Sunday, December 15, 2019

Japan 2019 - 13 My New Chef Friend

Our friend Robert Yellin took Joan and me to a wonderful little Japanese place in Kyoto called Kiharu, one of his favorite haunts. In addition to having an excellent meal, of which but one example is this grilled chicken dish,

Grilled chicken with scallions
I bonded with the the joyous owner chef, Takashi Tsubaki. Here you can see Tsubaki-san hard at work, and loving every minute of being a chef.

Chef Takashi Tsubaki at work
It was persimmon season in Kyoto and somehow I got to talking about my persimmon tarte tatin. Tsubaki was very intrigued and asked about other things that I considered my specialties. I mentioned my crusty Persian rice, which he had never heard of but, as a rice specialist and lover, was excited to try.

So we made a plan to have a dinner party for our Kyoto friends at Kiharu, for which Tsubaki-san and I would prepare the food, preferably including the persimmon tarte tatin and the Persian rice. The fact that he has no oven makes the tarte tatin a challenge, but I hope to work through it somehow. The rice can be made anywhere. What a rare opportunity!!! I can hardly wait.

A good time was had by all, as you can see.

Chef Tsubaki, Robert, Chiho, Joan and me at Kiharu
Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Japan 2019 - 12 Kyoto's Nishiki Market

I love Kyoto and one of my favorite things to do there is to visit the Nishiki market, a large covered street market that is open every day. Some food snobs have told me that it does not have the best of everything, but since I am mostly just looking, the huge array of every kind of Japanese food item is perfect.

As at any great market, the vendors are very specialized. Here a bean seller, a dried-fish seller who makes gorgeous fish chips, a squid seller and, of course (!) a sparrow yakitori place.

Bean purveyor
Dried fish seller who makes fish chips
Sparrow yakitori anyone?
This year I had a nice experience returning to a sembei (Japanese rice cracker) dealer whom I had visited in 2017. When I told her that, she expressed really touching gratitude and delight, as can be seen in this photo.

My friend the sembei seller
One of my favorite stops is the dried bonito maker. They sell dried bonito cakes, which you can shave at home to make dashi, the all-purpose broth used in Japanese cooking, or they shave it themselves and sell it in packages, the way you've seen it in stores.

Dried bonito, whole and shaved
And, of course, the seller of ingredients for oden, a broth served with all kinds of (mostly rubbery) seafood based products, like fish cakes, as well as weird vegetable things, including konnyaku (kind of a superhard potato-basdd jello).

Oden ingredients
This year I saw a new display: Snoopy's tea shop, which included teas and also cookies and cakes to eat with tea. Part of Japan's kawai (cuteness) culture.

Snoopy's tea shop
I love takoyaki, grilled dumplings stuffed with bits of octopus and served with a sauce and, typically, pickled ginger. Here you can see the process: batter poured over octopus in takoyaki pan (center), dumplings coming together (left) and nearly complete takoyaki, moments away from sale (right). Once I made this with my friend Kondo Hiromi, a wonderful Kyoto art jewelry dealer who happens to be a great cook.

Takoyaki in various stages of preparation
Other favorites include freshly made mochi with matcha powder and some mysterious cream cookies, which I foolishly didn't try.

Freshly made mochi and cookies
Oops, I almost left out this seller of squid in a different form than shown above, grilled on skewers and ready to eat.

Grilled squid on skewers
I have already gone on and on, and could do more, but you get the idea. The Nishiki market is a must for any visitor to Kyoto who loves food.

Bobby Jay

Japan 2019 - 11 Breakfast at the Ritz

The ceramics tour being over, Joan and I went to Kyoto, one of my favorite places in the world. We stayed at the beautiful Ritz Carlton Hotel.

The Ritz's Western-style breakfast buffet is formidable -- one of the best anywhere -- but we went to the Japanese restaurant for a traditional breakfast our first morning there. It was a pretty stunning array of Japanese breakfast favorites, served beautifully in a gorgeous room.

Our last Japanese breakfast of 2019 was a good one.

Bobby Jay

Friday, December 13, 2019

Japan 2019 - 10 End of Tour Dinner

Well, all good things must come to an end, and our tour ended with a Halloween-themed farewell dinner at the Westin Hotel in Sendai, an unexpectedly good hotel in what turns out to be a lovely city. And our goodbye dinner at the hotel was astoundingly good given where we were.

After champagne and amuse-bouches, the meal started with a mi-cuit salmon with pumpkin seeds, mandarin orange sauce, garlic and vinegar.

Mi-cuit salmon with pumpkin seeds
There followed a really lovely pumpkin soup with cèpes

Pumpkin soup with cèpes
For the fish course, pan-fried lobster mackerel, potato and kale puree, with a mushroom and leek sauce.

Pan-fried lobster
The meat course wah roasted duck breast with butternut squash, fig and port wine sauce.

Roasted duck breast
Continuing the Halloween theme, dessert was a pumpkin Mont-blanc with chestnut ice cream.

And truly embracing the concept was our intrepid guide Andy, who was wonderful in every way!

Andy in costume
A wonderful end to our tour.

Bobby Jay

Japan 2019 - 9 Whimsical Japanese Food

When in Japan I love to try weird foods that you find in vending machines or elsewhere.

At Tokyo Midtown, a multi-purpose complex in Roppongi, we happened upon this popular ice cream place, with an array of interesting flavor combinations. Sorry, you'll have to blow it up to see them all but here they are (top to bottom, left to right: lemon-ginger, chocolat-banane, soy-strawberry, soy fruit mix,soy macha, milky mix, blueberry yogurt, kaki (persimmon) hojicha, pumpkin, mont-blanc, mix east, and annin(?) mango lychee.

Some cool items found in vending machines. First, this machine that dispensed corn soup, a favorite, either hot or cold: very sophisticated.

Corn soup in vending machine: hot or cold
Then I found one machine with corn soup and clam chowder. I had to try to chowder and can say that it was one of the worst things I've ever eaten. Fortunately, no need to be polite so tossed immediately.

Finally, a great ice cream vending machine on a train platform, with at least 17 different flavors.

Ice cream vending machine
Other things the Japanese love: Tokyo Banana, a  sponge cake with banana custard filling (reminds me of a Twinkie), and KitKats, here a banana-flavored one.

KitKat and Tokyo Banana
And there's so much more. Japanese food can be sublime or not-so-sublime. I love it!

Bobby Jay

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Japan 2019 - 8 A Typical Excellent Lunch

Due to the typhoon, our schedule was frequently changed and one day we found ourselves in Odawara with no restaurant plan. Our tour company scrambled and sent us to a typical tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) place, where we ate very well indeed.

Here we are at this simple place, ordering and eating happily, whether

Our group at a typical tonkatsu restaurant
tonkatsu (pork cutlet) served classically with astonishing amounts of shredded cabbage that you somehow finish,

or okonomiyaki (omelet)

in an atmosphere of kitsch, with bread scuptures made by the owners of this family-run place.

Bread sculptures at tonkatsu place
These were so charming that I took this bread pig as a gift and kept if for the remainder of our trip.

My very own bread pig from the tonkatsu place
What a pleasure!

Bobby Jay

Japan 2019 - 7 Hiramatsu Japanese Breakfast

Our deal at Hiramatsu was that we could choose between Japanese and Western-style breakfast the first day but we would all have Western-style the second day. Naturally we chose the Japanese breakfast on day one.

As, expected, it was excellent.

The meal started with sausage, ham and vegetables,

Sausage, ham and vegetables
continued with truly spectacular grilled fish, 

Grilled fish
and wonderful tuna and squid sashimi.

Of course this was all accompanied by rice, pickles, miso soup and all the components that go into a great Japanese breakfast. Although not served in flashy kaiseki style, this was a memorable breakfast.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Japan 2019 - 6 Hiramatsu Second Night

After a day of sightseeing (the spectacular Enoura Observatory, the brainchild of Hiroshi Sugimoto) and an artist visit, with a lovely that I'll describe in a subsequent post, we returned to Hiramatsu for another French-Japanese fusion feast.

This time we started with "Pressed leeks with marinated tuna and Passion fruit, Avocado puree with wasabi aroma."

Marinated tuna atop pressed leeks
Next up was a simple presentation of "Sautéed abalone and bigfin reef squid, Boiled pig's trotter with Bitter melon sauce," admittedly a lot of elements that came together magnificently.

Abalone, squid, pig's foot
Following on we had "Steamed longtooth grouper, Fish soupe with Turnip leaf Rouille" (no photo), and "Grilled Amagi shamo chicken with lemon and thyme escargot butter sauce," a simpler sounding dish that did justice to the wonderful "shamo" chicken.

Grilled thigh and breast of "shamo" chicken
And, of course dessert, "Pineapple compote with Gâteau Caramel, Coconut milk Espuma, Passion fruit and white chocolate ice cream," which somehow fit on a single plate.

Pineapple compote with caramel cake, etc.
Don't forget the obligatory mignardises to slake any remaining hunger.

Whew! Two dinners and ten dishes with about a hundred components, prepared with precision and care and served beautifully. However . . .

Bobby Jay

Japan 2019 - 5 Hiramatsu First Night

Our next day of travel ended at Hiramatsu, a luxury inn in Atami with q Michelin-starred restaurant run by one of Japan's star chefs. Despite nearly canceling our reservation due to serious water problems brought about by the typhoon, all was well and we received wonderful hospitality and food. We were lucky enough to spend two nights there.

The food is French but with significant fusion elements, beautifully presented.

I will set forth the entire menu (English spelling and capitalization as per the original), although I don't have photos for all the cousres, Our first dinner started with "Yuba Yoyale with Oscietra Caviar," a lovely mousse.

Yuba Royale with Caviar
Then followed "seared barracuda, raisin with chinese cabbage mascarpone cream, Sauce Excabeche" no photo), and "Oak charcoal grilled lobster, pain d'Epice ham, persimon, turnip with white balsamic vinegar cream."

Grilled lobster
Next up was the "Fish of the day" (no photo), followed by "Boiled Entrecote wagyu beef, Anchovy cream with caramelized radish," which I loved for the spectacular slice of cauliflower.

Boiled entrecote of wagyu beef
Since that was plainly not enough beef, the next course was "Roasted wagyu beef, Grilled shiitake mushroom with Yuzukosho Béarnaise sauce" (no photo).

And, finally, dessert: Chestnut Mont-Blanc, banana and passion fruit parfait with hazelnut nougatine,"

Chestnut mont-blanc
followed by excellent Mignardises (Sweets).

You may be getting the picture that eating here was exhausting. The food, technically brilliant, had at least one ingredient too many in nearly every dish.

I had originally planned to describe both dinners in one post, but it's just too much.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Great Ingredients Make a Great Sandwich

Sunday I went to the wonderful greenmarket on Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street, and bought, among other things, a fantastic sesame wheat loaf from She-Wolf Bakery, sprouts and baby lettuces,  a shockingly good tomato and a red onion. For lunch I made open sandwiches , covering the bread  a very thin layer of tofu cream cheese, some smashed avocado, hot-smoked salmon, sprouts, red onion and tomato. Pure heaven.

Hot-smoked salmon and avocado sandwich
If you have great ingredients, let them tell the story.

Bobby Jay