Tokyo Bar Game Strong AF

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I get how people visiting Tokyo for the first time go through hell and back planning trips. I can also see why it’s hard to believe when I tell people: relax and just get… lost. But I promise, Tokyo is packed to the brim with good food, booze, and everything in between that all you have to do, is walk a few steps and BOOM. Anything you put in your mouth will taste better than whatever you last put in your mouths in your home countries.

Tokyo is so massive that even after living here for almost four years, I still stumble onto new places to eat and booze. If I don’t notate, I usually forget places I randomly find.

Last Friday, I re-discovered a bar I thought I would never find again because I forgot to notate and, well, my IG caption says it all:  “Found this super hidden bar I stumbled onto a while back and thought I would never, ever, ever be able to find again — shocked, delighted, but most of all, elated! My drink of choice: #Yamazaki Mizunara 🥃”

So if you’re planning a visit don’t be afraid to come without hours of research — Tokyo is one of the best places on the planet to wander without a plan. (Unless of course, you are looking to eat at all the Michelin spots).

And just for heck of it, here are some photos from another random bar — every piece of ice is chiseled to fit the specific glassware. So incredible! *pardon the laziness of uploading screenshots of my Insta; as of late, I don’t keep photos on my phone anymore… 

McDonald’s Japan

It may seem odd to write an ode about McDonald’s, since in America, McDonald’s are filthy (gross, really), smelly, and nicknamed as ‘homeless people food’. In Japan, that is not the case. The store fronts are super clean, the food comes out made to order and usually piping hot. Another neat thing about McDonald’s in Japan is how they have limited time offer items so there is a new burger, new flurry, new pie, etc., If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find all these burgers and such that are basically non-existent in other parts of the world.

The McDonald’s here is so normal there are even people who wear super duper expensive kimonos and order McDonald’s like it’s no big deal. Only in Japan, I swear.

McDonald’s Japan is also one of, if not the last McDonald’s on the planet that still uses beef fat to deep fry the fries, hashbrowns, and pies. And the craziest part is how the oil isn’t smelly so everything actually, well, tastes pretty good.

My biggest addiction are the breakfast sandwiches and I am not even going to lie, I eat there at least once every two weeks.

If you’re ever in Japan, don’t turn your nose up on the McDonald’s here. Seriously, it’s worth trying.

I will leave you with one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches: the Mega Muffin (two sausage patties, bacon, egg, between McMuffins). SO. GOOD.

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Ikkaku: the best chicken to ever meet your mouth

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.

Embarking into the Depth of Tokyo

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.

Another ‘Only in Japan’: Insane Wine List

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!

By the way, this is what we had:

Comtes de champagne and Corton-Charlemagne 2005

Mirror Pancakes in Aoyama

Mental flapjacks I fondly nickname ‘egg shell pancakes’ because they’re so crazy smooth, the surface almost mirror like. Located in Aoyama, you’ll definitely wait an hour or two but go during off-peak hours on a weekday and you may just skip the line. Pro-tip: this spot is known for the pancakes but if you look at a local’s table, everyone has an order of the soufflé. And for good reason: it’s another perfect soufflé in perfect Japan Land! 🥞🥞🥞

Ginza West Aoyama Garden
1-22-10 Minami Aoyama
Website click this
*no reservations

Precision at its Best

Perfect strawberries on a perfect parfait. Everything served at Ginza Shiseido Parlor is precise and perfect, using prime ingredients from all over Japan. This day, the Fukuharu-ka strawberries, an original species from Kagamiishi Farm in Fukuoka, were of course … perfect. White table clothed tables, Christofle silverware and custom flatware in the restaurant the omurice (on my Insta) is served. The Salon de Café, where the parfait is served, has a retro-glam feel. Pamper yourself with simple perfection that is another ‘only in Japan’ type spot. A Tokyo must visit 🍓🌸💞 福島県 鏡石農遊園産「ふくはる香」のスペシャルストロベリーパフェ、まいうー😭

Shiseido Parlor Ginza
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
東京都中央区銀座8-8-3 東京銀座資生堂ビル

Conversations with Gen-san: Oishī

“Maybe the character for oishī (delicious) is beautiful「美しい」 and taste「味」because in the Japanese culture, we express appreciation for food in two parts: we note the presentation when something is first served, the taste, once we consume.” Gen-san and I wondered. “Makes perfect sense as utsukushī「美しい」is used when describing art and aesthetically pleasing things, followed by aji「味」flavors.” We both then nodded in agreement, satisfied by our conclusions of the etymology. Turns out that is not the case but it was surely fun to discuss. Always, always learn something new with each Gen-san visit and the reason his 8 seater bar is my favorite place in Tokyo. 

Bar Gen Yamamoto 

Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都港区麻布十番1−6−4
アニバーサリービル1F

*reservations are required
office@genyamamoto.jp
 // 03-6434-0652

Pelican Bread: Tokyo Must Try


Pelican bread is a Tokyo must-eat and no other spot serves the beloved local treasure better than Cafe de Rope. Every bite has a crunch then a slightly sweet, airy softness, before a delightful vibrance from the creamy, salted butter laces your mouth. Don’t stop to ponder how a stupid piece of toasted bread can make your sensations go haywire because you will never figure it out. The rule here, is to do as Trevor Moran says: “Hurry up and fucking eat it before it gets cold.”

Cafe de Rope
Drop this in Google Maps↓
東京都中央区銀座5-3-1 ソニービル B3F

Afuri

I stopped eating ramen shortly after moving to Japan (I got sick of it) and now mainly stick to udon or soba. Last night, I was dragged to my neighborhood Afuri after dinner and was shocked.

Wait, let me back up since this might be confusing for people who have never been to Afuri. At Afuri in Japan (and a lot of fast, casual joints), you can only order through a vending machine. And in only six months (or maybe longer?) the buttons got an overhaul and there’re now a ton of buttons I don’t recognize! AND they’re also in English!!

Just in case I’ll leave some tips explaining the new buttons (or new to me) because the English translations are weird/not self explanatory:

 

Very bottom right button (and also pictured in the close-up): hand pulled noodles for ¥167 extra
Next to that one is konjak-men: gluten free noodles (they sell them stateside as ‘Shirataki’ noodles)
The little rice bowl on the yellow button is okaka gohan. Okaka is katsuobushi (skip jack tuna shavings) tossed with soy sauce over a bowl of rice. It sounds a bit unapproachable but this combination is a traditional, beloved flavor pairing from centuries ago.

Also, this is VERY important. Afuri is expanding all about Tokyo but the original branch is the Ebisu location. The Ebisu location makes the ramen stock for all the other Afuris and deliveries the stock throughout the day in these big metal cans.

Don’t get me wrong, all of them are good but the Afuri in Ebisu is the only one I eat at and recommend.

You’re welcome.
PS: I also did a ramen round-up here