Epic Week; Tragic Ending

I scoured the Internet for a quote about what I’m feeling right now and nothing came even close to expressing this ultimate bummer. It might be a little dramatic but I lost my phone after an epic week of good food, drinks, laughter and adventures. There were so many once in a lifetime memories documented on my iPhone and to think it’s gone and lost forever makes me really sad.

I can’t believe I lost my phone the week I finally made it to the tuna auction in Tsukiji on a random Monday with endless down pour. Both of us were drenched. The waiting area to be escorted to the auction was jam packed by 3:30am and we barely made the cut to take part. The morning finished off with an incredible sushi breakfast which included a tiger prawn still alive and moving. Visited Gen Yamamoto. Raged in Golden Gai and accidentally opened up a bottle of champagne because we asked for sparkling (as in water) but they thought we asked for sparkling wine. Visited a bunch of quirky fun bars all over Tokyo — B Bar, the Baccarat bar in Tokyo was one of them… on and on the list continues.

I captured a bunch of precious moments so close to my heart, now locked only in my memories. It seriously bums me out. I guess I can try to write as much as I remember but it still really blows how I lost all the photos.

It’s a bit scary how reliant I am on my device. Even if I only take quick snaps I am still devestated I don’t have the photos anymore. Regardless of how mediocre the shots are. I’m writing this off as a reminder to be grateful for the memories I had the opportunity to make with some pretty incredible people.


Sriracha Boom is Coming to Tokyo

When products hit shelves of high end and or trendy grocery stores it is a pretty good indicator that it will soon become explosively popular in Tokyo. I’ve been seeing granola and trail mixes, Greek yogurt but, the one thing that excites me more than anything is Rooster Sauce! Or Sriracha, as it is most commonly known.

For those who don’t know Sriracha it’s a widely loved condiment that hails from the U.S. Most people are a bit surprised to learn it was invented in America and became as ubiquitous as ketchup with zero marketing. The back story of how Rooster Sauce came to be epitomizes the American Dream. If you’re interested you can read about it here and here and here.

One of the biggest surprises when people visit Tokyo is how heat isn’t really a flavor profile in Japan. There are Sichuan pepper corns which evolved to suit a Japanese palate called sanshō, typically used with udon thick wheat noodels or unajyu eel over rice bowl. There is a seven chili pepper spice called shichimi tōgarashi used with noodles, sprinkled over grilled foods like yakitori and bowl foods donburi 丼. Rāyu which is a hot chili oil that is originally Chinese used in ramen but we don’t really use punch-in-your-face hot like Tabasco, habanero sauces and Sriracha.

As someone raised in the States, hot sauces are widely used and I even went as far as carrying my own bottle of Tabasco to sprinkle on foods at chain restaurants like Denny’s, IHOP, and diners. I used to douse almost all my food with Tabasco. When Sriracha came into the picture, I replaced Tabasco with it and used to carry my own bottle of that in my purse. I know, I’m weird. 

I don’t really use hot sauce anymore, especially since moving to Japan but Sriracha has a special place in my heart. I never knew I could get excited over something as ordinary as hot sauce but when I saw these Sriracha potato chips, I had to buy them. And of course, document it here.

I estimate around a year before there is a massive boom.
You heard it here first, everyone! #braggingrights

Chatei Hato #coffee


The man in a tie and slightly wrinkled, baggy white shirt swiftly chooses three old fashioned porcelain cups with matching saucers out of hundreds, lined up on a wooden cabinet built into the back wall. He picks each cup up, lifting them above his head towards the light, thoroughly examines them, then swipes each cup with a crisp white cotton towel. He does the same to the matching saucers. Lift up towards the light. Examine. Wipe down. 

My friend and I sitting side by side at the bar looked at each other and exchanged a silent: wtf. Who is he? And what is this place?!

Chatei Hato is an extremely old school coffee shop located in an alley on the non-busy side of Shibuya. (Non-busy side = opposite from the famous Shibuya crossing.) The interior seems to be in tact from when it was built over 25 years ego.

The master (masutā, as we pronounce in Japanese) is the neck tied gentleman responsible for the pours. Each cup of coffee takes about 15 – 20 minutes and boy, is this place something else.

I first visited back in July and failed to write about it until now. A chef friend and I were meeting Namae-san (of L’Effervescence) who suggested three cafes. He texted verbatim: “Fuglen Tokyo — a cozy place to sit and talk. The Roastery — a nice place to sit. Closer to Harajuku. Chatei Hato will be an experience. James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, says this is the original idea of third wave coffee.”

Which is how we ended up here.

Third wave coffee, by the way, is the high-end coffee movement in which the cafe invests in curated high quality, specialty beans which are ground to order. Then there is special care put into the brew, pour, temperature, etc.

We arrived right at opening and sat at the massive wood bar and was immediately greeted by this ↓

photo not mine – courtesy of Google Images
A handwritten menu which changes daily. My chef friend chose the Brazilian blend I believe and Namae-san asked the masutā for a coffee, masutā’s choice that is low in acidity — or sanmi 酸味 — as we say in Japanese. I stopped drinking coffee in January but I couldn’t sit in this coffee shop, right in front of the masutā and not order coffee. So I chose what Namae-san was having.

As soon as we placed our coffee orders, it was like the curtains drew up in a theater and the three of us sat frozen in awe, as we silently watched the masutā, this coffee magician, go to work. I never knew such a simple act as scooping and grinding coffee beans then pouring a cup of coffee could be so artistic.

photo courtesy of a YouTube video screenshot lol so ghetto
And the level of care and detail going into each and every cup he pours is astounding. He even pours hot water into a coffee cup, pours the hot water into the saucers so they are the same temperature as the cup.

They serve lattes, cafe au laits, and teas and other beverages. I don’t know about you but as a patron, I would be extremely uneasy to order anything but a straight cup of black coffee. Which is why I broke my no coffee streak and ended up drinking one cup (which had me wired for a while afterwards).

This place is definitely a Japan only experience and a must go for all coffee lovers!

Chatei Hato
Drop this into Google Maps↓
Open daily from 11 am – 11 pm (last order is at 11 pm)
No website, no English menu

Luke’s Lobster Tokyo Take II

Photo courtesy of Naveen
Decided to try Luke’s Lobster again – this time, a lobster roll instead of a crab roll unlike last time. Also, with another New Yorker who eats Luke’s back home.

I took a bite just to try it and it was exactly like I thought. The lobster is like imitation crab. I kept mum as I didn’t want to ruin the experience for him but he said the same thing: “It’s good but the lobster has weird texture and there’s seasoning on it.

This time, I made sure to ask Luke Lobster’s staff if 1. the lobster is shipped from Maine (it is) and 2. if the rolls are shipped from Maine as well (it isn’t).

Luke’s in NY probably tastes better, as they freshly pack Maine lobster every morning and transport to NY to be used within the day. Luke’s in NY probably tastes ten time better than the one in Tokyo. The fresh lobster probably doesn’t require seasoning as well.

So it goes!

Blue Bottle Coffee, Minami Aoyama

Photo courtesy of Matt
Blue Bottle Coffee is the beloved artisan coffee shop, huge in San Francisco, New York and LA. They recently opened two locations in Tokyo. Both, are immensely popular. When the first Blue Bottle opened there were lines out the door. The wait was three hours for weeks! For coffee!! WHY.

Maybe it’s because I quit drinking coffee in January of 2015 I can no longer understand. I used to be addicted to caffeine and drank about six to eight cups a day. This year I just quit cold turkey — no reason, simply broke the habit — and have had only one cup in July since. (Only because I was invited for coffee and we went to this old school cafe where a man in suit makes coffee. It was uneasy not to order one. I think I was wired for two days.)

When Blue Bottle opened in Aoyama, I heard about the epic lines and how it is the new place to go. I finally got the chance to go the other day and the property is absolutely stunning.

We hung out on the balcony, chatted, while others enjoyed their espressos. It was sunny in Tokyo for the first time in a week and the trees encapsulating the patio area served as a refreshing shade and provided a nice breeze in the Tokyo summer heat.

The Kiyosumi location is the one which opened first and the Blue Bottle there is massive. It’s more like a coffee compound than a coffee shop with its loft like interior and sky high ceilings. It’s the Japan HQ I believe, where all the magic happens. It’s a bit out of the way though.

The Aoyama location is in the middle of the charming area – extremely convenient and a super popular hang out spot. It’s on the second floor of a boutique tucked into a half business – half residential district.

If you are a coffee lover, Blue Bottle Aoyama is definitely recommended! And even if you don’t drink coffee, they have a very lovely tea selection.

Blue Bottle Aoyama
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
東京都港区南青山 3-13-14
Open daily from 10 am – 9 pm

Bonus: for camera nerds, you may have noticed the top photo had some pretty baller cameras in the background. Here’s a bonus shot by me, taking a photo of my friend, taking the photo above. Huh? I got confused writing that out but you get the picture. Oh. I also made an unintentional funny… 

Anyway, my friend has this super handy Bluetooth lens compatible with iPhones. I didn’t know of its existence until I saw it the other day. Turns out, it’s a Sony Cybershot Carl Zeiss lens and has been on the market since 2013. So for people serious about food  photos, this could be a handy gadget for your Instagram  photos 😉

Yamazaki Mizunara #booze

Mizunara is a Japanese wood and this is a special edition Yamazaki, “slept” in Mizunara barrels. This whiskey was a Yamazaki experiment that was distilled in limited amounts for 18 years in barrels made from Mizunara. Mizunara is a type of oak found in Hokkaido. The finish, smooth and flavor is reminiscent of sandalwood and has received high regard to whiskey lovers world wide.

Then, it accidentally won and kept winning gold awards at ISC (International Spirits Challenge) for three years in a row.

Because it won awards, the price of the bottle shot up to over $1,000 USD a bottle. Which is why one glass retails $100 USD at bars.

I was fortunate to enjoy two glasses. Neat, of course. This week, I am a very lucky girl 🙂

Note: I am not a whiskey expert. This information was given to me by our bartender who was supremely knowledgable about spirits.

Udon and Soba in Minami Aoyama

Minami Aoyama is a charming area of Tokyo with lots of greenery and businesses tucked within residences. There are lots of hair salons and tiny boutiques from the famous luxury brands to the not so famous luxury brands to affordable and semi-affordable. It’s also within close proximity to Harajuku and all of the shopping in Omotesando. Then there are tens and possibly hundreds of incredible restaurants and cafes. If you are familiar with New York, Minami Aoyama reminds me most of the West Village.

The problem with this area, though, is that it is so well known and there are tens of famous (Michelin rated, etc.) restaurants. Booking is almost always required for lunch or dinner. Or, stand in line for hours at one of the many mega popular pancake / brunch places clustered in this area. (I did a round-up here.)

Enter Gonbēi, a teeny soba and udon place but they have so so so much more. It’s Japanese comfort food at its finest. For lunch, they have combinations all under 1,000 yen (apprx: $9 USD) of soba buckwheat noodles or udon thick wheat noodle with a rice bowl topped with katsu katsudon. Katsu is deep fried pork cutlet and katsudon is katsu with dashi and a slow scrambled egg. Oyakokon is chicken with dashi and slow scrambled egg. And loads of other dishes. I took two of my out of town friends there for their first lunches in Tokyo and they both LOVED it. By the way, we ordered katsudon with udon and oyakodon with soba and I had the kitsune udon (the photo on top). Which is udon with a huge stewed tofu pocket called aburāge that’s used for oinarisan — like these things ↓

The interior is a bit dumpy but the entire staff so charming and the food is so delicious, you’ll forget about the way it looks. It might seem strange to eat soba and udon in an old school restaurant in such a trendy area as Minami Aoyama but this place is definitely recommended (and not to mention a crowd pleaser — there’s something for everyone.)

So if you’re shopping in the area or happen to be walking around Harajuku, definitely check it out!

Gonbēi 権兵エ
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
Open daily
Lunch: 11:30 am – 2 pm (last order is at 2pm)
Dinner: 2 pm – 10 pm (last order is at 9pm)

*there is an English menu but I didn’t look at it – try going with a Japanese speaker to see the full menu
**cash only

Bonus photo of a katsu bowl with poached egg and soba. Yum.