Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's the Story?

Something like 10 years ago, ages before I even had an inkling of an idea that Japan would be a rad place to live and work, some friends and I had a kind of lame running gag about Japanese Engrish. My buddy Z was taking an art class or something, and when it was time for the students to title their works, a Japanese girl in the class chose the name "Peach Story". We found this hilarious, and started adding "story" to the end of things to make them sound dramatic. Yes, it was lame.

Little did I know this is kind of a regular thing here.

Here are a bunch of story things I found.

Can't travel without buying presents. A fitting end to any magical vacation is buying obligatory gifts.

A freaking magazine at the dentist's office. Story. He has biker mags as well, so I didn't check this one out.

Some kind of chocolate.

One of the few times it might not seem weird.

One of the best ramen shops in Tokyo has a 20-something panel comic illustrating how to eat. The character seriously goes on a roller coaster of emotions as she adds different things to the mazemen.

You should follow this story.

Happily ever after.

Booze is a theme.

As is chocolate.

Actually, 物語 is often translated as story, but you would be better off using tale. Story is easier to pronounce using the Japanese alphabet, though. The above is for a pachinko machine, fyi.

Don't worry, I won't be posting too many Engrish things on my site.


Mister Donuts, I'm out!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sushi - Winter 2012

Sure, you saw the documentary about that famous old sushi chef, and now you're planning a vacation around having the best sushi (according to a movie and some experts who were coaxed into appearing in said flick) in the world. You're down to drop $500 a person. I'm not there yet. Here are the spots I checked out in the first quarter of 2012.


紋寿司 - Monzushi in Hatagaya

This place came highly recommended as one of the best mid-range shops in Tokyo.


But I left a bit unsatisfied. Sure, the sushi was decent, if not a little on the smallish side, and the omakase set was only like 4000 yen or so. But the problem was that I felt ignored. Totally a local spot, hence the local recommendation from a local friend. So local that the chef knew everyone in the shop that night. Everyone except me.


One thing that I really like about an average local sushi joint is when the chefs interact with the customers. They talk fish, and they talk sake. The customers order fish, and the customers order sake. I would have been inclined to try quite a lot more if the chef had just noticed me with my empty glass. The only time we really spoke, was when I made a fuss about some guy ordering grilled eel guts. Yes, I want to eat eel guts.


I was told that you should order the omakase set, plus about a dozen other things. I would have done that if I felt more comfortable. Anyways:



It is a small place that gets busy at night, you might want to make a reservation. I paid about 9000 yen for two people with a bit of nice Japanese sake.


匠ダイニング - Sho Dining in Hatagaya


I just gotta post up about this random shop we found. Beers are 50 yen, and sushi is about the same price. 中トロ for 150 yen is kind of reeeeediculous.


You actually save 10 yen if you sign up for a VIP card. A one-time charge of like 500 yen and you are good for life. They weren't busy, so we convinced them to treat us like VIPs, sans the card. I think a bunch of cheap sushi and drinks came out to like 600 yen a person. VIPs I tell ya!

花まる - Hanamaru in Sapporo


This internet is all about Hanamaru as the best place to get sushi in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is mega-famous for a few choice ingredients; different kinds of crab, uni, salmon, and squid. One would assume that these things would be extra rad here.


But it was strictly basic.


Expect to wait about an hour for a seat at this lively chain. I sampled every kind of crab on the menu, and they were all pretty poor.

Speaking of poor, this place is cheap, so you might as well go regardless of any negative press.


青木 - Aoki in Ginza


Aoki is a great option for a beautiful sushi lunch. The Michelin guide gave them one-star, but you should be able to just roll in without a reservation on most days.


The second you sit down, you're given a wooden cup of the house sake. Bonus, you get to keep the cup.

*Edit* This was a New Year thing. Lucky me. Unlucky you.


The sushi is top notch. For 5000 yen at lunch, you'll get the shop's famous kohada, hamaguri, and chutoro. No otoro or uni at this price (there is an 8000 yen choice as well, also a 3000 yen course), but I was trying to stay around half a 万.


Actually, I made a new year resolution in 2012 to eat at all the Michelin star restaurants that can be done for less than 5000 yen. I went to a total of zero of those.

Anyways, this gets my vote as a top place for reasonable sushi in Tokyo.


かねさか - Kanesaka in Ginza


Here we go. This was the most expensive meal I have ever paid for. Kanesaka is lauded up there by many as one of the infamous 5; Jiro, Saito, Sawada, and Mizutani being the others.

This is rich person food, no doubt about it. So much so that it affects the atmosphere. On the Sunday night I was seated on the Kanesaka-san side, next to a middle-age dude who acted like a middle-level gangster, berating the 3 young ladies he was dining with and shouting shit while sipping champagne. Next to him were a couple American businessmen dressed in typical American businessman "casual" fashion; jeans and Eddie Bauer flannels. On the other side (the shop is basically a mirror image of 8-person counters) was a full group of English speakers who talked loudly about, at one point, titties.

I was later told by someone in the know that Kanesaka is famous among Ginza's ultra-expensive hostess clubs as the best dohan sushi in town. Dohan, by the way, is the system where customers take the girls on paid dates before their work shift. So, yeah, this is a glimpse into the hyper-retarded world of Ginza money.

I'm not, for the record, Ginza money. Which is why I was worried when no menu was given. I had read another blogger's account, and they were given three options; 2万, 3万, 5万. I really, really didn't want to be given a surprise bill of 10万 (about $1200) for two people.


The meal starts with wave after wave of sashimi and cooked fish.The katsuo, normally charred around the edges, was left completely raw to highlight the half-inch of winter fat. The buri is on the same level, decadent.


Ikura was followed by this . . .


Lightly stewed maguro cheek. Exotic.


Mr, Shinji Kanesaka himself. He is quite young to be considered the master that he is, and his style is a twist on traditional edomae techniques known simple as Kanesaka-style.

His English is passable for food conversation, so don't worry about being lost-in-translation here.


The nigiri course was fantastic, with all the usual suspects being presented in their highest form.


Ten pieces or so, all perfection.


The aji with negi was shockingly good.

As was the meal-ending anago and tamago-yaki. People often go a little nuts when describing the egg at a place like Kanesaka or Jiro. Yeah, it is all kinds of tasty, a velvety scramble that is more akin to cheesecake, but in the end, it's just an egg. The hundreds of recent Sukiyabashi Jiro foodie reviews always go nuts for the egg, always referring to it's cake-ness. You know what, though? You can buy cake at 7-11. Just sayin.


The bill was about 2万 a person. Phew! Then my credit card got declined and I had to borrow money from my friend. Embarrassment!

From now on, I think all mega-yen-busting sushi shops will become lunchtime-only. You get less of the skummy yakuza dudes, and the prices are usually about half.

すし- My Favorite Sushi Spot


I almost don't want to post about this one, it was so good. Hands down the best sushi course I have had in my life. A 31-piece meal, wave after wave of anticipated alongside unexpected seafood. Perfectly timed, perfectly served. Here are some highlights.


Crystal-clear baby unagi. A first for sure.


Tuna marinated in negi shoyu, soy sauce that tasted more like a rich onion soup.


A veritable mountain-mound of crab meat.


Kinmeidai, touched with a torch.


Our chef for the evening. Not pictured - smoked scallops, monk fish liver, and a lot of nigiri.


The uni (two different varieties) get handed over the counter directly into your hand.


Kind of awesome.


Did you know that a tablespoon of wasabi can be neutralized by the fat in a massive piece of otoro? Well it can.


Bonus, the counter is heated underneath. Maybe this is normal at high-end shops with counter seating, but I never noticed it before.


So, yeah, this spot is a winner. Expect to pay . . . get ready for it . . . one man. That's like a hundred bucks.

Oh, and for and extra 5000 yen you can get 飲み放題. Word.

One more. Jesus, are you gonna post 4 long-ass sushi posts a year?

No, more like 6. Japan has 6 seasons, didn't you know? There is winter, followed by spring. Then comes rainy season. Rainy season precedes shit summer. Shit summer? That is where it is like 40 degrees and everything sucks. Then comes nice summer, which is about a week of joy. Followed by fall, which is about a week as well. Then back to 4 months winter. I blame global warming.

金太郎 - Kintaro


Kintaro is a group of sushi shops around Kanto (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama). Very local vibe.


A lot of unusual things going on. This bowl of uni, ikura, ika, etc is piled on top of natto. Mix it all up and get busy.


Baked rolls with toro, mentaiko, and scallops. Tasty, but I think that combo would be better raw.


Never a complaint.


The master played a DVD for us that was a cross between Bum Fights and traditional Japanese culture. Asakusa's Sanja Matsuri is madness, apparently. Imagine dudes carrying portable shrines, things that are very old and very revered, and then taking these things into basically a mosh pit.


Great sushi here. I was treated, but I think it was about 6000 yen a person, and we drank a ton of beer and sake. The shop was 100% regular customers.