Saturday, February 24, 2007
Thursday, February 08, 2007
After getting off the train from Shibuya, we left Kaminoge station at 5:45PM with map in hand. Our reservation was promptly at 6PM, so we had little margin for error. We walked for about 10 minutes, winding our way through a network of dark, quiet residential streets. At about 5:55PM, we arrived at the location where the restaurant was SUPPOSED to be. We looked around, but saw no sign of Araki. Hiroko asked a couple who appeared to be waiting for a bus, if they knew where Araki was, and they pointed to the door directly behind us!
At 6PM, the door opened. By that time, the 10 people who had congregated outside practically stampeded through the door and quickly claimed their seats at the counter. We took the two remaining seats at the end and we all sat and waited for our chef to emerge from behind a curtain....After our drink orders were taken, he took his place behind the simple wooden counter. A serious, stern-faced man in his late 30's, he was assisted by an equally stoic, extremely adept young woman in her 20's.
The atmosphere was somewhat solemn, and we felt a bit like we were in a karate dojo where the sensei demonstrates his moves and the pupils observe in silence. Noticing a few exchanges of familiarity between the other customers and chef, it became obvious that they were all regulars. We were the outsiders, and though the staff was cordial (and spoke English to Rick), it was clear that this was to a certain extent, a club. The master chef would allow himself a slight smile now and then, but he never laughed. When he spoke (infrequently) it was curt phrases uttered in a soft voice. He was a man of a few words who was completely focused on his craft.
After painstakingly careful preparation, each offering was individually presented. We started with a variety of sashimi including hamachi, abalone, uni and iIkura, and aji (horse mackerel). The hamachi was so fatty and tender that Hiroko couldn't contain herself and after putting it in her mouth, broke the reverential silence with an exclaimatory "oishii!" The uni was sweet like panna cotta or custard, and it was the perfect compliment to the slightly salty ikura that it was paired with.
Following the sashimi we were served a succession of sushi; three different grades of tuna (maguro, chutoro, and otoro), river fish, shirako (everyone's favorite, codsperm), shrimp, squid, and at last anago. Everything that we put into our mouths was sublimely delicious, perfectly prepared and proportioned. And the shari (sushi rice) was the best we've ever tasted!
Alas, at precisely 7:50PM our "shift" was over. And, as the 8PM reservation group arrived and we prepared to retrace our path back to the station, all we could do was agree that Araki was without question, the perfect sushi experience we had sought.
Kaminoge Little Town 102
4-27-1 Nakamachi Setagaya-ku Tokyo
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
We ordered a shoyu and a shio ramen (which we were advised to be the standards) from the manager, a 40ish man was busily running around taking orders and clearing tables. Within 5 minutes, our ramen arrived, and before the noodles could soften (horrors!) , we joyfully dug our chopsticks into the bowl to capture and slurp the first few strands of noodle. The noodles were medium thin, a little curly and white, with a perfect chewy, al dente texture. The shoyu ramen soup delivered a deep, rich mouthfilling flavor. In contrast, the shio ramen soup was light, yet also flavorful and loaded with "umami." Toppings were simple; a slice of roast pork, crunchy fresh bean sprouts, and snowpeas. The belly-soothingly hot ramen made our noses run and caused us to break a light sweat as we happily slurped away until sadly, we caught sight of he bottom of the bowl.
We sat at a corner table with a space heater conveniently situated at our feet to keep our seat warm. The menu was a "build-your-own" style with a choice of noodles served either hot or cold, in soup or with dipping sauce. Plus, it also offered their special dish of noodles in sesame soup. There was also a long list of toppings to choose from, about 15 or so, ranging from scallion to tempura to slices of duck. Each order was accompanied by a bowl of mushroom rice and Japanese pickles.
Hiroko ordered the noodle in soup with scallions. Rick ordered the special noodles in sesame soup with scallion. Made from a mixture of yuba and flour, the noodles were thinner and not as springy as sanuki udon. They were delicate and soft and the soup broth was rich and aromatic...ub a word (Hiroko's) "beautiful." With hints of bonito and kelp flavors, the soup was light on salt and shoyu but delivered an abundance of dashi flavor. This "light flavored" soup is what Hiroko calls "Kansai style" (versus Tokyo or Kanto style which relies more heavily on shoyu).
Not to be overlooked, their rice was delicate and tasty as well. We devoured our lunch and then sat and savored it for a while longer over a nice cup of green tea. Through our visual sense, we had discovered a beautiful old house which yielded an equally beautiful sensory experience for our tastebuds, a bowl of yuba udon.
5-15-10 Shirokanedai Minato-ku Tokyo
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
At about 6:30AM at Shinagawa station in Tokyo, we searched for a bakery to buy our breakfast. Bakeries are as ubiquitous in Japanese rail stations as hot dog vendors on NY street corners. But at this hour, no kissaten (coffee shops) or bakeries were found to be open at such an early hour. At first our sole choice seemed to be a convenience store selling onigiri, sandwiches, and juices. Not thrilled with the prospect, we decided to take one more look around. It was then that we spied a soba stand that was not only open for business, it was packed with early riser salarymen. Well, nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot soba noodles in cold morning! Sleepy eyed salarymen were busy slurping the soba, their concentration focused inside of their closely held bowl. We bought the coupons at the door, and waited at the table to be served. Service was quick, we wordlessly and happily slurped our order, and we were out the door on our way to our train in 5 minutes.
We had learned the salaryman's secret for starting the day...soba is the "breakfast of champions."
Thursday, February 01, 2007
In Takayama, we went to a small izakaya, and ordered Hida beef sashimi. The ultra-thin slices of fat-marbled raw beef were served with both salt and soy sauce for dipping. Tender and very fatty, the taste was not unlike chu toro, medium fatty tuna.
The following day, just before leaving Takayama, we came upon a shop selling Hida beef sushi. How could we not try it?! Each piece consisted of a slice of beef cooked briefy with a blowtorch and carefully placed onto sushi rice. It was a simple yet unbelievably delicious treat..the buttery fat perfectly mingling with the vinegar flavored sushi rice.