March 20, 2011

Dinner and a Movie in Tokyo after the Earthquake

For the past week, R. and I have been at home. I have been working from home (it is great that I work at a company where this is possible) while R. has been off of work because Tokyo Disneyland is currently closed. I have not been getting out and about the city much, I really have only been visiting the local supermarket and a few stores around where we live. We have generally been eating stuff that we have on hand - I've made a bunch of omelets since we were able to find eggs. We cooked up a batch of Curry on Monday, and have had that for dinner and lunch quite a few days. Curry is great because you can make a lot of it at once, it keeps for a long time, and you just need rice to go with it.

On Saturday, I wanted to take R. out to do something, and coincidentally the movie Tangled just opened in Japan on Saturday. She wants to see Tangled, I'm interested in getting out, and so we had a plan. A normal sort of thing that people do everywhere: a movie and then dinner.

Note that actually this isn't something we do a lot here in Tokyo. I used to see two to four movies a month (hi Carl!) but since moving to Japan I have not seen many movies at all. Tickets here cost about $30 (given the current crazy exchange rate) and just are not as common of an activity as they are in the US. Still, it is still a pretty normal thing to do. So R. reserved us some tickets for a 3:30pm showing over in Roppongi Hills.

That got me to thinking about dinner. One thing I want to do is to support the Japanese economy and get things back to normal. Sitting around at home eating curry for a week (while it is economical on our end) is just not going to do that. I've been hearing good things about Union Square Tokyo for the past few years since it opened in 2007, so I wondered if they would have an opening for us. This place is a nice restaurant, not say Michelin three star or anything, but it is a nice place where a main dish will run from $40-$60 or so. Normally I would try to get a reservation a week or so in advance just to be sure, but I called them up Saturday afternoon and they took our reservation for that evening.

So, here are my main reasons for trying to get out and go do dinner:

  • A week after the earthquake, I think it is time to get back to normal life (not that we are always going out to high class restaurants) and stop sitting around at home.
  • I wanted to see how well mass transit could serve us. Roppongi Hills is usually about 30-45 minute trip from our place on a train and a bus.
  • I thought after a week of sitting around, Risa and I deserved a bit of a treat after surviving the largest Earthquake in Japanese history. If anything deserves a bit of a celebration, that is it.
  • I love curry. But I love me a good steak a bit more, if I can get an excuse to put out the money they cost in Tokyo.

Click the "read more" link to see how well we fared.

read more (3240 words)

March 16, 2011

You know it is bad when you are eating Nude Crunky Balls

With a city of over 15 million people, food can run out fast. I just wen to the local supermarket and they still don't have any staple foods (but they have had deliveries of other non-staple foods.) It could be that there was just a buying run, but since we don't have much rice and pasta at home, I'm waiting to buy myself. The government now is telling people that we have enough stock of food, and not to panic and hoard food. I think that has happened to some extent - we ran out of rice last week and just put off buying new rice (5kg bags are heavy - almost 5kg!!) and now we don't have a major staple food. We are also almost out of pasta. So I would like to stock up, but there is nothing in the store. See my previous post.

So we go to the store, and they do have some things, but the selection is strange. They still have lots of beer and wine, which we also have plenty of at home, but those don't really help when you need hydration. Could be worse though I suppose. But you know things must be getting back when you are reduced to eating Nude Crunky Balls.

Ah, who am I kidding? Nude Crunky Balls are chocolately and delicious. I love them.

Yesterday (Tuesday JST) I went to work for the first time since the earthquake. Transport was not running reliably, but I've been biking to work for a few months, so that wasn't a problem for me. On the ride in to work I noticed about three times as many people as normal were on bikes. I think other people were worried about getting stuck somewhere without transportation, so busted out their infrequently used bikes to get around the city. None of them were as cool as my bike though, a nice Raleigh that I put some clip-in pedals on (thanks Dave S.!) and have been commuting on for a few months. I got some work done, but as things developed with the Fukushima nuclear power plant (more on that later if I have time - the big take away is that things are working as designed and we are all safe, as long as no small turtles named Gamera snuck into the containment vessel) we were told to go home by 2pm. Today (Wednesday JST) was declared a work from home day, which I can do as a computer professional. Kind of. I'm glued to the tv, and trying to find rice. And eating Nude Crunky Balls.

The interesting thing though is that on my ride home yesterday I saw massive lines at the pump on my bike ride home. I passed 3 gas stations. One was sold out of gas, the other two had lines of 60-100 cars. I'm more afraid that if there is a panic, people won't be able to get out of Tokyo easily and there will be large traffic jams. Trains work great, but right now trains are on irregular schedules, and were very crowded today (according to friends who took the train into work.) So I worry that there might be a panic in Tokyo with people trying to get out of town because of unfounded fears of nuclear radioactivity. If you have the time, please read this take from an MIT engineer on why things are not as bad as the media might lead you to believe. 日本語版もあります。

I am joking around a bit here: we do have enough food for a few days, and supplies are getting better. I don't think we will have a problem in Tokyo. But if I am forced to eat delicious nude crunky chocolate balls, be sure that I will not let my blog go uninformed. Also, we are running out of truffles and foie gras. Please send more forthwith.

February 20, 2011

Molecular Tapas Bar, Tokyo

Last week for Valentine's Day I took R. to the Molecular Bar on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Tokyo. I have been wanting to go to this place for a few years now, ever since I first ran across it in Joseph Malozzi's blog (a writer/producer on the Stargate series whose blog I ran into looking for restaurant recommendations but who I follow now for the sci-fi and book content) a few years back.

Ever since I started watching Top Chef I've been interested in trying some of this new-fangled molecular gastronomy, and this looks like the place for it. The place is small - seven seats, with two seatings a night, so you should make reservations in advance if you are interested. The menu is set, the Chefs work in front of you, explaining the dishes in English and Japanese (or just Japanese since I was the only non-Japanese that night) and are very open to questions. Very friendly people. We also chose a Champagne tasting menu to go with the fixed menu, which worked very well. While we were waiting for things to get started, we spent a bit of time watching the random brac-a-brac on the bar float on their magnetic stands. Pretty cool, they twirled most of the night without much to maintain their momentum.

The first dish was a pairing of 38º Salmon sashimi and pork. Very nice, but I'm not a huge gourmand so I don't know how this was particularly a play on how these things are normally served. Next up was a deconstructed Tai (a type of fish) Chazuke, which is normally fish in rice with tea, eaten at the end of a meal (or apparently, when you overstay your welcome in Kyoto and hosts are trying to get you out of their house. Kind of funny that our meal started off this way.)
Next up was a nice foam Bacalao Espuma. Bacalao is a kind of fish (apparently Spanish for a dried and salted cod?) and Espuma is a foam. So this was a fish foam. It was delicious. I don't think I've ever eaten fish as a foam before. The next dish, Garden Caviar, was actually started before the Espuma. They took a contraption with a bunch of syringes filled with liquified vegetables, and then shook it such that droplets fell into a gel like substance that solidified them into little liquid balls. They look a lot like caviar, and tasted great too. I wouldn't have thought they were really vegetables. It took a while for the caviar to solidify so they started it before the espuma, and brought it out afterwards. Following up on the gelled liquid theme we had a Scallop with Cultivated Pearl. The pearl was actually a kind of yoghurt that was somehow solidified and made to look all shiny and nice. Also delicious.
Next up was a delicious Black Truffle and Lily Bulb soup. Very nice. Followed by some really nice pork ("Secret of Ibirico", referring to the little-used or known cut of meat) that was smoked in cherry blossom smoke trapped in the cup. Once you lifted the cup the smoke billowed out and smelled great. The pork itself was excellent. After that was another great dish, which had probably the best sauce of the night, a Foie Gras, Coffee, and potato dish. The foie gras was shaved from a frozen block all over the dish, covering the potatoes and sauce. The coffee sauce was amazing. Maybe that's just because I gave up coffee a few months ago, but I really liked that sauce.
One of the most memorable dishes was the pork dumpling. Usually soup dumplings have a dough exterior with meat and soup inside, and they burst deliciously in your mouth. The twist on this dish is that the soup was inside the pork. It was also delicious and wasn't too hot - one of the problems I always have is that I burn my mouth on the first dumpling or two, but this was just right. Next up was a delicious Japanese beef. The Japanese really love their beef, but don't go the same way Texans do (large.) Usually the meat is a tender cut, small, well flavored and melts in your mouth. Like this beef did. Really nice. I would have actually liked some of the coffee sauce on it.
Another memorable dish was the deconstructed miso soup. The soup was again solidified into some sort of gel ball, with the traditional accruements on the outside. When you eat it all in one mouthful it mixes in your mouth and tastes great. Following the miso course, we started in on desert. First was a liquid nitrogen puff. I don't know what went into the puff, but it was dipped into liquid nitrogen, and when you pop it into your mouth it quickly crumbles and a whole bunch of nitrogen gas shoots out of your mouth or nose.
The last three deserts were quite nice. A nice snowy scene kind of cake that was delicious, and an assortment of chocolate truffles and other sweets. The final desert was sour fruits, then the "miracle fruit" which you suck on for a minute, and then the sour fruits miraculously turn sweet. Very interesting. Hot water will reverse the effects (it seemed to play tricks on my wine actually, also pretty interesting.)

I really had a nice time, and R. seemed to enjoy herself as well. The view from up there is great, I totally recommend the place. They have a seasonal menu that changes 4 times a year, and R. said she wants to go back to sample their menu when it changes. I would like to go back too, but the place is a bit pricey so we'll have to see how things go.

January 23, 2011

Monjya-yaki and the Lion King's Simba

Last night my wife and I went to the house warming party of some friends of ours. They had just moved back from New York, where the husband was studying law at Columbia University. They rented out the lounge on the 37th floor of their building near Tsukishima. It had an excellent view of Tokyo Tower, which I forgot to take pictures of. We hung out for a few hours, and later one those of us that remained went out for Monjya-yaki (the Tokyo specific version of Okonomi-yaki that is more soupy and has less flour) in nearby Tsukishima, which is well known for Monjya-yaki shops.

It was only the second time I've ever had Monjya-yaki, but was quite nice. We had a lot of fun. The most unusual aspect of the night is that one of the people at the party is an actor in "The Lion King" - he plays Simba. Just by chance when my friend was in New York, he sat down next to this guy who was also in New York at the time, and they became friends. So we had a good time talking about plays and musicals and the like.

R. and I actually had tickets to see the Lion King, but due to a comedy of booking errors, ended up giving the tickets away to other friends. So we're going to have to try again to see it in Tokyo. It will be a lot more fun thinking that an acquaintance of ours might be in the show!

September 8, 2010

What I had for dinner

I made it home an hour earlier than R. today, so I figured I would cook. I do that sometimes. I don't really know what I'm doing; I just look up whatever it is that I want to eat. Or some close approximation. A few weeks back I decided I wanted pasta with a white sauce. So I tried to make it. It was easier than I expected, and pretty good too. Made for a few more meals at lunch. I'll do it again some time.

Tonight, for some reason, I really wanted fried rice. So I tried to make a chicken fried rice of some kind. It was pretty random; just bought a few things I liked and threw them together in some way. The main non-chicken things in the chicken fried rice were mushrooms, red peppers, onions, and mirin + soy sauce. Also the egg. Turned out pretty good, and I bet I will get one or two more meals out of that too.

I'm not really a cook, but I love eating. I've enjoyed cooking recently, but cutting things up is so annoying. I want a machine that cuts things up for me. Or a better knife. It would be nice if I knew what I was doing, but I keep watching Top Chef and then thinking that I can make delicious food also.

August 13, 2010

Royce Chocolate Potato Chips

For the past few months, we've had a mysterious box in our refrigerator. It was labeled "Royce Potato Chip Chocolate", which mystified me. It looked like it was chocolate. But it said something in there about potato chips. I had a hard time consolidating those two concepts. I was almost convinced that they were chocolates in the shape of potato chips, except the picture on the cover was pretty clear that the contents were chocolate covered potato chips.

Finally, the other day, I wanted a snack, my wife wasn't around, and I noticed the things were two months past their consume-by date. So at worst, I could just say that I threw them out (and I might possibly have to spend some time with food poisoning - but when chocolate is involved, that isn't really a convincing threat.)

Surprisingly, they were great. The potato chips do have salt on them. And chocolate. The chips are a salty, chocolately snack that is a bit strange, but very good. They are filling, and it took three days to finish off the bag, but they are gone now. We received them from a friend, and now when I want to find out where I can get some more, it turns out that Royce is a chocolate company from Hokkaidou. Hokkaidou is a bit far (by Japanese standards) and they might not have a shop in Tokyo. But I bet I can find them again if I try.

Turns out these things have been around for a while; see also this blog post on dessert comes first.

July 3, 2010

Dave's Delicious Restaurant

In Japan, the pixar movie "Ratatouille" was called "Remi's Delicious Restaurant" (レミの美味しいレストラン). I have a whole spiel about how Japanese movie titles are basically the entire movie plot in a single sentence (like, The Sixth Sense would be titled "A kid sees the ghosts and his psychologist is a ghost too") but I won't go into that now.

R. and I went to see Ratatouille when it was in the theatres here. It was great. We have the movie at home. I watched it the other day and thought it would be fun to do a "davee's delicious restaurant", so today while R. was at work I spent the day cleaning. And when I was done cleaning I went shopping. The Jusco (large suprtmarket) near us decided that since it is the 4th of July that they would do a big "American Sale". All sorts of "American stuff" was on sale. 24 packs of Budweiser for only $40. I actually think I'll pick one of those up tomorrow just for laughs. They also had some nice American steaks for $12 so I picked one of those up. and since I watched Ratatouille not too long ago, was able to pick up all the ingredients I needed for that. I also checked out what I would need for some chocolat fondant and picked those up.

I'm a bad cook, and slow, but after a few hours managed to get some stuff made. I also threw together a corn soup (Campbells, but it was great.) When R. got home I pretended to only speak French and sat her down at the (cleaned and repositioned) table, then went and changed into some nice pants and shirt. Then we had a great dinner and watched Ratatouille. And ate too much, but man that Chocolate Fondant recipe was great. I wouldn't say easy, but not hard, and great. Too much for two people though.

Also, of course we are following that up now with Wall-E.

June 12, 2010

What's for dinner?

Some variation of this was. It was pretty good too. I think R. might have snapped a shot before we ate, but I didn't. We don't have a real camera anymore either, just cell phone cameras now.

May 17, 2010

A small bar in Ikebukuro

Last Friday, R. and I went to a small bar in Ikebukuro. Our aim was to find the small bar Afiya, run by a friend of a friend. It is a really small wine bar that has a focus on food from Senegal. The place has maybe room for 8, so a very cozy atmosphere. We actually headed down a bit early (because I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of guy) but the place wasn't open yet. We called the proprietress and it turns out she wasn't planning on opening until 8pm, so we had about an hour to spend.

Luckily, right around the corner was Ete, another wine bar. It was a themed night. The place is actually very nice. I highly recommend it. They had some nice French food, some nice French wine, and the staff was great. The chef was a pretty taciturn guy, but the waitress / bartender was a very friendly young lady, who I later learned was much later younger than I thought! (23. Why does age always come up in conversations in Japan so often? I don't know.)

Anyway, a glass of wine and some appetizers later, we headed down to Afiya and met up with Kei, the owner. Then we had more wine, and some great Yassa chicken. Highly recommended. The regulars were also really nice and fun to chat with. Ben, one of the regulars, beat out a mean rhythm on the drum.

And we had a bit much to drink, but did make it back home eventually. If you are in Ikebukuro sometime, check Afiya out!

May 4, 2010

Musical Robots, Chocolate, and Alice in Wonderland

The other day, R. and I had a rare day off together, so we headed to the Mori Museum of Art for the Roppongi Art Crossing 2010 "Can there be art?" exhibit.

Before that though, we made a stop at Le Chocolat de H, a chocolatier in Roppongi Hills. I had their chocolate and coffee combination. The three types of Chocolate were cinnamon (a bit spicy), regular (very nice), and goma (normal, but a nice crunchy texture.) I think I liked the cinnamon the best. They are all chocolate though, so you can't really go wrong. R. got a nice cake with a tea. I really enjoyed the relaxing cafe break, and love chocolate, so I might be stopping there again in the future.

We then went on to visit the museum, and there were lots of cool things there. I really like the upside down Japanese flag (but you could only tell because of the placement of the mounting rope) but my favorite by far were the three musical robots. They are cool. They make strange noises from electric guitar pickups and recycled home stuff (blenders, vacuum cleaners, car stuff, etc.) Really cool.

They also had a nice skate pipe setup that was painted. They have periodic live painting shows with skaters too, and we'll try to go back for that sometime in May.

After the museum, we went to the theater and saw Alice in Wonderland. It was in 3D, which I'm not a big fan of. I just don't really see 3d. So that left the story, which also wasn't all that great. I was really hoping for a new re-interpretation of the source material that would be more nuanced and sophisticated. It was anything but. Caricatures and exaggeration. The computer graphics were nice though. It certainly wasn't worth the $60 or so it cost (2 $24 tickets, drinks and popcorn.) I'm going to try to avoid 3D in the future; it gives me a headache and seems to be a mask for movies with weak stories.

April 3, 2010


Risa asked me to make dinner tonight. I've wanted to make Pizza for a long time, so I did some scouting on the web (found a few good looking pizza recipes but none of them were for convection ovens) so in the end I checked the Japanese cookbook that came with my convection oven. It has a recipe so I used that.

First off, the dough from scratch. I didn't know there was both strong and weak flour, so I had to get some of the strong kind. Making the dough was pretty fun; it was the first time I used yeast and watched the stuff rise. Pretty impressive. I had to make a lot of use of a metric conversion chart and a lot of guessing, but in the end the dough turned out pretty good.

I also used this recipe for tomato sauce which turned out pretty good. At the same time, since I felt a bit bad about always making American food for Risa, I wanted to try something with fish. I decided to try a salmon fillet en Papillote because it sounded like fun, and my convection oven cookbook had a recipe also. My book didn't have good directions on how to do the heart-shaped cooking bags, so I checked this page, but in the end my paper bags were too small. It turns out we were not hungry after the first pizza, so I just put those in the fridge and I'll try to salvage them tomorrow.

The pizza went well. I made the dough, let it rise in the oven (which has a setting for it,) let it rest, and then put on the ingredients and we were off to the races. I did more chopping on this night than I ever had before. The sauce turned out great, and on the pizza I had mushrooms, some sausage, and cheese. It was great. The recipe actually made two pies, so one of them went into the fridge. I'm really happy with the experiment though; I foresee more pizza in my future.

March 24, 2010

(Real) Taco Night

Last night I cooked dinner. I've decided to try to come home a bit earlier and cook at least once a week. And also run. But that is a different post. Anyway, I've wanted to make tacos for a while, so that is what I did last night.

The big deal for me was making tortillas from scratch. I found a recipe online and went for it. I did burn the tortillas, and they were a bit small (I cut the portions in half and still had leftovers) and a bit stiff, but edible. And good. And kind of fun to make. I also got an avocado, cut that up, a yellow pepper (need some color), a head of lettuce, hamburger, and mixed seafood. Also some great jalepeno cheese. I made a bunch of cheesy mixed seafood, which was great, and standard hamburger meat for the taco (also great - but could have used some cheese) and away we went.

I think we both ate a bit much, but it was fun, and R. was suprised that Taco night didn't involve octopus.

March 16, 2010

Chicken Cordon Blargh

Tonight I decided to go for broke and I cooked up some chicken cordon bleu. I have always liked the idea: ham and cheese wrapped up in chicken with breading and cheese. I can't really find a problem with that. It sounds delicious.

So I went shopping and armed myself with a random recipe from the net (that is where I get most of recipes - the "I'm feeling lucky" button) and came home. I was a bit late because work went late (and I have to log on again in a minute) so dinner ended up being pretty late too. I also don't have a meat mallet - I used to have one back in New York, but I don't now. I figured I didn't need one though because I have Eric's old sugar jar which is glass and fairly heavy. So I used that to pound on the chicken breasts for a while. I didn't ever manage to get them very flat though.

Too bad, because that was the main flaw. Anyway, I pounded the chicken semi-flat, added in some cheese and ham, and rolled them up, battered them, and cooked 'em. I had some stuff left over (flour, egg stuff, bread flakes, ham) so I mixed all that together and made some sort of crazy fake latkes.

In the end the chicken cordon blargh turned out pretty good, except the thick chicken parts had little flavor (despite the salt, pepper and shichimi I threw on the batter) ... Still, R. ate it, I did too, and neither of us have had to run to the bathroom yet...

A final thought: this stuff is like, entirely meat! It is amazing! I was shocked after I ate it that ... this is American Food! We actually only ate half of one of the chicken breast things because it was just so much meat. Along with the salad and random fried ham stuff I made, just wow. Meat meat meat.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. :-)

January 17, 2010

Stuff I've been (cooking and) eating lately

Last night R. and I invited our friends A. and D. over for dinner. R. was working, and I had the day off so I spent the morning and afternoon in the kitchen cooking up dinner. A few weeks back we had some friends over for a Christmas dinner and that went pretty well, so I wanted to try it again. I scaled back the menu a bit, but still it took a lot longer to cook everything up than I expected. I'm a pretty poor cook, so that probably explains it.

Anyway, what was on the menu?

  • Honey Glazed Ham. I liked the ham I made last time, and wanted to try a larger-scale version of it. The problem: when I finally went shopping for hams, I couldn't find one as large as what I would expect to find in the US. The ham I did get, a Rosenheim 750g gift ham was about a third of the size that I would expect of a US ham, and more expensive to boot. Ah well.
  • Buffalo Wings. R. requested this, and it was a good call. I was originally going to buy some ready-made wings, but R. didn't sound too happy about that, so I decided to go from scratch. I dug up a hot sauce recipe and cut up some chicken wings. Also, made the sour cream blue cheese sauce for the wings, and bought celery (never had the time to cut it though.)
  • Mashed Potatoes. Made these from scratch this time, since someone on Flickr chastised me for using frozen mashed potatoes before. It was really easy to make them from scratch (took longer though) and since I often have potatoes laying around I'll be doing this more often. Might try french fries sometime too.
  • Corn. From a can. I love corn.
  • Butter and Soy Sauce Sauteed mushrooms and carrots. I like butter sauteed mushrooms, so threw some carrots in there too.
  • Ambrosia fruit salad.
  • Chocolate chip cookies

Pretty good! Our guests arrived and brought a bottle of champagne, so we had to try that. Actually we swapped that bottle out for one we had in the fridge, and then later moved on to beer. Dinner went well, and I think everyone had a great time. We somehow ended up on watching old Knight Rider and Baywatch videos. Not sure how that happened. Then The Cribs' Cheat on Me with Johnny Marr.

So, dinner was great. Today I'm just relaxing (I feel like I'm coming down with a cold) so I'll take it easy, write some blog posts, and catch up on paying bills and finances, as well as some cleaning and washing I suppose.

What else have I been eating lately? Well, you know I can't miss out when McDonalds Japan introduces a new burger: the Texas Burger. Looks like it is a 650 calorie burger. The picture on their site looks better than the ones I've got, but that isn't surprising. They are doing a whole series on Big American Burgers with Texas up first. It looks like it will be around for about 3 weeks before they move on to the next burger, the Big America New York Burger. Third is California, and finally they have Hawaii. (See the list with pictures here.) The Texas one looks best to me, with Hawaii coming in second. I'm not sure what the differences are on California and New York, so I guess I'll go and translate their descriptions.





Texas Burger:

The wild flavor of this Texas Burger will have the wilderness of Texas floating right before your eyes! You can enjoy two different sauces, the spicy BBQ sauce and a refreshing mustard relish along with a huge quarter pound of beef (2.5 times larger than the normal beef patty.) The elasticity of the trio of carefully hand-crafted well cooked buns is the special characteristic of this burger. And you're going to love the crunchy fried onions, cheese, and accents of bacon filled with umami in this burger.

New York Burger:

This stylish New York burger will make you think of a plate from a corner cafe in New York. This burger is based on the club sandwich that is said to have originated from here. It's got a juicy quarter pound beef patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) with the refined harmony of Monterrey Jack cheese that was originated in America, bacon full of umami, tomatoes and lettuce. It is accented by a spicy mustard sauce. It has an unrivaled compatibility with the specially-made graham (all flour) buns.

California Burger:

This California burger will make you feel the natural blessing of the sunshine that falls down on the state. The main point is the specialty sauce that uses white wine from California. The full quarter pound beef patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) is made with a mellow smell and deep flavor. You'll be fulfilled with the luxurious harmony between the tomato, lettuce, bacon with lots of umami, and Monterrey Jack cheese that was developed here. Don't forget the fragrant specialty buns topped with powdered cheese.

Hawaiian Burger:

We have locked in the world-famous beloved flavor of Hawaiian Loco Moco in this burger. A thick special gravy sauce is on the large quarter pound patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) with a jiggly egg, bacon full of umami, cheese, and lettuce make up this wrapped up harmony. You also can't look past the fragrant specialty buns topped with powdered cheese.

Huh, sounds like they are all mostly using the same ingredients. Still, it should be interesting to see what the upcoming hamburgers are like.

December 27, 2009

2009 Christmas Dinner at Tateru Yoshino Shiba Park Hotel

Every year, R. and I go to a nice dinner for Christmas. I really look forward to that every year. This year, I wanted to try a Michel Star rated French place in Tokyo. Well, the Tokyo part is because I live here, and the Michelin Star part is because I've never eaten at one of those places before, and I found Joseph Mallozzi’s blog, who is a producer on Stargate Universe (which I like) and coincidentally did a great write-up of amazing food in Tokyo. I was jealous. So for my revenge, I decided to go eat some nice food of my own. If only I had the budget to do this every night for a week or so. But I don't.

So, R. and I went out to Tateru Yoshino at the Shiba Park Hotel. It was probably my favorite of all the Christmas dinners that we've done for the past three years. For comparison, the other two were at the New York Grill, and the COUCAGNO in the Cerulean Tower. They were both very good, but I remember feeling like I would explode after both of those meals. This time, the portions were smaller or I've gotten fatter because I didn't feel like I would explode. We also drank less this time (only one glass of champagne and one bottle of wine) so I wasn't nearly as drunk as the other two times. We had a wine tasting menu at COUCAGNO which was great, but too much to drink.

Of the places that we have eaten, this one was at the lowest elevation, at only the first floor. The other two were forty or fifty floors up. The food was great though. The evening was full of truffes, but I have had so few of them that I can't really evaluate whether they were good or not. The stand-out dish to me was the fish (the Amadai, I don't know what it is in English or French.) It had a great crispy shell and was just marvelously delicious. I also really liked the cabbage dish, and R.'s deer with chocolate. I would have preferred that to my bird, which was also quite nice, but I'm glad we tried a bit of each. The cheese wasn't so great for me, since I am not a big cheese fan, but R. really enjoyed it. The dessert (the real one, with the ice cream and cake-like crunchy object) was also great. Overall it was a really nice dinner. We also split a nice bottle of white wine, which of course I have now forgotten.

I'm not sure what we will do next year - I want to try to get reservations at the Molecular Bar but who knows?

December 23, 2009

A Pre-Christmas Dinner

I've been in Japan for a few years now, and I've really enjoyed Osechi Ryouri (the food Japanese people eat at the New Year) but this year, I really wanted to have a traditional American Christmas Dinner.

In our family we usually had Turkey and ham at Christmas. We also usually had corn, peas, sweet beets, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, and ambrosia fruit salad. I'm not sure why, but my family really loves ambrosia fruit salad. It is basically fruit coctail with marshmallows and miracle whip and way too much sugar.

That sounds like a pretty intimidating menu for me, since I'm not much of a cook. I usually make pasta, curry, tuna sandwiches, salad, stuff like that. I have made turkey before, but that is about it. So I pared the menu down a bit and decided on this:

  • Turkey. But I'll cheat: R.'s grandma wants to make turkey for Christmas, so if I buy her one, she'll make the stuffing for mine too. Great!
  • Gravy. Because, you know. Gravy.
  • Honey glazed ham. Doesn't look like it is too tough, and I love honey and ham and sweet stuff and pineapples. I don't see how I can screw this up.
  • Mashed potatoes. You can make those frozen ones easily and they taste great. Also, R. went to IKEA recently and brought back a bag of frozen mashed potatoes. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Corn. I love corn. And it is also easy to make if you have a bag of frozen corn. Which I do. Because I bought it. For tonight.
  • Cookies. I even made a bunch in advance. Chocolate chip (the best), sugar, and gingerbread men.
  • Ambrosia Fruit Salad. Like I said, it is an "our family" kind of food. I did make it a bit less sweet though.
  • Peach and Blueberry pie. Because it looks like it will be delicious and probably I won't mess it up. Because I bought a pre-made graham cracker crust, and frozen peaches and frozen blueberries. And I've got sugar and flour, and really, what else could you need? (Cinammon, and some other spices which I had already for the cookies. nice.)

So I actually started working on the cookies a few days earlier. They turned out amazingly great, if a bit flat. I need to work on that. I love the chocolate chip cookies, but wish they were a bit thicker. I think I can fix that though. Somehow. More flower, or more sutff to leaven the flour. Or who care. They are great! Just jam two of those things together.

In the morning I started on the pie. Why the pie? Figured I could re-heat it when we needed it and keep it in the fridge after it was done. Yep. It was easy enough: drain the fruits, add flour and sugar, mix them all together, throw into the pie crust (pre-made, I know, I am so lazy) and then throw them into the oven. It turned out great looking. (And later: it was great! But probably not really a real pie. But tasty.)

After the pie I started in on the turkey. Add some water, baste in brandy (Suntory style.) Every 15 minutes. And made sure the water doesn't disappear. Not so bad. Two and a half hours of that. But, on the plus side, it turned out great. Also, after the turkey was done, R. made some gravy from the neck and giblets.

After that I started in on the whipped cream for the ambrosia fruit salad. I wasn't able to find any miracle whip in any of the import specialty stores in Tokyo, so I just bought the 48% cream whatever it was. And a whisk. Then took one bowl, filled it with ice, and put a slightly smaller bowl in it. Then I started to whip. Whip it good. And man, that took a while. Like 10 minutes of whipping. Eventually thought the cream thickened up, and it looked good enough that I added some sugar and vanilla. (Side note: holy crap no wonder Americans are fat! I can't believe how much sugar and butter I used in all the cooking I did.) After whipping you just add the marshmallows, drained fruit, and well that is it. Refridgerate. Server later. But not too much later because you know, this is real cream here. (There is no way we will eat all this fruit salad before it turns into some sort of inedible something or other.)

After that was done and while the turkey was still cooking, I started on the glaze for the ham. Basically honey and butter with a bit of molasses (since I had some left over from the gingerbread man cookies and it seemed close enough to the dark corn syrup the recipe called for) heated in a double broiler. I didn't have one of those, so I went with the poor man's double broiler: one pot with water, one pot that is a bit smaller in that pot. Worked well. Enough. Man that sauce was strong. After baking the ham though, you really didn't get too much of the flavor, only a bit, and it was about right.

The mashed potatoes worked out well, and the corn too. Those are pretty easy.

Once the turkey was out, R. came home (oh yeah, I also vaccuumed and cleaned around the place) and started in on the gravy. I popped the ham into the oven and we let that go.

Just about 3 minutes before that was ready, my friends called from the station and were lost, so I went and picked them up. And we had a great dinner. Our friends brought some wine (we went through a bottle of Champagne, and the red and white that our friends brought) which we polished off, and then had dinner. The pie reheated really well, and the cookies went over better than I expected. The ambrosia was, as expected, too sweet. And it was a lot less sweet than what we usually have.

So the food went over well. Cleanup was a bit tougher. R. was passed out on the sofa, but that happens after drinking with a not unsurprising frequency so I didn't worry about that too much. Thankfully we sprung for the dishwasher (which are not very popular here or some reason) and after two loads pretty much I got through all the stuff. But our fridge is stuffed. And I am totally looking foward to the leftovers.

I am really impressed that we pulled this off. We've had two other dinner parties (curry and nabe) but this was by far the most planned. And the one that I had to do the most work for. And I really enjoyed it. Guess this post just comes off as a bit "what I had for dinner plus lots of bragging" and well, that is what it is. But it was good dinner, and I was able to eat better than I expected.

December 21, 2009

Cooking (Cookies) by the Book

I committed to cooking dinner for my wife and some friends this week. One of the things I want to do is have some traditional Christmas desserts. So I decided to try making some Gingerbread Cookies. I've never really been a huge fan, but they are usually around at our house for Christmas. And if I was going to cook those, I could use it as an excuse to bake some of my favorite cookies: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I also figured I would throw in some sugar cookies because I know those are fairly easy and hard to mess up. First up were the chocolate chip cookies at my place. I have used the oven there to make brownies before, but never cookies. It's a convection oven, so you need to modify the recipe a bit (make the temperature a bit lower, or the time a bit quicker, or both.)

We also don't have many things in the way of utensils. No electric mixer for us. So beating the butter and sugar together took a bit more time and effort than I expected. I did eventually get it though. And the batter eventually started to look like cookie dough. I cooked the first batch a bit longer than I should have, and all the chocolate chip cookies turned out a bit thin (maybe I need to put in more flower or baking soda.) Still, I tried one of the cookies and it tasted great. R. tried one too, and said it was good. (But too sweet was the unspoken, and later spoken, implication.)

In the afternoon we went over to R.'s parents place since her sister and our niece is there for the holidays, and we thought it might be fun to make cookies there with her. At R.'s parent's place they do have a mixer. A drink mixer. A kind of one-handed electric mixer motor. We actually have one at home too, but lost the mixing heads during the move. So I wasn't able to try it at home. Using it here, the thing definitely is not powerful enough to deal with cookie dough well. It got super hot and then bad smelling. I know enough about electronics to know that once things start to smell funny you stop using them. Or soon you will be forced to. So I finished a lot of the mixing by hand.

I hadn't used molasses before. The stuff stinks. I'm amazed at the end at how good the things turned out. Threw some salt and pepper in there too. And lots of other spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, that kind of thing.) After making the dough for the gingerbread cookies, I washed stuff out and started in on the sugar cookie dough. That dough was a lot simpler but took a lot more muscle because there just was not much in the way of liquids in there. One egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

After running four batches or so through the over, R. and her sister started in on the gingerbread men. We eventually got that stuff working and put two batches through and then started to decorate a few. The cookies (sugar, gingerbread, chocolate chip) all turned out great, if a bit thin, and maybe a bit burnt on the edges. We've got a whole bunch of cookies for the Christmas (well, the 23rd, since that is the Emperor's birthday and is an actual day off) dinner. Now I've only got to manage to bake a pie (I'll cheat an use a pre-made crust and pie top) a turkey (I've done that before though, and am getting help on the stuffing) a glazed ham (but super small and I doubt I can mess that up) mashed potatoes (from IKEA! Seriously!) and some peas / corn / carrots. I think it will turn out great.

And if not, I've got loads of cookies.

December 7, 2009

Top Chef: Tuna Sandwich

I've been watching Top Chef season 6 lately. I really enjoy that show. I like eating good food, but I don't know much about good food. I just like to eat it. I also like to eat bad food, which is great because that is the kind of food that I know how to make.

So the other day I was at home, R. was out at work, and I wanted to eat something. I decided to cook. I made a tuna sandwich. I used the toaster oven and it was great. Also, Heinz Tomato Ketchup with Tabasco Sauce is totally great. It makes all sorts of stuff taste better.

September 23, 2009

Dinner at TY Harbor

Last night R. and I went to the TY Harbor Brewery at Tennouzu Isle near Shinagawa. I like that place; it has a nice view on the canal, good food, and they brew their own beer. As a bonus, it is only one station away from where we live.

So we met with two friends, ending up with three couples. Two French men, one American, and three Japanese women. The conversation flipped between three languages, English, French, and Japanese. Fairly confusing. The food was quite good: we got a seafood platter, and a platter of ribs, and some fries. Then we got another platter of ribs because man, those were some good ribs. We also had a nice bottle of wine, and a few glasses of beer.

I did a search on the web for reviews, and some were mixed. I wholly recommend the place. I'm biased though; I eat once a week at the sister restaurant in Shibuya, Beacon. Right now the weather is great and perfect for sitting outside, but since a lot of other people had the same idea the place was busy enough that we were seated inside, which is also nice.

Also, Beacon is running a Monday night BBQ deal where you get a bunch of types of bbq for a very reasonable price. Also recommended.

September 9, 2009

Mister James, McDonald's and MOS Buger

An interesting article on the McDonald's "Mister James" kerfuffle. Nice video with an alternative view pushing people to Mos Burger.

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