after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Dinner #1/20: Emilie’s (DC)

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t says: For our first dining experience in 2020, we enlisted the help of one of my new work friends. A wizened DC foodie, she suggested we try out her favorite new DC restaurant Emilie’s. So we booked the reservation, invited her and her husband, and went on our first DC double date!

January 2020, Friday Dinner. WHAT??? No photos!!??? You call this a food blog?? Where’s your instatweetotube?? … I’ll admit it: I forgot. It’s like I forgot how to be a blogger. The entire meal, I only reached for my phone periodically to ensure that our babysitter hadn’t called. I was lost in the food, the wines, and the new friends! Consequently, there are no pictures of the crispiest fried chicken we have ever had (and it was so flavorful!! I hadn’t had chicken that good since the days of eating Korean fried chicken at Meritage helmed by Chef Coll). Missing are snapshots of the intriguing and delicious cheese-less take on cacio e pepe pasta (secret ingredient: miso). The tartare was top-notch. The desserts were incredible. The service was competent, courteous, and had a sense of humor. All in all it was a dining experience that we had been craving since we moved here, but sorely missed on our two previous outings (O-ku and RPM Italian: take our advice and just don’t go). An excellent job by Emilie’s that restores our faith in the DC dining scene.

A few items we hope will evolve at Emilie’s … First, the “cart” I kept hearing about was … cute. It seems to provide diners an introduction to some smaller dishes that sounded pretty ho-hum by written description, but when presented table-side really caught our interest. So it was a welcome experience overall – but don’t go into it expecting the same level of cart performance as provided by one of our SF favorites, Statebird Provisions – that’s a whole ‘nother level. Second, the wine list is on the verge of greatness, but could benefit from some re-organization. With a substantial number of of wine-nerd wines (common grapes from uncommon places, or uncommon grapes entirely) at various price points, it becomes very challenging to make an educated decision. While this could typically just be resolved by chatting with a sommelier, I feel like diners nowadays should be more empowered to make their own choices, kind of like how we can read a food menu (organized by dish size, or richness, or ingredients, or whatever) and make decisions. The wines, themselves, were pretty solid (we went for a steely, minerally albarino and a fun “orange” pinot gris from Willamette Valley*), so I’m excited to keep on exploring the list in future visits.

So bring it on, DC! We’re ready! Let’s see what else you got!

*These wines are not counting in our “20&20 in 2020” challenge.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 January 2020 at 9:08pm

Posted in Happenings

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Wine #1/20: 2013 Luscher Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain)

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t says: Alrightie-then! Let’s start off our “20&20 in 2020” off right! On this lovely dinner at home, featuring sous vide T-bones, roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and onion jam, we knew we were going to need something bold to start off our year. But we wanted something that would marry well with the food – not just an all-palate-consuming, grape milk shake Cali cab. After pulling out 6 or 7 wines from our cellar wine fridge, I began putting them back in, as they were individually vetoed by g and I. “Too young.” “Too light.” “Too unknown.” “Too big.” “We just had that last month.” We had to be picky. For the first wine of the challenge, we wanted something “culty” (i.e. low production, low wine press / “under the radar”), but with a personal touch (i.e. g and I have visited). Also, as we’re not made of money (and this was technically not a holiday or birthday), something with a reasonable price (i.e. under a Benjamin) was ideal. In the end, there was only one:

2013 Luscher Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain)

This property on Spring Mountain puts out a tiny 200-case-ish production wine (that was a relatively recent move – they had made 100 cases before 2012). They make a single red wine (primarily cabernet sauvignon with some merlot and petite verdot) and that’s it; no white wines, no cute single-varietal bottlings of some ancient grape that no one cares about, no super-ultra-limited reserve bottlings that rob their “regular” bottlings of the best fruit. This is just a lovely family who enlists the help of their friends, the Kongsgaards (wish they were my friends!), to make wine from their favorite vines. No multi-million dollar tasting room. No PR budget. No ego. On the contrary, Christina, who handles all the communications, could not be nicer!

So how did the wine taste? It was great (which is the usual for a bottle of LB), but in a different manner than the usual LB! Historically, Luscher Ballard for us has always been superbly well-balanced between the fruit and savory flavors (so it was delicious), while also having adequate acidity and tannins to keep the mouth both watered and dry (if that makes sense). We often say that Lusher Ballard is what we bring when we’re going to a wino’s house for a dinner party. However, the ’13 bottling was drinking pretty atypically at this time. My notes from two and a half years ago originally had this tasting with explosive dark fruit that was nonetheless still kept in check by the rest of the wine, with herbs, etc. This time, after about 5 hours in a decanter, the fruits seem to have gone into hiding, only present for me while the wine was on my tongue, giving me a sense of a velvet cassis blanket with some spice (?clove?), black pepper, and the characteristic dried herb (this is what I get the most from Spring Mountain wines). But the minute the wine was off my palate – bam! – an absolutely monolithic, thrilling acidity. Turned up to 11 (or 12!). It was so strong that it knifed straight through our fat-laden T-bones and onion jam. The nearly-numbing acidity kept the mouth watering and cleansed the palate, readying me for the next bite. The alcohol wasn’t particularly noticeable for a ‘13, and the tannins were silk. In a vacuum, I think that the acidity could be perceived as astringent – so it’s not the wine I’d drink by itself: but next to food (or in a multi-wine tasting), the wine grabs you by the shoulders and slaps you in the mouth. A fun experience even if it’s not what we expected.

We are a Luscher Ballard fan club over here so we’re not even going to pretend to be impartial. If you’ve never had a LB before, seek out something like that ’12 (or ’14? Haven’t had it yet), which are likely to be a bit more balanced from the get-go. That said, g and I were happy to start off the new year on this one. Many thanks to the proprietors for making such great wines*, and we look forward to many more years of Luscher Ballard.

*No wine on this blog will ever be acquired at a discount or in exchange for a “review”. It’s our wine! We bought it fair and square! We drink it when we want! We write whatever we feel!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

5 January 2020 at 12:31pm

Posted in Happenings

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“20&20” for 2020

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“Time’s the king of men; he’s both their parent, and he is their grave, and gives them what he will, not what they crave.”

t says: Yes, it has been a while. Months. Years. Where has the time gone? Have we truly not eaten anything worth blogging? I assure you we have, but I guess we were a bit busy? (… which is a terrible excuse). In hindsight, I realize that San Francisco was absolutely merciless in occupying our time, what with all the “hiking” and “eating” and “vineyard visiting” and “working” and “more working” and “family-starting” and “living in the moment” … Could we have posted some pictures? I suppose – but I felt that I could not provide the level of content that you, our tens of thousands of readers, expect! After all:

“If a task has once begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

But now things are different yet again. In mid-2019, we left San Francisco with [most of] our stuff and [all of] our small family, and are now settling in a new, very different city: Washington, DC. And while we are no less busy than we used to be, g and I had a “moment” a few days ago that inspired me to log into wordpress after all this time (especially because they’ve been charging me those yearly fees!). Picture this: g & t, back in Philly, eating at Fond, and seeing the Pork Belly on the menu, and pulling up old adsz posts … like the one from our first visit, and this one, and this one, and that one time we went to Fond after that other restaurant we still couldn’t remember. As our time machine jumped, hopped, and skipped over 9 years of memories, g and I had smiles on our faces as we revisited all the great meals with all our great friends. That’s what the blog was started for! Capturing the moments! And while we know we had a wonderful time in SF, as our iPhones are full of photos to prove it, they lack the narrative, which I am concerned will fade over time. (Fortunately, g has a memory like a vise … while I’ve been known to forget a few “minor” details … like person, place, and time …)

So is it time to come crawling back to adsz? I don’t know! Even now as I type this post in the few moments of down-time that I have on New Year’s Eve, I am uncertain of my words. Is there room for an “old-fashioned” blog anymore in 2020? With facebook, twitter, youtube, instagram, twitch, netflix, hulu, disney+, and appletv, I just don’t think that anyone jacked into a computer has the time to read whole paragraphs anymore … But then I’m reminded: it’s not for you, anyways! It’s for us! So I’m going to try! To all past and current readers of the blog, welcome back to the sneeze.

So here we go … we’re starting off 2020 with a babysitter and a resolution:
“We will enjoy 20 bottles of wine* and go out to 20 dinners over the course of 2020, with blog posts to prove it.”
There. I wrote it. As it is typed, so shall it be done tried. Our first reservation has been booked (in one week!). But pacing will be important – so we’re going to need some help; if you know us personally, make some contact and help us with this goal, damnit! For the sake of the blog!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, while it doesn’t “count” in our “20&20 in 2020” challenge, Fond was frickin’ amazing. Lee Styer is nothing short of a superhero. The foie gras was the best I’ve ever had (supplanting Bibou’s which had just supplanted his). The pork belly is as good as it always was. Go there and be as happy as we.

*These bottles of wine must be wines that are beyond the “usual” weekday wines for us. They don’t necessarily need to be at a restaurant, but they do require a bit of ceremony: decanting, fancy glasses, swirling, sniffing, etc.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

1 January 2020 at 12:01am

Posted in Happenings

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A brief return to Philly …

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t says:  g and I had a chance to go back to NJ/Philly to celebrate the holidays.  Much good food was had, so I figured I’d recap some highlights:

There aren’t many things that SF lacks when compared to Philly (excluding the obvious: affordable housing).  The food scene in SF is just so vast that g and I confess we haven’t even scratched the surface of what it has to offer.  That said, we have noticed a few weaknesses.  We haven’t quite found an Indian takeout as good as Ekta/Tiffin.  And we haven’t found hummus as good as Dizengoff.  We made it a point to eat both during our trip!  Now maybe it’s not fair to say “there aren’t any good hummuserias in SF” because that’s pretty darn specific.  But when you get some of those sunchokes (or cabbage or lamb or whatever the choices are for the day) in that smooth creamy hummus with the freshly made pita (that is way better than any pita I’ve had yet in the Bay Area – and I’ve tried a quite a few), there’s just no comparison.  I actually ended up buying a Dizengoff t-shirt while I was there, just to keep the spirit alive.  So Michael Solomonov, if you’re reading this (because obviously you follow low-readership blogs like this one), bring Dizengoff to SF (and toss in some Federal Donuts – no need for the chicken if it’s too much), and I’ll be there once a week for sure.

a and I ventured the Walnut Street Cafe for a dudes’ lunch, and I ended up ordering this sandwich.  Now it looks pretty boring.  And most might say, “you call that a sandwich – where’s the meat?”.  Hear me out.  A broccoli rabe sandwich.  It sounds so silly, but damn I miss broccoli rabe.  I feel like Philly was just putting rabe in everything, and I took it for granted.  Now, surrounded by kales and lettuces of SF, rabe (or “rapini” as it’s more commonly known out here) isn’t really used as much – and when it is, it is rarely permitted to retain that bitter greens flavor that I so love.  So of course –  a broccoli rabe sandwich was exactly what I wanted.  The rest of the dishes were pretty good (a great butternut squash soup, albeit a bit pricey; and a’s pork sandwich was tasty and filling), but I did it for the rabe.

No visit to Philly is complete without a trip to DiBruno.  And I caught them at just the right time when they had Rogue River Blue in stock.  This super-expensive cheese is totally worth it.  It’s so salty, so stinky, and just has the slightest bit of sweet – my favorite blue for sure.  I left it in my parent’s fridge without putting it in plastic and let’s just say that “they noticed” …  Thanks DiBruno’s – happy to see you’re still a Philly food landmark.

And last, we have the new Aimee Olexy joint, The Love.  If you like the Garden, go to the Love.  It’s a bit more hip, a bit more chic that the Garden, offering dishes that ride the line between the comfortable warmth of Garden and the more see-and-be-seen atmosphere of Rittenhouse.  Above is the short rib stroganoff which was insanely good.  Everything we had was delightful – we only wish we were more hungry so we could have explored the remainder of the menu (we played it safe – shortrib strganoff, spaghetti and lobster, gnudi, etc).  Gotta try out that chicken!

In all, our visit to Philly was a whirlwind.  It was great to see friends and family.  Is was fun to visit the restaurants, new and old.  There was even nostalgia when walking around my old workplace (well, a combination of nostalgia and relief from the snow … because … you know … it likes to snow whenever we visit Philly … just to remind us of what we’re ‘missing’ in SF).  Until next time … I guess it’s back to 60-degree days!


Written by afterdinnersneeze

18 December 2017 at 8:56pm

Tokyo/Japan How-To’s

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t says:  Before we left on our trip, we pooled as many resources as possible to ensure our visit to Japan would go smoothly.  Neither of us speak Japanese, we have no friends/family to show us around, and we’ve never been!  We had a great time, and we’re going to put some tips/tricks here just so we can find them on a future date (for our next trip!).

JR pass is amazing to get around using the Shinkansen.  If you’re going to at least make one trip on a bullet train out and back, they’re pretty much worth it.  We did get the “green pass” which is a bit pricier than normal, but it offered the convenience of  reserved seats for some of the longer legs of our journey which was useful (sometimes the trains can be quite packed and we’d rather not be forced to stand).  To get one of these passes (green or regular), the cheapest way is to purchase a voucher while you’re still in the states, and then bring it to a “JR Service Center” (we used the one in Narita Airport), who will swap out your voucher for the actual pass (which you must not lose as it’s irreplaceable).  It’s also useful to know which bullet trains you want to go on and when (use so you can book the reserved seats at the same time you exchange your voucher for a pass.  This includes making a reservation on a train to get to Tokyo (e.g. the Narita Express).  Keep in mind that this will not cover certain bullet trains (e.g. Nozomi), so when you search hyperdia, be sure to click “off” those trains in the search options.
– JR is not the same as the Metro, although both have local stops in the city and have routes that show up on google maps.  If you have one of those JR passes, and you intend to use a local JR line, you can just flash your pass at the attendant at the turnstile and he/she’ll wave you in.  If you plan on using the Metro, or if you don’t have a JR pass but want to use the local JR line, you can either purchase a ticket (there are electronic kiosks with English option in the upper right hand corner) or do what we did and just get a Suica card (Pasco cards are available, too, but we heard that Suica is more flexible).  These cards can be purchased at a variety of subway stations, and help you breeze through the turnstiles at all stations (just keep in mind that if you have a JR pass and are using a JR line, don’t swipe your Suica card because it’ll charge you for something that you should be doing for free!).  The Suica card can also be used at some vending machines and convenience stores, so it’s quite handy.  We were also impressed that you input your information when you buy one (e.g. name), and it gets printed on the card!  And it’s such a cute card! (it has a penguin on it!). While you have a JR pass, try to use the JR lines, but otherwise the Metro trips are usually on the order of $1-3 depending on where you’re going.
– Taxis are plentiful.  They usually operate in cash, but we’ve seen a few advertising some kind of Taxi pay application, but we never got to check it out.
– Last train is at midnight, and taxis get to jack up their prices; plan accordingly

– Cash is preferable in most places – so make sure you have some around.  ATMs will dispense 10k JPY ($100 USD) bills unlike the US ATM’s fixation on $20 bills, which can be a bit unwieldy, so make sure you pick some more granular quantities so you can get some small bills, too.
– No tips, nowhere, for nothing.
– Finding a trashcan is harder than finding a needle in a haystack – keep a small plastic bag on your so you can sequester your garbage as you travel.
– We traveled around with a 30L hiking backpack.  Try not to go much bigger than this because otherwise you’ll bump into people on trains and be unable to stick it in those baskets under your seat at restaurants, making it (and you) quite annoying.  Just having a hiking backpack will immediately label you as tourist – but if you’re like us and rain follows you around everywhere, you’ll appreciate its waterproofness as you carry around your necessary electronics and retail purchases.
– Eating on trains like Shinkansen is fine – eating while walking is rude (so stand still!).
– Some stores offer tax-free purchases – but they need to attach stuff to your passport.  Customs didn’t give us any problems with our purchases (g and I got some clothes, shoes, souvenirs – you know – the usual).
– Rent a WiFi hotspot from the airport – they’re amazing for giving you constant access to google maps and photos of exteriors of restaurants.  They can get pricey, but are totally worth it.
– Bring along an extra battery.  My phone (iPhone 6S) could only go for about 6-8 hours with all the Google Mapping we were doing (with brightness turned down).  We got ours from Amazon (EasyAcc 1675 mAh portable charger) which allowed us to plug in multiple products on the go, and we coupled it with a multi-port plug (Anker Quick Charge 3.0 42W 3-port USB Wall Charger PowerPort+) so we could charge all of our peripherals at night through a single, two-pronged socket (which is the normal in Japan).  The portable charger (without plug) does weigh almost a pound with the necessary cords, but it’s worth it.  For us, 1200 mAh portable charger would have probably been fine and saved some weight – we just didn’t know at the time we bought it.

– Toranomon: has a fantastic luxury hotel (Andaz), but is kind of in the middle of nowhere.  That said, it is convenient to a few metro stations that can get you anywhere you need to go, and is only short hike to the fish market and Ginza.  Not a destination in and of itself, but not a bad place to stay.
– Ginza/Maranouchi: some pretty good shopping, including some flagships (Muji, Uniqlo, KitKat).  A good place to venture after a morning at Tsukiji.  Close proximity to Imperial palace.
– Tsukiji: needs no further introduction.  It’s still there! (They haven’t moved it for the Olympics … yet).  Close proximity to Hamarikyu Gardens.
– Asakusa: a cute area with a few tourist attractions (e.g. Sensoji) as well as “kitchen row”
– Shinjuku: a busy shopping area with some big department stores.
– Shibuya: an even busier shopping area with a variety of stores – also Meiji shrine
– Harajuku: our favorite place to shop, as there are some side streets with some incredible “streetwear” that we were usually not cool enough to wear.
– Ebisu: a funky neighborhood that we ventured to to go the three Kapital shops (that I was most certainly not cool enough to wear – g had some good finds, though!).

– g and I did credit card churning to make this trip happen, which meant that we had an allegiance to Hyatt hotels (the good ‘ol Chase-Hyatt-United trifecta).  The Andaz was amazing.  We did the standard king rooms, which were spacious, comfortable, clean, and full of amenities (free non-alcoholic drinks/snacks, free toiletries, spacious  tubs).  The view is absolutely killer (and all the rooms are at least 47 floors off the ground, so you’re guaranteed to see something in the distance!).  The staff was very nice and accommodating.  The hotel rooftop bar was ok (a bit pricy, but worth it for the views … although you have the same view from your room, soooooooo …), and there is the flexibility of the Toronamon building eateries below (and a Bicycle Coffee shop nearby – which was great!).  With churning, there was absolutely zero cost (not even taxes!) – amazing!  Definitely worth using Hyatt free-night passes, and even worth the 25k/night points!  The only drawback is its location (it’s not in glitzier Shibuya/Shinjuku), but it has a few nearby stations and is walkable to the fish market and Ginza.
– We considered the remaining Hyatt hotels, but because our trip was cut short, we couldn’t stay at any of them, so we’ll never know if any are better.  Park Hyatt in Shinjuku is supposed to be the crown jewel of Tokyo’s Hyatt’s (at 30k/night points), however, it gets a bit of a bad rap because it’s in need of an upgrade (but how do you turn down the “Lost In Translation” hotel?).  Maybe someone will let us know how it goes?  It also hard to justify the cost of the Park Hyatt because the Hyatt Regency across the street is far more reasonable in terms of Hyatt points (only 12k/night!, “Club King” for 18k!).  Grand Hyatt is Roppongi is even more in the middle of nowhere than Andaz, so we didn’t even consider it.
– If you end up Naoshima, go for Benesse House.  It’s quite costly, but the transportation around the island maximizes your experience.
– The Hyatt Regency in Kyoto is “ok”.  It has a reputation of being “as good as a Park Hyatt”, but I certainly hope not for Park Hyatt’s sake.  Nothing was at all bad – but the rooms are pretty standard (clean, reasonable size) without anything to give it a sense of “luxury”.

– One of the more famous things people shop for in Japan is knives.  I have some opinions about this, as a bit of a Japanese knife enthusiast.  The most commonly visited shops in Tokyo are generally near Tsukiji (Masamoto Tsukiji, Aritsugu) or near Asakusa’s Kappabashi (Kamata, Kama Asa).  However, the brands in these stores can frequently be found at retailers in the US or shipped to the US (the world is a whole lot smaller now through the internet), so most shops in Tokyo/Kyoto don’t offer a lot of sparkle for true knife nuts (i.e. if you can read about it in a foodie’s blog, a knife nut won’t be interested).
– For the persnickety folks, there are some small maker’s spots in more remote places (e..g Sakai), or some very high end stuff (think price tags starting at $1000) worth checking out in Tokyo/Kyoto.
– All this said, for newbies, the above Tokyo shops are great for picking up your first set of Japanese knives after being allowed to touch/hold them in store.  You never forget your first Japanese knives.  My recommendation is to get an idea of what you are looking for ahead of time (Western-style double-bevel is most common; buying a single-bevel Japanese style requires specific cutting technique and sharpening) so you don’t get distracted by all the shiny tools.
– What did I buy?  After dragging g to multiple shops, Kamata had some good prices on some Swedish carbon Misono, so I bought one of those (they sell a lot of “house brand” stuff that I just didn’t know much about).  Got it for $110 instead of $190!  Not bad!

– Gyoza: Harajuku Gyozaro and Tenryu Ginza – both gyozas were great, with the former’s being smaller/denser and served in a casual atmosphere, while the latter’s are fluffier/lighter in more of a Chinese restaurant atmosphere.
– Ramen Breakdown:
— best pork: Rokurinsha (in Tokyo station, tsukemmen style)
— best noodle: Nagi Golden Gai (Shinjuku, “special” = shoyu style)
— Tsukemmen: Fuunji was less touristy, while Rokurinsha was more convenient – both were great!
— “something different”: Ginza Kagari (Tori Paitan), Soranoiro (Veggie Ramen)
– Pork Katsu: Butagumi

— Tonki Katsu: never made it but we wanted to compare it to Butagumi
— Tonkatsu Maisen: a chain of tonkatsu places that is supposed to be pretty darn consistent – not high on our list but good to know it was there
— Soba Genroku: located close to Andaz, it was our backup in case we got sick of ramen … we never did
— Kaikaya by the Sea: tons of testimonials as to how great this place was – however, we had to cut our trip short so we bailed on our reservations – bummer!!
— Nodaiwa: a restaurant that specializes in eel – man am I sad I missed that!
— Kotaro: needed a “native Japanese” person to make reservations – they wouldn’t take one from our hotel concierge!  It made me want to go there even more!
— Shima and Ginza Hirayama are both well-known for their steaks, but are quite pricey.  That said, they both offer sandwiches “to go”.  Usually reserved for take-away after you enjoy one of their set menus for dinner/lunch, there is a way to call ahead and see if they have any “extra” for sale at lunchtime.  Not cheap at something like $60-80 for a set of sandwiches, they have always looked amazing and every blogger says it’s worth it.  Andaz agreed to call for us if we wanted to make it happen, but we just never got around to it!
— Fancy Sushi/Omakaze: you’ll notice that g and I didn’t do any “fancy” places in Tokyo.  It’s not that we couldn’t decide (we got tons of great recs), rather, we opted to just enjoy the more reasonable places.  We didn’t want to dress up.  We didn’t want to make a fuss.  Maybe we’re getting older.  Maybe we’re getting stingier and crotchetier (?sp?).  But if a bowl of ramen or a plate of fried pork could make us that happy while being a uniquely Japanese experience, then why pay more?  Nevertheless, gun-to-my-head, I think we would have sought out that sushi place by Jiro’s younger son.  That and Aronia de Takazawa (super-jelly of some friends that got to go!).

OTHER REGRET: We were too late to get tickets for the Yayoi Kusama museum.  Missed it by one day!

MORE RAMEN: we have a map of ramen joints (about 40) throughout Tokyo – so if you want to know where they are, let us know (afterdinnersneeze_at_gmail).

Japan was amazing.  g and I can’t wait to go back.  We have a sense that there’s so much more to see (go further south!   go further north!  go back to Tokyo!).  Because I was especially moved by the contemporary art at Naoshima, I’m feeling like the tri-annual Art Setouchi festival is the next time we should go – so how’s everyone feel about 2019?

Written by afterdinnersneeze

22 October 2017 at 5:46pm

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.


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!


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:


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.


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:


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!


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.


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:


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:


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”:


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

Triumphant Return to Tokyo

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t says:  Gawd we love the shinkansen.  If we had to retire, we’d move to Tokyo and g would have a part time gig doing the voice-acting for the overhead announcements: “Welcome to the Shin-Kan-Sen”.  The ride is punctual, smooth, and offers carts of snacks that make the rounds every so often.  Plenty of leg room, seats that recline so much that I couldn’t go full-recline and still work, and electric outlets!  It really is just so civilized.    And the safety record is sick: over 50 years with 10 billion passengers, there have been no derailment/collision-related fatalities (source: wikipedia).

Ok – enough about trains … on to food …

I made a bit of a scheduling error for our first night back in Tokyo.  We arrived at the hotel at 6:35pm.  Our tonkatsu reservation (not to be confused with tonkotsu, a style of ramen), which I thought I had scheduled the following night, was actually that night at 7pm.  The directions clearly said: anyone showing up more than 15 minutes late will have their reservations cancelled.  Yikes.  Ok.  Time to get a move on.  We rushed through the hotel check-in process, found an ATM, and caught a cab.  We literally arrived at 7:14pm.  We were rewarded with this:


Butagumi is a pork specialist.  They have maybe 4 types of tenderloin and 4 types of sirloin at any given time (their menu is something like up to 15 of each), ranging from European pork (see the Iberico, above) to Japanese pork (including some highly sought after cows).  We tried to order three dishes but was politely warned by our server: “it is very big”.  On one hand, we were lied to – they weren’t “big”, rather extraordinarily appropriate.  Between the pork, the rice, the slaw, and the best miso soup I ever had (there were little tiny clam/cockel shells in it! g interjects: I thought the one at Sushi bun was better – it had a whole head-on prawn in it! t compromises: maybe we’ll have to go back and try that one again.), we were stuffed.  Another order of pork would have definitely resulted in leftovers.  As far as the pork choices, g and I disagree on which one was better.  I liked mine, she liked hers.  Mine, the sirloin, with its nice band of fat, was very very tasty.  Quite possibly the best cooked and best tasting pork I’ve ever had.  g liked her tenderloin, which was the leaner, but softer, more delicate tasting meat.   Even the wine was good – the house white was some kind of German gruner I’m guessing – bright and mouth-watering – just what the pork needed.  g proclaims: this was the best meal we had thus far.  t takes the mic back: I’d agree.  On one hand, yes, it was a lot of $$$ for some pork.  But on the other, it was wonderful – and I’d gladly go again just to taste some of the cheaper cuts to see if I could taste the difference!


After recovering from our pork comas (i.e. sleeping overnight), we got right back on the saddle and sought ought tsukemmen.  Rokurinsha ramen (our fourth ramen stop thus far) was our destination.  It turns out that it was in Tokyo station … as in: it was in the station we first arrived at in Tokyo … as in: we should have eaten here instead of the hotel’s restaurant (not that it was bad – but not as good as this!  This tsukemmen was fantastic.  Don’t let the pictures fool you – there were a LOT of noodles.  You dip the noodles into the concentrated pork broth (I got the “special” that had some extra minced meat, g got the “spicy” with a shrimpy-spice condiment on the side) and then put them in your mouth.  Holy crap it was good.  That broth was like a delicious porky-sweet-salty bolognese.  g and I demolished it.  Even the slices of pork that were in it were perfect – super tender and very flavorful!  (n.b. you do have to be ok with eating cool noodles and warm dipping sauce – so the end result is never piping hot like classic ramen – so if you need it steaming, then this tsukemmen will not be your cup of tea.)

And as we walked away, looking back at the ginormous line that had formed we agreed: totally worth it.  If you’re stopping in Tokyo Station (e.g. arriving from Narita), ditch your bags in some pay lockers and get in line to eat here – don’t bother going anywhere else.  Just do it!  Advice on location (because Tokyo Station is large and disorienting): walk through Tokyo station’s ground floor (“1F”) to the Yaesu South Exit and then take the stairs down to the “shops” on 1BF below (aka “ramen street”).  And it’s the first ramen shop you see.  It’ll undoubtedly have a line that wraps around the corner – and look for the red honeycomb shape in the logo (below photo stolen from someone else’s site).


The line moves fast (there are indicators on the ground to tell you an approximate wait time)!  With so few tourists, the locals jump in, eat, and leave.  You do have to use the machine when you get to the front of the line, and there’s a lot of peer pressure because there’s a large line behind you and the host doesn’t speak English (and the machine has no English setting), so study the online menus/pictures closely so you’re ready to pick when you get up there.

We finished off our day of sighseeing (we saw Hamarikyu Gardens and the Imperial Palace Gardens) with a chocolate reward:



This place was awesome.  I was expecting it to be more like Naked Chocolate in Philly (RIP).  But it was actually so much better!  They offered 56 difference pieces of chocolate with a tasting sheet that explained the characteristics, origin, etc!  (I walked away with two pieces that used different kinds of Japanese sugar as sweeteners … how awesome is that?!).  While you’re there, take a load off and choose from their assortment of interesting pastries (all with chocolate), and, more importantly, a hot chocolate flight:


The one from Ghana was classic thick, rich, hot chocolate.  Smooth and effortless to drink.  Classic.  And then 15 gave some additional fruity/sour notes on the finish.  It was interesting, but not my fave.  And then 17 tasted like straight up whisky on the finish.  It was so weird.  I checked the description twice just to make sure it wasn’t spiked, and it wasn’t.  But it had that smokey, peaty flavor that reminded me of an American whisky.  Crazy!  Wish we had one of these in SF!

More to come – stay tuned!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

18 October 2017 at 8:44pm