Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dec 29, 2011 Part 3/3 - 農家の台所

I didn't carry a travel guide with me on this trip. So, I went to Kinokuni bookstore in Shinjuku, picked up a Shinjuku food guide, and tried to see what's good for dinner. Something caught my eyes - 野菜料理, or vegetarian cuisine. Actually, it turned out that it's not vegetarian, but instead more like organic. Basically, it's cuisine for the health conscious.

The magazine recommended 3 such restaurants near the Shinjuku station. The first one, Vegi Dining (べジダイニング), was full and they told me it'd be an hour wait. So, I headed to the 2nd one, 農家の台所, literally Farmer's Home Kitchen. And what a surprise! It's the most interesting experience thus far. It's not cheap though, as I spent close to US$80 on this meal. But I think it's worth the experience alone.

There're 6 Farmer's Home Kitchen restaurants in Japan, 5 in the Tokyo metro area, and 1 in Hiroshima. This Shinjuku branch restaurant is their 3rd one. They bought all their ingredients directly from farmers across Japan, all of them organically grown.

This is the entrance to the restaurant. Look at the 2nd picture. It surely looks more like a supermarket. And yes, you can buy things like salt and various sauces from the restaurant.

Upon entering the restaurant, I immediately noticed that 95% of the customers were female. I counted only 5 men. Interesting enough, 3 of them, including myself, are not of Japanese origin. I guess organic food is not well accepted by Japanese male yet.

For dinner, they serve a prefix menu, with various choices for the the pre-main dish (The menu says 前菜. It's not appetizer as it's a little bit bigger than a regular appetizer) and main dish.

But first, the drink.

Starting from the left, fresh peach juice, mandarin orange (ミカン) juice, and apple juice.

This is the appetizer, and my Japanese is not good enough to understand what the server was saying. It tasted like potato so I guess it must be some sort of sweet potato.

Then the salad bar. Each customer got to pick what they want. Just by looking at the picture, don't you think it's much more attractive than Sweet Tomato?

Here's a full view of the salad I picked.

And exactly what are the following? I only know that they taste good :P

Sweet potato soup.

Pork smoked with sakura wood.

Japanese beef with mushroom and ... well, I didn't know what kind of vegetable it was.

Ginger chocolate cake.

I have to say I was not impressed by the desert. Some people might like it. Now I know that I am not a fan of mixing ginger and chocolate. In fact, I was given 6 choices and I chose this one for adventure. I was considering 2 others, ginseng (人参) cake and tamago with pumpkin. Better choose them next them.

Finally, they recommended me this sweet potato coffee, which the server explained it's actually sweet potato tea with a coffee taste.

Somehow, I couldn't discern the sweet potato. It just tasted like water added to coffee.

But all in all, what an experience! Oh! One more thing, I found out at the end that for the salad bar, there's actually unlimited "refill". Well, next time.

This is just perfect before I go to Nikko tomorrow, as the dinner served by the hotel there will certainly be on the heavy side.

Dec 29, 2011 Part 2/3 - あゆみ@代々木

Yesterday, I went to Shinjuku Gyoen and today I decided to go a park again. This time, I went to the Yoyogi park (代々木公園) which is located beside Meiji Jingu (明治神宮). I really missed the relatively spacious Bay Area. Also, I think the air is better in the Bay Area than Tokyo. So, to the park I escaped!

These 3 are practicing some special musical instrument made out of small sand bags so when you shake them and collide them they produce a distinct beat.

And a young girl hiring a photographer to preserve her precious memories.

And here's a view from the park looking in the direction of Shinjuku.

When I exited the park on my way to the subway station, I noticed a huge crowd across the park at the Yoyogi National Stadium.

What's happening?

Oh! It's the Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ) concert!!! The items you saw are souvenirs and they're selling like crazy. The concert will take place tonight, tomorrow and Dec 31, with the last one having a count down to the New Year with her fans. I haven't listened to her songs, but she's supposed to be the most successful J-pop singer since the beginning of J-pop! I also heard that she wrote all the songs' lyrics herself.

Lastly, a group of fans posing before entering the concert venue.

Dec 29, 2011 Part 1/3 - 東京駅で

Went to Tokyo train station late morning to do some shopping. At this point, I'm refraining myself from heavy shopping since I have 10 more days to go (hence 10 more days of extra baggage), and I'll return to Tokyo for 3 more nights after Nikko. Last year's sickness towards the end of the trip scares me. If I got sick like last year, then I'll have no time to shop… Let's be optimistic.

According to my experience last year, it'll be harder and harder to find food this time of the year. I know it sounds like a hungry bear warning his kids, but most restaurants in Japan closes from Dec 28 through Jan 3. So far, it's not a problem. And speaking about food, you may wonder why I haven't had any sushi or sashimi yet, given that I love them so much. Well, my Japanese co-worker told me that the fish market closes after Christmas and throughout the New Year, and therefore fish is not as fresh this time of the year. So, I'll have to wait until I return from Nikko, hopefully.

Enough paranoia. Let's get to lunch. I found out a Ramen street (literally らーめんストリート) inside the Tokyo train station. There're 6-8 different Ramen shops. There's a huge TV that continuously advertised each ramen shop in turn. The chefs all posed like challengers in Iron Chef!

At 12 noon, there's a long line in front of each restaurant. And this was the longest line, going for the Ramen place Rokurinsha (六厘舎).

And it continues...

And continues...

And continues...

The sign in front of the line said "Head of 2nd line." And at the end of this 2nd line, there's a sign that told you in case there's a need for a 3rd line, it should start in front of the staircase at the corner!

I would usually line up at the longest line, but this time I chose a ramen place called Mutsumiya (むつみ屋), which turned out to have the shortest line.

It serves Hokkaido style ramen, a style that I love. Maybe it's because the noodle resembles the instant noodle, Doll (公仔麵), that I used to eat in Hong Kong. So, here they are: thick miso ramen + gyoza.

The soup was interesting because it had a strong taste of onion.

After lunch, I went to Starbucks for a grande latte. It's much more expensive than US due to the recent (well, I guess not so recent) surge of the yen :(

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dec 28, 2011 - 初めて新宿御苑へ

Even though I haven't slept for almost 24 hours and was extremely tired, I still managed to woke up every 3-4 hours. Damn the jet lag!

In the morning, I went to Asakusa (浅草) and reserved my train ticket to Nikko (日光) for the day after tomorrow. I remembered I read somewhere before that there're some very good restaurants in Asakusa for unagi. And with the help of a tourist guide map that I picked up at the train station, I found this place called Kawamatsu (川松). It's quite expensive. I ordered their mini-unadon set and by the time I thought I should take a picture, I'm already half way through the unagi! In the Bay Area, restaurants usually has a heavy hand with that special unagi sauce. But at this restaurant, the amount of sauce was just appropriate that I could taste the fish itself.

Then, nap time! I didn't want to go back to the hotel because the room was small and I couldn't adjust the heater. And since I haven't been to Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑), I decided to have a look and take a nap there. It's winter time and so there's not much to see. But they did have a stadium of grass that I just laid there, enjoying the sun's warmth and the fresh air. And how lucky. They'll close from Dec 29 through Jan 3 so today's the last day they open for the year. Here's a photo I took in their garden.

For dinner, I decided to return to this familiar restaurant in Shibuya (渋谷) called Pomme-no-ki (ポムの樹). They're famous for their omelette rice and I found it last year. It's an interesting story how I got to know this restaurant. My Dad regularly reads a Hong Kong columnist called Daisy Wong (黃迪詩). She (well, we actually don't know the columnist's gender and there's speculation that it's a he) once talked about this restaurant and my Dad cut out her newspaper article for me. Even though I had the address, it took me some effort to find it last year. Everything's reasonably priced and I think the food I got exceeded the value I paid.

When I was there today, they're having a seasonal lunch/dinner set.

First, the drink - melon soda. Salad's on the right.

I didn't like the so called melon soda. It tasted like the coughing medicine I took when I was small.

And here's the main dish. Oops! Again, I was half way through the dish when I suddenly forgot to take a picture! I must be very hungry, and I was. So, here's the picture from the menu. Unlike most pictorial menus, this one is actually very close to the real thing.

Finally, the desert - chocolate ice-cream with banana.

I returned to my hotel very satisfied.

Dec 27, 2011 - 日本到着!

Last year, when I was also traveling in Japan, I became very sick towards the last 2 days of the trip. Before I left this time, one of my friends gave me this advice. "Eat their tofu upon arrival." The theory is that I'll get the local bacteria into my body, and hence make myself immune. So, here I am, looking for tofu in Shinjuku.

The lady at the front desk was kind enough and recommended me to this superb place called Tofuro (土風炉). It's less than 5 minutes from the hotel on foot. I guess it's kind of a isakaya (居酒屋), judging from its menu.

I ordered their soba and 2 tofu dishes. Here's the soba.

It's the first time I was given raw wasabi.

And here's the first tofu dish, dekitate tofu (出来たて豆腐). The side dish on the right was wasabi and salt.

And the second tofu dish is called mocchiri tofu (もっちり豆腐).

The texture was like cheese. The tofu itself was not sweet, but the caramel-like sauce on top was.

Everything was so delicious! 美味しかった!

By the time I returned to the hotel, it's already 10:30pm. I have not slept for almost 24 hours!