This week has been a somber one with the news of Anthony Bourdain’s passing. I find myself in shock and saddened that we’ll never hear that oh-so-recognizable voice again (thank God for OnDemand and the internet). His unfiltered nature and willingness to try anything was fun to watch, as well as the great rapport he had with everyone he met and interviewed. I feel lucky that I got to see him (and Eric Ripert) years ago at The Moore theater in Seattle while he was on tour to promote his book Medium Raw.
My husband and I frequently go to Japan for skiing in the winter. It was brought to our attention on this last trip that Anthony Bourdain was obsessed with the egg salad sandwiches at the local Lawson minimarts…think 7-Eleven in the United States. I know, I know – it sounds disgusting in every way possible but I trusted him (who doesn’t?!) and low and behold…he was onto something!!! I honestly don’t even think I had ever even eaten one in my life, but I was willing to give it a try. Holy #$@! Those fluffy little sandwiches are something special let me tell you! How is a minimart sandwich that amazing?! The crust is perfectly cut off the sandwich which is also perfectly sliced into two triangles to fit into the neat little packaging (packaging is EVERYTHING in Japan)…AND… the bread is not soggy. What???!!! I don’t know what else I can possibly say to validate his love for these sandwiches but one thing’s for sure, you have to make this a priority the next time you’re anywhere in Japan (they make great midday snacks on the chairlift or train).
In his CNN travel show, “Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain,” Bourdain states what every Tokyoite knows:
Tokyo may well be the most amazing food city in the world. With a nearly unimaginable variety of places stacked one on top of the other, tucked away on every level of densely packed city streets.
At Lawson’s, you can dig into their unnaturally fluffy, insanely delicious, incongruously addictive egg salad sandwiches. I love them. Layer after layer after layer of awesome. Proud eateries serving who knows what. But it all smells delicious and looks enticing.
Sushi Sukiyabashi Jiro – Tokyo, Japan
If you’ve seen the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi then you’re well aware of who Jiro Ono is. I’m completely convinced now that it’s nearly impossible to get into his sushi restaurant. However, we DID get a reservation at his son Takashi Ono’s restaurant, Sushi Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi. There are 8 seats at the counter and rules to go along with dinner. No perfume and you must be on time or they will cancel your reservation after 30 minutes. The rice is purposely prepared so that it’s warm when you eat it (side note – if at any time you feel yourself getting full, tell the chef and he’ll make your rice serving smaller going forward – big help considering how much you have to eat!). The ambiance is not that of your typical sushi restaurant in the States. No music or mood lighting. It’s all about the sushi. Anything else is purely a distraction. Chef Takashi Ono was very personable and talked to us during the whole meal. Was it worth the price and hype? Absolutely!
Our dinner consisted of the following: Flounder sashimi, clam sashimi, abalone (awabi) sashimi, marinated mackerel sashimi, flounder nigiri, squid (ika) nigiri, needle fish (sayori) nigiri, lean tuna (maguro) nigiri, medium fatty (chutoro) tuna nigiri, fatty (otoro) tuna nigiri, sardine family fish nigiri, large scallop (hotate) nigiri, raw horse mackerel (aji) nigiri, Ikura nigiri, tiger prawn (kuruma ebi) nigiri, Japanese geoduck (mirugai) nigiri, octopus (tako) nigiri, sea urchin (uni) nigiri, hard shell clam nigiri, small scallops nigiri, saltwater eel nigiri, egg nigiri.
Kondo – Tokyo, Japan
I knew this was a 2 Michelin star tempura restaurant but I didn’t know much more than that. Surprisingly I was able to make reservations just a day in advance for 6 people which was even more shocking when I saw how small the place was. There was absolutely no English signage so had it not been for our taxi driver pointing it out to us we probably never would have found it.
Once inside we were seated around the tempura bar with a front row seat to tempura delights being fried in front of us (also Chef Fumio Kondo unbeknownst to us). With three menu choices to choose from, we decided to go big and ordered the largest of the three, the “Yomoji” menu which included – an appetizer of 2 Japanese dishes, sashimi, tempura (7 vegetables, 4 fish, 3 shrimp), and Kakiage (a mixture of scallops and honewort fried in batter). It was an aggressive order but our thought was “go big or go home!”.
Highlights were the shrimp, tuna sashimi, and tempura vegetables. My least favorite dish was hands down the first appetizer which included two types of raw fish (which were very good) and then a large snail and fish liver. I’m not a fan of liver to begin with and this one didn’t do anything to change my mind. That being said I tried it to be polite and moved on:)
With each piece of tempura that we were served, we were told to eat half with a little salt and the other half dipped in the tempura sauce which had fresh diakon in it. Overall I enjoyed the simplicity of the salt. Everything was so fresh and cooked to absolute perfection. Watching the chefs delicately prepare each dish was a treat.
Sashimi, fish liver (I believe monkfish) and sea snail
Steamed tofu with yam, gingko nuts, and potato
Kisu – flat white fish
Some sort of fish/eel wrapped in shiso
Fruit for dessert
Zen – Hakuba, Japan
Although Zen is known for it’s Soba, their Japanese small plates are a great option as well, especially for larger groups. Reservations are recommended although not necessary. Typically tatami mats can be a little uncomfortable but here they have seat backs to help your back and make it a little more comfortable. Below are my favorites dishes of the night. The menu is quite large so if you have a good group you can get away with ordering a lot of dishes for everyone to try.
Sashimi – Salmon and Tuna Sashimi
Tataki Kyuuri – cucumber with spicy Japanese sauce
Chicken Karaage – Fried Chicken
Agedashi do-fu – deep fried tofu in soup
Yanaimno – yanaimo and spicy roe pizza
Tako no peperonti-no – octopus with spicy olive oil and garlic sauce
Gobou no Karaage – deep fried burdock
Robataya (Roppongi) – Tokyo, Japan
This is by far the best meal I’ve had in Tokyo. I honestly couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this place! The experience was so fun and entertaining and the food couldn’t have been fresher and more delicious. There isn’t a menu because the ingredients are bought in fresh everyday and gone through every night assuring that nothing is old and needing to be sold off the next day. I don’t think you can make a bad order here. All the ingredients are recognizable so just order based off of what you like and you’re safe! The preparation is simple…lightly seasoned and grilled right in front of you. I highly recommend this place. There are only about 20 seats in the whole place and reservations are necessary!
The amuse bouche – tuna sashimi with fresh tomatoes, onions and a light vinaigrette
The sashimi plate
Waygu beef – seriously the best I’ve ever had!
Fresh grilled peppers
Whole fried snapper (if I remember correctly:))
Cinnamon and sugar mochi that was made right in front of us!
Le Vin sur la Table – Otari, Japan
We found this charming little restaurant from the staff at our lodge in Hakuba. The chef had spent a couple of years working in the south of France before opening his own restaurant in his hometown of Otari, about 30 minutes from Hakuba. It’s not very convenient unless you happen to be in the Cortina area. If you ski there I highly recommend making the 15 minute drive to this spot for an impressive meal. My dish, the trout, was $16.25…a steal considering the quality of the food and overall experience, not to mention it included soup and dessert. This was such a special lunch. I totally recommend this place to anyone in the area.
Pork Minced Meat
Wild Boar Stew
Dessert – panna cotta with espresso caramel, fresh seasonal fruit and persimmon ice cream
Our chef and his wife
Maeda – Hakuba, Japan
Every year we go back to Hakuba my husband and I make this restaurant a must for lunch. It usually happens on our first day in town because we’ve been thinking about it for a year and just can’t wait any longer.
The katsudon is to die for. The breaded pork cutlet is so tender and with the egg on top and the perfect rice underneath, this dish disappears fast! Another favorite is the tempura udon and most recently for me the tempura soba…same dish just with buckwheat soba noodles instead of the udon noodles.
I’m not sure what this was but it was so tasty. Some sort of pickled or fermented vegetable. That’s a vague description but I really have no inkling as to what it was. Most likely a veggie we don’t have in the states.
This was some of the BEST Kimchi I’ve ever had! I could have eaten this whole plate by myself. Next time:)
My tempura soba…DE-lish! I couldn’t eat even half the noodles but I loved everything about this. You could tell the noodles were made fresh…they were incredible! I’m probably going to be dreaming about this until the next time we get back here.
My husband’s tempura udon…you can’t go wrong with this one!
Mmmm…the katsudon…this is unbelievable – that is assuming you eat pork. I’m afraid to try this dish in the states assuming it might not live up to my expectations. I don’t want to ruin it.
Denenshi – Hakuba, Japan
My fiancé and I were in Japan this March when the 9.0 earthquake struck. We honestly couldn’t have been in a better place at the time considering the magnitude of it. We were sitting on an airplane on the runway in Tokyo getting ready to take off for Sapporo when the plane starting violently shaking. Long story short we were fine but as you can imagine it changed the rest of our travel plans a bit.
Leading up to it though we had a wonderful few days in Hakuba, skiing our brains out in the backcountry and eating the most delicious food during the day and night. A favorite of ours in the area is Denenshi. We had one of the best meals of our lives the year prior and made the effort to go back this year.
The restaurant is run by a husband and wife duo out of their charming French inspired home. There are two set menus to choose from; Japanese and French. We always choose the Japanese as we should when in Japan. If you’re ever in Hakuba this place is a must. You’ll be so thankful you discovered it.
Baked mushroom marinade
Cold pasta with sliced bream
Curried flavored crab and vegetable gratin
Deep friend yellowtail with brown rice sauce
Roast beef with miso sauce
Green tea ice cream