$100 Shaved Ice and High Tea in Tokyo

royalparkhotel

The Fontaine Lounge inside the Royal Park Hotel in Shinbashi is offering a shaved ice fruit parfait for apprx $90 USD. The reason this puny fruit cup costs so much is because they pour Dom Pérignon on top. This ‘adult only’ dessert is available until September 9th so if you happen to be in Tokyo and feel like splurging, check it out.

I’ve never been the Royal Park Hotel but from what I learned googling, a lot of the hotel is retro. Not in the ‘on purpose, Eames‘ type retro but more… outdated (take a look). Don’t quote me on this if you happen to go and it doesn’t look the way you picture it though. The Fontaine Lounge also offers ‘American style’ cafe food ex: clubhouse sandwiches, hot dogs, pastas, etc. They also serve afternoon tea that looks a bit scary:

photo courtesy of google images

What a special tower.

The food, desserts, high tea nor the Dom fruit parfait are very appealing to me but again, different strokes for different folks. Maybe someone reading this can take one for the team (?)

Speaking of high tea, I frequent London so I have close to zero interest in afternoon tea in Asia. However, there is one place that has piqued my curiosity:

High tea at Áman Tokyo.

Served from 12:30pm to 4:30pm in the lounge on the 33rd floor (sorry, the lounge name eludes me and it’s not on the hotel site) but when I was there for early drinks one day, I noticed ‘Afternoon Tea’ on the menu. The description was something amongst the lines of “Japanese 和 influenced delicacies for ¥5,100″ (apprx. $47 USD).

The newly opened Áman Resort is a stunning property. Even if you’re not interested in high tea, it’s definitely recommended for cocktails. I prefer it to Mandarin Oriental and even Park Hyatt. It’s still new and a little under the radar, so go before it’s discovered and gets jam packed.

Aman Tokyo
Website is here
For directions, drop this into Google Maps ↓
東京都千代田区 大手町1-5-6

…and I just noticed this post is unorganized and makes close to zero sense. Oh well. Onward!

Ayu

Kanda’s ayu courtesy of here.

Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine and with all haute cuisines, there is an order, a pattern if you will, of dishes that are served. First course is zensai, a small bite of seasonal foods, usually vegetable based. Second course is usually a fish, most of the time sashimi of a white fish, followed by a broth or soup of some kind.

In the spring and fall, ayu makes an appearance during the second course. Usually lightly salted and grilled.

The ideal size of an ayu is 6 inches, or 15cm which makes it edible in three bites.

According to Chef Kanda of Nihonryori Kanda, the proper way to eat ayu is:
First bite = from the head to right above the stomach
*sip beer*
Second bite = the stomach
*sip beer*
Third bite = the crispy tail
*sip beer and feel sad the ayu is gone*

Ayu is a very particular fish.

Its characteristics are a sweet fish with a bit of bitterness in its fins and head. When eaten with beer, it draws out the sweetness and balances the bitter.

Ayu also needs to be cooked while still alive. Otherwise, the muscles tighten and the meat wraps around the bone. When that happens, it is likely the bones prick the customer’s mouths so it’s best prepared while alive. Another reason it needs to be cooked while living is the meat flattens and it doesn’t end up deliciously plump on the plate. When grilled fresh, ayu’s fins firm to allow the fish to stand on its own fins.

I’m not really a stickler on etiquette but because I learned such incredible facts on ayu, I thought I would share.

Most of this knowledge I obtained from Chef Kanda.
Kanda-san’s Kanda has been awarded three Michelin stars for seven consecutive years (in case your food barometer is solely based on ratings).

I wouldn’t recommend Kanda to first time kaiseki eaters. His food is subtle and unless one really knows Japanese food, it might be challenging to appreciate — some may even feel ripped off. For what it’s worth though, Kanda is easily in my top ten meals of all time.

Nihonryori no Kanda
http://nihonryori-kanda.com/english/information/
*bookings should be made at least three months in advance

PS: The above photo is not mine. I do not take photos at Kanda, as Kanda-san is extremely particular with his food and has a deep thought process that surrounds all aspects of the foods he serves. Kanda, is built around optimal servings of ingredients ex: he only seats 16-18 people a day because that is the best portion of meats and fish, for example. His kitchen is tiny on purpose, because Japanese food is extremely reliant on timing, even adding a bit of soy sauce a millisecond too early or too late can throw the entire dish off. Knowing what I know about his ethos, I do not want to disrespect his food and the experience fiddling with my phone taking photos.

Heritage

This may strike odd to some but I read cookbooks during my downtime. They soothe me. One of the best cookbooks I’ve read in a very long time is Heritage by Sean Brock. Not only is the writing poignant, the photos knock it out of the park.

Stunning.

For those who know me in real life, know that I am a super duper ultra mega Sean Brock fan girl. His love and respect for food, ingredients, cooking and owning your heritage is reminiscent of the Japanese ethos. But, most importantly, he is bringing attention to traditional American cooking in ways no chef has ever done before.

Recently on a long airplane ride, I listened to food podcasts and re-read Heritage. Sean Brock’s manifesto is too inspiring not to share, so here it is:

My Manifesto by Sean Brock

  • Cook with soul — but first, get to know your soul.
  • Be proud of your roots, be proud of your home, be proud of your family and its culture. That’s your inspiration.

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Thomas Keller on Passion

People talk about passion like it’s an emotion you need to have to be successful. For me, that’s not true. Passion is not something that I look for when I hire someone. Passion is overused and in many cases, misused. ‘You have to be passionate about you do’ – well okay, what does that mean? What I look for is desire because desire is something that’s always there. When the passion epps as it always does in anything that we do, what is going to make you come to work? It’s desire.

It’s very simple: come to work everyday and do a little better than you did the day before. I think if you can do just a little better at something — I don’t care what it is — make an effort every day to do something a little better than the day before. And that shows a strong desire for improvement. We want people to have better skills, we want people to have better knowledge – we want people to have a better life. And so each day you have to try do something better than the day before. If you do that every day, 10 years from now you’ll have a considerable sum.

There are so many times that a young chef ‘I want to do this. I want to do that. Chef, let me do this. Chef, let me do that. When are you going to let me try something different?’ It’s like… you’re a cook. You cook everyday. Enjoy it. It’s not like there’s going to be something new every day. You’re going to roast a piece of meat. Find pleasure in roasting that piece of meat everyday. Find pleasure in sharpening your knife everday. Because if you want something new everyday, you’re not going to find that. Repetition is something that is so important.

— transcribed from Thomas Keller’s episode on Heritage Radio’s Chef’ Story on what he looks for when he hires someone for any role in his organization.

Chef Keller is talking about what he looks for in people he hires but what he says holds true no matter what you do and what field you are in. At least that’s what I’ve learned and seen in my limited experience.

There’s always going to be something we all don’t want to do or even loathe. What motivates us to get up in the morning everyday and be the best we can in order to set us aside from others is desire.

What we all tend to forget when we see successful people, is their roads to that success. In this age of instant gratification, sometimes we all need little reminders and stumbling onto this podcast was a much needed reminder — at least for me.

Such a profound statement and a wise, wise man.
Chef’s Story is a program on Heritage Radio and available to download for free as podcasts. I’ve listened to almost all of them. The image on top is via Epicurious where Chef Keller shares his Thanksgiving turkey recipe here.

Ippudo x 7-11

The other day I stumbled onto Ippudo instant ramen in a box. Ippudo is a beloved ramen chain in Japan and the U.S. I swear, the Ippudo in NY costs about $15 a bowl before tax and tip with lines that are out the door and around the corner. In Japan, Ippudo is popular but not as popular as they are in the States.

It’s bizarre to see such a loved chain collaborate with 7-11 and Nissin (the Top Ramen people – Top Ramen sells those 5 packs of instant ramen for a dollar) and why they would bring $1.50 Ippudo branded ramen is beyond me.

There are so many ramen choices here, I would never buy and eat this. Cheap instant ramen is a bit scary. Hi, MSG bomb.

Japan!

Beer Can Bacon Burgers

I really need to take a trip back home to the U.S. I reckon. Or, I need to quit talking about food so much – my friends are sending burger videos.

This particular one… I’ve never seen anything like it before. And I’m not talking about the beer can burgers — I see beer can chicken all over the place so beer can burgers didn’t surprise me as much — I’m talking about the guys making these videos: BBQ Pit Boys

I watched the video so you don’t have to but you should watch it anyway because it is stupid amazing:

  1. this video is shot in the snow. They are BBQing in. the. snow.
  2. the chefs are a bunch of super scary looking biker type guys who — I’m not going to lie — if I saw them walking towards me on the same side of the street, I would inconspicuously cross the street. Or duck into a store. Or sit on a bus stop bench. Stop, drop and roll even..? Well you get the picture, I would be a bit scared.
  3. the recipe calls for using ‘your favorite beer can’. I was expecting him to pull out a can of Budweiser or Bud Light. The man used a can of Yuengling Lager. I didn’t even know Yuengling was sold in cans!
  4. at around 3:50 in the video, he pulls out his preferred bacon, pork belly bacon, then goes on to say: Some of our European friends are going to say ‘What the heck is that?’ This is American style pork belly bacon. Amazing.
  5. Around 5:40 in the video, he pulls out a machete to chop a block of cheese. A MACHETE. What!

Then as the video is closing, he cuts the cooked burger, wrapped in bacon with all the fillings and says in a cool, even tone: “Take that, vegematics and food police!” I couldn’t help but smile.

I love these guys so much — just do you, Pit Masters!
Visit their website here and YouTube channel here.

The recipe seems pretty simple but the burgers take about an hour to cook.
Here it is:
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Peanuts

Peanuts are a delightful addition to dishes and I’m thrilled to see them making more and more of an appearance. Or I may just be noticing now, as I don’t really eat Asian fusion food in restaurants.

Again, scrolling through Instagram I came across this:

Buttermilk fried chicken, kimchi, spicy peanuts and lime via Chef Ian Borders’ Instagram here

This is a dish from Opposite Restaurant in Bangkok (visit their website here). There’s just something about the combination of tang — be it vinegar, kimchi, anything fermented and even citrus — with peanuts that’s refreshing and so delicious. Add a bit of funk from fragrant ingredients as cilantro or kimchi and the flavors are out of this world.

One of my favorite dishes of all time actually has the same combination. It’s from Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, that I used to eat at least once a week during my consecutive two years in L.A.

Hamachi tostada from my Instagram

Animal is known for their use of meat (hence the name, duh) but this one non meat dish is so good. A tostada made with raw fish may seem off-putting at first, but don’t be fooled. The crispy tostada with a thin layer of guac, hamachi slices, raw cabbage, crispy fried onions and crunchy peanuts with herbs and a fish sauce vinaigrette not fishy at all is MAGIC. I can eat three of these in one sitting (with a bottle of wine, of course. Animal has a stellar wine selection).

At home, try sprinkling chopped peanuts and spritz lime over salads and even coleslaw. It’s so simple yet can completely transform a boring dish!

Chef Ian Borders by the way, makes salami in Thailand. His Instagram is worth a look and follow.

Also, if interested, I wrote about my experience in Bangkok here and how I was blown away by its food scene.