Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

IWFS Tokyo February 2014 Day Two


The Hotel gave us a choice of breakfasts at three different restaurants on Level Two in the tower. For our first Tokyo breakfast we opted for Western, not feeling quite ready for a full on Japanese style early morning shock. It wasn't bad. Fruits and bread with jam and coffee were good starts to the day, though the egg looked a bit suspect. Back to the room to perform ablutions and meet at lobby for a brisk and chilly morning walk to Takashimaya Department store. This was located past the Shinjuku station and under the main road. We passed a few homeless on the route that took us past the  underground and under the main road who had built makeshift rooms there from cardboard. They looked very weather beaten and hardened and resigned, but tough as hob nailed boots. And not in search of handouts, though neither refusing any that might go their way. Didn't see any of the Tokyo-ites giving anything to them. 

Lenglui with decoration at Keio Plaza

Our entrance to the Taka was by the Balenciaga which proved a useful landmark meeting point and we all wandered the store for an hour or so. I lost Lenglui quite early in the store and just went for a floor by floor wander. The food floor is amazing. One half has nothing but cakes and sugar based sweet things with chocolate and fruit, all looking like works of art. Diabetic nightmare. Mid section is a Fouchon Patisserie and a Peck Deli and lots of Japanese fresh food for takeaway whilst the final one is fresh meats and veg and condiments. Lots of people and lots of noise. Bought some dessert vinegar in the food section after a full taste and it being on special offer. The Yuzu dessert vinegar was like Limoncello with less sugar and an acetic zing. Maybe better for us diabetics - get the taste and a vinegar kick to settle the stomach. Saw what looked like a homeless lady snacking on some of the cooked meat and dessert vinegar freebies on display. Survivors, and quite enterprising in this regard. We all need to keep out the cold. 

Lenglui with new friend at Soba Daian
The stores seem to like to give out vouchers that entitle the holder to something or other. As foreigners, Taka gave us each a booklet with coupons giving 5% off purchass of 3,000 Yen. Couldn't use it for the food, but at least it was in English. Others I received with much ceremony in Japanese from the giver were not so translated. I sometimes wonder what these store assistants explaining in fluent Japanese the benefits of the voucher to someone who clearly hasn't got a clue what they are saying must be thinking. This is what their bosses tell them to do, and presumably the only thing they are thinking is that they must be seen to be obedient and perfect in their execution of the instruction because nothing less than obedience and perfect compliance can be tolerated. It is just totally useless and wasted on us gaijin. I left my collection in the excellent Taka toilet, one of the cleanest I have ever come across. Maybe someone else can benefit from the freebies.

Taka also gives tax back for the tourists. Quite painless and in cash. In various languages. Faaaan tastic. Lenglui was very happy. 

I got back to the meeting point early and went off in search of a 7-11 to buy some batteries for the camera. There was a Handy Mart or Family Store or something round the corner which did the trick. I picked up a couple of two packs, figuring this would do for the remaining time. It would, but only just. The store was pretty much a 7-11 competitor and full of the snacky things and handy bits that they are perfect for. Seemed to be a predominance of electrickery and techy style bits which was fun. Lots of data storage chips and fast food. 
Ramen Noodles at the Soba Daian

Peter, Jagjit and Bachan
Lunch was Ramen noodles at a small eatery called the Soba Daian located a ten minute walk from the Takashimaya on the other side of the station. Look for the Starbucks and head upstairs. Cute and cosy, we were sat six, seven and four respectively and looked forward to more beer and sake. Which we got. Daian is apparently legend when it comes to Ramen. The Daian noodles come from 100% domestically grown soba which is coarsely ground with a millstone and then hand-kneaded and handmade. Daian places great emphasis on preserving the soba’s original fresh flavor and so added ingredients are kept to a minimum. I think we all had the Chef's Special Course for lunch, which included Assorted Appetizers, Assorted Raw Fish "SASHIMI", Charcoal Grilled Dishes, Hot Dishes, Salad, Deep-Fried Dishes, choice of Favorite Handmade Soba Noodle, and Dessert. The barley tea was interesting - wholesome and warming with a slightly woody taste. The noodles were very wheatey and almost bran like, wholesome and firm. We got our first taste of fresh wasabi too - we had to grate it and then add it to the soy sauce. Good soul warming stuff, perfect for the weather and not too heavy. Food was fresh and everyone seemed happy. Me especially - I was now able to take photos again!

John, Geeta and Tony-san
Soba Daian
Tel 03 3352 5113

Back on the bus and across Tokyo to the Edo Tokyo museum which was very instructive on the city's development. On the way we passed the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. It is here where some Japanese convicted as WW2 war criminals have been enshrined and when all the Japanese VVIPs go to pay homage to the "honoured" dead, those nations who suffered at the hands of these people get naturally upset. The upset seems to be caused by present leaders paying homage and not appearing apologetic for past actions. Whether a formal apology would work now is far from clear, though some sources (ie Wikipedia) seems to suggest that the mindset is set against since it is not absolutely proven that the individuals were in fact criminals. Hmmmm….  Whatever, Yasukuni remains a sore that continues to fester and a rod with which China, South Korea and Taiwan can rail at its offshore neighbour. Seems there really is something that Mainland China and Taiwan can agree upon. 

Guardian at the Gate of the Edo Bridge
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is a brilliant exhibition of life and artefacts during the growth of Tokyo, replete with town models and replicas of bridges and kabuki theaters. It is the museum where visitors come to learn more about Tokyo’s history and culture. Established in 1993 as a facility to preserve the historical heritage of Edo-Tokyo, the exhibition is divided into three zones - the Edo Zone, the Tokyo Zone and the Second Event Exhibition. Its main features are the life-size replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge leading into Edo; the Nakamuraza theatre; and scale models of towns and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Shōwa periods.

The museum is located in Ryōgoku adjacent to the Ryōgoku Kokugikan. Open 9.30 to 5.30pm (7.30pm Saturdays, closed on Mondays), admission fee gets you free audio guides, wheelchairs, and baby carriages as necessary. It was a bit of a walk to see everything, so some took the free wheelchair to stop the knees getting too stiff.

I'm Si---inging in the Rain...
At the beginning of the Edo Zone on the 6th floor is a startling replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge which you have to cross to begin the tour.  Once across the bridge, you get an introduction to the politics of the Edo Era through brilliantly detailed scale models of the growing city. As you descend to the 5th floor, you then get displays and models and reconstructions portraying the lifestyles, economic activities, and the culture of the Edo Era. There are some superb exhibits of business papers and craftsmen tools that have been collected and preserved. The Kabuki Theatre reconstruction and the models and costumes were stunning.

The Tokyo Zone starts at the conversion from the Edo Era to the Tokyo Era, and European and American influences that first started in the Meiji Era can be seen. This is followed by the reconstruction periods that occurred after the earthquake and WWII, again depicted through detailed models and excellently preserved treasures of the times. Downside was that it was a bit too dark for good photos with my Sony point and shoot, but it was fascinating to see how people lived through the years. Very good museum shop. 

Kabuki Theatre reconstruction
Back to the hotel for a quick rest and relax and a meet for on the bus at 6pm to drive to dinner. This was to be at the Tan Etsu Japanese Restaurant in what is known locally as the Midi Complex located in Roppongi. Arriving at the roadside, the Midi entrance looked like Christmas with trees festooned with fairy lights along the building inset. We ascended what seemed to be about six escalators before arriving at the restaurant door. Coats got divested and we were quickly seated on a long table and served with wheat beer to start the night. Another long room with seats along one wall and tables and chairs squeezed into the remaining space. 

Setting at the Tan Etsu
Dinner would prove to be a belter. After the starter beer, each table of four got presented with a bigass 1.6liter bottle of Sake with instruction that it had to be finished before we could leave. We would also get some very good Sake later from Tony-san. Om.

First out was an amazing layered and light Bean Curd. Not normally a fan of this bland rubbery stuff, this one totally worked. As said, it was layered and lighter than the Malaysian stuff we are used to. The layering gave it a firmness which helped make for a brilliant textural squeeze and bite. And when dipped in a paired milky kind of sauce with a dash of soy and wasabi to give a little kick, the result was brilliant. 

The Egg Custard that followed had a firmly sweet scallop planted within the sweet broth that had been splashed with a spritz of Yuzu. It was light, sweet, delicate and totally wonderful. If the Scallop had been day fresh instead of chewy (read: suspect frozen) the dish would have been awesome. 

Eggplant with Sweet Spice Dark Sauce - incredible
Skating Rink from the Verandah
Next out was was an Eggplant / aubergine style vegetable coated with some dark sweet sauce and a bowl of miso. It looked a bit odd but it totally worked. The sweet umami of the rich sauce and the miso with the blandish taste and melting texture of the vegetable somehow brought it together in the mouth. We had this with what the staff called Japanese Pepper (Sansho, also called Japanese Pricklyash made from the berries of a spiny bush) and Japanese Parsley (Kinome, which are the tree shoots off the berries). Together they stayed in the mouth with a clean long spritzy and tingling finish and helped set off the vegetable mush. Very tasty, squishy texture, clean spritz in the mouth. Cold sake washed it down a treat.

It was getting a bit humid in the place. Thankfully, the restaurant had a door at the back which became necessary to open to let some much needed cool air in to combat the stuffiness resulting from the heating and the bodies. Outside was quite pleasant, with a verandah from which we could see people skating on what we were told was a public ice rink. Very charming. The smokers were very happy. 

Tempura with Lime. And Beer. And Sake.
Back inside, we got a chunk of lime to squeeze on the Tempura which was new, though it didn't seem to make much of a difference. The batter was already a bit squidgy and the lime just made it more so. Though the prawn was wonderfully fresh. Verdict - okay only.

The Sashimi out next was firm and tasty though somehow not entirely magnificent. The Sailfish was nice, the Toro was good, but the Squid was a chunk of rubber. Gosh, we get fussy when we have tasted excellence, don't we? Need to remember that good is still good and we could be eating stale bread in another universe. Maintain attitudes of gratitude, always. 

Grilled Salmon
The grilled Salmon we got had a lovely burnt crispy crunch on the skin but remained a bit overcooked and dried for texture. The second less cooked piece was so much better, with nice oil softening the flesh. Good seasalt flakes of tasty fish. Yum. 

Bamboo. Shoots. And Leaves.
Next out was Bamboo Shoots with Seaweed Leaves and Stock. This was a textural thing, combining the firm crunch of the Bamboo with the slime of the seaweed. I guess it was okay. The notes say the leaves of the sea were very flavourful. Not much else.

The Fried Rice. Needed zip.
The Fried Rice looked magnificent in the kettle, all full of lobster and seafood and vegetable bits. Sadly, the taste was a bit snuzz and bland and lacking punch. Again, maybe a cultural thing and the chef thought that the rice would be appreciated. It was, but it was just that it wasn't brilliant. No one does Fried Rice like the Chinese. Should have put the Lenglui in the kitchen to fry it up - the Mei Fun she cooks up is Brahma.

Throughout the evening the service was excellent. Ali from Algeria was a brilliant host. He was half Barbar but with a USA accent. He wrote out the menu, explained the food and even got a photocopy of the menu for me (which at this time seems to have got lost). 

Sake wise, we had polished off the megabottle each table of four had been required to consume and were now on the good stuff courtesy of Tony-san. Don't have the name of it but the third one out was excellent, tasting of fire and ice. Perfect for the outdoor verandah taking in the public ice skating rink with a breath of the frosty evening air.  

Interior of Tan Etsu
In sum, excellent food, though the rice disappointed. Everything else was stellar. Recommended for food, ambience and service. Back on the bus for an uneventful and in restrospect anticlimactic return to the hotel. Would definitely return to Tan Etsu. 

Tan Etsu Japanese Restaurant
Tel 03 5413 8668

No menu at this time.

Peter and Pinky
Rajan. Stephanie and Prakash. With the Blue Bottle. Duly drunk. Yes.

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