s balcony, because there were so many fitting opportunities. I always want to smoke when I drink, so that’s the power of Wellbutrin. I did at least snag a few matchbooks from this bar.

More on drinking in Tokyo in The Middle Ages.

Old Imperial Bar * 1-1, Uchisaiwaicho 1-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8558