February 11, 2015

Tokyo Michelin tour: pleasure, little treasure, part 2

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OK, so my week in Tokyo was filled with visits to high-end establishments with Michelin stars, but the real pleasure of going back to Japan is the discovery of little hidden gems.  Thankfully I had some time to hit a few this week...

For my first meal in Tokyo on day 1, Chicken took a break from geeking out and treated me to lunch at Biffi Teatro, an Italian restaurant just a short walk from their home.  We sat at the counter facing the open kitchen, and I took the simple pasta lunch menu.

First came the bread, which was not only warm but apparently made-to-order.  Very nice.

My daily antipasto selection was a slice of Hokkaido deer pâté, made in-house and wrapped with a layer of caul fat.  This was really delicious.  Served simply with a sprinkle of salt and a little mustard on the side.

Tagliolini with raw Hokkaido sea urchin - the pasta here is homemade, too, and you can definitely feel the bouncy texture of fresh pasta.  Comes with a light cream sauce made with fresh tomatoes, along with Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings and topped with raw sea urchin.  A beautiful dish with simple and fresh ingredients.

Two scoops of homemade gelato came: strawberry and milk with sea salt.  I wasn't a real big fan of the milky gelato, but I inhaled the scoop of strawberry gelato because it was so good.  A little espresso helped perk me up from lack of sleep.

Even with the 500-yen surcharge for choosing the sea urchin pasta over the regular bolognese, my lunch came to a grand total of 2,400 yen, tax included.  Try finding something of similar quality in Hong Kong, and the price point would probably have to move 50% higher, if not more.

Fergie arrived in Tokyo on day 2, and quickly complained about his starving tummy.  So a couple hours before our respective dinners, we strolled around Ginza and Shinbashi looking for a "snack".  After failing to lead us to a proper yakitori joint, we found ourselves down in the basement at Ogura (おぐ羅).

This place is known for, among other goodies, oden (おでん) - those fishcakes, turnips...etc. simmered in broth that's usually found as street food.  These have been childhood favorites from my time growing up in Tokyo.

I picked out a few items - including Japanese royal fern (ぜんまい), tofu pocket stuffed with mochi, and a trio of fishcakes stuffed with squid, burdock (ごぼう), and shrimp.  Delicious.  The broth (出汁) was especially light and delicate.

We also shared a poached young bamboo shoot (若筍煮), which was pretty tender and sweet.

I must admit that the food was delicious, but when the bill came we woke up to the reality that we were, after all, dining in Ginza and not on the street...

I woke up early on day 3 to take the Great One on a brief tour of Tsukiji Market (築地市場), since she has never been.  It was of course too late to go on the "official tour" of the interior, and we just stuck to walking around the Outer Market (場外市場), and ended up with not one but two sushi breakfasts... although neither was particular memorable in a good way.

In between, though, I went to grab a cup of coffee at Coffee Amikane (コーヒー網兼) - which was the real reason I wanted to go back to Tsukiji.  Why, you ask?  I was there to pay a visit to Hatsue ba-chan, the cutest grandma of them all.

Grandma is in her late eighties, is hard of hearing (there is an English sign in the shop asking customers to "please speak loudly"), yet still opens her coffee shop twice (or has it been reduced to only once?) a week in the mornings.  Saturdays are one of those days, so I was glad to have made it there.  Fergie and I discovered her shop accidentally last year, and since then I had my heart set on going back to see her.

The Great One and I sat down at the small and crowded counter, ordered our coffees, and watched her work.  She still uses the same old fashioned enamel pots, which is kept over the stove to make sure the coffee stays warm.  She still dunks the cups and saucers into a hot water bath before serving coffee - again, to keep the coffee warm for as long as possible.

That 250-yen won't get you the best coffee available at the market.  Not even close.  But I don't care.  I'd pay that money again and again to spend a few minutes with this grandma, to be in her company.  I'm glad she seemed well today.

I'll be back.

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