Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wishing I was In Japan

The Shoto Club would have been the perfect place for me to drown my sorrows after a lousy day at work.  Unfortunately, it is in Tokyo...and I am here.  

I was in a surprisingly foul mood today for no real reason that I know of and it got worse after a meeting with my company accountants.  Dudes, we're in the middle of a worldwide financial crisis and our largest client is (was?) an auto manufacturer.  Give me a break.  Get over yourselves.  We'll figure it out.  We always do.

So I came home and all I wanted to do was open a bottle of wine and forget about it, but I had to eat, so I started off pan frying some fresh corn in a bit of butter and olive oil, thinking I would have it with a fried egg and a tortilla.  But I found some leftover cold rice, threw that in the frying pan too, then chopped up some chiles, tomatoes and cilantro, threw in a little bit of salt and realized I was actually making some sort of fried rice.  When it was almost done, I added a tablespoon of fish sauce, and if not great, it was certainly good and fast.  And only about 500 calories.  I know that as the hot, dry season in the D.F. comes to an end and the rainy season begins, I will move away from so much Asian cooking, now that I can have the stove on for longer periods without being driven outside because of the heat in my kitchen, and this may be my last taste of it for a while.  Sort of a transitional dinner.

After the wine started to have some effect, I settled down a bit and checked my email.  A friend was asking for some Japan recommendations, and glad to have something to do, I wrote the following, which had a totally relaxing effect on me and my mood and gave me the opportunity to re-live a recent trip to Asia.

In Tokyon, Ryugin is an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience and IMHO, the chef is on the same level as Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal.  Just spectacular...and if you want to go anywhere great, I would say this should be the one place.  I can't say enough about it.  I don't even want to recommend anything else because everything pales in comparison.  


In Kyoto, a simple and amazing place for tempura is Tenyu...it is owned and run by the same people who own the Tawaraya ryokan...the famous Japanese inn (which I would not personally recommend for reasons I won't go into)...and the tempura is reputed to be among the best in Japan.  I find it pure and delicious.  Relatively cheap at about $US80 for the basic menu, a maximum of 12 guests sit around a U-shaped bar and focus on the father and son chef team as they demonstrate the zen of tempura perfected.

Another Kyoto experience that I would recommend is a visit to the Daitoku-ji Temple...actually a bunch of beautiful temples in a complex.  It's not on the same "top attraction" list as the Golden Pavillion, but well worth a stop, not only for the varied and beautiful temples, but the vegetarian restaurant in the complex is an experience in itself.  It is called Izusen...open only for lunch, and the set menu offers an amazing variety of delicious and healthy food for about $US40.  You sit on tatami mats...and fortunately, they serve sake and beer to help with the back pain.  The complex is a great place to wander around and then enjoy truly beautifully prepared food in a zen garden-like atmosphere.       
Also, check out these two links below to the Bon Apetit article about Tokyo becoming the mixology capital of the world.  We went to The Shoto Club and it was the most amazing bar experience of our lives.  Very hard to find, in the basement of an obscure apartment building, the amount of passion and creativity that goes into the cocktails is mind blowing.  Not a lot of English spoken, but if you just say "omakase"...I am in your hands....they will astound you with their cocktails.  If you go (and I would recommend doing this for any of the non-hotel bars), have the concierge call first to make sure they are open, not having a private event and to let them know that you are coming.

Speaking of hotel bars, the one that everyone who's seen Lost in Translation remembers is on the top of the Park Hyatt.  I would recommend avoiding that, and the one of the top of the Peninsula as well, and reserve a table at the Cerulean Tower bar.  The minimalist Zen-wood design accents the spectacular view over the city, and if you go at sunset, you may see the sun reflecting off Mt. Fuji just before the night takes over, the lights of the Shibuya district come up, and you watch the crowds below as they hurry home from work via the largest pedestrian crossing in the world.  

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