Monday, August 24, 2015

LOLLA

PCasa GT Singapore, Lolla
When I first arrived in Singapore in 2013, I had already heard about Lolla after reading a  rave review from the New York Times so it was always on my go-to list.  Since they don't take any evening bookings, I kept putting it off as I didn't want to risk arriving hungry on a busy Friday and not be able to eat.  Two years have gone by quickly and it was time to try Lolla so I got a group of ladies together for lunch the other day.  I arrived early and was told that our group of six would be seated at the communal table downstairs.  When I said there would only be five of us instead of six and requested if we could sit on the counter instead, the efficient and courteous manager asked some customers who were already seated if they wouldn't mind to move to the corner so she could free up five seats in a row on the counter and seat our group together.
I love sitting on a counter with a full view of the kitchen.  It's one of the best ways to enjoy a restaurant, especially solo, since it gives me an idea of what food they serve and the ingredients they use.  Lolla was no different - I entertained myself while waiting by watching the chefs prepare and plate several dishes and already making my choices for what we should order for lunch.  Lolla serves sharing plates, most of which are bigger than a starter and smaller than a main course.  There is a concise menu of meat, fish and vegetables and a few starters and desserts.  There are also half a dozen specials on the board and their list of cheeses.  The food at Lolla is about showcasing fresh ingredients by cooking them simply.  
We started out with toasted sourdough bread ($4) accompanied by Kombu butter ($7) and pureed San Marzano tomatoes ($9).  The butter was flecked with Kombu (kelp) which was umami in a single bite and the tomato puree was a take on the Spanish pan con tomato accompanied by sweet roasted garlic.  The rest of our shared lunch was served as soon as the chefs plated them, and not in any particular order.  We had their signature squid ink pudding topped with yellow-gold lobes of sea urchin (half portion $22 or full portion $42) which we passed around for a rich teaspoonful each.  Next came the chutoro (tuna belly) tartar ($42) - large chunks of melt-in-the-mouth tuna belly tossed in a vinaigrette which we ate accompanied with the sourdough toast.  Two blackboard specials came next - the roasted lamb belly with edamame and oven-roasted tomatoes ($28) and the candied foie gras ($36) plus the grilled Iberia pork collar ($26) from their regular menu, along with three sides: duck fat potatoes ($13), sautéed cavolo nero ($19) and a tomato salad ($15).  The foie gras was creamy, the lamb belly was tender, the Iberia pork was smoky sweet.  The duck fat potatoes were crisp, the kale-like cavolo nero was intensely bittersweet, the tomatoes were like fruit candy.  This is food that hasn't been played with, just food that's meant to be savored with the simple cooking used to highlight the freshness and enhance the flavors.  Lolla is all about back-to-basics cuisine.  It's about sitting down with friends over a meal with good wine and great food, yet not letting the food take over the conversation.  It's food that doesn't need a long-winded explanation or lengthy description.  It's the kind of food I went to cooking school to learn to make.  Lolla is my kind of place and I will definitely be back for more.
______________________________________
22 Ann Siang Road, 069702 Singapore
Telephone: +65 6423 1228
*Open Mondays to Saturdays from noon to 2:30 p.m. then from 6 to 11 pm.  Closed on Sundays and public holidays.  
*Walk-ins only for the counter, reservations can be made for the basement communal table.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Flashback Friday: BRASSERIE LIPP

PCasa GT Paris, Lipp
It's a hazy Friday in Singapore and it looks like we're going to have a rainy weekend up ahead which is why I decided to do a "Flashback Friday" post which I'll try to do weekly to help me catch up on all the other restaurants I haven't been able to write about.
Today's post goes back to Paris on another dark gloomy November Friday when A and I went back to this Saint-Germain-des-Pres institution - Brasserie Lipp.  The Lipp is a classic Alsatian brasserie opened in 1880 and has since been a classic on the busy boulevard.  The art-deco interiors of yellow tiles, floral Belle Epoque ceramics and smoke-stained mirrors have been the same since 1926, and if those walls could talk, they would speak of presidents and politicians, writers and actors, starving artists and con artists and le gratin (upper crust) of Paris who have, at one time or another, made chez Lipp their local hangout.
When I used to live in Paris in the early nineties, Brasserie Lipp was a treat since I was on a student budget and meals there were usually had when the parents were visiting or with friends on expense accounts. Later on, after A and I met, Brasserie Lipp was where we'd go for lunch while we walked around our favorite Parisian arrondissement, always crossing our fingers that the white-haired manager would seat us in one of the coveted ground floor tables (VVIP's usually get the front room), and not upstairs in restaurant Siberia.  We arrived at the peak of lunch hour and were led to the crowded back room to a banquette (yes!) where we could sit side by side - always an issue because both A and I love the more comfortable banquette and always take dibs on who gets it first. Our cozy table afforded us a view of the full room for perfect people watching which is always half the fun.
The menu at Lipp is simple - it's always been a single yellow cardboard with the food in one long list - oysters and caviar, hors d'oeuvres, plats du jour, specials listed in red, Friday plats du jour, an additional hand-written special, cheeses and desserts.  The food is classic Alsatian brasserie fare, nothing fancy, so don't expect gourmet cuisine.  It's just food done right or correct as the French say.
We started off with celeri remoulade (€9.50) - grated celery root tossed in a mustardy dressing and filets de harengs pomme a l'huile (€12.50) - A's favorite of vinegary herring filets with boiled potatoes drizzled in olive oil - both classic brasserie starters which we shared.  Before our next course was brought out, the professional white-jacketed waiter started to clear our starters when A asked if he could leave the unfinished celery on the table, a major French dining faux-pas,  and the waiter was surprised but agreed.  Our main dishes, my confit de cuisse de canard (€22.50) - duck leg confit with roast new potatoes and the Friday plat du jour for A of raie au beurre (€24) - skate wing sautéed in butter, were served soon after.  We took our time with lunch, enjoying our meal amidst the noise of a bustling restaurant where everyone seemed to be having fun while the waiters were rushing around balancing trays and dishes through the crowded room.  It was only when the place started to quiet down and the midday crowd left to go back to work, that we finally finished.
We couldn't resist sharing a dessert and debated between the popular millefeuille or another favorite, the ile flottante (€9.50) and finally settled for the latter.  Before the waiter cleared the plates, he asked with a smile if A wanted to have the rest of the celery with the dessert which showed that he wasn't that serious and had a sense of humor after all.  We all had a good laugh then polished off the large caramelized sugar-domed meringue floating in a bowlful of vanilla flavored custard cream (hence it's floating island name).  After our long leisurely lunch, we meandered the twenty blocks back from Saint-Germain-des-pres to the adjacent 7th arrondissement - just a couple of flâneurs taking our time to appreciate the beauty of Paris.
_____________________________________________
151 Blvd. Saint Germain 75006, Paris
*Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.   
*No reservations

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

TIPPLING CLUB


PCasa GT Singapore, Tippling Club


No better place to kickstart my blog than a meal at the Tippling Club - one of Singapore's best restaurants where Chef Ryan Clift has been impressing diners with his inventive cuisine since he opened his counter restaurant in Dempsey in 2009.  I had been once to Tippling Club in July 2011 and heard that since then, they had moved to a brand new location near Chinatown in late 2013.  Located in three adjacent shophouses in the bustling restaurant street of Tanjong Pagar, Tippling Club's new interiors are a unique mix of old and new - antique Peranakan floor tiles in the bar area and glossy green subway tiles in the large show kitchen, upcycled wooden planks for the ceiling, recycled timber for the floor, vintage lamps for the kitchen counter and a mix and match of lighting fixtures for the main dining area but keeping to the overall green color scheme.  The usual creative cocktails are still present along with a concise bar snacks menu of modern tapas, and there is now a monthly prix-fixe lunch menu (Two course at SGD$43++ or three courses SGD$58++) along with the usual dinner tasting menus (5-course Classic SGD$160++ or SGD$260++ with wine pairing, 10-course Gourmand SGD$265++ or SGD$420++ with wine pairing and an equivalent Classic and Gourmand vegetarian menu).  I went back recently for lunch and was impressed with the changes to the menu - less of the tiny plate molecular gastronomy stuff that used to be served to a more approachable version of modern cuisine - which made me decide to book a table for dinner two weeks later.

A and I arrived a bit early for our 8:30 p.m. reservation during the long weekend of jubilee celebrations for Singapore's 50th birthday and had time to look carefully through the menu while waiting for our friends to arrive.  We decided to order the chive croquettes from their bar menu which arrived soon after our friends were seated - five piping hot croquettes topped with roe and accompanied by a warm Parmesan foam dip.  We all opted for the five-course classic tasting menu and aside from one substitution for the appetizer, we were all ready for our degustation dinner which we were going to have with a bottle of Venta Las Vacas 2012 Ribera del Duero.

First up were the snacks, small plates of culinary inventions that has made Tippling Club famous.  We started with a dollop of warm tom yum flavored cream with basil tempura followed by the beef tendon cracker dusted with a tomato powder which was like airy pork crackling that tasted of a cheese-less pizza Margherita.  The third snack was their signature charred peppers and soy miso dip served on a slate with some large tweezers (I remember this one from 2011) and the final snack was their tomato lava lamp - a shot glass where oil and vinegar flavored tomato water is poured so that bubbles float up to the surface and make it look like a tiny lava lamp.  It was an entertaining and fun start to our meal which gave us a little taste of what they had in store.

PCasa GT Singapore, Tippling Club1

The cold appetizer of eel, charred shallot, mustard ice cream seemed so straightforward after the molecular snacks but the flavors were very well-executed - jellied eel contrasted with the pickled pearl onions, crumbs, crisp shallot and mustard ice cream.  A opted for the foie gras instead of the eel and was presented with a dollop of hummus-like foie gras with cubes of apples, green grapes and an oven-dried apple chip.  A warm appetizer of scallops came next hidden underneath a black pasta sheet onto which creamy purple garlic soup was poured which almost dissolved the ravioli-like squid ink pasta and mixed in with the parsley root and almost raw paper-thin scallop layers.  Two main courses followed:  roast rockling fish on a bed of shaved beetroot topped with alternating thin slices of smoked ox tongue and fresh beet root, the tongue tasted like corned beef while the beets were sweet and went well with what would have a bland chunk of fish without the interesting ingredients added on; the meat course was a roast pigeon breast, confit of pigeon leg, cep puree, truffle macaroni and a truffle infused sauce Perigourdine.  There was an optional cheese course (for an extra SGD$20) which we would have ordered if we had more time but since A was leaving very late that evening for the Virtuoso Travel week in Las Vegas, we went straight to dessert - textured milk which was a dollop coconut milk tapioca, topped with frozen yoghurt and crunchy milk-flavored meringue - a light palate end to our decadent meal.  Last but not least was their tray of signature mignardises which accompanied the coffee.
Service throughout was courteous, friendly and unobtrusive and the added touch of having different chefs come out to explain each of the courses as they were served, made the meal more interesting.  Tippling Club obviously isn't a bargain but with the quality of the produce, the innovative cuisine and the good-sized portions, it's a dinner worth saving up for.  In any case, there's always the equally good set lunch menu if you'd like to give it a try (photos of my recent lunch below).

38 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088461
Telephone: +65 6475 2217  or Email: enquiries@tipplingclub.com
Open Mondays to Fridays for lunch from noon to 3 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. till late; Saturdays for dinner from 6 p.m. till late
Bar is open Mondays to Fridays from noon to midnight and on Saturdays from 6 p.m. to midnight
Closed on Sundays
Public parking lot at nearby Duxton Hill or coupon street parking on Tanjong Pagar




PCasa GT Singapore, Tippling Club2

Sunday, August 09, 2015

OPRAH, September 2015

PCasa GT - Oprah 2015
Lots to be happy about today - Singapore, my current adopted city, is celebrating its' 50th birthday (#SG50) and my small feature in the September issue of Oprah magazine - perfect timing to get back to Travels with a Gourmet after months of putting everything blog-related on hold for family time.  It's amazing how half a year can just zoom by - summer is almost over, school is about to start (more time for my blog!) and Christmas is less than five months away (yikes).  What have I been up busy with?  2015 was a year of travel (Paris, Buenos Aires, Phuket, Hong Kong, Manila, Tokyo, Moscow and Bali) and I just couldn't post fast enough before we were off somewhere again plus I still need to blog about the new restaurants I've been to recently in Singapore.  Then family time and making and meeting up with new friends became so much fun that I didn't realize till now how much I've neglected my writing.  I know it's a little bit late to do start my new years' resolution but it's always better late than never right? So, I'm taking the Oprah feature as a sign that I need to get back to what I love to do - write about restaurants, food and travel and get back to my blog. Fingers crossed it'll be smooth blogging from now on.  In the meantime, Happy Birthday Singapore!  Time to see some fireworks.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SARSA


I'm in the middle of a one day juice fast of six juices from The Syndicate Juice Co. and after several hours of just drinking my meals, all I can think about is food, delicious food.  Since I can't eat anything, the second best thing is to write about my favorite Filipino restaurant in Manila - Sarsa Kitchen

Sarsa, named after the Filipino word for sauce, is a mainstay in the Filipino table.  Most meals are accompanied by an assortment of sauces: calamansi soy, chili vinegar, fish sauce, liver sauce, bagoong (a local fermented fish or shrimp paste) - the combinations are endless and Sarsa Kitchen is a contemporary take on classic Filipino food with some specialties from the south as the chef JP Anglo is from Negros.


The menu is a melange of classic Filipino dishes and several Negrense specialties.  All are well-executed - the grilled dishes are seared with the meat slightly blackened and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside - from inihaw na liempo (pork belly) to inasal (Southern-style grill) chicken parts (including intestines, tails, gizzard and liver). Bulalo, a Filipino version of pot au feu with beef, bone marrow and vegetables is done traditionally with soup and sizzling Kansi, served on a sizzling plate with gravy.  Vegetable dishes were also very good with the gising gising coconut milk prawn and beans to the roasted squash topped with crispy dilis (tiny fish).  We also enjoyed the pancit molo, a dumpling and noodle soup similar to wanton mee and Batchoy, a southern soup filled with misua, thin noodles and pork liver.  My mouth is watering from the memory of that meal - I can almost taste the starter of crispy dilis in the chili pineapple glaze.  I better stop writing or I'll give up this juice fast right now.

______________________________

Sarsa BGC
Forum South Global
7th Ave cor 25th Street, Bonifacio Global City
Tel. +63 2 866 0912 or +63 927 706 0773


A second branch recently opened:
Sarsa MOA

2F South Veranda
Entertainment Mall
Tel +63 915 307 1426

HAWKER CENTERS



2014 ended with a fantastic two-week trip a deux to Paris followed by my sisters' visit over the Christmas and New Year holidays.  2015 started out busy with dinner parties, getting the kids back to school and the the recent Chinese New Year celebrations and just like that, March is almost here. I wanted to get back to posting and I just couldn't write about another restaurant and ignore one of the best reasons for a foodie to love living in Singapore - hawker centers - that unique outdoor food court that locals love and frequent every day.


I've been to several over the years but it was only when we moved here that I was taken to several hawker centers by my friend D (you know who you are) who loves good food and good deal as much as I do.  We meet up about once a month to try out new places or hang out at food centers and do an afternoon of hawker-hopping . Our first trip was to the Zion Riverside Food Center (70 Zion Road), we tried the black carrot cake, which is actually not made with any carrot but with radish, wok-fried then tossed in dark soy sauce and also shared an ice jelly dessert. At another hawker center near Holland Village, we had the  wanton mee topped with char siew (roast pork), wilted greens and a few wantons with a plate of the classic chicken rice along with a fresh-pressed sugarcane and lemon juice.





Another time, we met up at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village (1220 East Coast Parkway, Bedok)  before going to the famous 328 Katong Laksa for spoon laksa  (where the noodles are cut short so you can it just with a spoon) - a large bowl of sinus-clearing prawn broth and coconut milk filled with rice noodles, cockles and prawns and served with a side order of banana-leaf wrapped otak-otak (ground fish meat mixed with tapioca and spices, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled) was a great lunch.  This was followed by another short drive to the Old Airport Road Food Center - a few blocks of hawker stalls in three separate buildings. There we had a delicious mutton soup - a clear broth with fresh herbs and mutton ribs from Hougang Jin Jia Mutton Soup (1-23) and the best bang for the buck I have ever had at a food court - the $5 fresh prawn noodle soup from Kallang Cantonese Prawn Noodle (1-83) - where the auntie fishes out three large live prawns from an aquarium and drops them into the piping hot prawn broth along with some noodles, fresh herbs and topped with chunks of crispy pork lard which melts into the broth.  I would drive all the way there just for that delicious bowl of soup. We finished our meal with some banana and jackfruit fritters along with a green fruit juice, the name of which escapes me at the moment.




Of course, our family favorite, Newton Hawker Center which we consider our "local", even if we live in Sentosa, is where we usually go when we just want a quick meal and can't be bothered to cook.  Many say that Newton is a rip-off and that it's expensive and tourist-filled but we still enjoy going there and eating at our preferred stalls - perfectly crispy gooey oyster omelets from Hup Kee, grilled pork satay from the uncle at the far end near the washrooms (I don't even know what his stall is called), hokkien mee - slightly soupy stir-fried yellow and white noodles with prawns, chili and herbs, hot and buttery roti to be dipped in the curry sauce or just eaten as is or fluffy garlic or butter naan with grilled prawns and crispy baby squid sotong goreng in the sticky sweet sauce.




Singapore's hawker centers are a great way to experience the local culture through food and even if I've been here for over a year now, I haven't even scratched the surface.  Thank goodness there's lots more to try and loads of new places to eat in.  Here's to more hawker-hopping with family and friends!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

THE MARKET GRILL


After a year in Singapore, we now have a few favorites - Luke's, for when we're feeling flush and then there's the "cheap and cheerful" version of Luke's - The Market Grill  - part of the Unlisted Collection of seven boutique hotels and fourteen restaurants mostly in Singapore but also in London, Shanghai and Sydney.  In Singapore, they also manage other trendy restaurants Bincho, Esquina, Pollen and Cocotte and the funky Majestic Hotel in Chinatown.

Located on bustling Telok Ayer street, The Market Grill is in a converted shophouse.  A long narrow room lined by a few formica-topped tables with a long counter making best use of the space.  Behind the counter is the open kitchen and grill.  They also have a large chiller where the different cuts of meat are displayed just like at a butcher which is why they specialize in grilled steaks.

I first went for lunch in the middle of the week with some friends and we made it a point to arrive early so we could get a table as they don't take reservations.  Good thing we did, as the place was packed by the office crowd by 12:30.  We started off with the artery-clogging oven roasted bone marrow (S$25) which came with caramelized red onions, a parsley and shallot salad, sea salt and two large marrow bones which we slathered onto slices of crisp toasted sourdough.  We never fail to order this when we eat there, even our 12-year old son asks for it when we're there.  This was followed by two side dishes  - the crispy pig's ears (S$18) with a garlic and herb vinegar dip and the onion matchsticks (S$8).  The pig's ears were superb - not greasy at all and still crispy, like chewy chips (much better than the soggy battered version at Pizzeria Mozza).  The onion matchsticks were addicting - I could have eaten a whole bowl on my own.  The three of us shared the lobster roll (S$45) - a soft sweet buttered roll filled with mayonnaise tossed lobster chunks served with fries and a green salad and a medium-rare 200-day grain fed, 200 gram Wagyu rump (S$40) which was served plain with a dollop of caramelized red onions.  Too full for dessert, we walked off our lunch and had a post-lunch coffee nearby.


On another occasion, I lunched with another friend and we sat at the counter and had another enjoyable lunch - the usual bone marrow to start then I had the grilled Maine lobster (S$45) about 500 grams, served simply with butter, lemon, a green salad and mashed potatoes which they gladly substituted for french fries while my friend had a 400-day grain fed, 200 gram Black Angus bavette (S$40) with fries.  No dessert again.

We've been back again several times with the kids (for dinner and we always had to sit on the counter) and tried the 150 gram CW (Chef Colin West's initials) Burger Breakfast (S$23) which comes with a sunny side up egg, bacon and aged cheddar.  Their beef burgers are available in either 150 grams or 200 grams (from S$22 to S$33) and they also have a cod fish burger and a chicken burger for those who are avoiding red meat.  We also had the Terres Major and  Lobster - a 300 grams artisanal cut of beef with a 500 gram lobster, both grilled and served with a green salad, french fries and strangely enough, just red wine sauce for the meat, you'll have to order the butter sauce separately and pay extra for it.  The kids had to have dessert so we all shared a plate of churros which could have been perfect except for the non-traditional covering of cinnamon sugar (proper churros are served plain) and a tiny pot of melted chocolate.  Trust me, you'll have to ask for more chocolate to dip the churros in as there isn't enough for the three large churros.

The Market Grill is our go-to when we're hankering for a grilled steak or a lobster and with the usual prices for steak and lobster at other high-end Singapore restaurants, this place hits the spot and doesn't leave one with a hole in their pocket.  We'll definitely be coming back.


_______________________________
208 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068642
Telephone: +65 6221 3323
*Open Monday to Saturday for lunch (11h30 a.m. to 2h30 p.m.)  and dinner (6 to 10 p.m.).
*No reservations, street parking only.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

ROPPONGI HILLS


My last Tokyo post is all about a whole day in Roppongi Hills, the so-called city within a city of modern skyscrapers, high-end hotels, luxury shops, green spaces, world-class museums, numerous bars and night clubs and lively back streets.

My friend Rumi lived nearby so we decided to meet at the 45th floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo for a quick view of the city stretched out below.  We started our walking tour outside Tokyo Midtown where we walked around the park, over the bridge and the tiny brook and by the manicured green areas dotted with park benches to the concrete bunker 21_21 Design Sight off to one side.


From there, we walked several blocks away to the bustling area around Roppongi Hills where the Mori Art Museum and the Eiffel tower lookalike Tokyo Tower are located.  On the way there, we stopped for a takoyaki snack - Japan's street food.  Takoyaki are deep-fried flour balls made with octopus, tempura scraps, green onion and pickled ginger and topped with bonito flakes and Japanese mayonnaise.  Traditionally eaten as an after work bite along with a highball, a shot of whiskey topped up with ice cold soda water served in a large mug like a beer, Rumi knew that it wasn't the right time to eat the takoyaki but she and I decided we wouldn't be able to wait till sundown.  We split a highball and six takoyaki which were delicious and hit the spot for more wandering around the shopping mall nearby passing by the Mori and admiring Maman, Louise Bourgeois' humongous bronze spider sculpture.  We stopped afterwards at the beautiful terrace of The French Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt for a cold drink and some sunshine before walking back and trying to find a simple place for lunch nearby.


We finally stumbled on a small ramen place on a side street.  A vending machine greeted us at the entrance and Rumi dropped the appropriate coins for two bowls of hot ramen topped with roast pork and a medium boiled egg.  As soon as we sat at the counter, we surrendered our tickets to one of the ramen cooks and waited for our order and enjoyed the rhythm and blues music blasting in the restaurant.  I noticed that the place was packed with Japanese men again and we were the only ladies there (just like the other evening at the yakitori place)  and I asked Rumi why it was that Japanese women weren't often seen eating in traditional Japanese restaurants.  She explained that the ladies preferred more sophisticated Western food for lunch than casual Japanese fare.

The ramen noodle soup came with self-serve pitchers of iced tea and the usual condiments of chili oil and seaweed flakes.  We dug in and slurped like the locals and started to sweat from the hot soup and it was only then that we also noticed that all the men having ramen were eating cold ramen to stay cool on such a hot day.  We started to laugh because it seemed like we were in the sweltering American south listening to John Lee Hoooker while enjoying our hot soup and keeping our hair away from the broth.  We finished our ramen and on our way out, we laughed even harder as we realized there were paper bibs and elastic hair ties on top of the vending machine at the front to hold one's hair back from getting into the soup and cover one's clothes from the splatter.  Another dining culture experience shared with my foodie partner Rumi.

We walked lunch off and returned to Tokyo Midtown where we escaped the heat from the streets for a wander around the mall, looking into the Umami boutique (a shop selling umami flavored everything from crackers to sauces to nuts), Toraya (the traditional Japanese tea cake place) and for a quick espresso at Dean and Deluca.


After that, it was a short walk through Hinokicho park to Rumi's neighborhood in Akasaka where we put our feet up and relaxed before heading out to a Yakiniku (Japanese table barbecue) dinner nearby - again filled with Japanese businessmen.  I don't know how we managed to eat several platters of beef and offal with a large green salad tossed in a sesame dressing.  We were both so full that Rumi insisted we go to the local pharmacy for a tiny bottle of an herbal concoction that Japanese drink the night of food or alcohol excess to avoid indigestion and a hangover.  We downed them right then and there while the pharmacist watched us in amusement.  It didn't taste bad, jut like a shot of herbal liqueur without the alcohol.   It was a fun-filled, food-centered, non-stop walking day which gave me a chance to explore a part of town on foot and enjoy the city quirks with a Tokyo native.

_____________________________
Tokyo Midtown

Tokyo Midtown Design Hub

Roppongi Hills

Mori Art Museum

National Art Center Tokyo

Suntory Museum of Art

Tokyo Tower

Saturday, October 04, 2014

YOSHIMATSU


After a morning spent shopping for children's presents at Hakuhinkan Toy Park, Tokyo's version of Toys'R'Us, Rumi and I were escorted by the shop's owner to his favorite tempura restaurants a few blocks away.  Just off Ginza, in a back alley was an unmarked sliding door which led to my best lunch in Tokyo.  One of those memorable meals that magically combines a sense of place with delicious food and hilarious company.

Rumi and I entered the simple room with just a seven-seat counter in the center lined by blond wood walls - no decorations or music and no chef.  We were offered something to drink by the kimono-clad server - Rumi ordered a cold beer for us to share and this was served with a small plate of cold silken tofu.  While we waited to see what would happen, the unsmiling chef came in from the kitchen, nodded his head to us and quietly approached his large bubbling vat of oil carrying with him several bamboo baskets filled with all sorts of seafood and vegetables.  He gave us three tiny plates with grated radish, a bit of lemon juice and some fine salt then, the show began.

As this was a tempura restaurant, all the food that the chef prepared was first dipped in a light ice-cold batter then deep-fried.  First came a single block of soft tofu - hot and silky soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside.  As soon as we had gobbled this up, the chef would fry the next morsel: lotus root followed by sweet shrimp, asparagus then young corn and a small bundle of thin green beans.  Halfway through the meal, the chef could see the glazed look in our eyes and hear the oohing and aching after every bite and finally, a flicker of a smile finally appeared on his face.  Next up was a quail egg, a scallop, some white fish, shiso leaf, several more tiny sweet shrimp and finally a small plate of pickles and served with the traditional last course, a bowl of cooked short-grain rice in which the chef had poured some green tea and topped it with a delicate prawn fritter.  By this time, the chef was chatting with us and telling us about how he loves what he does and that although, Michelin wanted to list him, he asked them not to as he wanted to keep his restaurant small and as is and just keep cooking the food he loves to do.  Lunch lasted a couple of hours and ended with some lemon jelly and green tea.  We left the restaurant with a full belly, smiles on our faces and a hand-wrapped onigiri gift from the chef.  Tempura will never taste the same again.  That's what happens when one visits Japan, all the other previous Japanese meals start to pale in comparison.

___________________________
Yoshimatsu
*Open for lunch and dinner
*I promised the chef not to publish the location, so please email me at: gourmettraveller@gmail.com for the address

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TORISHIGE


My friend Rumi recommended this traditional yakitori restaurant, one of the oldest in Tokyo with over 80 years of mastering the art of grilled skewered chicken.  What started out in 1931 as a simple food stall located behind the Kabuki theater, quickly became a favorite of the Kabuki actors and theater crowd which then prompted the owners to make it into a restaurant in 1939.  It moved to its' current Ginza spot in 1958 and has been run by the same family for three generations.  Torishige is not the usual elbow-to-elbow, crowded, smoky and noisy yakitori joint (there are other places to experience that) but a simple refined version frequented by locals and concentrating on the grilled chicken and not so much on the ambiance.

On the mid-week evening that we visited Torishige, I was the only female in the whole packed restaurant.  We were seated in the middle of the counter, not too close to the grill but close enough for us to watch the chef pay close attention to dozens of skewers laid out on a narrow grill filled with hot coals.  We decided to order the Jidori menu (4800 yen - around $45) for 8 sticks with soup and rice.  We didn't have long to wait as the skewers started to be come straight from the smoky grill - aigamo (duck), tebasaki (flat wing tip), aigamo shimeji (brown beech mushroom rolled by sliced duck), tsukune (chicken meatballs) and chunks of jidori (free-range chicken) with leeks - all savoury bites of perfectly char-grilled poultry.  The set menu also included the chestnut like-ginnan (ginkgo nuts), asparagus or Shiitake mushrooms (we ordered one of each so we could have both), and kimo (chicken liver) that we asked them to substitute for shishito peppers.  By the time the famous curried rice and chicken broth were brought, we were too full to finish either and just and had a taste of each. Another wonderful dinner which explains why Tokyo is on every foodies' must-go list.

___________________________
Torishige
6-9-15 Ginza
Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 3 3571 8372

*Open for lunch Mondays to Fridays 11:30 - 14:00
*Dinner Mondays to Fridays 17:00 - 22:00 (Last call 21:15)
*Saturday 16:00 - 21:00 (Last call 20:30)
*Closed Sunday and National holidays