I’ve become a bit of a ramen maniac since coming to Japan and now always look forward to finding a new good place for steaming noodles. Recent trips to the Shinagawa/Takanawa area (trying to get some bussiness) introduced me to an interesting walk-o-ramen called 品達 (shintatsu) under the Yamanote Line tracks close to Shinagawa station. This place offers eight–count ’em, eight–different ramen shops under one “roof”. Only the Ramen Museum has more, as far as I know. Anyway, I went the first time and had some weird “black miso” ramen that was average, and then went back with co-worker J for another shot.
This time we tried Higomonz, a place that specializes in Kumamoto-style ramen (my favorite, natch) and walked away very full and very impressed. The excellent soup was tonkotsu style–a typical ramen broth made with pork bones and other odds-and-ends, most popular down South–and the noodles just the right firmness and weight. As an added bonus there were three morsels of kakuni (thick chunks of fat-lined pork) thrown in as well to give the thing a succulent, 贅沢な richness.
Don’t even want to think of the calories in that bowl, but we sure left feeling satisifed. Lunchtime brings big crowds and long lines, so be ready to wait unless you can skirt the busy times…
Located maybe a minute from our office is Concombre, an exceptional little French bistro that serves a wickedly good lunch for around 1500 yen. The room is small and the tables packed closely enough together that you can sometimes hear your neighbor chew. But what Concombre lacks in elbow room it makes up for with great dishes and artful presentation. Even the 1000 yen set lunches come on a heavy silver tray, with the main course tucked inside a covered silver dish.
All of the lunches are served with soup, salad, bread, dessert and coffee, all skillfully prepared in generous portions that make you forget you’re dining in Tokyo. (Anyone whose enjoyed one of those 3 leaf “salads” you find in some lesser restaurants knows what I mean.) Free refills on coffee and a friendly staff make Concombre a place not to miss! Almost as good as Beacon, but without all the suits and styling gel.
Located next door to my alma mater Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku in Aoyama, Amour Superieur is a tiny restaurant with seating for 20 which specializes in “LOHAS French” cuisine. When we visited for the first time for lunch Chef Kumatani was the only person minding the store, and he deftly handled everything–seating, serving and preparation. We opted for simple course lunches, with me ordering the 糸より鯛 (golden threadfin bream, 1600 yen) and my companion having a shrimp and scallop salad (1200 yen).
The dishes were both exquisitely prepared to perfection. The shrimp and scallops were tender, flavorful and with just the right firmness on the outside. The bream was similarly well done, with crispy, lightly-battered skin and wonderfully succulent flesh. The portion was quite small, sadly, but the sauce and grilled vegetables somehow made up for it. Pricey, yes, but the quality and presentation is exceptional. My only regret is that we didn’t order wine. Well, there’s always next time…
I’ve decided to start writing simple reviews of the restaurants in the area here (Shibuya and Aoyama, mostly) that I frequent for lunch. Always on the lookup for simple fodder that let me take photos with the new camera (details forthcoming) and add content to my long-abandoned blog. With that…
Beacon bills itself as an “urban chop house” and is the latest venture by well-known local chef David Chiddo. He and his partner also run T.Y. Harbor Brewery and Cicada in Hiroo. I haven’t been for dinner yet but I’m told the food is excellent and very expensive.
I do go for lunch once every two or three weeks, though, because the food is fantastic and the “power dining” experience is a refreshing change from the standard 1000 yen 和食 set lunch I typically endure come lunchtime. Also, the price is right at between 1200 and 1600 yen.
Yesterday I met with some old friends who run a company here called BlueShift. On arrival I was happy to see that we managed to get one of the swanky booths that line one side of the room. However, I got stuck facing the wall instead of the room and so ended up missing out on the people watching that makes a Beacon lunch good fun.
I ordered the Grilled half chicken “frango style” with veggies (ポルトガル風ハーフグリルチキンと温野菜). At 1600 yen this was the most expensive item on the menu but every bit worth the price. The chicken was grilled to perfection, with crispy, oil-free skin and tender juicy meat. The vegetables that accompanied it were also perfectly done, and the whole thing lay in a shallow, thin sauce with just the right level of spicy zest. Add to that complimentary bread and herb tea and you’ve got yourself a fantastic lunch experience. For power lunches and entertaining clients in Shibuya it can’t be beat.
I attended my first wine tasting dinner by The Vine (one of our clients) last night at Legato in Shibuya. Legato’s parent company Global Dining is also a customer of ours, so you could say it was a familiar setting even though the event was my first.The Vine’s owner James conducted the proceedings and did a fine job of discussing the wines, answering questions and generally keeping things interesting.
All of the wines featured that night were all of the appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of my recent favorites from the Soutnhern Rhone valley. These are rustic, strapping wines of often dazzling complexity, and are seen as some of the best value-for-money wines coming out of France these days (mostly thanks to vigorous promotion by Robert Parker).
James prepared a selecton of reds and whites from the 2005 and 2006 vintages, with the former generally thought of as being the better year of the two due to perfectly timed rains a month before the harvest that year. These rains, which spelt disaster for some of the other wine producing regions, arrived at just the right time in the Rhone to plump up the grapes, infusing them with a rich and vibrant succulence. The extra juice lends a fruitiness to the smoke and pepper undertones of these great wines.
The wines served that evening were:
1. Bois de Boursan Blanc 2006.
2. Clos du Caillou Blanc 2006.
3. Pierre Usseglio 2005.
4. Bois de Boursan 2005.
5. Charvin 2005.
6. Clos du Caillou 2005.
7. Bois de Boursan Felix 2005.
8. Clos du Caillou Quartz 2005.
My favorites of the evening were all of the Clos du Caillou and the Charvin, while I found the offerings from Bois de Boursan to be a bit too pungent and leathery. James attributed my ranking of them this way to a simple lack of appreciation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s intrinsic rustic nature, which the Bois de Boursan wines apparently typify. For me, I just found them to be a bit too, well, stinky, and stuck by my guns (and the Clos du Caillou!).
The food was great (if a bit spare), with each of the four courses matching the wines perfectly. All in all a great tour of some recents offerings from the “New Castle of the Pope,” but I have to say the premium attendance price means I’ll probably not be joining all of the Vine events that come along. My budget for such things is closer to the 5500 yen or so charged by ORCA International for their wine parties, unpretentious one-glass affairs which involve less “tasting” and more drinking of their fine Pacific Northwest wines.
Here’s an great recipe which uses ingredients from your local しょぼい Tokyu Store or 丸正. Moreover, it’s super-easy and always gets rave reviews. (Okay, I’ve actually only cooked it once, but we all thought it was pretty good.) Anyway, here’s what you’ll need:
12 Shiitake mushrooms (Japanese-grown, not Chinese, if you want to avoid getting a load chemicals along with your champignon)
12 surimi chickn balls (these are the ones typically used for nabe dishes and come in packs of twelve)
Blue or Gorgonzola cheese
Chopped black olives
Olive oil, butter, sherry, salt, pepper, etc.
In a small fry pan, sautee the onions, garlic and black olives in butter and olive oil.
Meanwhile, remove the stems from the mushrooms and then slice off the protruding center of the opposite side of the cap to create a flat surface.
In another fry pan, melt some butter and lightly sautee the mushroom caps.
Remove the mushrooms to a shallow baking dish, stem-side up.
Remove the onions, etc. in (1) to a side dish.
Using the same fry pan, lighly sear the surimi chicken balls. (A splash of Tio Pepe or other Sherry at the end under a tight-fitting lid will provide a nice, savory finish.) Remove.
Place a small dollop of blue cheese in each cap, then cover that with a surimi ball.
Drizzle the onions and black olives from (1) over the top of the stuffed mushrooms, then grill for 15 minutes.
Remove to a serving dish, then pour the liquid for the baking dish over the top.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.