Japan Eats

What we’re drinking: Tokyo Swallows Baseball Beer

Beer endorsed by a bird with a bat.

This Tokyo Swallows Baseball Beer surprised me with its aroma. It reminded me, ever so slightly, of “Duchesse”, that beautiful Belgian ale that is becoming increasingly easy to find in Tokyo.

Poured straight from the bottle into a pint glass, this beer has a hazy straw color to it and a thin head that disappears quickly.

This is a light-bodied beer that has a bit of tanginess as it travels towards the back of your mouth. And the tanginess hangs around for a little bit at the finish. This would definitely be an acceptable brew for a hot summer day. It gives you a lot more to think about on the palate than the typical Japanese light beer while preserving the expected refreshingness and ease of drinking.

Weighing in at a rather modest 4% alcohol, this signature brew was a present from my friend Kyoko, who also entrusted me with this bubbly nihonshu not too long ago (click here for the full article.) According to the label, this beer is contract brewed by monster liquid libations producer, Kizakura, through an arrangement with classy Tokyo sake merchants (and Tokyo Swallows fans), Hasegawa Saketen.

Restaurant Review: Bunryu (Takadanobaba)

Bunryu’s original shop in Takadanobaba has a long and proud history of making good Italian food. Less than

There are always a couple of tagliatelle dishes on the menu.

a one minute from JR Takadanobaba station, this small restaurant has been keeping restaurants happy and coming back for more since the 1973.

While the restaurant itself is not large, there is enough seating for parties as large as 10, and customers dining alone can easily be accommodated at the central island table.

The bookshelves, ceramic lamps, and other assorted classic touches are nice, but the real attraction is the food. Lunch is a great time to try this restaurant out, as it becomes considerably more affordable for the average non-executive or university professor, but be prepared to wait if you arrive right  at noon. While in the queue, you can busy yourself deciding which of the four lunch courses you’d like to try. At 950 yen, the A course gets you a salad, pasta dish of your choice, and post-meal cup of coffee or tea. If one happens to be sporting a decent appetite, then opting for a course that comes later in the alphabet is advised.

The other three courses, B through D, build in varying degrees and amounts of Italian-inspired delights with the most involved being the D course at 2,800 yen. For that price you’ll enjoy an appetizer, salad, pasta and meat or fish dishes of your choice, homemade bread, and the aforementioned hot drink.

From the pasta menu, anything featuring Tagliatelle (a pasta noodle made with egg) is a safe bet.

There is also, of course, a small variety of pasta, meat, fish, and pizza a la carte selections available. Pasta dishes are 750 at lunchtime, while everything else is priced between one and two thousand yen.

Beer and house wine are 300 yen during the afternoon.

Bunryu happens to be very popular with the local university professor crowd, so it is not uncommon to find them there reading a book in the afternoon or having dinner with small groups of graduate-level advisees in the evening.

Bunryu also has a restaurant in Kunitachi.

Directions: JR Takadanobaba Waseda exit (accessible from Tozai and Seibu-Shinjuku lines as well). Find “Big Box” (there’s a police box at the foot of it), and from there locate Mizuho Bank across the street. Bunryu is in the basement beneath Mizuho in the FI building.

Address: 169-0075  Tokyo-to Shinjuku-ku Takadanobaba 1-26-5 FI Biru B1

Telephone: 03-3208-5447

Hours: Lunch 11:30-14:00; Dinner 17:00-22:00 (until 21:00 on Sundays)

Guru Navi: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a530000/

Bunryu Website: http://www.bunryu.co.jp/restaurant/index.htm

Recipe: Japanese potato salad

This creamy potato salad is a regular feature in bento boxes (Japanese lunch boxes) and as an otooshi (free appetizer) at Japanese izakaya. It sometimes even appears inside convenience store sandwiches, although these are too heavy for my liking.

What makes Japanese potato salad so different from American or German potato salads is that no vinegar is involved. Instead, Japanese mayonnaise is used to bind the ingredients, giving the dish its uniquely creamy texture. My version also includes vegetables (cucumber, carrot and onion), ham and traditional French wholegrain mustard.

Japanese-style potato salad

Japanese-style potato salad

Ingredients

  • 4 potatoes (500 – 550g)
  • 1 cucumber (100g)
  • 1/2 a carrot (60g)
  • 1/4 an onion (50g)
  • 50g thinly sliced ham
  • 10 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1-2 teaspoons traditional wholegrain mustard (moutarde à l’ancienne)

Method

Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Place them into a pot with enough water to cover them. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and boil on a high heat. Once the potatoes come to the boil, reduce the heat and continue to cook until they are soft. Use a skewer to check they pierce easily.

Now cut the cucumber into 2 millimeter thick pieces and rub in 2-3 pinches of salt and squeeze to drain. Slice the onion into thin pieces (cutting with the grain) and soak in a bowl of water for 3 minutes. As with the cucumber, squeeze the onion to drain off the water.

Peel the carrot and cut into 2 millimeter thick quarters. Boil 2 cups of water with a pinch of salt and cook the pieces of carrot in the hot water for 1 minute before draining them.

Cut the ham in half, so that the pieces form semicircles, then slice diagonally so as to make thin strips.

When the potatoes are soft enough, drain the hot water from the pot using its lid, and place the pan back on a low heat so that any excess moisture evaporates.

Now place the potatoes into a large bowl and mash roughly with a wooden paddle. Try to keep some of the potatoes’ original texture when doing this.

Add a pinch of pepper, the cucumber, onion, carrot, ham and mix roughly. Finally, add 10 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 1-2 teaspoons of mustard before mixing evenly.

Serve as a side dish or as part of a bento lunchbox.

Restaurant Review: Nouka no Daidokoro (Ebisu)

Nouka no Daidokoro grows its own vegetables in the shop and is an excellent, if a bit pricey, place to have a meal for vegetarians.

Featuring a comfy, farmer’s market interior, Nouka no Daidokoro (translation: farmer’s kitchen) is highly advised for those in search of some creative and healthy food in Tokyo.

The first choice one needs to make after sitting down is which course to choose. The three dinner courses are listed as 4:3:3, 6:2:2, and 10:0:0. These number describe the ratio of vegetables, meat, and fish in each. By that logic, the third option is a one hundred percent vegetarian option while the first and second mix in varying degrees of carnivorous fare.

From there customers are asked to further refine their selection. The two courses involving meat and fish have three variations–courses priced at 3,800 yen, 4,800 yen, and 5,800 yen. The vegetarian course has two options (no 5,800 yen version).

One thing that is common to all three of the courses is access to the salad bar which is perhaps the most uplifting part of the experience. It is so easy to enjoy food that is both organic and grown by the passionate people serving it.

Many of the vegetables on display are literally grown in-house, and a quick glance at the greenhouse to the right of the salad bar will show you what will be served in the near future. Because the salad bar tends to go light on leafy greens, the result is a delightful glass of vegetable sticks, halved cherry tomatoes, and delicious mushrooms.

The main course involves a flurry of vegetable dishes with the occasional slice of fish or meat. The creativity in the kitchen involves everything from a vegetarian and riceless risotto (above left)  to a clam ravioli dish covered in a froth of cappuccino cream.

Naturally, fresh fruit and vegetable juices are available, and don’t forget to check out the kitchen’s selection of flora-inspired cocktails. Juices and cocktails start in the 400-500 yen range. Premium Malt’s is the beer on tap (680 yen), and a decent selection of umeshu, wine, and traditional cocktails  are also available (generally 600-1,000 yen). A few bottles of shochu and nihonshu are stocked as well.

On your way out you can pick up some fresh vegetables to take home with you as the entrance doubles as a produce section.

After 9:00 pm it is possible to order dishes a la carte. If you’re dining before that time, it might be wise to make a reservation because the restaurant fills up quickly at dinnertime.

At dinnertime, expect to pay at least five thousand yen per person for a meal and two drinks. The lunch menu has a la carte dishes for less than 1,000 yen.

Directions: Take the west exit of JR Ebisu station or exit 1 if you arrived on the Hibiya subway line. Look for the Doutour (coffee shop) and Kinokuniya (liquor shop) diagonally across the rotary. Keeping those shops on your right, walk up the street that passes in front of them. You will soon see a Lawson convenience store on your left. On the first floor of the next building on the left, you will find Nouka no Daidokoro. If you reach Family Mart convenience store, then you have walked too far.

Address: 150-0022 Tokyo-to Shibuya-ku Ebisu Minami 1-7-8 Ebisu South One 1F

Telephone: 03-3719-4831

Hours: Lunch 11-15:30 (last order 14:30); Dinner 17:30-23:00 (doors close 21:45; food last order 22:00; drinks last order 22:30)

Guru Navi (Japanese): http://r.gnavi.co.jp/p963301/

Recipe: Agedashidofu

Agedashidofu is a traditional Japanese dish which combines the chewy texture of deep-fried tofu with the soft texture of the raw ingredient. Such is agedashidofu’s popularity, its commonly featured on izakaya menus up and down the country.

For this dish, either kinu (silk tofu) or momen (cotton tofu) can be used. I prefer the texture of kinu tofu, but momen will be easier if you’re not used to handling tofu.

Agedashidofu

Agedashidofu

Here sweet green peppers are used to garnish the dish, but chopped asatsuki chives or dried bonito flakes also make an excellent garnish.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 250g tofu
  • 200g daikon (radish)
  • 1 piece ginger
  • 4 tablespoons of cornstarch (katakuriko in Japan)
  • 4-6 sweet green peppers as a garnish

Soup

  • 100ml dashi soup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin

Method

Wrap the tofu in paper towels and place it on a tray. Allow it to stand for about 30 minutes (or longer if necessary) to eliminate any excess moisture.

Grate the daikon and squeeze gently to drain any excess liquid. Now grate the ginger and remove the stems from the sweet peppers. Poke a few holes in these using a bamboo skewer so that they don’t explode when deep-fried.

Cut the tofu into 4 to 6 pieces, then heat a pan of vegetable oil to 170 degrees Celsius (338 degrees Fahrenheit). The oil should be just deep enough to cover the tofu. Now brush the tofu with a light coating of the corn starch and immediately deep-fry until the pieces have turned light brown. Take them out of the pan and place them on a tray to drain.

Quickly deep-fry the sweet green peppers (10 seconds ought to be enough).

Next, pour the dashi, soy sauce and mirin into a small saucepan and bring (what will be the sauce for the dish) to the boil.

Plate the tofu and pour the sauce around the pieces of tofu. Take care not to pour the sauce directly onto the tofu.

Garnish with the deep-fried green peppers, a tablespoon of grated daikon and a teaspoon of grated ginger.

Bar review: La Cave Idéale (Kagurazaka)

This wine shop doubles as a standing wine bar and is open from 11:00 to 24:00 every day. Three round tables in the center of the shop allow customers to gaze at the bottles in the glass cases while drinking a glass from the ever-changing lineup displayed on the ‘tachinomi counter’. Wine is typically 500-2,000 yen per glass.

Finger food are also available for purchase with a small variety of cheeses, olives, and other snacks (mostly 300 yen) being peddled from the glass cooler perched on the counter. A small two-piece pack of bread is 50 yen, and don’t be afraid to use the toaster located on the wall opposite the register.

As mentioned before, the wine selection changes periodically as this shop imports directly from vineyards

'Tachinomi' is Japanese for 'drink while standing'.

and dealers in France. That means that they often have wine that you can’t get in most other places.

The “Domaine des Chênes — Le Mascarou 2005” was dry enough for my liking and was priced at 900 yen per

glass. Another wine that I tried was the “Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette — Ze rozé 2008” (700 yen/glass) which is apparently one of their monthly featured wine selections and will be replaced soon.

This shop is very well-lit, so it’s often a quick stop on the way somewhere else for business people and small groups of friends. The staff is very cheerful and helpful, and the paintings on the wall would be in my living room if they were up for sale.

Directions: From exit two of Kagurazaka station (Tozai subway line) go left and walk for about 30 seconds. La Cave Idéale is on the left just after “M’s”. You can also take exit one of the station and turn right. The wine shop will be on your right before “M’s”.

April ’10 Magazine Roundup

This month three of Japan’s top culinary magazines focus their attention on things Italian. Also, Dancyu tells aging ramen lovers it’s time to go back to basics and Otona no shumatsu presents yet another lengthy best-of list. Its all here in this month’s magazine roundup.

When Hollywood studios simultaneously release similar films (think Deep Impact vs Armageddon) its difficult not to suspect nervous producers spy on each other in search of original film ideas. Similarly, when three of the major Japanese food magazines decide to feature Italian cuisine on their April covers, one has to wonder if it’s more than a coincidence.

Dancyu April 2010

This month, Dancyu courts those in their 40s and 50s

This month’s Syokuraku (860 yen) features what the editors describe as “Italian food and restaurants from a man’s perspective”. They posit that Italian restaurants are not just places for dates and quiet conversation, but can be places for guys to get together and hang out. Our advice: ignore the cultural analysis and enjoy the food porn.

Ryori Tsushin (980 yen) also stretches the bounds of thematic credibility with an edition focusing on the role flour plays in Italian food. Put differently, the magazine’s editors want to discuss pasta and pizza, and to hell with that other stuff.

April’s Cuisine Kingdom (970 yen) is the last in our trio, the magazine exploring  “the Italian mode”. More cultural background than recipes, this issue covers luxury brands as well as restaurants. The editors also ask where Italian cuisine is headed.

Ramen nerds rejoice! Dancyu (850 yen) has you in its sights. The April edition of the magazine is a veritable cornucopia of ramen, specifically aimed at self-appointed ramen experts in their 40s and 50s. April’s issue features 14 ramen shops – 12 in Tokyo, 1 in Osaka and 1 in Kobe. Urging readers to go back to basics, the magazine also discusses Tokyo’s trademark soy-sauce ramen and recommends 10 restaurants in which to sample the dish.

And where would we be without another best-of list? Otona no shumatsu (580 yen) lists the magazine’s “best 102 restaurants in the past 5 years”. The editors claim to have visited some 18, 000 restaurants in the past 5 years, and to have introduced 3600 in the magazine. Of these, they write, 350 were rated highly . After what must have been much soul-searching at the Kodansha offices, they finally whittled this list down to a (curiously unrounded) 102. All were tested in secret and come recommended for taste, price and great service. They are in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya.

And also…

Nakameguro is Tokyo’s version of Little Italy? So say our friends at Shokuraku. They map 25 Italian restaurants within walking distance of Nakameguro Station. Worryingly, this figure includes the local Saizeriya. What do you think? Is Nakameguro Tokyo’s answer to Mulberry Street? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.