Feb 09, 2012|
One morning, we got up at 3:30am to queue up at Tsukiji Market for the tuna auction, which is a must for sashimi fans and the equivalent of Christians going to church, or Buddhists going to the temple—you get my point. The tuna auction itself, held in a massive warehouse with hundreds of ginormous frozen tuna corpses, is not the most educational (unless you actually understand the blur of men shouting and pointing fingers at each other). But it’s the mad rush for sashimi at the Tsukiji shops afterwards that makes the whole journey worthwhile.
I had heard so much about Daiwa Sushi (Tsukiji Market Building, Tsukiji, (+81) 3-3479-5820), so that was where we headed straight after the auction. Thank goodness it wasn’t a long wait, and within 15 minutes we were seated in the stuffy, cozy shop, watching an elderly chef whip up an omakase menu of tuna, sea urchin and prawn nigiri sushi. Seafood doesn’t get much fresher or tastier than this—although I was a tiny bit concerned about the hygiene here. The heat was on full-blast and the sushi display cases were fogged up with condensation—somehow, sashimi and hot temperatures don’t seem to be a good match.
We also went to Ginza Seryna (B1/F, Tiffany Ginza Building, Ginza 2-7-17, Chuo-ku, (+81) 3-3562-6211), a chic Japanese fine dine in the shopping district. Ginza Seryna served us some crazy appetizers that night. We were handed an exquisite platter of translucent jelly cubes—which contained fugu (blowfish) strips inside, the waitress casually told us. Last I’d heard, blowfish were the second most poisonous vertebrates on earth (after the golden poison frog—thanks, Wiki), and people actually had to be crazy ask for the dish themselves before a restaurant would even dare serve it. Chefs dedicate a lifetime learning how to dissect a blowfish, and people have died eating it. But apparently it’s no big deal at Ginza Seryna. Fearing the scorn of the waitstaff, who surely knew better than us, we didn’t question and just swallowed. And it was good; it tasted kind of like dried, salted squid. There were no casualties after our meal, I’m happy to report.
A quick Google back home tells me that blowfish (at least in Korea) is a common dish these days, so maybe we were getting worked up over nothing—or maybe there’s been a paradigm shift for food risk-taking that I missed. Another first for me that night was the shirako, or fish testicles. It looks like brains, tastes like… well, testicles, and goes quite well with steamed egg.The Seryna brand of restaurants has been around since 1961, the Ginza chain since 1987—and after our dinner that night, I understood why the crowds keep coming back.
We went for the shabu shabu menu, and the beef was just out-of-this-world. We chose regular prime beef instead of the special Kobe, and after the requisite “shabu shabu” in a pot of boiling water, the slices of marbled meat melted like velvety chocolate in our mouths. The fat-to-meat ratio in our beef was unbelievable, and I can’t even imagine what the Kobe would’ve done to us. The beef was easily one of the best I have ever tasted—and I was reminded again that at the end of the day, fresh and high-quality ingredients are all that matters.
We made our pilgrimage to udon chain Tsurutontan Shinjuku (B/F, 2-26-3 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, (+81) 3-5287-2626), where we had three scrumptious bowls of thick, chewy noodles paired with different sauces and broths. Even though it was dead of winter, I just had to have my cold udon, served on a bed of ice with soy sauce on the side. There’s nothing like chomping through scrumptious strands of noodles with no other distractions in the way.
Tourist-friendly Gonpacho (1-2-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, (+81) 3-5524-3641) is always a safe bet, although it’s not the most local option in town. Here, you can satisfy almost every Japanese food whim, whether it be tempura, sashimi, soba, karaage (fried chicken) or gyoza pizza. The Gonpacho in Ginza is built under a freeway, no less—as in, the restaurant’s ceiling is the underbelly of a raging road. Definitely a first for me!
Whenever I’m in Japan, I crave the desserts that the Japanese do so damn well—among many other things. My friend Amelia, who’s been to Tokyo numerous times, told me to check out the Gramercy New York counter at Takashimaya Times Square (B/F, 5-24-2, Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku). This basement hangout—just like the basements of many Japanese department stores—is pure heaven for a foodie. Novelty foods, breads, drinks, Japanese sweets, chocolates and snacks are all to be found here and it takes super-human effort to navigate out of this fantasyland-like food maze. I bought a box of strawberry shortcake from Gramercy, and the billowy cream, sweet strawberries and moist cake base are reason enough to bring me back to the city.
Since we were staying at the Conrad, we got to have breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Cerise by Gordon Ramsay (28/F, Conrad Tokyo, 105-7337, 13, Tokyo, 1-9-1 Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku, (+81) 3-6388-8000). Maybe I’m too spoiled for choice, but I didn’t find anything to rave about here—although it could’ve also been that I was never a fan of the hot-headed Ramsay and his TV show tantrums. But for goodness’ sake, what is a self-styled British celebrity chef doing in Japan anyway?
Ever since coming in contact with a can of Black Pepper by Mascot at a ramen joint off of Shinjuku’s Omoide Yokocho (aka bar street, or the more uncomely “piss alley”), I’ve never been the same again. This stuff is more intense, aromatic and in all ways better than even the freshest ground pepper. One whiff and you’ll be hooked. I’m on the lookout for the brand in Hong Kong—CitySuper will be my first bet, but let me know if you’ve got better leads!
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