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Shovel Time: Ginza Lion


twoshovelI wanted to have a drink after suitcase shopping, a necessary evil to haul all my Sanrio swag, snacks, and Korean beauty products. (Tokyo is totally not known for its deals a la Bangkok or Hong Kong, though I found this cute, kind of impractical trunk at Ginza Karen where all bags are 5400 yen/$46. I later found it on Amazon for $175.) and Ginza Lion, practically across the street, delivered and then some.


As a leo, I couldn’t resist a place called Lion.


It’s a beer hall established in 1879 and owned by Sapporo beer . And it was totally full on a Sunday afternoon. It’s kind of German, so there are sausages, choucroute, but also spaghetti.


That kids meal!


A buttery potato pancake with a ribbon warning the plate is hot to the touch.


I’ve always been wary of mayonnaise on pizza but this one, topped with a bed of seaweed and sliced green onion, plus a nice amount of real crab (roughly $14) was a fitting bar snack. Togarashi too for sprinkling.

Ginza Lion Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, 中央区Ginza, 7 Chome−9−20, 銀座ライオンビル

Noodling Around Tokyo


Keika Ramen This was random ramen, my first proper meal (7-Eleven doesn’t count) in Tokyo. I managed to order what seemed to be tonkotsu ramen and beer by vending machine photos, though I couldn’t discern what set apart minutely different ramens with different prices on the first row, and considered this a success. This bowl was like $6. I don’t think I encountered a bowl more than $10 even at nicer places.


Nogata Hope The soundtrack at this sort of modern ramen-ya near my airbnb (English menus, lots of wood–actually, wooden slabs and tree trunks were used all over Tokyo restaurants and bars) was one of many auditory quirks that I will continue to document. So many restaurants played incongruous music. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember who sang “More Than Words” and my pocket wifi (such a great invention) ran out of a charge. Duh, Extreme. I was also introduced the concept of byob (bringing your own bibs), as a father donned one he whipped out of his suitcase while his son slurped, earphones on, as well as being asked whether you want your broth fatty or not. I did. This place also had personal garlic presses on the table and pickled, chopped red chiles that seemed more Chinese. The ramen was unctuous–all that fat and chile oil–and great. The gyoza just seemed like Trader Joe’s.


? This ramen was just ok, not horrible at all but less punchy and rich than I had elsewhere, but we chose it for likely the same reason as most of the tourists (Asian, by the way) who’d wandered in from the Senso-Ji shrine: English menus. However, the gyoza were better than Nogata Hope.


Afuri is totally something different due to a citrusy chicken broth that I wasn’t convinced I needed to try until in addition to reading English language odes and recently arrived in Portland press ($14 a bowl! My hometown is officially gone nuts), my good friend’s visiting-from-Japan Tinder date from 1.5 years ago that she brought to my Kentucky Derby party even though it turned out to be platonic and he didn’t speak English that I met for yakitori showed me a photo of Afuri on his phone and said it was good. Ok. And wow, it was. I didn’t have the classic shio (also above) but yuzu ratanmen, skinny noodles, spicy with chile oil, garnished with mizuna and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The nitamago (eggs) were always so perfect everywhere. This was filling, but not gross filling–in fact, I still had room for a pancake-soufflee afterward. In NYC this would be a shitshow, but the lines are orderly (I just beat the line and only had one woman in front of me), you use a vending machine, hand your ticket to a cook behind the bar seating, stand around and feel no stress to assert your position even though there isn’t a hostess to keep track and yet it all works. Only once did I see someone think it was a free for all when a diner got up, and a cook/kind-of-host called the rightful next-diners over. Counter stools (always with a place to store your bag underneath) and coat hooks prevent clutter. Cooks start preparing your ramen as you sit down. This ramen was $8. Seriously.

bukkake-udonItteki Hassen-ya I really prefer udon to ramen. More chewy, more diverse. I wanted to go to TsuroTonTan on my last night but it the last order was 8pm on Sunday and I couldn’t get it together in the rain. Shin, plan B, had a line, other places at eye level in Shinjuku were empty, seemed like chains (yes, TsuroTonTan is a chain) none were promising, so I took a chance on an upstairs venue, no English name (but brought to it by Yelp based on a distance search–Yelp was helpful in that way, more so than Google explore) menus, or speakers, all cigarette smokey, and it was a great send off. It might of seemed unorthodox to order a cold udon on a cool night (the chef warned me) but I’m always hot and I wanted tempura. Ebi ten bukkake was no joke.


Un-American Activities: Breakfast at Denny’s Japan


I ate breakfast at Denny’s in Tokyo and wrote about it for Extra Crispy. Spoiler: there are no Grand Slams.


Un-American Activities: KFC and Domino’s Japan


I was blessed to be in Japan in December because I got to witness first-hand the phenomenon that is KFC at Christmas. However, I wasn’t able to partake in it because all those displays and set menus plastered on the wall (Sparkling cider with the Colonel’s face on it! Chicken cordon bleu! A $50 whole turkey with its own tote!) are for pre-ordering only. I had no idea.


So, I settled for a four-piece meal with biscuits, no finger sheaths provided. I love how even at fast food restaurants (well, at least KFC and MOS Burger) if you order iced coffee you receive a little plastic container of simple syrup and the creamer comes in an even tinier plastic container (even though I take it black).


Twitter knows me far too well, as evidenced by Pizza Hut’s enticement of online ordering (no human interaction!) in English (bonus!). But after a solid 20 minutes on their site and being surprised that pizzas cost $30+, I kept getting a garbled message after inputting what I thought was my postal code, which I took to mean I was out of their delivery zone even though I was in a centrally located neighborhood. I was not going to give up ordering pizza to my Airbnb even though it had a wonky address that confused multiple cab drivers.

Plan B. Domino’s, similar oddball flavor combinations (roasted pork with demi-glace and mustard sauce,  crab gratin and something called Mayo Jaga with potato, corn, sausage, and mayonnaise obvs) also offering online orders in English, and no less expensive. I, no joke, spent a half hour trying to type my address into a form so the system would recognize it.


I thought with near 80% certainty that I would be charged, and then like an hour later would receive an angry call in Japanese and I would have no way to direct the driver. I clearly have been living in in NYC too long because in Tokyo you could track your pizza every step of the way. I registered for the service (and received a 1000 yen coupon for another order) about ten minutes into waiting and was shocked to see the pizza was 9 minutes away, marked with a cartoon reindeer (despite Domino’s shelving reindeer delivery in Hokkaido) and moving fast. I could also read about the driver’s favorite pizza, music, and sports team, except that I couldn’t read them.

dominos-duoI made my boyfriend put on pants and run down to the street from our second floor (first floor in everyone else in the world’s parlance) to intercept a potentially lost driver, still not convinced we were actually going to receive our pizza. No worries, two friendly guys on mopeds showed up and the box was handed off (I love no tipping culture even if it results in a $33 pizza).

I was the proud owner of Cheese ‘n’ Roll Quattro Delight. That meant a surprise cheese-stuffed crust, and one quarter each of Margherita, deluxe, special seafood, and garlic master. I kind of was the Garlic Master. Japan can thwart visitors in so many ways–procedural, cultural–so I felt a strange sense of accomplishment for having conjured a pizza to my door without speaking the language. Also, I wonder how long my coupon is good for?