December 4, 2018

Japan 2018 day 4: a very cheesy day

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Another day, another early morning transit.  We're off to Tokyo today, so after checking out of JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo, we rolled our luggage around the corner to JR Sapporo Station and got on a train to New Chitose Airport.  Due to an unfortunate issue with the ticketing machine, we were unable to buy tickets with reserved seats... and as it was morning rush hour, we ended up standing up for the whole 40-minute ride to the airport.  Oh well...

We needed some coffee and breakfast, and this seemed like our last chance to grab some ramen (ラーメン) in Hokkaido.  Unfortunately we were at the airport waaay too early, and there was only one shop open at this hour in the Hokkaido Ramen Dojo (北海道ラーメン道場) in the domestic terminal.  Given our tight flight schedule we decided not to risk things by waiting for other shops to open, and parked ourselves down at Menya Kaiko (麺屋 開高) - which has a few shops around Hokkaido.

Corn and cheese ramen (十勝コーンチーズ麵) - we're in Hokkaido, so what could be more iconic than ramen with corn (and cheese)?!  I have no idea what kind of cheese was used, but it didn't matter.  And no, this was not a particularly great bowl of ramen... and I needed plenty of water to rinse my palate afterwards.

December 3, 2018

Japan 2018 day 3: 3-star crab

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We're only in Sapporo for one night, so knowing me... it's not surprising that I chose to dine at one of three restaurants awarded with 3 Michelin stars in the 2017 Michelin Guide Hokkaido - a special edition which has only been published twice.  Hanakoji Sawada (花小路 さわ田) was promoted from 2 to 3 stars, and I wanted some kaiseki (会席) during our week-long trip, so this was the first restaurant I ended up booking.

We had pre-ordered the most expensive set menu, since this was our first visit and the price differential wasn't all that significant.  With the more expensive options, we were guaranteed to have crab.  As is typical, there was no printed menu since the dishes consisted of whatever ingredients were fresh and in season on the day.

Chinese yam with salmon roe and tonburi (長芋  イクラ  とんぶり  出汁ジュレ) - the main ingredient here is the cube of minced Chinese yam (長芋), which comes with a dual texture that is both crunchy (from tiny little bits inside) and soft (from parts that's almost purée-like).  On top we have some salmon roe as well as some perilla flowers.  The whole thing was surrounded by some dashi (出汁) gelée which was clearly made with ponzu (ポン酢) and citrus.  

Japan 2018 day 3: a crabulous feast

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We were up and at 'em early again this morning, trying to catch the sunrise that we missed yesterday.  I don't usually get my ass up this early, but Hello Kitty seemed determined to catch the sun coming up over the mountains, so we bundled up, grabbed our cameras, and went outside while it was still dark.

There was still some cloud cover above the mountains, but the light turned out to be pretty nice once the sun rose... especially when it illuminated the top of Mount Yotei (羊蹄山).  Someone had made a tiny little snowman and placed him on top of the fence, so Hello Kitty and I tried to take snaps of him against the rising sun.

December 2, 2018

Japan 2018 day 2: 3 songs on repeat

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After kinda managing to catch the sunset, we stayed in at the Windsor Hotel Toya and had dinner at Windsor Out of Africa, the teppanyaki (鉄板焼) restaurant that received a macaron.  Like most of the hotel's nicer restaurants, this was also located on the top floor, with views over Lake Toya.  The place was apparently inspired by the movie Out of Africa, so the restaurant is decorated with animal motifs, and they seem to be playing 3 tracks from the movie soundtrack on repeat...

As I had expected, we didn't get much of a view in the evening... now that the daily fireworks over Lake Toya has stopped. I decided to splurge and get the Out of Africa menu - the most expensive out of the three offered.

Amuse (最初の一口) - the meal didn't start well.  Aside from some marinated mushrooms with peppercorns, there was a small piece of toast with fish cum on top.  Thankfully Hello Kitty stepped in and helped me.

Japan 2018 day 2: And the reason is you

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So after my early morning droning session and a pissy breakfast, it was time for the main event.  The whole reason we planned an 8-day trip to Japan is so that we can dine at Michel Bras Toya Japon.  Everything else before or after this lunch is ancillary.  Collateral damage.

Why did I suddenly get the urge to come here?  Earlier this year someone had mentioned the possibility that Michel Bras would not renew their contract with the Windsor Hotel Toya.  So I hatched this plan to come and try the cuisine before the end of the year.  Of course, I now know that Michel Bras will continue to be here at the hotel, while Arashiyama Kitcho (嵐山吉兆) was the restaurant which did not renew their contract.

We arrived at the restaurant and were led to a table by the window, with fantastic sweeping views of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) and the hills and mountains surrounding it.  This is why, for many, it is best to come to the restaurant for lunch instead of dinner - as there are few lights after sunset and the view would be mostly dark.

We take the Rencontre menu, which includes the iconic gargouillou.  We started with a series of snacks:

Tomato and sesame crackers

Coque-mouillettes - creamy scrambled eggs with roots from the garden, and today it was diced celery topped with herbs.  The "soldiers" made of buckwheat and sesame were used to dip into the egg.

Tarte aux ceps - very nice.

I knew that the restaurant always tries to be hospitable by baking the name of the guest onto the loaf of buckwheat bread.  Unfortunately, the Japanese at the hotel mixed up Hello Kitty's name, and ever since yesterday she has been addressed by the wrong surname... which, naturally, meant that My Birdbrain Cousin and I have been asking Hello Kitty why she's such a Ho.

Droning Boy: snowy Hokkaido

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I dragged my ass out of bed a little after 6 a.m. in spite of my lack of sleep yesterday.  One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to take some shots of Lake Toya (洞爺湖) from the air, and I had gotten my drone fixed just in time before we flew here.

I went out the front door of the Hotel Windsor Toya, and after a short walk trying not to slip on compacted snow, I realized that the hotel parking lot would be a good spot for me to take off.  I unfolded my portable landing pad, tried to secure it on a pile of snow flattened by a bulldozer, and launched my drone into the sky.

This was my first time trying out the panoramic mode on the DJI Mavic Pro, and the functionality only came out about a year ago.  I was pretty excited to check out the spherical panorama mode, where the drone positions itself to take 34 pictures which can later be stitched together on the app itself.  I also took some wide, horizontal panorama shots.


I focused on shooting video for my second flight, and pushed the drone towards Nakajima Island (中島) in the middle of Lake Toya.  I was almost over the edge of the lake, at a distance of around 2.5 km, when I decided to bring the drone home.  There still seemed to be a healthy buffer between the estimated time remaining on the battery and the minimum time for the drone to fly straight home.

December 1, 2018

Japan 2018 day 1: beggars can't be choosers

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We're off to spend a week in Japan, and I'm returning to Hokkaido for the first time in almost two decades. 

We had time to kill at New Chitose Airport, so we hit the Calbee+ to snack on some potato chips that had just come out of the deep-fryer.  We picked the double cheese as well as the bacon asparagus flavors.

After a journey of almost 11 hours, the three of us finally arrived at the Windsor Hotel Toya Resort and Spa.

As we arrived just after 7pm and many of the restaurants in the hotel take their last orders at 8pm or so, we hurriedly asked staff at the front desk to book us into one of the Japanese restaurants.  Much to my surprise, we were able to get seats at Shoan Kogetsu (祥庵 こげ津) - the restaurant serving sushi.  I had been resigned to taking the set menu at Toji Sanka (杜氏賛歌), but it turns out they were full.

We were led to a private room as there seemed to be no room at the counter.  I knew this would have an affect on the quality of the sushi we were getting, but we didn't exactly have a choice.  For service, were also assigned someone from China - a sign of things to come during our stay.

The ladies didn't want to eat too much, so we chose to forgo the sushi sets and cherry picked our favorites à la carte.

North Pacific giant octopus (水蛸) - this apparently came from the head of the octopus, which was marinated in miso and spring onions.  Nice and chewy.

Mozuku (モズク) - nice to have something a little acidic to whet our appetites, although since our my last proper meal was about 8 hours ago... my appetite didn't really need any help.

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