I rarely eat Chinese food by choice. Dim sum bores me (to me, it feels like an endless on parade of tiny baskets with fish or pungent meats and chives wrapped in dough), black bean sauce is way too potent and I can’t taste the ingredients. XLB are my favorite but there’s only so many soup dumplings one could eat. A lot of the fish has this slimy texture reminiscent to cheap catfish and a lot of the dishes — irregardless of style of Chinese cuisine — tastes like the pan (or wok?)
The other night I had Szechuan food for the first time in I can’t even recall how long ago and it was so delicious and flavorful. The dishes look extremely spicy because of the red peppers but the heat was subdued. There was one stewed chicken dish that literally blew my mind. I could taste every layer of the ingredients unfolding on my tongue — anise, sansho, soy, and I learned Szechuan peppers have this unmatched brightness, a subtle acid, that brings the dishes to a new level.
The chicken, fish, shrimp, beef, sansho peppers and all the greens are so optimal in Japan that it’s almost unfair. I swear, a cooked box of rocks in Japan would taste good.
Now I am keen on learning more about Chinese cuisines — especially Szechuan. Ahhhh the learning process here is never, ever, ending.
“Salt. Fat. Acid. Gyoza is my favorite flavor profile and probably the reason I eat shameful amounts A whooooole mess of latergrams of all the glorious gyoza in my Camera Roll. Some may or may not be taken at inappropriate hours 餃子どんだけ好きやねん。この半年食べた量と種類、、、かなりヤバイw”
I really do eat too much gyoza. So much, I wrote 1,600ish words on gyoza in Tokyo. Do read if you’re interested. The piece is on Eater here.
Last summer, I traveled Fukuoka, Osaka, and Kyoto and during the Osaka leg, a girlfriend I’ve known for decades took us out in her hometown. We walk into this random building in the Umeda district of Osaka, head up to the 12th floor (?) or somewhere super high. Anyway, I would’ve never known about this spot unless she told me about it.
Turns out, this chicken place is a really famous.
Ikkaku, originating from the Shikoku region (wayyyyy down South of Japan) had an outpost in Osaka and because the population is higher in Osaka, Ikkaku became an Osaka staple. The style of chicken in Shikoku is a garlicky, peppery chicken with a kick but it’s not heavy at all and there is a huge cult following of this prep.
Adam (the guy I was traveling with and a super talented chef — he’s opening a spot in SF but more on that when he opens) and I were blown away and we instantly fell in love with the chicken. I thought I’d have to go alllllll the way back down to Osaka or even visit Shikoku but it turns out, there is an outpost in Yokohama!!! (About 30 minutes away from Shibuya.) The other day I of course traveled and it was every bit as delicious as I remember.
If you’re coming to Tokyo and not planning a trip to Osaka, Ikkaku is definitely worth the trip to Yokohama. Plus, the Chinatown in Yokohama is pretty legit and has super tasty foods!
Seriously. A Japan must.
Ikkaku Yokohama (the one closest to Tokyo) Drop this into Google Maps↓
〒220-0005 Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama, 西区南幸２丁目１５−１
Look for: TINOビル６F — and it’s on the 6th floor 045-317-1708
Go super early to avoid the long lines or make reservations (Japanese is required)
What to order: oyadori (dark meat) and hinadori (white meat) ONLY then go to other places to fill up. The chicken is the only good thing there, tbh.
Some of you may recognize this cake making its rounds all over Instagram. The baker, young Nacchan, made a huge splash in the Tokyo dining scene last year. Hailing from the Michelin starred “Florilege”, she was the sous then ventured on her own at the tender age of 27 to open “été”, an invite only private dining spot in Tokyo.
Anyway, I had the privilege to dine there and her food was in fact, delicious! Some of the photos may not do her food justice (too preoccupied eating) but if you get a chance to go, definitely worth it!
“I disappoint some first time visitors, I think” Gen-san says, “because everything isn’t made with rare whiskeys and the bar isn’t decorated with expensive spirits.” I hold up an imaginary shaker and swing it back and forth, “You don’t have big movements either.” I add. We laugh then he disappears into the back of the bar, returning with two bottles. Placing them in front of us he states rather matter of factly: “I have rare spirits too. I just do not use them for my cocktails.”
Bar Gen Yamamoto is far from a typical experience. But for those who care about food, you will not be disappointed. There is no other like him, no place like his bar anywhere on this planet.
Bar Gen Yamamoto
Drop this into Google Maps↓
*reservations are required
In the middle of the train wreck that is Roppongi, where the women dress scantily and the men freely catcall, there is a small alley way and an iron gate protecting an entrance to an ivy covered wooden door that swings open only with a security card.
A security card? Really? I wondered, as my host hits her card and we head down into the basement.
At the bottom of the stairs a young man in a crisp white shirt and bow tie greets us and escorts us into the room revealing a lair resembling an extra large sitting room filled with dark oak furniture, bookshelves and cushy chairs. Rows of whiskey, bourbon and cigar boxes line the bar. It is smokey and dark but I can make out well dressed couples at the tables, gentlemen in tailored suits sit at the bar, the conversation level a mere murmur and it feels like I’ve stepped into the private home in a New England estate. I can’t help but gawk.
“The master (head bartender/owner) is an expert in smoking foods” my host says, as she curls into one of the padded chairs.
I want to know everything about this place and the man but it’s only my first visit. Unraveling the depths will most likely take a while because this is Japan. Where everything takes time and double the effort…
*The name is withheld because I don’t know the name.
Random shot at the bar.
Cristal decanters for whiskeys and bourbons I’ve never heard of…
So I get a text to meet at this restaurant and when I looked it up I could barely find information on it. I decide to put myself in his hands because this guy knows food and wine, more wine than food but he knows enough about food to be a good dining partner.
I walk into the restaurant and a bit taken aback, it makes zero sense. If a thrift store for theater companies threw up the furniture and props into the room, this place would be it. The interior is cluttered with tchotchkes of gnomes and Japanese figurines, empty bottles of DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) and magnums of rare Dom Pérignon. The table has a bell to ring for service.
I am confused.
Well. I open the wine menu and I finally got it. Here is only part of it (not even a 1/3).
I’m no wine expert but even I was able to pin-point some rare names and vintages. But, I think the best part of the menu, was ‘other country’ sections and some of the best wine producers from countries other than France were added towards the end of the menu like an after-thought. LOL.
This weekend was full of firsts; more to come on my Saturday.
Ahhhh Japan, you are the best!