Tuesday April 16, 2013
We intended to see the tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish market, but we arrived at 5am and it was already at its 120 capacity by 4:30am. So we walked around a bit and eventually decided to get in line at Sushi Dai. It opens at 5am. We got in line at 5:30 and ended up waiting about 45 minutes to be seated. By 6am the line outside of Dai begins to extend down the block and appears to be a 2-3 hour wait. If you’re a party of one you can skip a lot of the wait. With patrons unwilling to wait it out, they begin to pour over and a short line ascends upon Sushi Daiwa. The winds were angry this morning, but the staff was kind enough to bring everyone waiting hot tea. There is an 11 piece omakase for $40 and a standard 7 piece for $25. Both meals include a roll, egg and miso soup. There was also an a la carte menu with over 30 kinds of seafood being offered, we went with the a la carte. The prices are $3-$5 for each piece and the toro was $7. We were not sure what to expect as far as sushi quality. It has a location that would indicate supreme fish, but the foreign popularity that would indicate overrated tourist trap. Luckily it was great and just the ideal surrounding to enjoy a sushi meal. Right on the outskirts of the market, you can visit the market after your meal and really take in the abundance and variety of seafood that is offered in the city. You can even buy some fruit and a souvenir bag like we did. It is not on the same level as either Michelin sushi restaurants that we went to, but definitely as good as any LA sushi spot and the variety offered is easily better. We just started ordering anything that looked good until we couldn’t eat anymore. We started with some of our familiar favorites, but made an effort to also try some fish we don’t typically get in the US. Some of our favorites were the toro, mackerel, scallop, sea urchin, botan shrimp, baby shrimp and whitebait. We ended the meal with an unusual seasonal offering of fugu sperm sac, something we had never seen before. The piece was actually served warm and after the previous 17 or so pieces in my mouth it proved to be too much. I had a tough time swallowing the hot sperm, overall though truly one of the great food experiences in the world. We paid the check and bid farewell by all the sushi chefs.
(7:36AM Line at Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan)
(Outside Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Japan)
(Live Squid at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan)
(Filleting Fish at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan)
(Walking around Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan)
Next, we got our daily subway pass and headed to Nezu shrine. There’s some picturesque orange torii, a worship hall, a pond and during spring months the azalea festival. It wasn’t our most popular site, a little small and not much to see aside from the azaleas. If you’re going to Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto I would pass on this shrine.
On the way out we passed takoyaki vendor and were able to try an order. This thing was such a hot mess. Start with octopus chunks in a batter, add pickled ginger, tempura scraps and green onions. Then generously top that with seaweed powder, bonito flakes, takoyaki sauce and if that wasn’t enough add mayo. It tasted like it sounds, just plain nasty.
5-33-1 Minamisenju, Arakawa-ku
Lunch time at Obana, our choice for unagi. Once you get off the subway stop at Minamisenju, it’s a 5 minute walk to the restaurant. The only decision to make is whether to go north or south. We chose north and headed nowhere fast. We asked a local where the restaurant was and he walked with us for a few minutes leading us to the green signs directing us towards Obana. We thought he happened to be walking this way, but he actually went out of his way to ensure that we got to our destination. it was the second time in four days that a local went out of their way to help us out. Back home everyone is always in a rush, caught up in their own priorities, but in Japan it is a different mentality. Obana is a popular and thus busy restaurant so we scheduled it on a weekday with only six people ahead of us, the wait was only 20 minutes. You sit on the floor and it is very uncomfortable. Every 10 minutes I would adjust to a new position, but to no avail my assimilation efforts were fruitless. We’re at the tail end of the wild unagi season and the only eel available during our visit was farmed. If you’re looking for a place that will prepare the eel in front of you, this isn’t the place. The kitchen is far removed from the dinning room. We started off with some salted vegetables and ordered appetizers of Uzaku and Umaki. The Uzaku was very well prepared, crispy crust, sweet, juicy and very flavorful. We had high hopes for the Umaki and although it was beautiful, the flavors of the egg and eel mixture were awfully bland. We got two different preparations of the eel for our main course. While both were good, it wasn’t significantly above the quality that you get from sushi chefs or the flavor that you get in the US. As a afterthought we were presented a light broth with the eel liver. The meal was good, but if you are pressed for time I don’t think Obana will redefine unagi for you. If you are stuck on an unagi fix, maybe try one of the well regarded places that prepare the eel in front of you like Unagi Kabuto. If you fancy, you can even try the still beating heart.
Rikugien garden is considered one of Tokyo’s best. It is popular during fall as the maple trees bring brilliance autumn colors and during April when the weeping cherry tree is in full bloom. Unfortunately, our tree was a bright green. It was a nice garden and an excellent example of Japanese landscaping. We strolled the grounds for about an hour and worked up an appetite for a afternoon snack.
Kachidoki 1-8-1 Kachidoki View Tower 1F
We were off to Kanemasu, a small Izakaya that impressed Ferran Adria enough that it peaked our interest. They had a dish of raw wagyu with sea urchin that was calling our name so we decided to check it out. The bar was packed when we walked in just 30 minutes after opening. We ordered an Yebisu beer while we waited. Two Japanese business men made room for us and we toasted our drinks with an explanation of “Kampai”. The chefs didn’t speak English so we just showed one of the chefs pictures we had saved on our iphone. We put in an order of the tuna sashimi and the raw wagyu with sea urchin. He also recommended a beef katsu dish and we took him up on that. Both our picks were huge disappointments. The tuna was so poorly sliced and there were chunks of cartilage that interrupted each bite. The raw wagyu was too rich that it completely overwhelmed the sea urchin. I almost wanted to spit it up. We should have just let the chef chose our dishes as the beef katsu was the sole bright spot.
The Kabuki-za is Tokyo’s primary theater to present Kabuki drama art form. The original Kabuzi-za was built in the 1889 and over the years has been damaged, restored, burned, rebuilt and finally met its maker when it was demolished in 2010. A new theater was constructed and opened this year.
They don’t allow photos or video once the show starts. The entire play as I understand it last a full day and there are three shows per day. Tickets for each show range, but will probably cost you $100. If you just want a glimpse into the kabuki art form, we got a ticket for one act or about an hour for $20. These seats are first come, first serve and it’s a good idea to show up 30 minutes prior to the show. The seating is a bit tight. There is an English audio guide available for $5 and I highly recommended getting it as you’ll be clueless if you don’t speak Japanese. Talking or even moving is frown upon once the performance starts. But, it’s not common to cheer each character when they make an appearance. Luckily we were seated next to a big fan and yelled out “Huggie Bear” every time he appeared or even was referenced in the show. After a couple times, we got the hang of it and cheered “Huggie Bear” along side him. I believe Huggie Bear was the main character’s brother who had disgraced his country during the war and they were contemplating whether he should pay the ultimate consequence with his life. The actors speak in weird tones and at times can be difficult not to laugh at the whole spectacle. We stayed for about half an hour and walked around Ginza for part of the evening. I guess we’ll never know if Huggie Bear ever made amends with his country.
Roppongi is an area within Tokyo that is known for its nightlife. Tourists have been known to have some bad experiences being drugged or robbed or strong-armed inside the area’s clubs as some are controlled by the infamous Yakuza gangs. In 2003, the area received an economic boost when the Roppongi Hills complex was complete. The entire complex includes a shopping mall, office space, residential housing, restaurants, movie theater, museum, hotel, outdoor amphitheater, observation deck and a park at a mere cost of $4 billion. Right outside the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower is the sculpture Maman designed by the French artist Louise Bourgeois who died in 2010 at the age of 98. The 30 foot art piece encases 26 marble eggs.in its abdomen. She has sold numerous replications that have permanent locations throughout the world, each in the five to ten million dollar range.
Side Roppongi Bldg. 1F, 7-17-24 Roppongi
Chef Seiji Yamamoto opened Ryugin in 2003, a simply decorated 18 seat restaurant that took modern kaiseki and Japanese traditions and re-tooled dishes with modern techiques. His approach has turned heads in the culinary world where he awarded two Michelin stars in 2008 and promoted to three in 2012. He currently has peaked at #22 on Restaurant magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants and #2 in their Best of Asia list.
We wanted to try his food based on the preceding, plus blogs reviews were positive overall and the pictures looked good. Narisawa and Takazawawa were other modern restaurants on the same calibar as Ryugin that we were contemplating. Reviews were mixed on Narisawa and Takazawa’s eight seats were already booked when we contacted them.
There’s one set menu offered each night, so the only thing left to decide was what to drink. I started off with shochu and Jen got a glass of a Japanese Cabernet Franc. Yes, the Japanes do make wine. Pretty good actually, I think it would fall somewhere in quality between Santa Barbara and Napa Valley. The oceans array dish was the highlight of the evening, a composition of six elaborately executed sashimi dishes on one plate. We also loved both desserts. The strawberry taken apart and put back together in molecular fashion, then top with more strawberries, so complex with simple satisfying flavors. Jen wasn’t fond of the grilled firefly squids, but it worked for me.
Grilled Firefly Squids, Egg Custard, Burdock Root Soup and Green Peas 6/10 – Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo, Japan