Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tokyo Food Recommendations: Aoyama/Shibuya/Ebisu

The original Tokyo Food Recs page is getting a bit big so I'm breaking it out into sections, slowly.

Today's post focuses on the 青山 Aoyama/渋谷 Shibuya/恵比寿 Ebisu area of Tokyo, courtesy of my friend マシューナッツ.  It's a bit spare on photos right now because it is taking a lot of time to sift through my years of food photos.

For excellent Japanese cuisine, check out 雨後晴 Amenochihare - the weekday lunches at their 青山 Aoyama branch are a deal; they usually have a scrumptious daily sashimi course - 刺身コース for a low 1260 yen or so.  Caution: only their Aoyama branch is open for lunch, and only on weekdays.  My friend used to torment me with pictures of lunch at this place.

In 渋谷 Shibuya, The Coffee Hangar serves Japanese Double Tall coffee, and the barista is an expert.  There are actually cafes directly owned by Double Tall, but this place puts them to shame.  Until last year this coffee stand was only open 9-6 on weekdays, but since 2015 they've been open on weekends also, so hopefully you'll have a chance to drop by.  マシューナッツ would wax lyrical about the coffee here.

For a rare beef katsu (fried beef cutlet) fried for only 60 seconds, check out 牛かつもと村 Gyu-katsu Motomura.  If you're like me, order #2 (1300 yen), while if you're conservative, order the standard #1.  You will have to wait, so go at an off-peak time, like 3-5 pm.  They're open from 11am to 11pm, and usually it's a 30 minute wait, but on weekends it has been known to take 2 hours.  It's a little hard to find as it's below street level, but this reviewer has pictures of the front of the shop.  It's a tiny shop with 9 seats where people get in and out quickly.  My friend hates to wait, but would wait patiently with his coworkers, sometimes for 45 minutes for lunch.

As previously mentioned on the main page, if you're over by the 恵比寿 Ebisu area around lunch time, check out とり鶏梵梵 (English gurunavi page) for the best chicken katsu curry ever.  Amazing.  Check out the specials too.  Be aware, the "regular" size is kind of large (so maybe perfect for Americans).  Sadly they don't serve the chicken katsu at dinnertime.  It's a little out of the way, but totally worth it, and not as well known as restaurants like Gyu-katsu Motomura, so much easier to get in to.  Try avoiding the rush by going around 1:30 or 2.

Music of the day: Ciara - Dance Like We're Making Love

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tokyo Food Recommendations: Added some photos to my Tokyo Food Recs page

Still a work in progress, but now you can see some of the food in my Tokyo Food Recs.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

So cute! The pizza looks good too.

In other news, after half a year, I have set up proper recycling containers by re-using cardboard boxes that I've been keeping around.  I hope they stay clean.  They're lined with plastic but I don't want the plastic lining to get dirty.

The left box is for paper scraps, the box within the big box is for flimsy plastic (my town's recycling needs these bundled together in a plastic bag so that they can sort it), and cardboard and other recycling doesn't need special treatment.  Technically speaking, they don't say that paper scraps need to be collected together, but if they can't sort plastic bags out, they're not going to be able to sort paper scraps either.

In closing, enjoy one of my favorite songs ever, Brandy's "Piano Man" off of her underrated album "Human":

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

If you like paper products

This shop in Shimokitazawa 下北沢, Tokyo looks super cool.  I love these kinds of paper crafts.  Of course, I really don't need them, so it's a good thing that I have a relative who loves them.

Speaking of criminally underrated, I leave you with one of my all-time favorite pop songs by Teedra Moses "Can't Be Luv":

Monday, April 13, 2015

Is the overwrap on Numi tea bags recyclable?

Numi Tea seems to say that all of their materials are biodegradable, but I wonder about the overwrap (the individual packaging around each tea bag) and the staples.

From a naive viewpoint, buying loose leaf tea seems more ecologically friendly than buying these convenient, individually wrapped tea bags.  You just generate waste with tea bags.

That said, Numi seems quite conscientious about using recycled materials and making their products biodegradable, while avoiding support for GMO industries.

Shockingly, I have not yet shared Tamia's latest pop song "Sandwich And A Soda":
To be Honestly, the song is not terribly profound or brilliant, but Tamia sounds great on it. Her singing is so effortless. A totally underrated artist.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

disposable drink containers

Now that I know how much water and other chemicals and resources go into the production of a paper or plastic cup, I cringe when I realize that I've bought yet another disposable drink container.  I have gotten far too used to the convenience.

I really need to start carrying around a reusable container to be filled instead.  I still have my Oracle mug from 10 years ago, and I still like it.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Android XiaoMi HongMi, and arsenic in rice

Installing the files specified here did install the adb drivers I needed for my XiaoMi HongMi device to be recognized by Android Studio.  The 2nd install specified in the instructions did not modify the MiPhoneManager to display in English though.

Mi 米 is the character for rice.  On a tangent, did you know that rice absorbs metals well?  As a result, it has a higher amount of inorganic arsenic than other popular grains, mostly absorbed from the soil.  Apparently the US has been used arsenical drugs for chicken for 70 years or more, and this has polluted the soil that is often now used for rice farming.


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Tokyo Food Recommendations: Afternoon Tea Top 3 (by Rie)

Of Toys and Co. asked me about afternoon tea in Tokyo. Sadly, I have never personally visited the many afternoon tea places in Tokyo yet.

Fortunately, I have a friend who is an expert, and she kindly allowed me to post her top 3:
Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Nihonbashi:
My favorite place with delicious scones. ;q Outstanding service with stylish and unique oriental tea sets.  Very comfortable and I always end up staying there from 5 hours straight (12pm through 5pm)!

Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku:
Modern, classy atmosphere with nice view. Great selection of tea, and all-you-can-eat style sweets. (It's not a buffet; hotel staff will deliver varieties of sweets to your table.)

Palace Hotel in Marunouchi area:
They have a cozy terrace by the water of the imperial palace moats, and their sweets are very unique with some Japanese touches. They even offer Maccha as a part of the afternoon tea set. They do not accept reservations however, so it's better go early before tea time at 2pm.
 Let me know if you have any favorites!

I can't find any afternoon tea music, so I leave you with a British singer, Kyla La Grange:

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Tokyo Food Recommendations (in progress)

Cheese tsukemen in Nakameguro 中目黒にあるチーズつけ麺

Lately I've been raving and whining to my friends about the amazing restaurants in Tokyo.  I've been talking about posting this info for months, so I decided to just publish it.  Blogger's composition editor has been killing me though; I may need to format this directly in HTML. Sorry for the weird parts - they will be ironed out eventually.

  • I'll add photos and revise text later, so expect to see this post evolve over time.  Let me know if you want to know more about any particular shop or have further questions.  
  • Gurunavi has terrible English pages, but often they are the only source of English information, so I'm providing them even though they're terribly sad.  TripAdvisor is probably a good source of English information, but I haven't had the time to look at their content.
  • Japanese restaurants are often a steal at lunch, where they offer set meals to entice local office workers.  The lunch menu offerings are often limited since they're going for efficiency and volume, versus dinner time when prices may double or triple.  Some restaurants are priced the same at all times, which is great for people on a budget, so I will note this when it is important. 
  • It helps to have the Japanese names of places, as romanized names can be worse than useless 
    • For example, the English Gurunavi pages romanize the shop names and it's just a mass of meaningless characters
  • Map out places carefully with Google maps as Tokyo is a very dense city and it is easy to miss a shop.
  • The order of the shops presented on this page is a bit random since some restaurants have multiple branches.
  • Free WiFi is not that common in Tokyo, so it's probably useful to rent a WiFi router 
  • Get your tickets to the Studio Ghibli Museum 三鷹の森 Mitaka no Mori through an international JTB authorized travel agent before you depart. The international tickets are good for all day - without time restriction, although you still have to specify what day you go and you pay more for this convenience.  
    • If you didn't get your tickets in advance, you can still buy tickets at Lawson's ticket machine, but weekends are usually sold out, and the Japanese interface is challenging if you can't read Japanese.

On to the fun part, food!
  • 寿司の美登利 Sushi no Midori (English gurunavi page) has locations in 銀座 Ginza, 渋谷Shibuya, etc.  Go early for lunch or dinner to avoid the lines at peak eating times.  Both Japanese and foreign tourists frequent this place, but the sushi is solid and they're pretty efficient.  They have a daily lunch for 800 yen in the Ginza location on weekdays, but it's reasonable even for dinner - $30-40ish depending on what you order.  Be warned that the easily accessible Shibuya branch is usually terribly crowded and it's a smaller store than the Ginza location.
  • 築地寿司清 Tsukiji Sushi Say has locations around Tokyo - mid-range in price but good sushi.  A step up from conveyer-belt sushi 回転寿司 but they won't break the bank like Sukiyabashi Jiro.
Lunch in 銀座 Ginza/日比谷 Hibiya:  
    • The grilled fish is also really nice.  At dinner the menu can be more limited but they're always open for lunch.  The Italian and French floors are pretty good too.
  • Check back later when I have time to write about the teppanyaki at Colza.
    • The potato hashbrowns are great if you like potatoes in butter, and the ice cream with crepe is lots of fun.

garlic rice is highly recommended

ice cream crepe
    • Old-school service. Lunch is pretty reasonable; dinner is a bit pricy.

  • For a true Ginza experience, relax and enjoy some French desserts at the maison de dessert ぶどうの木 Budou no Ki - pricy but exquisite.
Gateau chocolat is sadly a seasonal item so not always available.  The pepper accent is pretty amazing.  Warning - it is small!
    • The first floor is home to the ねんりん家 Nenrin-ya pastry shop, famous for their baum kuchen (which is interestingly is a very popular type of cake in Japan).  I don't normally like baum kuchen but theirs is wonderfully moist.  They make a great souvenir, but can perhaps be a bit bulky.  
  • There are a lot of interesting dessert places off of this little street hosting Budou no Ki - there's a Japanese tea place and some fancy chocolate places across the street. 
    • I think one of the Mariage Frères tea salons is on that same street.

  • A bit of a walk from Ginza in Kabuki-za: 丸山海苔 Maruyama Nori's food and Japanese desserts are delicious - the matcha cake is highly recommended.  It's a very elegant space with a gorgeous souvenir shop in front.  They serve fresh matcha tea too.  
    • The Kabuki-za building is also great for authentic traditional souvenirs - check out the basement and the 5th floor.  The garden on the 5th floor is also lovely and free.  
    • There is a hidden Kabuki gallery - I believe on the 4th floor - with access from the 5th floor - do check out the Kabuki actors over the years.

  • For good ramen:
    • I like the salt ramen at 山頭火 Santouka (the fatty pork ぶたバラ is ridiculous, and can be a bit too fatty), and I hear the tonkotsu ramen at 一蘭 Ichiran is good. 
    • But there are so many ramen places!  This deserves its own post.  For now, I will point you specifically to the chicken ramen in Azabu Juban 156 Ichikoro
      • Their gyoza is pretty good too.
  • While you're in Azabu Juban, don't miss the Chinese medicine-influenced 漢方 Szechuan food 四川料理屋 Piao-xian 飄香 for the best Chinese food ever really good Chinese food
Tasty meatball and dumplings
    • Extremely reasonable lunches for amazing quality.  I loved everything, and the soups (free refills!) were amazing. 
    • Refreshing and delicious yet healthy.  The frozen yogurt dessert has the green Szechuan peppers; it will numb your tongue. 
Frozen yogurt dessert with tongue-numbing Szechuan peppers
    • The almond tofu is apparently amazing - I recommend that over the frozen yogurt.  First class food and first class service and decor.  It's a beautiful place and the staff are genuinely friendly.
kuromutsu is reliably delicious
    • It's crowded though, so go right when they open or a little late at 1pm to avoid the lunch rush.  They have their own furikake - great on rice with the daikon oroshi.
  • 笹塚 Sasazuka station is a bit out of the way - about 5-10 minutes by train/taxi from Shinjuku 新宿 station - but it is home to 豪快 Gokai (map) - the best 坦々麺 tantan noodles I've ever had (definitely a Japanese variation on the Chinese original - very creamy).  Cheap all the time, and pretty fast.  Counter space only (12 seats).  Just order the tantanmen 坦々麺.

  • After your tantanmen, go to the red entranced Taiwan store across the big noisy street (to the left of the Summit grocery store and the Times parking lot) and order the Mango Charmy Snow Ice  - it's like fluffy snow covered with sweet mango.  I could only eat half of a serving, but my companions all finished theirs.  
    • The store is hard to find - they don't advertise the Mango snow ice - but they are there 10-8 (except year end holidays) and they have a little eat-in corner on the right side of the store.

If you have time for 中目黒 Nakameguro (especially nice but crowded during cherry blossom season, but fun anytime for casual walks along the river):
  • An excellent yakiniku place called Shu-en 洙苑 (東京都目黒区東山1-5-1) is a lunch-time favorite: 
    • Their yakiniku set lunch is 1000 yen and is reliably delicious.  The wagyu 和牛 and kalbi options are pretty luxurious.  While not authentic, their ちじみ Korean pancake is usually delectably crispy - 3 people can easily share this in addition to their lunch sets.  Of course they serve Japanese rice. 
  • For lunch or dinner, one of my favorites is the amazing Italian restaurant Vigore イタリアンレストラン ビゴーレ (Tokyo, Meguro, Aobadai, 1−15−4)
    • Their bread is home-made and amazingly light and chewy.  Addictive.  The chef was one of the chefs for the Italian national football team (soccer for you Americans)
    • It's a very elegant environment.  Perfect for relaxing.  
  • Excellent, reasonably-priced French food: Cafe Bar Dining MUSHIKI (English gurunavi page) and conveniently open most of the day (a lot of Japanese restaurants close between lunch and dinner)
    •  Try their specials - usually the plate specials are a steal where you can try a variety of foods
    • They bake their own bread 
  • Rue de Shuri - As you might guess, an elegant little French establishment. The lunch sets are elegant and prepared wonderfully.  Not much volume, but high quality.  Lunch is only served on Sunday weekends though.  Dinners feature the same excellent quality at a higher price.  The fish seared on a small iron skillet is nearly always perfect!
    seared fish
    • They make their own sorbet which is often simple but interesting; we've had watermelon and yuzu there. 
    homemade watermelon sorbet
    • If you're used to American sizes, you might want to order an extra lunch for every 2 people.  They do chicken and duck really well too.  Everything is delicious.
  • Bistro Pepin - a French dining bar a bit hidden but close to Nakameguro station, it is at the 6th floor of a little building, near the coffee and sweets place Cafe Facon
    Chicken cutlet is amazing

    Foie gras nigiri is admittedly not the best value, but tasty
  • Singapore nights is a cool, chill bar to relax and lounge with friends while enjoying the extensive record collection - they take requests too! 
  • Koi Sushi 鯉寿司 - a creative sushi place on the Nakameguro Shopping street 商店街
  • Paris Cafeteria パリの食堂 on the 3rd floor of a building.  Their lunches are a steal.  Inside is a cozy Bistro/Cafe.  They do quite elaborate lunches.  The patio is a nice place to sit on sunny days.
    Paris Cafeteria lunch plate
  • On the dessert side:
    • I cannot fail to mention 雅庵 Miyabian - their seasonal specialties are always so good!  If you get a chance to try their fluffy cakes you are super lucky.

      The mochi is amazing
    • trasparente has mini fruit pastries for 210 yen or so - I like the pear and fig variations.  They have these bread twists with sausage in them - so good! 
      fig fruit pastry - a bite of heaven
    • Cafe Facon
      • A tiny cafe with tiny, wonderful desserts.  The coffee is again small but pretty good.  However, don't come here if you need volume.
    • Aux Bacchanales (Tokyo, Meguro, Higashiyama, 1−1−6 風見ビル1F) 
      • I usually get their pear or apricot pastries.  Their sandwiches and the ham and cheese salad are delicious too.
  • For とんかつ tonkatsu, I can recommend 今かつ imakatsu in 六本木 Roppongi, but I'm sure there are lots of other good places. Their croquettes are pretty popular.  Get the メンチカツ menchi-katsu, an amazing Japanese invention where they deep fry hamburger meat.  You cannot go wrong with this.  It's addictive.

Some staples when you just need decent food fast:
  • Tsubame Grill
    • reliable standby for reasonably priced hamburg steaks.  Branches are usually pretty big so even at peak times you can get in after a moderate wait. 
  • The afore-mentioned ramen chains.
  • Harajuku okonomiyaki: http://www.sakuratei.co.jp/en/ good for groups; has English menu 
  • Saizeriya 
    • Great chicken wings and escargot, and chewy buns they call focaccia. Salads are decent too.
  • Spajiro
    • A pasta chain in Ebisu, Nakameguro, etc.  The eggplant and mozzarella is pretty good, but I also like getting their Japanese standard - mentaiko.  Pretty solid.

Vegetarian Options
I'll close with some notes for the vegetarians out there.

These phrases might come in handy:
  • 菜食下さい sai-shoku kudasai (vegetarian please)
  • 魚 だめ sa-ka-na da-me (fish bad)
  • 海鮮 だめ (seafood bad) 
  • 精進料理 sho-jin ryo-ri: buddhist vegetarian food
Perhaps some native speakers can suggest some better ways to communicate vegetarian requirements.

I've never been to these restaurants but:
    • A vegan acquaintance went twice and said it was great
Timeout Tokyo has a listing of vegetarian restaurants - I thought "Eat More Greens" is kind of bland, but it is convenient; Nataraj is delicious - I always eat a ton of kheer there, and my vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends also like it.

I am starving now!

per capita garbage: Japan vs. US

A lot of people around me mention how much packaging Japanese products use, but their per capita garbage is almost half of the US's.  There certainly is more of an emphasis on quality goods in Japan, so disposable culture is less prevalent.  Canada is shaming us on the per capita front.

From The Story of Stuff by Anne Leonard: