Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lawry's Tokyo

Power lunch in Akasaka - Lawry's salad and soup bar followed by beef rib curry plate, finished with a tiny portion of creamy panna cotta and coffee (forgot to take a picture of the panna cotta because usually it goes directly into my tummy as soon as it's on the table). The rib curry plate is 1800 yen (~$20) and includes the salad bar, dessert and coffee. You can also just get the salad bar, which also comes with dessert and coffee for 1300 yen (~$15).

Make your own salad: mine consisted of a little bit of lettuce topped with potato salad, Lawry's corned beef (the stuff that looks like tuna on the right), corn, chick peas, olives, roasted kabocha squash and sundried tomatoes. Sometimes they also have little toasts with foie gras mousse - divine!

Beef rib curry - a gigantic, falling-off-the-bone-tender rib similar to Korean galbi jjim, decent curry (I'm not the biggest fan of any curry that's not Thai or Indian)

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4 (for lunch only)

The essentials:
Location: Akasaka Twin Towers building, Akasaka, Tokyo
Average price for meal for two (lunch): 3500 yen (~$40)


Shojin ryori is a type of Japanese Buddhist cuisine, that according to Hachinoki's own website, was brought to Japan from China and Korea. Niiice, I like it when Japanese people finally admit that something good was originally brought over from Korea.

"Shojin" means a devotion to pursue a perfect state of mind banishing worldly thoughts and making efforts to keep striving for limitless perfection at each stage. Again, this is according to Hachinoki's own website, and like a lot of the English I encounter in Japan, seems to make sense and yet leaves me kind of scratching my head asking...wait, do I really understand what it says?

I don't know about pursuing a perfect state of mind by banishing worldly thoughts, but I personally find banishing worldly thoughts overrated anyway. My perfect state of mind is found when I am eating a perfect meal with good friends over good conversation.

Kamakura was my first jaunt out of Tokyo after moving here - it's a peaceful town just an hour outside of Tokyo filled with more temples and shrines than you can possibly visit in one day. It's also a beach town for surfers, but I never managed to get to the ocean during my day trip. A couple temples plus the Daibutsu (Big Buddha), rounded out by a nice shojin ryori meal pretty much takes up the whole day.

My lunch at Hachinoki was delicious, healthy and filling. It's the kind of food I came to Japan for...along with sushi, udon, soba, okonimiyaki and I guess pretty much all Japanese food.

There are three branches of Hachinoki in Kamakura so even without a reservation, getting a table for lunch wasn't difficult. They don't have English menus but the menus thankfully come with beautiful color photos so you can just point and choose your meal.

Rice with tiny dried anchovies to sprinkle on top, clear broth with yam and vegetables, tsukemono (pickles), gomae (spinach in sesame dressing), assorted stewed vegetables (eggplant, bamboo shoot, gingko nut and an orange leaf shaped blob made of tofu), grilled eel, tamago, oden and tofu)

Grilled female fish - there was barely any meat, mostly roe, which was bursting out of the fish

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

The essentials:
Location: Kamakura, Japan
Average price for meal for 2 (lunch): 7000 yen (~$80)


The hostess here must have been a broadway star in a former lifetime. She sings all her words to you in a clear, high-pitched falsetto voice, which at first is surprising, then amusing, then after a while, a bit annoying. Located in Roppongi behind the Hard Rock Cafe, Fukuzushi serves fresh, high quality sushi at reasonable prices. The singing is free.

Chirashi sushi

The water glasses have grooves for your fingers! Only in Japan...

Chawanmushi - steamed savory egg custard with shrimp, gingko nut and mushroom

Milk jelly dessert with blueberry coulis

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

The essentials:
Location: down side street behind Hard Rock Cafe, Roppongi, Tokyo
Average price for meal for two (lunch): 8000 yen (~$90)

Weekend Brunch at Roti Roppongi

Tokyo may be home to the most Michelin stars in the world, age old family-run establishments that serve cuisine that has been refined to perfection over generations, the world's best sushi/udon/tempura/kaiseki restaurants and even some of the best patisseries in the world, but it is really lacking in quality American-style brunch places. So I was thrilled to discover Roti Roppongi, which serves up authentic, non-Japanified Eggs Benedict and some of the most delicious spice-rubbed home fries I've ever had.

Eggs benedict, classic style with ham (you can also get it with sauteed spinach or smoked salmon)

Blueberry pancakes - it was declared that "they taste like Aunt Jemima," but honestly, I crave American instant mix pancakes living in Tokyo!

Smoked salmon club sandwich

I've also been to Roti for dinner and their Peruvian rotisserie chicken over cilantro rice and beans is tender, moist and flavorful.. and I wanted to lick the little bowl of jalapeno-garlic-cilantro dipping sauce that came with the chicken.

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4.5 (best brunch bang for buck)

The essentials:
Location: in the Pyramide building, Roppongi, Tokyo
Average price for meal for 2 for brunch: 5000 yen (~$55)

Brenda's French Soul Food

Sadly, I don't have photos to accompany this post. But I do have the happy memory of praline covered pancakes sitting in my belly. I wrote this entry for yelp awhile back:


Is my ratty Ugg slippers. Is my flannel pajama pants and 10+ year old favorite t-shirt. Is reading a good novel under the covers in my uber-comfy king-size bed. Is spending a leisurely Saturday morning with a person who knows you inside out and feeling that amazing connection found once in a blue moon. Is Brenda's sweet potato pancakes with pecan praline syrup, Brenda's cream biscuits smothered with homemade peach jam, Brenda's extra-buttery grits, Brenda's potato hash and Brenda's fried oyster and bacon omelet.

Brenda, you got soul. Your food made me so happy that it caused me to display random acts of kindness all day for no reason other than that I felt giddy, warm, happy and loved after having brunch at your restaurant. The answer to world peace may be in Brenda's sweet potato pancakes smothered with a brown sugar, pecan and butter concoction that could make anyone forget about differences in religion, politics, or why you broke up. Why should such trivial things matter when we can focus on the things that really matter in life, the things that unite us as humans: good food and good company?

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4 (the prices are fine, but the long wait....oh the wait!)

The essentials:
Location: The Tenderloin, SF
Average price for meal for 2: $40


Moovida, located inside the uber-wonderful, modern oasis known as Hotel Omm in Barcelona, is owned by the same restaurant group (Grupo Tragaluz) that manages Cuines Santa Caterina. It's no wonder I instantly fell in love with everything about it - the modern, laid back decor and vibe and the perfectly presented and executed dishes.

Jamon iberico - buttery smoky saltiness that melts in your mouth

Requisite pa amb tomaquet

Moovida's signature steak tartar with mustard ice cream

Pasta carbonara, topped with a perfectly poached egg

Creme catalan

Molten chocolate cake

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4.5

The essentials:
Location: inside Hotel Omm, close to La Pedrera in Barcelona
Average price for meal for 2, excluding wine: 90 euros

Cuines Santa Caterina

My first entry had to be about my happiest place on earth, Cuines Santa Caterina in Barcelona. It's the bar-restaurant I wish existed in SF because if it did, I would actually buy a place close to it so I could make it my watering hole (my watering hole in SF was actually Koh Samui & the Monkey but that's another blog, another day).

The food is representative of everything I love about modern Spanish cuisine - fresh ingredients cooked quickly and simply, flavored with plenty of good olive oil and sea salt.

Special of the day: peas and squid cooked in clay dish and beef carpaccio rolled with foie gras

No meal in Catalunya is complete without a wedge of tortilla and some pa amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil)

Fried chorizitos - chewy nuggets of salty fatty goodness

Grilled pickled pearl onions and artichoke hearts with pesto

Wash it all down with a glass or two of rioja or cava and....bliss.

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
Location: adjacent to Mercat Santa Caterina in El Born district in Barcelona
Best dishes: fried chorizitos, jamon iberico, grilled artichokes and onions, grilled assorted vegetables
Avoid: I hate to say anything negative about my happiest place on earth but their daily specials can sometimes be oversalted
Average price for meal for 2, excluding wine: 50 euros

And so, it begins

I love good food. I love to blog. So I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to blog about my neverending quest to find (and consume) delicious food anywhere, everywhere. I was going to say the quest to find the perfect meal, but I don't think there is only one perfect meal. It could be a perfectly executed bowl of Vietnamese bun topped with charred grilled pork and crunchy imperial rolls, tossed with lettuce, bean sprouts, fried onions, peanuts, mint, pickled radish salad and the perfect salty-sweet-sour fish sauce, washed down with a glass of cafe sua da, rich and creamy from the condensed milk. But is that any more "perfect" than a meal made up of perfect bites of buttery raw fish on top of warm vinegared rice, especially as executed at Sushi Sasabune in Oahu? But then there's that perfect meal I had at La Folie which included an amuse bouche of poached egg in its own shell swimming in browned butter and sea salt, foie gras mousse so light and airy it disappeared as soon as I put it in my mouth, perfectly poached lobster tail, and seared foie gras. Oh yes, that was perfect. But then there's my grandmother's hwedupbab - tiny cubes of choice raw fish mixed with julienned strips of lettuce, cabbage, perilla leaves, garlic slivers and tossed with hot white rice and red pepper paste. Oh yes, that was perfect meal. Oh but how about pumpkin chicken curry on jasmine rice, washed down with Thai iced tea? And I can't leave out a plate of Giovanni's buttery garlicky shrimp over rice, bought out of the side of a truck in the middle of nowhere in Oahu. Oh and let's not forget every meal I've had at Cuines Santa Caterina in Barcelona.

Point is, there is no one perfect meal, so I think a search for the absolute perfect meal would be a futile endeavor. Instead, I'm in search of my next perfect meal.

And where better to start than Tokyo, home of the most Michelin stars in the world?