Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I previously wrote that I'm not a huge fan of Gonpachi and think there are better places to take visitors. I'd like to offer my first suggestion for an alternative to Gonpachi: Teyandei, just a three minute walk from Gonpachi. A cozy izakaya with a discrete entrance on a street with more residences than businesses, Teyandei offers an "authentic" izakaya experience and the food is loads better than Gonpachi (in my opinion). You can order a la carte or order a "party plan," which starts at 3000 yen per person and offers a seemingly neverending parade of courses. The photos here are of the 3000 yen pp party plan.

Whatever you do, even if you are full, do not miss the baguettes packed with maple syrup and rich vanilla ice cream for dessert. It tastes so familiar, yet so incredibly unique - and in any case, is absolutely delicious (and is included in the 3000 yen party plan!).

Appetizer course: tamago rolled around unagi, sesame tofu and bamboo shoots

Sashimi course

Cabbage salad with tiny dried anchovies, green onion and nori

Simmered pork covered with grated mountain yam

Deep fried mayonnaise prawns

Battered and deep fried potato wedges with a dipping sauce similar to tartar sauce (but with a load of MSG mixed in)

Wonton soup with succulent Chinese-style pork and chive wontons


Baguette, gutted and filled with maple syrup and rich vanilla ice cream - magically delicious!

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: on a side street near Nishi-Azabu crossing, 2-20-1 Nishi-Azabu, Tokyo
Average price of dinner for two (with drinks): 8000 yen (~$90)


Delicious, well-executed Italian with a twist of French in Kyoto. In a nutshell, that's Scorpione, located in the Gion district. Excellent service, excellent food - highly recommended if you need a break from all the kaiseki and tofu in Kyoto (which we most definitely did).

Lunch appetizer plate - ratatouille, marinated seafood, cured meat, bean salad and curried mashed potato salad

Kyoto beef filet - amazingly tender and flavorful

Pan fried fish of the day - the skin was perfectly fried to a crisp and offered a wonderful complementary texture to the silky fish


Delicious strawberry shortcake dessert - everything about this dessert was perfect, from the gelato to the sweet strawberries to the buttery cake-biscuit

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 3

The essentials:
Location: in Gion, Kyoto
Average price of lunch for two: 9000 yen (~$100)

37 Steakhouse & Bar

From my review in the Tokyo Weekender: http://weekenderjapan.com/?p=18180

Roppongi Hills added a new restaurant to its already impressive roster with the opening of 37 Steakhouse & Bar. Located on the second floor of Keyakizaka Terrace, across the street from the Grand Hyatt, 37 has the sophisticated ambience of a New York steakhouse with cozy, private booths and muted, dark-toned wood furnishings.

37’s extensive menu includes Australian wagyu and black angus aged for 21 days, as well as lamb, pork and seafood offerings. Side dishes include steakhouse standards such as garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, grilled asparagus, and macaroni and cheese.

The creamed spinach is a perfect balance of creamy and savory, and complemented the juicy bone-in black angus ribs. 37’s Caesar salad, tossed with a rich, creamy parmesan dressing and topped with buttery homemade croutons and a generous shaving of parmesan cheese, is a contender for Tokyo’s best—it’s hard to imagine a more perfect version. The snow crab cakes are prepared with generous chunks of crab, panfried to a perfect golden brown, and should not be missed.

Where 37 needs some help is in the dessert department. The "incredible chocolate cake" was anything but, leaving us fairly sure we could score a better version at the nearest conbini. The "NYC baked cheesecake" was also disappointing. Lacking the sweet and dense creaminess of real New York cheesecake, 37’s version was so firm and dense that it more closely resembled a hunk of cheese (think mild cheddar) than a slice of cheesecake. Then again, steakhouses are rarely judged for their dessert offerings.

Bone-in black angus rib with creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes

NY Cheesecake - like a hard lump of cheese

Nothing incredible, or even very chocolate, about this "Incredible Chocolate Cake" - please get a new pastry chef!

Food rating: ***
Bang for buck rating: 3

The essentials:
Location: on Keyakizaka Street, 6-15-1 Roppongi
Average price of dinner for two: 10,000 yen (~$110)


The only exposure I've had to Minsk is from watching "Friends" - Phoebe's physicist boyfriend David (played by the brilliant Hank Azaria) decides to move to Minsk and breaks her heart. Did I know that Minsk was the capital of Belarus before that? I may have, but I doubt it. Hey, I'm part of Generation Y, we get our information from MTV and the internet!

So in case you, dear reader, know as little about Belarus as I did, a wee bit of background. Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Its capital is Minsk. Belarus completed its separation from the Soviet Union on Christmas Day of 1991, and has a population of about 10 million. (all credit goes to Wikipedia...I'm really not doing a great job of dispelling the Generation Y notions)

Anyway, on to the food. I really didn't know what to expect from Belarusian food, although I suspected they would have borscht on the menu (they did). Thanks to Minsk, I am a fan of Belarusian cuisine. And since my meal at Minsk is the only time I've ever tried Belarusian cuisine, I have no negative experiences to convince me otherwise.

The ambience is a bit bizarre to say the least - on the night I went with a friend, the only other diners were men sitting by themselves, entranced by the tall, blond, blue-eyed musical performer, who had a lovely singing voice. Our waitress was also blond, but spoke to us in Japanese...wait, am I reminiscing on an episode of Twilight Zone or some bizarre dream? Nope, this really happened, but the strangeness of it all did feel...well, strange.

The food however, was quite good.


Chicken and mushroom crepes

Beef tenderloin with cranberry sauce - the slightly sweet, not-too-tart sauce added a wonderful contrast to the savoriness of the tender beef!

Apple cake

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 3

The essentials:
Location: 1-4-2 Azabudai, Tokyo
Average price of dinner for two: 6000 yen (~$65)

Koh Samui & The Monkey

I have an awesome recipe for Thai pumpkin curry that I will share with you.


1. Pour yourself a glass of champagne or cabernet.
2. Call (415) 369-0007 and ask for the pumpkin curry.
3. While you're at it, also order the fried sweet corn patties, sea bass clay pot, crushed sesame scallops and pad thai.
4. Throw in a few good friends, some laughter, and a couple cocktails and you have: THE BEST MEAL EVER.

My place in SF is literally 2 blocks away and I am completely serious when I say that when I was looking to make my real estate purchase, my building's proximity to Koh Samui was a deciding factor (ok, not THE deciding factor because that would be silly now, wouldn't it, but definitely A deciding factor).

I LOVE Koh Samui & The Monkey. I refuse to get into philosophical arguments about which Thai restaurant in the Bay Area has the most "authentic" Thai food because that is besides the point. Koh Samui & The Monkey is my favorite Thai restaurant in SF, in the bay area, in the US, in the world. I can't count how many happy meals I've had here with friends. If you are my friend and you lived in or visited SF while I was living there, then I'm pretty sure you've been to Koh Samui. With me. Because I take everyone there. And if I haven't taken you, I am truly sorry, and promise to take you next time I'm in town.

Now I can't vouch for everything on the menu. I think I ordered a beef Penang curry once just to mix it up and immediately wished I had just stuck to my tried and true items. So please just trust me on this one and order exactly what I listed above. And I promise you, you will agree that it was one of the best (if not THE best) Thai meals you've ever had in your life.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos because I can't be bothered to delay the gratification of my tastebuds and stomach once the food arrives, but there are plenty here: http://www.kohsamuiandthemonkey.com/gallery.shtml

Food rating: *****
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
Location: 415 Brannan Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, San Francisco
Average price of dinner for two (but best with groups so you can order more variety): $60

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roti Roppongi

I've posted an entry previously about brunch at Roppongi, but felt like a review of their dinner offerings was long overdue. I am a huge fan of Roti. Good food in good portions at good prices. Except for their salads, which are laughably small (but quite delicious).

I was initially led astray by the name "Roti," which I thought referred to the Indian bread, but I believe it's short for "Rotisserie," as one of their specialties is rotisserie chicken. Their classic rotisserie chicken is delicious, but I prefer the Peruvian chicken with cilantro-infused rice and beans (made with garbanzo beans), served with an addicting cilantro dipping sauce.

On a recent visit, I discovered a dish that in and of itself is reason alone to make a trip to Roti Roppongi: the truffle fries with grated parmesan cheese. Now, let me provide a little background. Despite my love of eating, I am a vain female and contrary to appearances on this website, DO watch what I eat, and run regularly to offset what I do eat. There are some foods that I generally think are not "worth the calories." And the humble potato is one of them. I almost never eat potatoes - fried, mashed, baked or steamed, I usually don't find potatoes delicious enough to waste on my daily intake of calories (to be fair, I will usually take a teeny bite to test a potato dish, but will almost never find it good enough to keep eating). I will occasionally make an exception for delicious french fries.

And let me tell you, my standard for what constitutes delicious french fries is pretty damn high - McDonald's and In N' Out fail my test (the latter, quite miserably). In fact, prior to my recent discovery of Roti Roppongi's truffled fries, the only fries that passed my taste test were the pommes frites at Chez Papa Resto in San Francisco - tossed with salt and rosemary and served with aioli, Chez Papa's fries are absolutely scrumptious - definitely worth the calories and the miles I have to run to make up for them. Roti Roppongi's truffled fries also pass my taste test. I will gladly run a few extra miles so that I can inhale more of the perfectly seasoned potatoes that somehow, magically taste so perfectly of truffles that I want to cry with joy. There you have it - I was so inspired by Roti Roppongi's fries that I've basically written an entire post about them.

P.S. Take advantage of their Tuesday wine club - 25% off any bottle of wine!

Truffle oil-fried french fries with parmesan

Garlic mushroom popovers

Bang Bang chicken salad

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: Piramide Building, 1F, 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Average price of dinner for two (with drinks): 7000 yen (~$75)

Sushi Saito

The lunch course at Sushi Saito has to be the best-kept secret in Tokyo. For 5500 yen, diners are served a tiny appetizer, miso soup, 10 pieces of exquisite sushi prepared by Chef Saito himself while you watch, and a tuna roll to finish. Considering that it's only about 1500 yen more than the omakase course at Sushi Dai in Tsukiji, but with the benefit of a reservation (i.e. no 3 hour wait) and the unforgettable mesmerizing experience of watching a sushi master in action, not to mention its 3-Michelin star rating, I was fairly surprised that I was able to secure a reservation for lunch only 3 days in advance, and even more surprised to find 3 empty seats throughout the lunch (in a 7-seat restaurant). While I'd love to keep this secret to myself so that I never have problems securing a lunch reservation, I've decided I shall share, so that you too can enjoy the perfect sushi dining experience that is a meal at Sushi Saito.

Unfortunately I have no photos, but there are some great ones here: http://www.potatomato.com/seat/archives/002588.html

Food rating: *****
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
No website
Location: next to entrance to a garage directly across from the US embassy, 1-9-15 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Price of 10-piece omakase lunch: 5500 yen (~$60); dinner prices increase significantly

Gion Fukuzumi

Gion Fukuzumi is a moderately priced ryokan-hotel (I call it ryokan-hotel because it's not a small ryokan with only a few rooms but rather a hotel type building with 6 floors and many rooms and has the institutional feel of a small hotel) in the Gion area of Kyoto, at the foot of Chion-In Temple. The ryokan itself is unspectacular - your basic tatami room (some with views of the mountains), shared onsen (very basic, more like a big bathtub) and inclusive kaiseki dinner and Japanese-style breakfast. However, it's good value for Kyoto or a first-time ryokan experience (about 15,000 per person including dinner and breakfast, but prices are higher during weekends, holidays and certain other periods), and the kaiseki dinner was surprisingly delicious and beautifully presented.

Sakura wine with assorted appetizers

Sashimi course

Yuba in broth

Gorgeous presentation


Sakura-flavored dish made with glutinous rice, in dashi broth

Squid and shrimp in gelee with shiso leaf

Gohan course - shaped onigiri with black sesame and sakura, served with tsukemono (pickles), tamago and stewed chicken

Dessert - green tea jelly topped with red bean and sakura ice cream

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 3.5

The essentials:
Location: Higashi-oji Shimbashi, in Gion, Kyoto
Average price of stay per person (per night, includes dinner and breakfast): 15,750 yen

Pizzeria 1830

Apparently the first pizzeria was opened in Naples in the year 1830 - hence the name Pizzeria 1830, located in the shadow of Tokyo Midtown in Nogizaka. Lured by the promise of true Napolitan-style pizza, I was truly looking forward to dinner at Pizzeria 1830. The menu is extensive, with pizzas that include tomato sauce or not, and various combinations of toppings. For a group of four, the mixed appetizer plate and two pizzas were more than enough. The crust is paper thin, barely strong enough to hold up the cheese and toppings - if you try to lift the pizza from your plate with your hands, it will start folding into itself - this is no American-style pizza!

After my visit to Pizzeria 1830 a couple months ago, I visited Rome and discovered that the pizza in Rome was indeed almost exactly like the pizza at Pizzeria 1830: super thin crust blistered at the edges, spots of melted fresh mozzarella, and just a smattering of toppings. So while I might have wished for more cheese or more toppings prior to my trip to Italy, now I know that Pizzeria 1830's pizza is authentically Italian.

Mixed appetizer plate

Sausage and mushroom pizza

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 3.5

The essentials:
Location: 9-6-28 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Average price of dinner for two (with drinks): 4500 yen (~$50)


If you're like me, you think that "Green Tea" is the greatest dessert flavor on the face of the planet. Seriously. What beats Green Tea flavored ice cream, cake, macarons, shaved ice, cookies, etc.? Only once in my life have I ever come across a flavor that was better than Green Tea, and that was the Earl Grey ice cream at Sketch, a now defunct ice creamery in Berkeley, California. Oooh, their Earl Grey ice cream was amazing. So amazing that one Saturday I woke up and immediately drove across the Bay Bridge to get myself an extra big serving, skipping breakfast and lunch to make up for the huge intake of calories. But I digress. Back to Green Tea.

I have loved Green Tea so much and so long that I now have a Pavlovian response when I see anything labeled as Green Tea-flavored. I automatically must have it. Despite having been disappointed time and time again by bad or weak flavored Green Tea items, whenever there is a Green Tea-flavored anything, I am psychologically trained to want to try it.

Walking through Tokyo Midtown (quite possibly my favorite building complex in all of Tokyo) soon after my arrival in Tokyo, I came across Kyo-hayashiya, a small cafe in the basement of the Galleria building that specializes in all things Green Tea, from savory ochazuke lunch sets to gigantic desserts.

Every time I visit Kyo-hahashia, I overdose on Green Tea because they require each person to get their own item, even though one shaved ice is more than big enough to share between two people. Before you can ever reach the bottom of the dessert glass, you will feel sick from the overload of sugar. And then you might not want to eat anything Green Tea-flavored for about two months. But years of Pavlovian conditioning doesn't go away because of a few overdoses!

Shaved ice with condensed milk and green tea soft serve, mochi balls, red bean and green tea syrup (on the bottom of the ice)

Green tea parfait with red bean, fruit, cream, green tea soft serve, green tea ice cream and green tea jelly

Green tea roll cake set with choice of tea

Spring gohan set (1050 yen)

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 3

The essentials:
Location: B1 in Galleria building, Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi
Average price of dessert for two: 2000 yen (~$22)

Tokyo Weekender: http://weekenderjapan.com/?p=18429

Tsing Tao

Taking a little break from Tokyo reviews to write up one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the SF bay area: Tsing Tao, in Albany. Tsing Tao specializes in Chinese-Korean cuisine, which is the cuisine that Chinese immigrants in Korea created/adapted for Korean tastebuds.

Jja jang myun is thick, handmade flour-based noodles topped with a black bean based sauce that includes pork, shrimp and vegetables. In Korea, jja jang myun delivery is as common as pizza delivery in the States. When made right, it is deliciously satisfying. Tsing Tao does it right - best jja jang myun I've had in the bay area.

Koreans call jja jang myun "Chinese" the way Americans call burritos "Mexican", but you won't actually find jja jang myun in China or burritos in Mexico. Jja jang myun was created in Korea by Chinese immigrants the way burritos were created in the States by Mexican immigrants. Chinese-Korean restaurants usually serve up the Chinese version of kimchi, made with regular cabbage rather than napa cabbage and satisfying in its own way.

If you are Korean, Tsing Tao will place a Korean menu in front of you that includes jja jang myun and jjam bbong (handmade flour noodles in a spicy rich seafood broth), but you won't find these on the English menu (at least not the last time I checked).

Order the yang jang pi - flat glass noodles tossed tableside with stir-fried pork, sea cucumbers, egg, shrimp, squid, cucumbers and carrots in a spicy mustard sauce. It is the best Chinese-Korean dish EVER, period. I always order this when I visit Tsing Tao and am never disappointed.

Also order the jja jang myun, which will arrive with the noodles in one bowl and the sauce in another. Pour the sauce over the noodles, mix thoroughly and dig in. Don't forget to wipe your mouth afterward, you'll probably have a black bean mustache. (sorry, unfortunately I don't have photos of the jja jang myun. forgot to take some because was too busy stuffing my face!)

Ah, I miss the bay area.

Yang jang pi - a delicious mix of glass noodles, jellyfish, shrimp, sauteed pork, octopus, sea cucumber, veggies, egg

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
No website
Location: 1479 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA
Average price of dinner for two: $40


Asterix is one of those places that makes me wonder - how did people ever discover this restaurant? In the basement of a non-descript building one block from Akasaka Biz Tower, it's one of those places you probably pass a hundred times on your way home, to work, or another restaurant, and don't give a second thought to. I'd put Asterix on my list of "to-try"s after coming across the review on bento.com, so I thought it was a lucky coincidence when a friend suggested it for lunch. As it turns out, it's not a coincidence - it's a jewel of a restaurant that serves excellent French food, which is why it's likely to stay "undiscovered" for long.

Lunch sets are a bit pricier than the standard 1000 yen lunches found throughout the city, but definitely worth it. The lowest-priced lunch course starts at 1600 yen for an appetizer, main and dessert with coffee. For 900 yen more, diners can choose from more "upscale" appetizer/main offerings, such as foie gras.

Pumpkin cream soup - savory, creamy yet light, absolutely delicious

Classic French salad with romaine lettuce, poached egg and warm bacon dressing (although true French versions usually use frisee instead of lettuce)

Pan-fried fish of the day with veggies and couscous

Fish souffle with Mediterranean couscous

Dessert plate - tiny bite-sized slices of their various tarts and cakes (perfect for people like me who can't decide on dessert and want to try everything)! (you can also choose a full-sized creme brulee)

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
No website
Location: 6-3-16 Akasaka, B1F, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Average price of lunch for two: 3500 yen (~$40)


After an Indonesian ex-patriate friend living in Tokyo recommended Cabe with rave reviews, a friend and I decided to make the trek. We had spent a week in Bali in late 2009 and fallen in love with the flavorful cuisine, especially the simple but delicious nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)! Good ethnic food (meaning non-Japanese) can be hard to find in Tokyo, Michelin-starred French and Italian notwithstanding, so Cabe is a rare jewel - a truly authentic, full-flavor Indonesian restaurant specializing in Javanese and Balinese cuisine.

(PS - I'm told the best dishes are actually off the menu and have to be ordered in Indonesian)

Nasi goreng with heart-shaped fried egg (you can feel the love put into this dish!)

Sauteed veggies (sorry, can't remember the name!)

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: 2F Barbizon Building 48 3-12-7 Meguro, Tokyo
Average price of dinner for two: 4000 yen (~$45)