Friday, October 17, 2014

Japan, Tokyo: Food and Drink

Sushi and Sashimi Some sashini, aka, raw fish, tastes like raw fish. But some of it tastes like seafood butter, like some kind of fleshy salt candy that melts in the mouth. I wouldn't describe myself as an expert, but I do know that some of the world's best is to be found in Tokyo. So it is only to be expected that within a few hours of checking in at my hotel, and making my way to the Ginza, I had been advised to find the nearest Zanmai Sushi restaurant, one of the city's most popular chains, and had done so.

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After wandering in and out of a few of the district's watering holes, I made my way back to Oak Hotel, stopping off a block away at the last place that was still open in this quiet neighborhood. The only thing on the menu seemed to be sushi, so I double-dipped:

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I can't say this hole-in-the-wall joint was better than the famed Zanmai, but I won't say it was worse, either.
The sthird night, I was up for more sashimi, and had been hearing about the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Tokyo version of Noryangjin, I imagined. However, it was raining outside the comfy little "standing bar" I was in, so I decided to put it off. From my journal: "Later ... Change of plans. The rain turned into a sprinkle so I went to Tsukiji after all. Despite the fact it was not yet eight o'clock, I only found two sashimi restaurants open--one of them simply because it's a 24 hour place. Still, the price was right and the fish was excellent, so I'm not complaining." Except about the fact this supposed high-point was as lively as a Methodist Ladies' Wednesday night prayer meeting at the North Pole.

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My last full day on the trip, the weather was finally quite nice, so i tooled around the Ueno Market area, looking for cheap eats--well, Tokyo being Tokyo, cheaper eats. Common in Tokyo--and Seoul and indeed throughout Asia--are plastic models of the food, to show you exactly what you're getting. Sometimes they are so realistic, I wonder how they'd taste ... nah.

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I found just the place I was looking for up a side alley. Again, from my journal: "After quite a bit of wandering, I'm sitting sidewalk-style at one of the hundred little sushi restaurants, having eaten some maguro and some toro (red and fatty tuna, respectively) along with a tomato salad that consisted of a well-chilled tomato and a dollop of mayo on the side. A really pleasant combination. ... The weather has been a bit of an issue, but unlike in Kathmandu, Tokyo has drains, so you're not treading in septic water, dodging vehicles made even more dangerous by poor traction. I am getting a passer-by to take my picture as I am typing this. Done! And not too bad, all things considered. The couple next to me commented, as so many Asians do, "Handsome!" But that's just for looking Western."

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I decided to stick with Ueno for the afternoon and have quite a few drinks, which I hadn't really done up to this point. I crawled various places, imbibing a beer or two, and having the requisite snack--the cheapest thing on the menu is always edamame, or soy beans. Here's my second stop, kind of a sports bar, or at least a place where they were all intently watching a tennis match. Nest is a shot from my third stop, with a beer and Ikkoman shochu (aka soju) from Kagoshima prefecture, 'made from high quality potato malt', "which frankly doesn't taste all that much like the soju I'm used to. It does pack a punch, though, so it's supporting my objective."

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Takashimaya is one of the huge department stores in Nihombashi with three or four floors of groceries and restaurants where you can have a nice meal for a less outrageous price--just choose one of the "set meals". I had a beef stew set which came with really lovely dumplings, which themselves came with an instruction card--mix the soy and vinegar in the bowl, and let the dumpling cool a bit before shoving it in your pie-hole.

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Ginza Lion is a German-style beer hall built in 1923 by Sapporo. The ambiance is Tokyo unique, the service is great, and not only do they care about their beer, they care about its presentation. That means firstly, giving it an adequate head, and secondly, serving it well-chilled. But I also like how each of the beers comes in the correct glass--no Cass in a Max mug here! And they serve nine different formulas, ten if you count the non-alcoholic, which I don't. Here I am drinking the 1.3 liter German-style (1,728Y):

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They also serve outstanding food here, but you won't find sushi on the menu--well, maybe a bit. Pretzels, sausages, rosti (hash browns) are the lighter fare. For a full meal, I had the 8 oz. wagyu sirloin, perfectly prepared, for 3,758Y. Later, I had some awesome ribs with a potato and mushroom gratin.

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But not all my time was in Ginza. I also visited Shibuya, famous for its busy crossing and its neon lights. It's just fine, but for a Seoulite, it's nothing special. I did, however, have a wonderful revelation, that of the "bronze" beer vessel. I failed to note the name of the bar this was in, but it was a tiny, subterranean place, and they charged a 50% premium for it--still, when I open Smokin' Steve's Bar & Grill, it's bronze beer vessels all the way!

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I paid a visit, too, to Roppongi, the "gaijin district", which I rather enjoyed on my 2012 trip. Within five minutes out of the station, five African men approached me sequentially with a come-on to their bar: pretty girls getting naked, two beers for 4,000 Y (that's forty bucks, btw!), or just a beer if you want. Five minutes after that, I am ensconced in a place called Pizzeria and Bar Certo, with a Moretti and some cheese served with honey (I never had that before, but I'll definitely have it again). Finished the evening at The Hub, a British style pub with its own brew. Cool, quiet place, about one minute from the subway. Both my choices, I'm sure, to put to shame the loud, crass, smokey joints the touts were offering.

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