after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Beating Typhoon Lan to the Punch

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t says:  So … in typical g & t fashion, rain followed us on vacation.  We’re not sure why this happens, but it seems like no matter where we go, rain follows: SF, Paris, Rioja/SSB, Hawaii.  Well this time, we truly outdid ourselves; a typhoon was set to hit Tokyo on the day we were supposed to leave.  ARGH!  Dare we get try to stick it out and get stranded in Tokyo?  Nope.  Too risky.  United was happy to change our flights (which means that they were fearing delays messing with their schedules), and we had enough points to move around our hotel reservations such that we’d stay at our swank hotel for the duration of our trip (more later!).  So there we were: two-and-a-half days to make the most out of Tokyo.  Challenge accepted.

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Wait -what?  Is that pork katsu again?  Surely we must have made a mistake and double-posted pics!  Surely we would not have eaten at the same restaurant twice on our trip, because that’d be lunacy!  Well, we did … kinda …  You see, it all started because we needed to hit up Roppongi Hills to check it out.  Turns out that when it’s raining, you don’t want to see much else around Roppongi aside from the giant mall.  So we were stranded … and hungry … in the rain … but we recognized one name of the restaurants in the complex: Butagumi.  Turns out that in addition the original location that we went to (which is a 15 minute walk away), there’s a second location in Roppongi Hills!  And so we went.  We enjoyed pork katsu again.  And it. was. delicious!  This location is more polished than the original, as it’s newer and has view of the kitchen, so you can watch your piece of pork get fried to perfection.  g and I can’t choose which one we like more, so we’ll just say: go to the original for that “rustic” experience, or go to Roppongi if you want a little more of a “show” (or a break from shopping).  Btw: I’ve never seen g actually run for food before, but she sure ran for this pig – it was that good!

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In the evening, we went to Andy’s Shin Hinomoto (not “Andy Shin’s” – it’s a Brit who runs this restaurant).  In izakaya style (think Japanese pub-style food), it offered a great mix of seafoods from raw (mmmmm … sushi), grilled, broiled, fried.  I’m only going to show you the above sashimi plate (so tasty – very un-fussy) and the following wicked creation:

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It looks like chicken wings … but it’s not … these are “gyoza-stuffed wings”.  So at the meat-end of the chicken wing, they shove gyoza filling under the skin and then cook the darn thing to a perfect golden brown.  So addictive!

And so now we’re left with just one full day in Tokyo, and three areas to visit: Shinjuku, Shibuya/Harajuku, and Ebisu (ok – so that’s four areas).  g and I set out early, finding one of the most famous 24-hour ramen joints in Tokyo: Nagi Ramen Golden Gai.  It’s not that tricky to find, but there are a lot of shops on the street so just make sure you get the right one.

Now after you enter the doorway, you ascend a flight of stairs with some cool murals on the walls.  Be careful on your climb because it’s pretty steep!  At the top of the stairs, you’ll be greeted by the vending machine.

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Obviously, we went with the “No 1” “Special Ramen” – that which they are most known for.  They also have other options which we did not explore, including a sign advertising this:

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We obviously didn’t go for it, but I figured the translation was worth posting.  Ok, so now that I showed you the machine, I need to tell you that the place is super-tiny, with nonexistent standing room behind a counter of ~8-10 people.  So basically I think people would queue outside and then proceed in when there’s room.  Then, after you put in the money and make your selections, it prints out tickets which you put on the counter when you take your seat.  Or – if you’re like us – just visit at 10am and there’s no line!

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Welcome to Golden Gai’s ramen.  Known for a shoyu style ramen, it is laced with so much fish powder that if you don’t like the dried fish taste, you will hate it.  But if you’re like us, you like that briny flavor (even though neither g nor I like sardines – but we loved this), that, when mixed with the pork and scallion yields a powerful punch to the mouth.  This is not a subtle ramen.  The ramen noodles (hidden underneath the pork, seen below) is very knobby which I think helps it cling to the soup (and makes it extra splashy!).  There’s also some sheets of what appears to be some kind of papparedelle-style noodle (upper right) that was an amazing addition.

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The egg was a few degrees past soft, but was nice and gel-ish, with only a thin rim of hard yolk.  Really, the weakest link was the pork, which was a bit tougher than at past places. It was flavorful, yes, but a bit more toothsome than we’d like to encounter without a fork/knife handy.  Overall, though, this was my favorite non-tsukemmen ramen (up to this point on the trip).

We walked around shinjuku some, which had quite a few mall-ish department stores and somehow managed to work up an appetite for lunch (shopping makes us hungry!).  We rallied and wound up at Fuunji ramen:

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This is what the outside looks like when they’re closed.  Fortunately, we made it there at 2:56pm – just before they put up this sign.  g feared that they’d turn us away, but they didn’t!  Instead, you walk in, punch your order into the machine, and wait patiently in a single row behind the eating counter, even if the clock goes past 3.  By 3:20pm, we were seated with this:

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This plate is deceiving – the “regular” (pictured above) was  plenty of noodle for us – but we did see some get the “large”.  That bowl of dipping broth was incredible.  A perfectly cooked egg, a healthy dose of fish powder, and a thick, smooth broth.  It was on par with Rokurinsha’s broth, for sure.  The pork was a step behind Rokurinsha’s, but the noodles were a step ahead.  We liked this atmosphere better than Rokurinsha (there were zero other tourists there, and you had a view of the kitchen from the counter), so we’d definitely leave it on the list if you’re looking for a retreat from the hustle/bustle of Shinjuku.

So now that we double-noodled it in a single day, there really was only one thing to do: eat fruit.  What better way to do it than to visit one of Tokyo’s famous “fruit parlors”:

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We visited Takano fruit parlor and were wowed by the crazy prices – fruit baskets in excess of 10k JPY!  Crazy!  We did see some sort of fruit preparation class going on as well – how adorable!  Importantly, we visited the fourth (?or maybe fifth?) floor, where you can eat some fruit!  There are two options: a buffet, where for a set price, they let you loose for something like 2 hours for all-you-can eat.  We opted for the a la carte seats, where we ordered up some amazing parfaits, like the poorly-shot fig one above.  Let’s just say that the figs were absolutely amazing – better than the ones I buy from farmer’s markets in SF!  And there were layers of sorbet, ice cream, whipped cream, and preserves that were all crazy-good.  Yes, $15 is way-expensive for you imagine a Whole Foods could make, but I swear it was worth totally worth it.  And with all this fruit, g was ear-to-ear smiles.  If she could ever have one of these after a pork katsu, she’d be in heaven!

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After all of the delightful foods of the day, we finished off with a bang with some dumplings at Harajuku Gyoza-ro.  This is probably more like a casual dumpling-izakaya than a true “restaurant”.  For $3, you get six gyoza, and a normal person might be able to down 12 of these pint-sized dumplings.  Options include steamed vs. fried, and original vs. leek-garlic.  These were a very different style than the ones we had at Tenryu, which were larger and stuffed with an airy filling – these were smaller and denser, closer to the wontons that mom makes.  I preferred these – just order a mess of gyoza, share with friends, kick back with some sake (or beer if you can tolerate bubbles), and let the good times roll.  There are a fair number of tourists, but even our Japanese friends vouch for this place, so it’s pretty legit.

And that brings us to our final meal in Tokyo.  After a morning of intense packing (g is a “master packer”), we rewarded ourselves with one final ramen.  We initially ditched our bags in Tokyo station coin locker and lined up for Rokurinsha.  However, we didn’t want to run late, just in case some tourists were going to slow the line down (it was the weekend), so I pulled out our ramen map and found one other shop on Tokyo Station’s “ramen street”: Soranoiro Nippon.  Reknowned for lighter styles of ramen, including a “veggie ramen”, we decided that this would be a way to get our fill while remaining nimble and agile for all of the running around stations/airports that awaited us.

On the left, I went for the yuzu shio, which was superb.  Featuring a thin, al dente noodle, the broth was light and flavorful (a light citrusy note was accented the porkier/chickenier base), with tenderpieces of pork and chicken.  Meanwhile, g went with the veggie ramen, which had a carrot-based broth and carrot noodles.  While the taste was not at all ramen-y (i.e. no alkaline flavor, not quite as firm), and without the addition of umami (mushroom, meat, seafood) it was a bit on the sweeter side.  That said, g felt it was “exactly what she needed” for the day’s adventures.  We were pretty happy with the choice – but we wouldn’t recommend going there early in the trip if you’re in Tokyo.  Go to the other places, get your pork on (with other bold flavors featured in tonkotsu and tsukemmen), and then, before you leave, move on to bowls of shio (or veggie) at places like this one and you really appreciate it more.

And there you have it – almost all of our foods for the trip!  One last post on some Japan tips/tricks!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

22 October 2017 at 3:30am

Posted in in Japan

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