Japan Eats

Bar/Café Review: Pagliaccio Trattoria (Tokyo/Marunouchi)

This trattoria is a wonderfully decorated café/bar in the middle of the decidedly swank shopping streets behind the two Marunouchi towers keeping watch over Tokyo train station.

If you’re looking for a nice place for lunch, Pagliaccio is an excellent choice. The café menu consists of nine pasta dishes and one salad. The green salad is very generous at 780 yen and will easily accommodate two light eaters if teamed with one of the pasta dishes or a dessert. As for pasta, try the green tagliolini with sausage and broccoli (980 yen) or the linguine with clams and mussels (1,500). You won’t be disappointed.

And the desserts are quite nice as well. All priced at 700 yen, selections such as the tiramisu and the strawberry raspberry blueberry tart are worth repeat visits. An assorted dessert plate is also available for those that have walked enough to deserve the extra calories (1,500 yen).

This trattoria sports a full bar as well. Draft beers such as Hoegaarden cost 900 yen while their 14 bottled beers range in price from 600-950 yen. Cocktails start at 750, and wine by the glass will set you back at least 700 yen. Whiskey is priced on the steep side with a single pour of Jack Daniel’s tagged at 800 yen. The top of the price range is Hibiki 17 yrs. at 1,800 for a single and 3,400 for a double.

Coffee and tea average 600 per cup, and soft drinks are priced in the 500-800 yen range.

This is a great place to meet friends, clients, or colleagues, but there’s very little privacy, so look elsewhere if that’s what you’re after. Including the seats out front and the stools at the bar, Pagliaccio Trattoria can seat around 100, and you’ll feel right at home if you’re wearing a suit. You’d do well to hope for a bit of a crowd as the staff has been known to play poppy American country music at a level that people can actually hear.

Regardless, this is a wonderful café in which to spend a slow lunch or down a few before moving on to the Cotton Club for a jazz show. Expect to pay around 2,500 yen per person for lunch or 1,500 for coffee and dessert.

The café is completely non-smoking during lunch, but it switches to pro-smoking at around three. That said, if you arrive before the lads get out of work, then the English-speaking staff might be able to find an area where you’ll be relatively untouched (the place is big enough).

Directions: From Nijubashimae station (Chiyoda subway line) take exit four and walk straight when you hit street level. Take your second right and walk straight.  From the South Marunouchi exit of Tokyo station (JR, Marunouchi subway line, etc.) find the Marunouchi building and walk down the street on the left side of it (heading perpendicular to the train tracks). Turn left on the street that runs behind the Marunouchi building. Pagliaccio Trattoria is at the end of the block on your right. It’s on the corner next to “Tumi”, right across from “Kate Spade”.

Website: http://www.kiwa-group.co.jp/restaurant/a100446.html

Guru Navi: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a634284/

Directions: 100-0005 Tokyo-to Chiyoda-ku Marunouchi 2-2-3 Nakadori Bldg. 1F

Telephone: TEL 03-6273-4486

Recipe: Buta no kakuni

Buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) is most often associated with the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, and in particular, the city of Nagasaki. It’s famously soft texture and sweet soy flavor has endeared it to people across Japan, and it can now be found on izakaya menus throughout the country.

This Chinese-influenced dish takes some time to prepare, but results in pork so delicate it breaks apart easily with chopsticks.

Buta no kakuni

Buta no kakuni

Ingredients (for 4 people)

  • 800g of pork belly
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 pieces of ginger
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of sake
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 green onion

Method

Cut the pork into 5 to 6 cm cubes.

Peel the garlic and the ginger, then slice both into pieces 5 mm wide.

Place the pork, garlic, ginger and sake into a pot, then pour in enough water to just cover them. Bring to the boil on a high heat.

Once boiling, turn the gas down and carefully skim off any scum which has formed on the surface of the mixture. Cook on a low heat for a further hour to hour and a half, then allow the mixture to sit overnight.

The next day, remove the solid fat (lard) from the pan. Naturally it ‘s worth keeping to flavor other Chinese-style dishes.

Add sugar to the dish and place it on a medium heat for 20 minutes. Add soy sauce and cook for a further 30 minutes. At this point it’s worth checking the taste in case you want add a little more sugar or soy.

Slice the green onions diagonally into 5 mm pieces and cook these for about 5 minutes. If you prefer the texture of fresh green onions, simply add them to the pot and turn the gas off immediately – they will cook with the remaining heat.

Serve with a small bowl of Japanese mustard.

Restaurant Review: Ryukotei (Kagurazaka)

Finding a place to eat in Kagurazaka between the hours of three and five pm can be a real challenge when you’re determined not to settle for Royal Host or McDonald’s. Enter “Ryukotei”, a two-floor Chinese restaurant right in the thick of the main road going up the hill from Iidabashi station. This place isn’t out to impress, but they will give you enough food to keep you going until it’s time to eat again. 1,000 yen per person should do the trick.

Lunch is served from 11 am until 5 pm which means that this restaurant doesn’t close between meals like the majority of its neighbors. Lunch sets are 1,000 yen, and while the ‘white fish meat and tomato stir-fry‘ is a little too salty, their ‘chicken and cashews stir-fry‘ is definitely worth a try. All sets come with a bottomless bowl of rice, pickled veggies, a small bowl of rather bland egg soup, and a drink.

A la carte dishes are available for between 1000 and 1400, and the ‘dessert of the day’ can be added for 300 yen. Speaking of which, a dessert set (dessert plus a drink) costs 800-900 yen.

Coffee is 400 yen when ordered on its own, and a double espresso is 500. Ryukotei has Chinese tea starting at 550 yen while more common options such as Earl Grey start at 500. Soft drinks start at 500 yen.

The restaurant also has a small selection of alcohol. They get points for serving Premium Malt’s in both a bottle (650 yen) and on tap (550), and for stocking six different types of umeshu (starting from 500). Nihonshu, shochu, and spirits are also available for between 500 and 1,000 yen.

The interior of Ryukotei is clean and comfy while the music isn’t at all distracting on the first floor. The service is fast and courteous, but unfortunately they have chosen to follow their neighbors in offering a very pro-smoking environment.

To be fair, however, they prohibit smoking on the ground floor during the first half of lunch (until three pm) and most of dinner. But for whatever reason they have a two hour gap in the middle where the whole restaurant becomes a smoking area. Nowhere on the menu, front door, or advertisements is this indicated in any way, shape, or form. Ask upon entry if that is something that can ruin a dining experience for you.

The interior is clean and comfortable, and the music on the first floor was quiet enough that it wasn’t distracting.

Directions: Take exit B3 of Iidabashi station and walk up the hill. Ryukotei is on the left across from Royal Host.

What we’re drinking: Tokyo Swallows sparkling nihonshu (sake)

That’s right. The Tokyo Swallows may be terrible at promoting themselves, but they sell nihonshu with the team mascot on it. Although, to be clear, I don’t think that you can get it at or near the stadium–go figure. Big thanks to my friend, Kyoko, who gave me this bottle because she knew that the shock-value would be extreme. My jaw is still bruised from smacking the table in that bar.

This one is a junmai-ginjo with a seimaibuai (milling rate) of 55%. Definitely better quality than one would normally expect given the graphic on the label.

And although it doesn’t say so on the bottle, this is actually a sparkling sake that has a mouthfeel a lot like what you get with champagne. The body, however, is fuller than in a sparkling wine. Much of that is due to the fact that this nihonshu hasn’t been fully filtered. The Japanese word for this cloudier version of nihonshu is nigori, and indeed you can see a bit of leftover rice and sediment from the brewing process if you swirl it around. In the case of the Tokyo Swallows sparkling nihonshu, one could best describe it as being lightly nigori.

A little extra scouring of the label reveals that this is actually a “Toyo Bijin” sake with a bird on the front. Toyo Bijin is a brand brewed in Yamaguchi prefecture, and it is known for being quite dry. At first I disagreed with this, but my second and third sip revealed a sweet splash at the front quickly overtaken by an arid finish. I think maybe all the bubbles distracted me on my first attempt.

Out of fear that my palate is being unduly influenced by this bottle’s stage name, for the record I will say that this is not the best drink I’ve had this week. However, while I’m not normally one for sparkling nihonshu, this stuff is very drinkable. I like the fruit on the nose and palate even if this is the first nihonshu I’ve ever had that is reminiscent of a chu-hi .

I was told that this bottle can be purchased at Tokyo station, but I’m not clear on the exact whereabouts of the shop. If anyone knows, please leave a comment below. Apparently there’s a Tokyo Swallows beer out there as well.

Restaurant Review: Touan (Kichijoji)

Located on the same street as the Emporio Armani store, this basement izakaya, “Touan”, specializes in decent drinks, tofu, chicken, and sashimi. Several private tables, plus a few that look out onto a cellar-type Japanese garden, provide the perfect backdrop for a romantic dinner or small-scale night out with friends. Jazz music plays in the background.

And Touan has a few dishes that will keep vegetarians happy. Try the dekitate (fresh) tofu, at 780 yen, that comes with seven toppings and can be split amongst four if one thinks in izakaya serving sizes (read: small). The large tofu slabs go well with a side of fried renkon (lotus root) chips (480 yen). The negi shiitake kushi (grilled green onions and mushrooms on a stick) are also worth a try at 200 yen each.

Meat-lovers will enjoy the tebasaki no karaage (fried chicken for 580 yen), and the tofu no gyoza (580 yen for six pieces)–sorry, healthy people, this one almost certainly has meat in it. It’s just too good. But everyone can wind down with a dish of tofu ice cream which is astoundingly tasty (380). Another wise selection is the ebi (shrimp)tenpura and cha (tea) soba (680). The tea flavor is more apparent on the nose than anywhere else. Very nicely done indeed.

The “Naina?” imo shochu at 700 yen a glass, and yuzu umeshu at 620, are excellent choices for herbivores and carnivores alike. The “Hakkaisan” junmai ginjo nihonshu (980) is recommended for those looking for a decent bit of the drink that John Gauntner has taught us so much about.

The drink selection is respectable in several ways. While “Four Roses” is the only whiskey on the menu, Touan steps it up with 14 different bottles of umeshu, 12 potato shochu, six nihonshu, plus wine, beer, kokutou and rice shochu, and cocktails. Draft beer is 580 yen, and wine is 450 per glass. Most alcoholic beverages range from between 450 to 900 yen. Soft drinks are 350.

Directions: JR Kichijoji north exit. Outside the station (looking at the rotary) turn left. You’ll soon pass Baskin Robbins. Go straight until you come to a four-way intersection with a traffic light. Turn right. Walk one block and turn left before Tokyu Department Store. Walk straight (past Banana Republic) and take the second right. Touan is on the left (B1) just before a furniture shop called Kagura. If you reach Emporio Armani, then you’ve gone too far.

Guru Navi Page: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a045212/

Lunch: 11:30 – 14:00
Dinner: 17:00 – 24:30

What we’re drinking: Shirashinken mugi (shochu)

This is my favorite tipple right now. Shirashinken. Even if you can’t spell it, remember it.

And this one is very easy to find. I bought it at my local supermarket for about 1,200 yen. Just like all things Balvenie (thank you, Garrett), I will make sure to have a bottle of this in my bar at all times.

Tasting notes: the barley tingle on this mugi (barley) shochu is subdued because of the very pleasant honey notes at the front and in the finish. This shochu is quite long. It lingers for a bit after you’ve swallowed, and it is one that you absolutely must try ‘neat’. That’s right. No rocks, no splash of water, no nothing.

And you’ll thank me for it. I’m sure that Shirashinken is very pleasant on the rocks, the way that many people like to drink shochu, but the interplay between the prickly earthiness and the sweet notes is something that would be bludgeoned off the palate by a few innocuous ice cubes. Try it neat so that you taste what I’m getting at.

This bottle doesn’t get nearly as much love as some of the more famous mugi shochu such as Hyakunen no Kodoku, but I believe that it’s almost as good. Unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of Hyakunen that is more than ten years old as Tsuruda-san does at my local bar. But that’s beside the point.

Cost-performance?

Fact: this is the best bottle of mugi shochu I’ve purchased for less than 1,500 yen thus far.

Recipe: Ichigo-shu (strawberry wine)

Stemming from my days as an apprentice brewer at Otter Creek Brewing, and even before that when I was homebrewing, I have a longheld fascination with making tasty beverages.

I’d therefore like to share with you a recipe for making ichigo-shu which can be loosely translated as ‘strawberry wine’.

This liquid treat takes only a couple of weeks to become drinkable, and it if you make a batch today it should be ready to drink by the end of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season here in Tokyo.

Here’s how it works:

You’ll need a glass jar. My local Seiyu supermarket sells 22cm jars that are adequate for one batch of ichigo-shu (pronounced /ee-chee-go shoe/) .  A 22cm jar holds about 1,500 ml (48 oz.) of liquid.

You’ll also need 300 g of strawberries, one whole lemon, 50 g of rock sugar, and 600 ml of 35% alcohol white liquor.

1. Wash and then halve the strawberries. Remove the stems.

2. Peel and then thinly slice the lemon.

3. Put the halved strawberries, lemon slices, and rock sugar in the jar.

4. Pour the white liquor over the top.

5. Wait two weeks (the jar should be kept in a cool, dark place).

6. Strain the liquid into a bottle (a clean, empty wine/shochu/nihonshu bottle works just fine).

* Don’t eat too much of the leftover fruit at once. Think jello shots only slightly healthier. You will lose this battle.

7. Sip and enjoy! This delicious drink can be enjoyed ‘neat’, on the rocks, with a bit of water, or splashed over ice cream or yogurt. Store the bottle in a sun-free area. No need to refrigerate it as ichigo-shu is a distilled beverage.

A quick word to the wise: don’t underestimate the power of this cute little drink. Keep in mind that you dumped more than half of a liter of 35% alcohol in there. Even though it’s very sweet when watered down a little bit, it will go to your head in a real hurry.

Also, make sure to write down what you did and when. That way you’ll be able to adjust things slightly to your liking over a series of batches. For example, you may want to add a little bit of red wine at the beginning of the process to see how that affects the resulting flavor. Just how much you add and when is crucial for recreating that magical batch that you made last time.

Enjoy!

Café Review: Margaret Howell Café

Fronting half of the establishment, this café provides an alternate entrance into the Margaret Howell world of clean-cut clothing for both men and women. On a side street up the hill from TGI Friday’s in Shibuya (and just around the corner from Craftheads), this little café is a delightfully quiet lunchtime option for shoppers who have found themselves on the north side of the Shibuya craziness.

Highly recommended are the limited, but delicious, lunch sets. The ‘Sandwich’, ‘Quiche’, and ‘Season’ (changes monthly) plates are all under 1,400 yen and include a main dish, soup, and drink. The chicken sandwich isquite good, and while the soup of the day (potato and celery) wasn’t exactly to die for, the cappuccino was just what the doctor ordered while sitting in the small open-air interior of the shop with the sun shining through the floor to ceiling windows.

For the record, this is one of the few cafés in the immediate area that actually has a no-smoking section (a practical choice given that the café opens right into the clothes shop itself). The generous outdoor seating is, as one would expect in Tokyo, puff-friendly, but there’s enough space between tables for this to not be too much of a factor (depending on the wind of course).

Serving lunch/brunch from 11:00, the modest menu errs on the sweet side while providing enough variety to keep those in search of light fare happy. Scones, cakes, coffee, and tea range from 400 to 700 yen. Go ahead and try the carrot cake (600 yen) with an iced latte (680). Laze around long enough and you might find that a glass of mulled wine (700) will suit the slow swing of the afternoon.

Fresh OJ and lemonade (630) might be logical options if you’re hoping for a bit of brunch. A regular coffee (530) and toast with butter and jam (380) would be the perfect complement on a sunny morning on this alarmingly sedate back street not seven minutes walk from Hachiko.

For those in search of an alcoholic beverage, there’s Yebisu (690) and a couple of imports (790) available for beer drinkers. Wine by the glass is 700 yen, or you can spring for a bottle of the house selection for 4,200.

Click here for a map, or click here for the Guru Navi page (Japanese).

Directions: From Hachiko go up the street on the right side of the corner building with Starbucks and Tsutaya in it. Keep going straight until you pass Tower Records (on your right). Take the left after Tower Records and then take an immediate right just before TGI Friday’s. Walk straight until the small road forces you to turn left. Take the next right and walk straight for about 50 meters. Margaret Howell café is on the right.


Kizami Udon

This dish is a particularly healthy combination of deep-fried tofu, udon noodles and green onion.

There are two kinds of udon dishes that use deep-fried tofu as a garnish. One is kitsune udon – in which the deep-fried tofu is soaked in a soup of sweet sauce before being used to garnish udon in dashi soup.

The other is kizami udon, where the deep-fried tofu is toasted rather than soaked in a sauce. The result is a light, fresh and textured dish – the crispyness of tofu balancing the soft udon.

Kizami Udon

Kizami Udon

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 portions fresh udon noodles
  • 1 piece of deep-fried tofu
  • 1/3 of a naganegi (green onion)
  • 4 to 5 stalks of asatsuki chives

Udon soup

  • 4 cups of water
  • 10cm of kombu (kelp)
  • 30g dried bonito flakes
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin

Method

First, we’re going to cook the udon soup.

Pour the water into a pot and add the kombu (kelp). Bring the water to the boil over a medium heat. The kombu must be removed from the pot immediately before coming to the boil.

When it comes to the boil, add the dried bonito flakes. Boil these briefly and then turn off the heat.

When all the flakes have set on the bottom of the pot, strain the mixture through a cloth. Pour this strained stock (dashi) into a pot, then bring it to the boil. Add the sake, soy sauce, salt and mirin and boil it briefly.

Cut the green onion (naganegi) into very thin diagonal slices and place them into a bowl of cold water for one minute . When they have finished soaking, drain them and put them aside.

Next, finely chop the chives and put them into a small bowl. The chives, together with the onion, will be used later to garnish the dish.

Put the dried-tofu into an oven toaster and toast it for 3 minutes until the surface is browned. Slice the crispy dried-tofu into rectangles.

Next, boil the water in a pot and warm the udon based on the recipe printed on the package and then drain the noodles.

Place the udon in the serving bowls and pour the soup over the noodles. Now lay the sliced tofu on top of the noodles and garnish with the green onion and chives.

Finally, sprinkle shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red pepper and other spices) over the dish before eating.

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Takikomi gohan

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