Aman Hotel, Tokyo


  

Sometimes clichés are apropos and for the Aman Hotel in Tokyo, pictures do indeed speak a thousand words. This week, I have some of my favorite people in town and the ballers that they are, are staying at the Aman. And this hotel is gorgeous.

Not only is the hotel stunning, the service is impeccable. The staff remembers all the guest’s faces and names. Everything — and I mean everything — is thought out for the guests so they don’t have to think. Raining out? You’re handed an umbrella as you exit the hotel. Finish your drink? The bartenders recall your name so you don’t have to sign the check. They remember preferences, room numbers, even down to the kind of phone you have and ask if your iPhones needs to be charged. I mean… who are these people?! Amazing.

Since the visitors had just arrived to town, we wandered around Omotesando and the Aoyama area to go shopping then back to the hotel for dinner and drinks. Note: Sundays are also a tad tricky for food — almost everything is closed. We had an incredible bordeaux at the bar and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the ice they use for whiskeys (they brand it with the Aman logo — kind of cheesy but unique).

Then off to the dining room where we ordered a few things. I took quick snaps of everyone’s food (the lighting was surprisingly decent). They’re not the best photos but as of late, I find myself caring more about documenting then focusing on company and actually being… present at dinner instead of having my face in my phone, furiously editing photos of food.

At any rate, if you’re ever in Tokyo and feel like splurging, definitely check out the Aman. As for the food… it tastes expensive, if you catch my drift 😉

Aman Hotel
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
東京都千代田区 大手町1-5-6
https://www.aman.com/resorts/aman-tokyo
Bar and dining rooms are of course, open to all whether you are staying at the hotel or not. When I met my friends, it was high tea time and there were lots of ladies who lunch in their best Sunday outfits, enjoying a mile high tower of treats.
This is the website for their dining room here.

Imitation Crab

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I am not a violent person but sometimes, I wish we could actually fist fight foods because I have major beef with the grossness that is imitation crab. Pun not intended.

Imitation crab in Japan is semi edible.

The imitation crab in the States are these tasteless, rubbery, hideous things, usually stuffed into grocery store California Rolls. I firmly believe the sole purpose of its existence is to trick unsuspecting people into buying nasty pre-made ‘sushi’. I’m telling you, don’t let the bright red and glowing white cylinders distract you from seeing what these things hibernating in deli cases really are: browning slivers of old avocado wrapped in cold, dry rice with the cheap, sorry excuses for crab. Or should I say krab.

These things – stay far away ↓

Sidenote: if you insist on eating supermarket sushi, look for the California Rolls where the crab is at least shredded like this – the mayo mixed in with the crab makes the dried out rolls tastier. I promise.

I am not the only one who has issues with imitation crab. Aside from the top search, according to Google auto-complete, where people are asking why imitation crab isn’t gluten-free (which is an odd thing to wonder in the first place. Does gluten-free food taste so bad, imitation crab actually tastes… good?), the people have spoken. Two out of the top five results are asking why imitation crab meat is so bad, why it even exists in the first place and apparently they even glow in the dark (!!!!!)

Take a look↓

I’M RIGHT THERE WITH YOU PEOPLE ASKING THOSE QUESTIONS. I don’t know why they exist either.

The Wikipedia for this abomination states:

 

Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) from the North Pacific is commonly the main ingredient, often mixed with fillers such as wheat, and egg white (albumen)[1] or other binding ingredient, such as the enzyme transglutaminase.[3] Crab flavoring is added (either artificial or crab-derived), and a layer of red food coloring is applied to the outside.

…wait a sec. Imitation crab is not even crab! It’s pulverized pollack (white fish), mixed with ingredients like wheat, egg white and some scientific thing I can’t even pronounce. The stuff that makes up imitation crab, aren’t even from the ocean! Inappropriate ingredients aside, for imitation crab to be named ‘imitation crab’ in the first place is simply wrong. Why anyone would even think to consume ‘food’ labeled as a fake is beyond me!

I read the many reasons and theories behind why this bootleg seafood has a place in the store’s frozen section. Some people say it’s for kosher crab. Others say it’s to cut restaurant costs and someone even thinks it’s to preserve the ocean. But listen. Imitation crab is 1. not crab 2. disgusting and 3. glows in the dark. Things humans put in our mouths and consume should not glow in the dark.

I’m really tempted to start a petition for people to stop eating these putrid things. Only we, the people, can diminish demand. Without demand, production is unnecessary, and without a need, it will forcefully extinct these turd logs.

Ugh. I feel sick to my stomach.

Luke’s Lobster in Tokyo

That is a terrible photo but no horrible photograph (or photographer) can magically transform lobster into small, thin, white shreds. That is a crab roll from Luke’s Lobster. And a Luke’s Lobster in Tokyo to boot!

Luke’s is a New York institution. Back in 2009 – ’10ish, people were buzzing about a lobster roll place that opened in the East Village serving incredible lobster from Maine. In 2009 – ’10ish, I’ve lived on the East Coast for almost a decade and visited Maine a few times.

I’m one of those weird people who prefers crab over lobster. (There’s a back story to that but that’s a story for another day.) However, when a person is in Maine, lobsters are the only way to go. Well one doesn’t really have a choice unless you’re visiting solo. In a group everyone eats lobster and explaining why I don’t really fancy lobster is too much effort. Plus, talking about things you dislike is unbecoming. The last thing I want to do, is ruin someone’s meal. So I am familiar with East Coaster’s love for Maine lobster and tried lobster in its optimal forms, but I just can’t jump onboard the lobster train. For me, it’s still crab all the way.

When we were out in the East Village drinking at Death + Company or Please Don’t Tell or any of the bars in that area, by the time we were done (and a little drunkie) the alcohol has an inappropriate way of taking over our stomachs, wallets, all common sense and all we want is junk food.

Luke’s is open late so when the group goes to chow down on $15 lobster rolls, I would separate from the crowd and head to Crif Dogs around the corner from Luke’s, for a hot dog and tater tots. Please Don’t Tell (or PDT as we called it) outings were the best because it’s a speakeasy inside of Crif Dogs. I’d stay behind then feast on more hot dogs, tater tots, cheese fries and other junk I’d rather not recall sober, solo.

So in my entire time living in NYC and the East Coast, I’ve never eaten a lobster roll.

The other day in Tokyo I was walking around with a friend on the way to dinner. Saw a massive crowd spilled out into the narrow back streets of Omotesando. And what do you know, it was Luke’s Lobster. I couldn’t believe it. If this is the same Luke’s from back in the States, I could finally try a lobster roll. I begged him to split one as a pre-dinner snack and before he could answer, we were already in line.

When we finally reached the take-out window, I immediately asked the gentleman manning the register: “Is this the same Luke’s Lobster from the States???” “Yes, it is.” he said without looking up. I think I caught a slight side-eye finished off with an eye-roll. Oh, silly me. Of course there is a Luke’s from NY in Tokyo. Pardon my ignorance. Sheesh.

As we were about to order, I peered into the tiny space that is Luke’s Lobster Tokyo and caught a glimpse of one prep cook in the back furiously buttering rolls. I took one look at the sad, limp lobster rolls lined up ready to be served and at the last minute, ordered a crab roll instead.

The lobster meat resembled imitation crab. I have a massive problem with imitation crab.

Anyway. After about 20 minutes we get our order. I took one bite and was confused. The bread was semi-toasted, temperature semi-warm with patches of not so warm. The crab salad was cold. Like, straight out of the refrigerator cold. Very weird textures and sensations.

The problem lies with me, though, because when I checked out Luke’s site, the description of their rolls is the following:

We make our rolls Maine-style — seafood served chilled atop a buttered, toasted New England-style split-top bun with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter and a dash of our secret spices.

So this is what I learned. 1. the innards (crab, lobster, what have you) are supposed to be cold  2. New England style rolls do not suit me and 3. Blue Moon is a beer I no longer like — I forgot how fruity this beer is.

This place is super duper popular and people love these rolls. If you’re in Tokyo and have never tried a Luke’s Lobster roll, don’t listen to me and do please try it. Everyone — and I mean everyone — loves and craves Luke’s except me. I’m just weird.

Luke’s Lobster, Tokyo
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
東京都渋谷区神宮前6-7-1
Open daily from 11am – 8pm
*outdoor seating on benches only
**don’t know where they source the rolls and seafood but I’m 90% sure they are shipped from Maine.

Added: I went back.

NYT Things You Should Make, Not Buy

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies. Yum. source

As the title of my blog says, there are four things I keep up with on a daily basis: food, booze, Internet, and Japan. I love the Internet as much as I love food and booze. Oh. And Japan too. But I really love the Internet — it’s an addiction. So much so I forced myself to detox.

Fast forward about seven months, I’m back online. The time I waste trolling the Internet isn’t as bad as it used to be but, I am still constantly on Twitter and Instagram. Since I follow a lot of food related accounts, I sometimes post Internet finds here, tagged under ‘Internet Finds‘.

The greatest find this week, was a NYT’s article: “20 Things You Should Make, Not Buy”. The Times only linked their recommended recipes but there are a few recipes I am 100% sure are (sorry not sorry) better than the ones in that article. (Sidenote: I cook a range of foods, not just Japanese.)

Here are a few:

Marinara Sauce — NYT shares a recipe from Julia Moskin. I am sure her recipe is delicious but this marinara recipe is easily in my top three of all time.

In 2010, I lived in LA when Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, “the Frankies,” did a kitchen takeover at Animal Restaurant. With the dinner, each guest received a signed copy of: The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual and it is now one of my go-to cookbooks. Their marinara sauce takes four hours, requires good olive oil and pricy canned tomatoes but definitely worth it. I found their recipe online here.

I also shared some tips to roasting vegetables from The Frankie’s cookbook way back in 2010 here.

Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette — NYTimes’ recipe is again by Julia Moskin but I am convinced Ina Garten’s Vinaigrette is king! Her recipe calls for champagne vinegar that may sound all fru-fru. But for lazy people like me, the light, tangy and subtly acidic champagne vinegar is far suited than red/white wine vinegar to drizzle over roughly chopped vegetables or, on a presentable salad to serve guests. I shared the recipe here.

EMP’s Granola source

Eleven Madison Park’s Granola — funny timing. I just posted about trail mix and was contemplating if I should do a granola round-up but this particular one is sooooo delicious by the time I get around to actually collecting my favorite recipes from around the internet, sitting down and writing out a blog post, you still won’t be sick of this one.

EMP is the famed Eleven Madison Park and their granola, like the restaurant, is a bit uppity but extremely addictive. I prefer the Serious Eats’ rendition with cherries, pistachios, and coconut flakes. The recipe is here

Hummus — hummus is astonishingly simple to make and Mark Bittman’s recipe is my favorite. This is his recipe on epicurious, taken from his book The Best Recipes in the World. Since it’s so short, I’m pasting it into the body.

  • 2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, or to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

PREPARATION
1. Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree.

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I often find I like to add much more lemon juice). Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika and some parsley.

I am a cumin fiend so paprika makes zero appearances in my hummus! Also, if you’re more of a baba ghanouj person, I have my version with tips of roasting eggplant here.

And of course, from the top photo: Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies via epicurious from Laurie Colwin. There are hundreds of Katharine Hepburn brownies floating around online. But this one, edited by Ruth Reichl and taken from A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food by Colwin is the authority. Mainly from bias — Colwin and Reichl are two of my favorite writers.

No one can compete with Colwin’s closing paragraph to the recipe:

You can cut these brownies into squares, once they have cooled, and eat them out of the pan, but it is so much nicer to pile them on a fancy plate, from which people are going to eat them with their hands anyway. If you want to smarten up your act you can put a square of brownie on a plate with a little blob of créme fraîche and a scattering of shaved chocolate.

The full brownie recipe is here.
See the NYT’s piece and the rest of the recipes here.

 

Ta-im: Incredible Israeli Food

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I love — and I mean LOVE — Israeli food. The light, delicate flavor profiles of the cuisine really suits my palate. I am a huge fan of tang, or sours if going by taste buds. Vinegars, citrus, citrus notes, even mustard — bring them all on. Middle Eastern foods in general I can eat piles of and not feel full. Hummus, kebabs, shawarma, tabbouleh I can eat enough for ten. Saffron always makes me happy and cumin is perhaps my favorite spice.

Living in Manhattan on and off for 10+ years, I was extremely spoiled by delicious Lebanese, Turkish and Israeli foods. My hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area was extremely lacking in foods from the Mediterranean. I can almost say for sure falafels were non existent. There was one kebab place that was extremely pricy and frankly, not tasty at all. When I arrived in Manhattan I was floored by the selection and reasonable prices. I spent about six months eating falafels daily. Lucky me, I lived right by Taïm for years. Taïm is inarguably the best falafel place in all of Manhattan. They spoiled me rotten to the point of ruining other falafel experiences for me. They set the bar so high, I am appalled when other establishments do not produce the same quality. (Like my experience with falafels in London.)

Aside from falafels, and as someone who has yet to visit Israel or any parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean, thanks to New York and the thriving Israeli, Jewish, Lebanese, Turkish, Greek and other Arabic / Mediterranean / Middle Eastern communities and their restaurants, I am confident I have an excellent command of the respective cuisines.

So when I first heard of an Israeli place in Tokyo, I had close to zero desire to visit. First, lavash and pitas are near impossible to find even in specialty stores. Second, most foreign cuisines in Japan are catered towards what Japanese people are used to. In the case of Israeli foods, I was expecting subdued spices that aren’t used in Japanese cuisine.

Well one day, I randomly walked by Ta-im. A friend and I decided to pop in for a bite. We ordered beers and falafels just to try it out. ↓

I took one bite and was shocked. They were delicious, firm, and flavorful with a crispy exterior. On par with Taïm in New York. I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy.

Since then I have returned many times. Even if they are a bit pricey (about $13 USD for a falafel sandwich). I indulge because the falafel pitas are exactly the way I prefer: pickled cabbage, pickles, tahini sauce and hummus.

The chicken shawarma pita is equally delicious. The lamb, though, is perfect for me (not too game-y or intense) but others prefer a more prominent aroma.

Dan, the chef / owner of Ta-im has been in Tokyo for 20 years. He frequents Israel so his food is on-point. Of course I had to ask where he gets his pitas. He generously informed me there is an Israeli baker who distributes pitas to almost all of Tokyo (there are many kebab places in Tokyo. Most are misses, though.)

He has such a great relationship with the baker who gave him a box of matzo (brittle flat bread eat at Passover) and in turn, Dan-san kindly shared some with me (I am not Jewish but I sure eat like one).

This is Dan-san wrapping the matzo ↓

Dan-san runs Ta-im with his lovely wife who mans the front of the house.

Ta-im is around the corner from the fish on sticks place I love, love, love. I sometimes bring people to Dan’s for a night cap (they serve alcohol) after the fish on sticks place. And if I have room (which is almost always) I order a falafel pita sandwich.

Like last night, we ended up there after the fish on sticks feast. Ordered a little too much food. Took one too many Arak shots with Israeli patrons working at Hewlett Packard stationed in Tokyo.

It seems silly to rave and write about an Israeli restaurant in Tokyo. But, you know a place is legitimate when Israelis from Israel are blissfully devouring Dan-san’s food.

Ta-im
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都渋谷区恵比寿1-29-16
Lunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm (last order is at 2:30pm)
Dinner: 6:00pm – 11:00pm (last order at 10:30pm)
http://www.ta-imebisu.com/

I’m not sure if they take bookings. They also do takeaway.

Fish Sticks – the Japanese Way

And the obsession with aburi 炙り foods continues… Aburi, is sear, grill, torch, etc., and this is from one of my favorite places that specializes in fish and seafood. This little two story restaurant is a neighborhood favorite and secret. It is a homey place, with a handsome chef / owner and his lovely wife runs the front of the house. Aside from the owner, there are two younger cooks. One who mans the grilling, the other is the sous.

Everything here is delicious. I can keep eating the fish grilled on the sticks. Each fish is individually seasoned with salt and pepper. Or olive oil. A touch of soy sauce. Perhaps miso. Sometimes yuzu koshō (yuzu is a citrus, koshō is pepper, yuzu koshō is a Japanese hot paste, like harissa if you are familiar with Middle Eastern spices). Every skewer is flavored differently to complement the unique flavors of each fish.

There is sashimi of course ↓

This particular sashimi was omakase (chef’s choice) for three (we were dining with three people). There is snapper, black snapper, iwashi (sardine), katsuo (fresh),  octopus and aji (mackerel).

They have wonderful starters from salads to tofu, traditional Japanese bites that go well with sake and shochū. They even have fried foods like gyoza and chijimi — what we call Korean pancakes pajeon in Japanese — korokke croquettes and the likes.

I prefer to stick with the fish, though, as they do fish so well. I mainly only bring friends who are not fussy eaters, as someone may be a bit frightened by sights like these ↓

That fish is amadai by the way which was the special on that particular day.  Amadai or tile fish in English, is a marvelous fish used in kaiseki Japanese haute cuisine specifically, Kyō ryōri Kyoto cuisine. Sidenote: amadai usually make appearances towards the end of fall, beginning of winter following ayu season, so I was a bit taken aback it was on the menu. As you can tell from the first photo, amadai is unique, in which when cooked, the scales stand up (as do the fins when they are supremely fresh). The scales are to to be eaten with this lean, white fish. Light in taste and texture, they gently pop in your mouth and delightful with the grilled fish’s meat.

When I visit this place, I am selfish. I prefer to eat without holding back or paying mind to other people’s preferences. And because an experience with amadai might be a bit scary for those unfamiliar, I do not bring many visitors here.

If you are adventurous both with dining and experiences (there is no English menu and the chefs barely speak English — though the owner spent time in California so he can communicate some), this place is highly recommended.

Reservations are not required but suggested.
Also, they have a mannequin that sits outside of the restaurant when there are seats available. So cute.

This place is like a home for me. It’s very warm and welcoming. The staff is very very kind to me and there is a sense of old school community I love so much about Japan. There are many people who dine here alone as well.

Sakanaya Kīmon
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都渋谷区恵比寿1-26-15
Open daily 5 pm – 12:30 am.
Last order is at 11:30 pm
Phone: +81 03 5420-1232
No website

Butayarō aka Pile-o-Pork

Aburi 炙り means to sear, grill, torch, etc., and this is a pile of aburi pork over a bowl of rice. The reason it looks so massive is because it is. I chose the extra large one with poached egg. This is what happens when I go some place for lunch without eating breakfast: my eyes and rumbling stomach take over all common sense.

In small places where the chef is usually the owner and there is only one or two people cooking, it is extremely uneasy to leave food unfinished. Japan was a war ridden, poverty stricken country for a very long time (centuries and centuries, which is like thousands of years, to be precise). It is our custom to finish everything on our plates. In modern times, this custom still exists and it is considered rude to leave food on the plate. Especially in small eateries where the chef keeps a close eye on all of his patrons.

Stupid me has made the mistake of ordering too much as Japanese portions sometimes aren’t enough. It usually turns out to be more than enough food (aside from fine dining, the ‘Japan only serves small portions’ is a myth). But since I am convinced my ‘American portion stomach’ can eat twice as much as a typical Japanese person I forget normal meal sizes are sufficient. Many a times I am full but keep eating in fear of offending the chef if I leave food behind. This was one of those times.

Towards the end of the bowl, I was already in a half way comatose ready-to-nap state. My only savior, being raised in America and living through many holidays, my stomach and mind are trained to handle ‘beyond stuffed after Thanksgiving dinner situations’, so compared to that feeling, overeating in Japan is cakewalk. Also, this place is tasty. And pork over rice doesn’t make me feel too full.

Butayarō, the name of this pork over rice bowl place, is somewhere I would return again and again. It’s a bit out of my way but since there is no other place like it near me, I’d make the effort of a dedicated trip.

Recommended for lunch.

Butayarō
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都千代田区神田駿河台2-6-15
M – Saturday: 11:00 am – 11:00pm
Closed Sunday
*no website

It’s on the third floor of a pretty dumpy building and this place is a touch run down too. Since it’s on the 3rd floor it might be hard to find. I found a photo of the building so you won’t get lost ↓

photo via here