Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 7 – Day 6 Shoraian

Although we didn’t book an upscale traditional kaiseki (perhaps next time) as was seen on some of the eating shows we’ve seen, we decided we’d try a kaiseki at the amazing bamboo forest at Arashiyama.

Tucked away in the forest, the entrance of Shoraian had a Spirited Away feel to me. It was something that might have been noticeable, and I felt that the seemingly endless path to the place of unknown was going to whisk me away to yet another magical place.

We were greeted by the kind owner of Shoraian, who instructed us to take off our shoes and of course showed us to our table. There was just one other table in that room – two Japanese women chattering away.

They had several set-menu, and we ordered the Shofu set, the third in their four-tiered set menus, at ~¥5000 (it is now ¥6300)

First came a simple tofu dish, likely to cleanse the palette and refresh our mouths. The texture of the tofu was slightly gritty, with a slight soy flavour.

The second course was this amazing smorgasbord of various fried delicacies, including shrimp sushi,

Next was a more Western-inspired dish – a mushroom cheese gratin. Not being a huge fan of cheese, I didn’t enjoy this dish too much, as I thought the flavour and smell of the cheese was too overwhelming that I couldn’t taste any of the mushroom. The large amount of heavy cream was also a little off-putting.

The star of the set dinner was the yudofu (湯豆腐). Generally a dish served in the winter time, it is simple unseasoned tofu boiled in a stone pot, and then eaten with soy sauce. I love flavourful food, and dishes with interesting new marriage of flavours you may not have thought of. However, with Japanese cuisine, I’m more of a minimalist. Thus, this dish really enabled me to taste the high quality of the tofu. It was dense, but soft at the same time, packed with soy flavour, providing that slightly grittiness when you let it melt on your tongue, but was so soft and smooth. The texture and surprisingly full flavour is chilling.

Next was some tempura with small shrimp, providing more umami, fatty mouth-feel and colour than the last dish.

Wagyu beef steak was next, cooked to medium rare. I didn’t think this was particularly outstanding, but then again, shoraian was not known for their beef.

The last main dish was rice with pickled vegetables – a staple in most Japanese households. I actually really love pickled vegetables but try not to eat it too often because of some of the negative health benefits it holds when eaten too often. However, the sourness and slight sweetness of the pickles went so well with the fullness of the lightly seasoned rice.

For dessert, we had the most amazing soy milk ice cream and tofu pudding. Again, the soy flavour in the ice cream was amazing, still retaining that slight grittiness, which is something I really enjoy.

me_DxO

And after our wonderful meal, we went for a stroll back to the bus stop alongside the river. The lights and the calmness of the water flowing was incredible. The whole afternoon and night was as if I had been transported to a different world. The bamboo forest as the crowd had dissipated was magical, as if out of a Disney movie. As the coolness of the night settled in, and there were no more tourists around, it was like we had booked out the area, giving us some proper romantic downtime.

Food: 8.9/10
Service: 4.5/5
Atmosphere: traditional, japanese, tranquil
Cost: ~$50CAD

~ kehwon

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 9 – Ramen Collective

The most awaited post – RAMEN!!

The one thing you MUST eat at when you visit Japan is ramen. It’s a staple of Japanese food and probably the most popular food you will come across in Japan. There is a store selling ramen at every corner on every block. Last time, we really enjoyed Ippudo’s tonkotsu in Ginza, but this time, we ventured out to try the weird and wonderful and let me tell you, it was absolutely wonderful.

Inoue (井上)

Now for our favourite Tsukiji Market walk-in outdoor ramen joint. We just had our amazing Sushi Dai omakase and we needed a top up so we hit this place up. This place really hits the spot in the spring or fall when it is still a bit chilly outside and you need something to warm you up. Inoue customers devour their ramen huddled over their bowls slurping while standing stooped over a standing table on the sidewalk just outside tsukiji market.

Inoue ramen has only 1 item on the menu, Shoyu Ramen, and opposite to Ichiran, they offer no customization. The way it is served is the way you are meant to enjoy it. It comes piping hot in a clear light brown shoyu broth with a liberal amount of scallion. The noodles are medium thickness and slightly on the softer side of the spectrum, but still firm enough to give you some texture when you bite into them. The broth is light, but has enough flavour from the soy sauce to provide that savoury length. The chashu slice are large, but not seasoned much, so it retains a lot of that pork taste.

Inoue is by no means the best shoyu ramen joint in Tokyo, but it has charm, and it certainly hits the spot every time while visiting tsukiji market. It warms the body and the soul.

Rokurinsha

 

We started off our ramen tour with a bowl of the famous tsuekemen from Rokurinsha. This bustling ramen shop was at the end of Ramen Street in the basement of Tokyo Station. We queued for about 20-30 minutes. The wait couldn’t have felt any longer because you can see and hear the slurping of delicious ramen by the customers inside.

We ordered the ajitama Tsukemen (original tsukemen with a flavoured soft boiled egg) and the Tokusei Tsukemen (Original tsuekemen with shredded pork). Rokurinsha is very thoughtful. They provide customers with a tie around apron because they know there will be splash damage from the ramen as customers slurp their way through their massive bowls of noodles.

The ramen came in 2 separate bowls. One heaping bowl of cold ramen and a bowl of hot ramen soup (or should I say sauce). The noodles were thick, chewy, and hearty. It was perfect in combination with the rich dipping sauce. The sauce had an incredibly hearty taste of meat from the pork and chicken with a blast of seafood umami from the dried sardines, mackerel, and bonito. The almost overpowering sauce was perfectly balanced with those thick noodles which were able to soak up a lot of the sauce but provided that starchy balance to make it a perfect harmony.

Ichiran

 

2015-05-14 17.14.36

I loved Ichiran. Other than their deliciously rich and silky tonkotsu style ramen, the other unique thing about Ichiran is that they limit your interaction with other customers and other staff from little to none. Once you pay for your meal at the vending machine and your are seated, you find yourself in a small cramped one-person cubicle with a narrow window in front of you. The window opens and you are handed a customization form for your ramen. You can choose the firmness of your noodles, how rich the broth is, level of spiciness, and the quantity of the toppings you would like included such as garlic, pork, and scallion. Once ready, you ring the bell, the window is opened by the server on the other side, they grab your form, and again the window is closed. In minutes, the window opens again and your ramen is inserted through it and voila, your meal is served.

The noodles, broth, and other customizations are done to the exact specification that you ordered. The thin type of noodles are my favourite and the normal firmness have enough bounce to make things interesting. The broth is creamy, silky, and rich. I asked for the recommended level of spiciness and found it added a pleasant dimension to the already very flavourful broth. It didn’t overpower the flavour of the tonkotsu broth, but rather complemented it. The chashu was nothing special to write home about, but certainly did not take away from the tasty bowl of ramen.

My quiet, solitary experience was a pleasant one and perfect for a peaceful quick bite to eat in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Kinryu Ramen

 

2015-05-18 09.47.29.jpg

Before we headed into Universal Studios, we had to stop at dotonburi (道頓堀) to get both the famous Osaka takoyaki as well as some ramen.

We were a little disappointed in general with the tonkotsu at Kinryu, as the noodles were too soft and soggy, even at the beginning of the day. The broth was meaty but not creamy rich as tonkotsu is known to be, and undecided in what flavour it wants to resonate through. The mouthfeel was fatty, yet lacked the reason to be, and the pork was stale and tough. Although the it had a fancy sign, the ramen was not so fancy.

Gogyo Ramen

 

Umami! Umami! Umami! That’s all I can say.

We were so upset when we first arrived in Kyoto and found this place closed for renovations. But, we were determined to have burnt ramen before we left Japan. So, we decided to give it one last try and on our second last day in Kyoto, they had reopened and we were able to have one of our favourite bowls of ramen in Japan. Karen ordered the Shoyu burnt ramen and I ordered the Miso burnt ramen. Both were similar as the burnt flavour overpowers the other flavours of the broth – not that it’s a bad thing.

By burning the fat on top of the broth, it creates a rich smokey flavour that is unlike any other ramen we’ve tried. If you’ve had David Chang’s momofuku ramen, the smokiness is nothing like that. Momofuku has a more woody, wispy type of smokiness whereas gogyo has a fuller and more intense smoke taste that gives the broth a kick of umami.

The noodles were good, medium thickness, and firm. The meat was fatty and held good flavour. But again, as most ramens do, it was the broth that was the star of the show.

Definitely a must visit if you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo, gogyo gives an interesting twist to ramen culture.

Mamezen Ramen

Mamezen ramen was by far the most amazing ramen we’ve ever had. The reason was simply because although it was radical in ingredient choice, it exceeded the richness and fullness of flavour compared to meat-based broths. The broth was incredibly rich, creamy, and smooth, with an aftertaste of tofu umami.

The noodles were thin but chewy, and the silky broth clung on the noodles as we slurped them with excitement. The yuba (raw skin of tofu) was smooth and thin, the texture complimented the creamy broth extremely well.

They also were one of the most difficult shops to find and track down, snuggled in the residential area of upper Kyoto. When we finally made it to the shop, we were greeted by taro himself, the creator of the silken tofu ramen. He was cheerful and patient with his patrons, getting to know us, chatting with us about the snowy plains of Canada after learning where we were from.

We left after tasting mamezen’s tofu cheesecake, feeling satisfied and accomplished after finding the gem of Kyoto.

We highly recommend the trek to find and enjoy this unique ramen, as it changed the way we saw Japanese soup noodles forever.

-thomas

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 7 – Day 5 Gyuzen

In efforts to fill all the gaps of trying all types of food Japan is known for, we searched for an affordable place to try wagyu beef. I mean, we couldn’t leave Japan without having some beef! We had done some research and decided that kobe would be saved for the next trip.

Gyuzen was a little difficult to find since we were new to Kyoto’s bearings, having only spent a couple of hours there, and we were a little unprepared as Gogyo (our original dinner plan) had been closed for renovations. Nevertheless, in one of the commercial buildings, we finally set foot in the more traditionally-designed interiors of Gyuzen. Considering its closeness to an equally traditional area, Gyuzen’s interiors gave a great continuation of the traditional streets in Gion.

We decided on the option to have both the shabu shabu (in boiling broth), as well as sukiyaki (grilling on the cast-iron pan with a thicker, slightly sweet sauce).

Regarding the freshness of the food, it was good in terms of all-you-can-eat, but perhaps not of the best quality on a whole. The beef however was extremely tender, melt-in-your-mouth, and fatty, without being overly so. The sauces were just sweet and salty enough to create a great and rich flavour with the beef in the sukiyaki without overpowering the meat and losing all the beefy flavour.

I have to say that the shabu shabu was no big deal, and was a little average, but that’s also because we tend to love hot pot at home, with which we can buy fresher and better quality ingredients. We definitely appreciated that they refilled the shabu shabu with broth as opposed to hot water (as some hot pot places will).

The rest of the food included various vegetables, tofu, other soy-based products, fungi, other types of meat, and so forth.

The service was average, didn’t wow us, but keep in mind, this is an ACYE restaurant. As with all service industry in  Japan, they are always polite.

If you’re looking for some quick, wagyu beef without dishing out too much money, this is definitely a place to look into!

Food: 8.2/10
Service: 3/5
Atmosphere: traditional, casual, cozy
Price: $40CAD

~ kehwon

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 6 – Day 5 Nishiki Market

When you go to Kyoto, you simply must stop at the Nishiki market; there’s no questions asked. Our advice is to go for lunch, with an empty stomach, do not get doubles for anything – just share every piece.

The market is generally open between 9 – 5, most stores closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. Of course this varies by store, but since we lived close to the Nishiki Market, it wasn’t a big hassle to come back if we wanted to try anything that was closed (which did happen – Gogyo)

In the order of the pictures:

The tamagoyaki (egg roll) was quite good, but I actually liked the one from Sushi Dai better. However it was fun to watch them make it. The tamagoyaki was light in texture and flavour, but unfortunately didn’t wow us.

The baby Octopus had a surprise inside when I bit into it, housing a quail egg in the head. Genius, and a nice snack. It is served cold, still retains that crunch of a just-done octopus, and coated in a sauce that is slightly sweet and sour.

There were numerous stalls with various yaki, mostly made of fish. These were good, but nothing we felt we couldn’t get elsewhere.

If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with sugared donuts. When I saw these soybean donuts I almost cried out and ran for it. Almost. Watching the little machine squirt out the dough into the frying oil was mesmerizing as I tried to count the change to pay for the donuts. It was 600¥ for 6 small donuts, and you can choose what powder you’d like as topping; we chose soybean. They were good, interesting flavour due to the soybean but I still like 沙翁 better…

Fermented vegetables are a staple in Japanese restaurants and homes. We really wanted to buy some but really had no good way of keeping it and bringing it back home so unfortunately we had to skip this. We tasted some and they were so fresh and flavourful, but had richness of fermented flavours at the same time. Over the years I’ve grown to love fermented vegetables, especially the extremely sour ones, so this was definitely a treat.

The highlight and star of the Nishiki market however, was the matcha-hojicha ice cream swirl. Holy. This was the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my life. So creamy, and so much matcha.We also learned what hojicha is; a roasted green tea leaf, compared to the unroasted green tea powder, matcha. Even though the cone was a common, buy-it-at-the-conbi type, it was still so delicious. I wanted to get another one but when we returned, they were closed already :(. The store is actually a tea shop, 錦一葉 (ask for Nishiki IchiHa) but it was their icecream that seems to be their most popular item.

Nishiki Market is definitely a place where you can easily blow all your money at. Be wary of the amount of food you get, or you might find yourself low on cash! However, it is a must-visit in our books. Especially the ice cream shop.

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 5 – Day 4 Konoya Curry Udon

Konoya is in one of those massive mall complexes that are very popular in Asia in general. It is located in the Oazo Building, near Tokyo Station.

We knew we had wanted to try curry udon, but didn’t have much of an idea which to try. We decided to just take a bet at this shop as it had received some good reviews in various sites.

2015-05-15 18.59.332015-05-15 19.20.06

On the fifth floor of the Oazo building, we finally were able to locate this commercial, after-work spot.

We ordered the set dinner, which came with curry udon and a mixed vegetable tempura. The tempura was absolutely amazing, creating an excellent contrast in texture juxtaposed to the smooth creaminess of the curry udon broth. The curry broth was rich, not too spicy but had enough kick, and salty. Perfectly complementing the chewy udon that we love so much.

Of course we looked very silly with our disposable apron (assumed to be for the protection of the businessmen’s dress shirts from the slurping of the udon), we thought this meal was incredibly well put together, and surprisingly tasty. It was a little more expensive than we would’ve imagined for a restaurant like this, but is overlooked since everything was quite well done.

Food: 8.6/10
Service: 3/5
Atmosphere: fast-food, commercial, mall restaurant
Cost: 3000-4000¥

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 4 – Day 2 Maisen Tonkatsu

We had tried some Tonkatsu in Hong Kong the last time we were in Asia, but we wanted to have the “real deal” in Tokyo. Maisen is one of the most famous Tonkatsu restaurants, and is known to have massive line-ups. Outside the front of the store, there is permanently pylons and rope outlining a snake line-up.

2015-05-13 11.23.562015-05-13 10.52.32 (1)2015-05-13 11.24.07

We arrived at 11am, when they opened, and we were seated promptly. The restaurant filled up in less than 15 minutes, affirming their popularity.

We ordered the kurobuta (black pig, 黒豚), and the regular tonkatsu. Because we had just finished Bills Omotesando breakfast, we only ordered the set for one of them. In the end, we were so stuffed it was difficult to finish.

The fluffy batter and tenderness of the tonkatsu was something that is difficult to describe, but also something that I still remember well to this day (almost 8 months later). It was so light, and easy to bite into, but still retained that satisfying crunch we seek. The crunchy fresh cabbage on the side went well with the fattiness of the meat. The side dishes were quite interesting, my favourite was the dashi-soaked pureed daikon.

In terms of the difference between the kurobuta and regular, kurobuta is definitely more fatty and tender. However, for my own preference, perhaps because of my profession, I tend to like the regular tonkatsu better. It is too fatty for me, and even though it’s more tender, it just leaves me feeling a little too queasy.

We were glad we didn’t have to wait in line for Maisen, and would definitely recommend this to our friends and family. I would also try their curry katsu next time as well.

Food: 8.9/10
Service: 4/5
Atmosphere: Traditional, quiet, white table cloth
Cost: ~5000¥ total 

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 3 – Day 2 – Bills Omotesando

 

Because I fell in love with brunching during my time in Montreal, we had to go and have a proper brunch somewhere whilst we were travelling. We found this very popular breakfast place, opened by Bill Granger, a chef in Australia who opened the “best breakfast in the world”. Needless to say we had to come and try.

The interior was very chic, bright, and tended to attract more feminine clientele. But its neutrality and simple design welcomed all types of people. We arrived at around 9am, and the restaurant was almost full. The terrace was packed, so we unfortunately were not able to enjoy the breeze and the outside air with our breakfast.

We ordered a chia pudding with coconut milk, and berries. The ricotta pancake with banana and honey, and the scrambled eggs with toast.

Everything was very fresh and plated very nicely, in keeping with the simple feel of interior of the restaurant. However, we didn’t feel that the dishes were exceptional tasting. The scrambled eggs were fluffy, but also felt a little plastic as well.

The pancake was fluffy, but only a little fluffier than what I had managed in my own kitchen. There wasn’t much ricotta taste, which is just as well since I am not a fan of ricotta. The honey and banana was quite good, but didn’t seem to blend with the flavour of the pancake very well.

As for the chia seed pudding, it was mediocre, and again nothing I couldn’t make out of my own kitchen easily.

Overall, the breakfast was good, but definitely not “best breakfast in the world”. It is the interiors that make up for it, as it seems it is what most of the patrons enjoy anyway.

Food: 7.6/10
Service: 3.5/5
Atmosphere: chic, simple, clean, bright, modern
Cost: 3000¥

Tokyo and Kyoto – Part 2 – Day 1 Sushi Dai

 

So our first destination was of course Tsukiji Market. We always plan and recommend this to be the first thing on the agenda because in order to minimize wait times, you will need the be there at 4 to 4:30am to line up for sushi. Since most of our friends are from North America, you may be jet lagged, and what better advantage do we have against others than already being awake? Yes, it’s worth it if you love sushi because it’s both affordable and incredibly fresh. You will not be able to get this freshness and simplicity in sashimi unless you go straight to the source.

Sushi Dai is fresh (AF), simple, and to the point. They do not dwell on anything fancy or excessive, not striving for creativity or inventions, they take the best quality ingredients and present it to you in what they feel to be the most optimal way. They are efficient, and the service lasts for about 20-30 minutes.

There are two options, 7 pieces or 11 pieces. Pretty much everyone is willing to pay for 11 pieces, so just get the 11. Between some of the nigiri courses (raw fish served on small ball of rice), there are also other foods, including their famous tamagoyaki which is very thin layered egg wrapped on itself. I love their rendition of the tamagoyaki because it is still very wet, like the texture of scrambled egg to my liking, and they incorporated other flavours into the egg, including green onion. They also had 4 pieces of maguro maki served in between.

Sushi Dai was as we had remembered it, and they were nice enough this time to provide hot tea during our wait outside. They were also much more organized in providing order to the line, and telling their patrons roughly how long the wait will be from their position. Overall, they’ve really done well in managing the tourists who come for their amazing sushi. Their chefs often dabble in multiple languages, and are proficient in english. The particular chef that we had on both occasions we were there spoke some Cantonese and Mandarin which was nice, and added a sense of familiarity that many tourists realize they are missing when travelling.

I love this sushi shop and will be sad if they do not re-open upon the move of the Tsukiji Market (date unknown as of yet).

Food: 9.2/10
Service: 4/5
Atmosphere: sushi bar, small
Cost: ~$40CAD

Tokyo and Kyoto

A much delayed update on my trip to japan in the past year. But it was such an amazing experience I still wanted to share it with  you.

We traveled for 2 weeks, heading to Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as Bangkok. It was our second time in Tokyo and we were excited to bring in our new passions and interests to explore what the Japanese has done in these industries. Of course, the trip was centered around food, as all our vacations are.

Japan is always an amazing destination in our minds due to our love for Japanese cuisine, as well as my very superficial knowledge of the Japanese language, making traveling a little bit easier. We had first visited Japan 3 years ago, and it was our first trip together as a couple. This time, we wanted to truly experience and explore the city as much as we could as we would have if we were to live in Japan. We wanted to avoid the tourist spots (and traps) as much as possible. So the obvious choice in accommodation was AirBNB.

Food
Cafe

Continue reading “Tokyo and Kyoto”

Colette Grand Cafe – Fashion District

So for my birthday (which was about a month ago), tfung took me to the buzz of the town for quite some time, Colette Grand Café. He knew I’d love the décor, and that I was missing the french pizazz as I’d been away from Montreal for some time at this point.

Walking in, the visual impact was stunning of course. As we had an early dinner on a weekday (Tuesday), the place was quite empty. Personally, I prefer this, as it is much more romantic and intimate this way.

2015-06-23 18.16.40

Continue reading “Colette Grand Cafe – Fashion District”