Japan Round-up: Tokyo Edition

I’ve always been a fan of Japanese cuisine – you name it, I’m there. So naturally, when I take a vacation to Japan, I’m going to eat as much as I can! And if there’s one country where food is abundantly available – in copious variations – it’s Japan. I sheer amount of street food (glorious takoyaki, sweet taiyaki, and the best soft serve in the world) that I had in my two weeks in Japan is astounding! And of course, the infamous vending machines that are probably the best invention ever.

IMG_0524

Since I split my time between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto, I’m going to split my posts into two food round-ups: one for Tokyo and day-trips and one for Osaka/Kyoto. The food types are somewhat similar in the sense that in every city there is takoyaki, there’s ramen, there’s soba, and, of course, there is sushi – but the tastes and flavors are vastly different between these three cities. Let’s start off with the giant hub that is Tokyo.

My very first meal in Tokyo was Numazuko, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in the heart of Shinjuku. Here at Numazuko, you sit around a giant conveyor belt that stretches the length of the restaurant. You can either pick off the belt or order directly from the chef if you don’t spot what you want. Prices vary depending on the color of the dish and at the end of your meal your waiter will count it all up for you. Green tea is completely self-service and you’re pretty much left alone during your meal unless you flag someone down. I personally thought the fish was pretty fresh and since we sat in front of the chefs, we got first dibs on the new items.

IMG_0484

One of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo was Shirohige’s Totoro Cream Puff Factory, located in Setagaya, a residential ward located 15 minutes away from Shinjuku. Shirohige’s specializes in – you guessed it – Totoro cream puffs! You can buy them from the store front or walk upstairs to Tolo Café and eat the cream puffs with a nice cup of coffee. We opted to sit down in the café since I wanted to take my time and admire these cute little desserts. The cream puffs were actually very good – and not just a gimmick! I think my favorite was either the chocolate cream or banana cream.

IMG_0648

When a tourist visits Tokyo, they often go to Tsukiji Market, one of the most famous fish markets in the country. They are famous for their tuna auction, which requires attendees to start lining up at 3am in the morning just to get in! They’re also famous for their fresh fish and delicious sushi. Instead of lining up for hours at the hotspots Sushi Dai or Sushi Daiwa, I opted for Yamazaki, located right smack in between the two restaurants. Our wait was only about 1 hour and we probably stayed for close to 2 hours (much to the discontent of the people waiting in line outside). We ordered a set to share but then ordered a few pieces off the menu straight from the chef. Our chef was super nice and the entire restaurant is pretty English-friendly. The highlights were definitely the fatty tuna, fatty salmon, abalone, and this firefly squid sushi with 3 tiny squid on top. The Uni was a standout as well. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Yamazaki and highly recommend it if you don’t want to wait in line for the two usual suspects.

IMG_0789

My favorite ramen meal in all of Tokyo had to be Rokurinsha Ramen, which serves Tsukemen. Tsukemen is ramen that is served in a separate bowl from the liquids – there is actually no soup. You dip the ramen in a thick fish sauce. If you have leftover sauce, you can ask for broth to be added and then you can drink the soup. I thought the combination of bouncy, al dente ramen worked so well with the fishy dipping sauce. If you’re interested in trying out Rokurinsha, I recommend the Skytree Solamachi branch over the Tokyo Station branch, which is always busy.

IMG_0996

One of our favorite meals of the entire trip was in Hakone, a small mountainous town known for their hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is located close to 2 hours away from Tokyo – faster if you take Odakyu’s special Romancecar train. Right on the side of Lake Ashi is Ashinoko-Chaya, a restaurant with great views of Lake Ashi and amazing soba. Here, we had soba and rice topped with Hakone’s famous soy milk skin. The flavors were simple, but the freshness and crispness of the ingredients really shone. If you have extra time in Hakone, walk to the Hakone Checkpoint and make a stop at Amazake-Chaya, a small teahouse that served the best mochi that I had my entire trip. You won’t regret it.

IMG_1522

IMG_1516

We took one more day trip out of Tokyo during our week there to Yokohama, a former port city just 30 minutes by train from Tokyo. Inside one of the many malls in the Yokohama Minato-21 area, is Yokohama Motomachi Doria, a restaurant that specializes in rice doria and omu rice. We had the mushroom-meat sauce omu rice and it was divine. The egg, or omelet, was so soft it practically melted in my mouth! If you’re in the area checking out the Cup Noodle Museum or Cosmo World, definitely give Motomachi Doria a try.

IMG_0677

And lastly, I want to give a shout-out to Coco Curry Ichibanya, which might be a chain, but offers up some of the best (and cheap) curry rice in all of Tokyo. You can literally order any variation of curry rice here – vegetable, chicken katsu, pork katsu, no katsu, sausage, and a bunch of other toppings and sides. Your meal will be hot, delicious, and super cheap! I had the pork katsu curry rice with cheese on top and it was pure perfection. You’ll end up smelling like a walking box of curry when you leave, but it’ll all be worth it!

IMG_1440

Have any good places to recommend? Or general questions about where I went? Drop me a comment – I’d love to talk more about this amazing country!

Teisui

Teisui, located in the Flatiron district, just opened about a month ago and it has been attracting a bunch of good reviews. When I first read about this restaurant, before my trip to Japan, I was intrigued. It wasn’t until I came back from Japan and was feeling “Japan-sick”, that I knew we had to go here for our belated 6th Anniversary dinner. Teisui was designed to recreate the traditional Japanese Ryokan experience in New York City. In fact, Teisui will feature a roaster of visiting chefs as well as in-house chefs from her sister hotel in Akita, Japan, where many of the ingredients come from.

 

True to its design, Teisui serves a 10-course seasonal menu ($150) that’s modeled after a yakitori kaiseki meal that’s typically served in Ryokans. And like all restaurants in Japan, hospitality is included – something I really appreciated and wished we had more of! Wine pairings are an extra $90 and sake pairings are $95 – but don’t feel pressured to participate. We ended up ordering individually off their impressive list since we’re a bit picky about our sake.

IMG_2574

We were the first to arrive so we had the sole attention of the staff for a while. We were seated at the corner of the bar so we had full view of the cooks, which is a sight to behold. They took notice of my note that we were celebrating our anniversary and offered us a generous pour of champagne. How sweet! Our waiters was also not pushy about picking the sake or wine pairing and let us choose our own pace when it came to beverages.

IMG_2575

Our meal started off with a hot towel to clean off, which I really came to appreciate during my time in Japan. It’s great to be able to clean off the dirt from outside before starting our meal! Then came the amuse bouche of chawanmushi with edamame purée and foie gras and topped with Hokkaido uni. The chawanmushi was super creamy! Since chawanmushi and the lighter edamame purée was so lightly seasoned, you could really taste the foie gras and uni. I could literally sit here and eat this every day!

IMG_2577

Our first real course was the Hassun, or a mixed plate of king crab, kiritanpo, or smashed rice that is oval-shaped and cooked yakitori-style, chicken burdock, and watercress goma-ae, or watercress tossed in peanut sauce. The chicken was very tender – but the standout was definitely the kiritanpo, which was chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside from the grill.

IMG_2579

The next course was Tsutsumi-Yaki, which featured tender chicken and mushrooms cooked in plastic wrap. You are presented the dish fully intact so you can unravel the plastic and catch the full aroma of the chicken and mushroom soup-like dish. People always say that you don’t just eat with your mouth – but with your nose and eyes too. This dish definitely appealed to all three!

IMG_2581IMG_2583

Our next course was the Rabbit Miso Cappuccino, which featured two pieces of rabbit meat and Kyoto miso cappuccino. The course was presented to us in separate cups – the rabbit in one and the miso cappuccino in the other. We were instructed to pour the cappuccino into the rabbit cup and have it with the rabbit meat. To be honest, I was a bit thrown off by the words, “miso cappuccino”, but I was pleasantly surprised when it paired so well together. The cappuccino flavor was light and very smooth and creamy. We ended up scooping the leftover out with a spoon.

IMG_2584IMG_2585

Next up was Tsukune, or chicken meatball cooked yakitori-style with egg yolk. The meatballs are meant to be dipped into the egg yolk, which was interesting. The meatballs were very tender and juicy – not a dry patch in sight!

IMG_2586

After the Tsukune course, our utensils were cleared and we were given a palate cleanser containing ikura and a new hot towel. Our waiter called it intermission, which I thought was pretty neat. After a brief break, we proceeded to our next course – Tori-Mune Konsai, or chicken breast yakitori with beets, an arugula-wasabi sauce, and a dash of salt from Akita on the side. The chicken was tender and cooked so that it had just a hint of smokey-ness.

IMG_2587

The next course was the Kamo Mushi-Yaki, which featured duck breast, a red wine sauce, and seasonal vegetables. Our waitress told us that there is citrus jelly drizzled over the season vegetables of tomato, pepper, and radish. The citrus was indeed a nice contrast to the savory red wine duck. This was a standout dish of the night – the duck breast was cooked to perfection and the red wine sauce was not overpowering at all.

IMG_2590

Our next course was perhaps my favorite of the night – Tori-Momo with Couscous, which featured chicken thigh cooked yakitori-style with mashed potato, eggplant, and couscous. I’m not normally a huge fan of couscous, so for me to say this was the star of the night, it means it was pretty darn delicious! The presentation itself was gorgeous with a gold plate topped with perfectly squeezed dollops of mashed potato. A piece of thigh meat paired with the airy and light couscous was a burst of flavors in my mouth.

IMG_2591

The next course was more subtle in flavor, since we were winding down for the night. We were presented with the Chef’s Special Selection of sushi, a piece of nigiri and a piece of a roll. The flounder nigiri was good, but I really enjoyed my tuna roll piece that was topped with Hokkaido uni and ikura. The uni was creamy, salty, and sweet at the same time – the true butter of the sea!

IMG_2594

Our last savory course was named after the restaurant – Ishiyaki Teisui – or miso soup with red snapper, king crab, and Tokyo scallion. The chef beings over the soup in a huge bamboo bowl and then explains that he will heat the soup with rocks from Mt. Fuji that are heated to 700 degrees. He drops the rocks into the soup, which brings it to boiling temperature almost immediately. After a few seconds, he removes the rocks and serves us each a bowl of soup. The soup is enough for each person to have at least 3 servings. I had a huge piece of red snapper in mine, along with copious amounts of Tokyo scallion. I remember seeing the size of the scallions while I was in Tokyo and marveling at how big they are. Now I know how they taste! The soup was light and rich in miso flavor – not too salty at all.

IMG_2597IMG_2599

Our grand finale was the Anmitsu with yuzu jelly, red beans, a scoop of honey milk ice cream, and topped with a sugar cookie. This was a light and refreshing way to end our meal – the dessert was a nice change to the otherwise savory meal without being too sweet or lingering.

IMG_2600

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Teisui and cannot wait to find a reason to go back! The service was impeccable – our waiter and occasional waitress were both very attentive without being overbearing. Our waitress even noticed that the Boyfriend was left-handed and started placing his settings on his left side. What a small attention to detail that he’s never received anywhere else! They also open the door for you when you enter the bathroom and then listen to you to come out so they can open it again for you. It’s really these small little things that can really add up to making the evening. I highly recommend a visit to Teisui – whether you’re just looking for a good meal out or celebrating a special occasion!

Ps. They’re on OpenTable so reserving a counter seat – or even a table for a larger party – is super easy!