After having a wonderful time visiting Kamakura, we were pretty hungry. We arrived back in Tokyo and freshened up. We had one more night left and the Missus still hadn't had Her share of Yakitori yet. Isehiro had been a recommendation I received and we even tried to get in on our first evening in Tokyo, but they were strangely closed. So we decided to give it another try.
My understanding is that all the tables upstairs are usually reserved, but the tables and counter downstairs are not. There was not a single soul in the place when we arrived.
But the gentleman behind the grill was cooking like crazy, then placing items in containers. The Missus and I looked at each other and got a feeling that this wasn't going to be a particularly stellar meal. Items are precooked, then reheated.
Next little thing. We were told that there were two "set" menus available.......you can do extras, but no a la carte. The full course was 6480 ¥ (about $60/US at the time) and the "healthy" course was 5832 ¥ (about $54/US). Man, that's not cheap. Each course had 9 skewers, the healthy course had some vegetable items.
We decided to stay the course and just go for it. Though at this point, I'm thinking this better be good. I decided to get a Highball to start.
After the traditional oshibori, the hot towel, things started coming fast a and furious....I mean why not? Most of it was premade.
We both got the Sasami (Chicken Breast) to start. This has never been a big favorite of mine and this version was dry and needed much more salt as well. I first thought that this might be tori-wasa, which would be tender and medium rare, but this was overcooked.
One item that I thought was good here is the Kimo; the chicken liver. The Missus loves this, but I'm not too fond of it. However, this was very good, not too minerally in flavor, without that mushiness I'm not a big fan of.
The tare added a nice sweet-saltiness that deflected all the flavors in chicken liver that I don't like.
We both also received Sunagimo, chicken gizzards.
I usually enjoy how gizzards really absorb the smokiness of the bincho; but instead of being crunchy, this was hard, and strangely didn't have that smokiness I enjoy.
Next up for the both of us was the negi-maki, thigh meat wrapped in scallion.
The meat was very moist if a bit on the tough side. The bitterness of the incinerated scallions was rather unpleasant.
Next up for the both of us is one of my key favorites when it comes to yakitori; tsukune (chicken meatball).
In complete contrast to other items that were basically burnt, this needed a bit more color. What little tare was used on the meatball brought nothing to it. The meatball was toughr than I prefer and there were hard bits as well.
Next up for the Missus, Cherry Tomatoes.
Innocuous, tart, could have used a bit more time on the grill.
I received another of my usual favorites; "kawa", chicken skin.
The burnt bits were crisp, but the rest dry and gummy. This needed more saltiness, or at least a good tare.
The Momoniku (thigh) was quite good.
Except for the scallion being burnt bitter again. Great sweet-salty flavors for the toothsome but not tough chicken thighs. The slightly smoky flavor lifted the dish.
Next for the Missus, Shiitake.
This was fine, but really didn't have any seasoning....it was almost like it hadn't been grilled. Check out the skewers, no blackening on it. Odd.
I received the Aigamo (Duck).
This needed more seasoning and was overcooked for our taste, making it tough and rather stringy.
The Missus finished up with Nankotsu; chicken cartilage.
This was decently prepared, if a bit on the dry side. The amount of salt used was perfect.
My last dish was another favorite of mine; Teba, chicken wing.
Dried out, rubbery, and too salty. Not my favorite combination of textures and tastes.
The Missus and I left somewhat disillusioned. I've always said that it's hard to get a bad meal in Japan and while this wasn't terrible, it wasn't close to being good. I'm wondering if it was just a bad night? Luckily, we'd get some great yakitori later on during this trip.
Isehiro Kyobashi Honten 1-5-4 Kyoashi, Chuo 104-0031 Tokyo
I saw this interesting little diner as we got off the train.
Spam Musubi....malasadas....loco moco...hmmm.... But of course the Missus was having none of that. Plus, I was still stuffed from breakfast.
We strolled on over to Hase-dera which was already starting to get pretty crowded on this fall morning.
The temple is built on the slope of a mountain. So while folks were headed to the Kannon Museum to view the statue of Kannon.
We decided to head up the "Prospect Road".
Which was still quite peaceful on this morning.
Which ended with a wonderful view of Kamakura and Sagami Bay.
We just meandered around the temple grounds.
Coming across the Benten-kutsu Cave.
Which contains bas-reliefs of Benzaiten and other Buddhist Gods.
There's something about the temples in Kamakura that just puts me at ease. I'm able to relax and mentally regroup and feel that yes, I am away from work.
The air seemed so fresh and clean that we decided to walk back to the Kamakura Station area. We walked along the large, but relatively quiet street, stopping along the way to buy some wagashi and also to just take it all in.
Reaching the relatively busy shopping street heading back to Kamakura Station we stopped for a coffee in a random Café.
And the Missus had Her kimishigure.
Feeling energized the Missus decided that instead of catching the train to the next stop up from Kamakura Station and get off at Kita-Kamakura; we would just walk.
Engaku-ji is right next to Kita-Kamakura Station and right behind Kencho-ji is ranked second among Kamakura's five great Zen temples.
The Butsuden displays a wooden statue of Shaka Buddha.
The Shariden displays what is supposed to be a tooth of Buddha.
This Juniper Tree is named Biyakushin and is said to have been planted by the founder of Engaku-ji, making it over 700 years old.
It's great fun wondering around the grounds of this good sized complex.
Up this hill resides the Ogane, the "Grand Bell", which of course has a story.....
And the Bentendo......
Fairly close by is Meigetsu-in. Meigetsu mean "bright moon", so you'll see representation of rabbits, (remember the Japanese children's story Tsuki no Usagi?) on the grounds. We found this one, right near the entrance to be quite charming.
The area is rather small, but hosts some important items. Kamakura was not well known for having a good fresh water supply. Therefore, any good drinkable water supply was considered a blessing. Kam--no-I is one of the ten wells of Kamakura.
There's a cave here as well; known as the Meigetsu-in Yagura. Yagura are human made caves that were used as tombs.
It is said that this is the tomb of Uesugi Norikata who is said to have founded this temple.
Along one of the walls were little "squirrel houses". There actually were squirrels scampering from house to house to grab a bite.
Speaking of grabbing a bite. Many of these temples have tea houses....which seemed kind of touristy to us. But we needed a short break so we thought why not.
This turned out to be a nice break for us.....
A nice bit of tea......a not so sweet confection.
And all on the grounds of a lovely temple in Kamakura.....
I'm sure that not having too many folks visiting when we were added to the "atmosphere". But things surely seemed serene to us....and that's what really mattered, right?
The Missus beat me to the Natto Combination....so I got the Nikudōfu (simmered beef and tofu) combo. Both were an inexpensive 570 yen! The seating was interesting; salarymen were seated together, sometimes sharing tables. But because I was with the Missus we were seated in a booth.
The Server took our tickets and soon enough our food arrived.
Think of this the next time you grab something from Mickey D's or the like for breakfast. For about $5.50, the Missus got tofu, natto, and even some sashimi with Her combo. Which, BTW, She really enjoyed.
What I got wasn't exactly slim pickins' either.
The beef and tofu; while not amazing were both nicely flavored; not too salty, not too sweet. When did I start enjoying mentaiko for breakfast? I'm not sure, but I really like the saltiness...and perfectly cooked rice.
Don't need much more than that.
Hatsufuji was an interesting place. We passed by several times during our stay. After breakfast, the ticket machine is rolled to the side and you'll notice a collection of set lunches, displayed in full plastic glory in the window.
During the evening, the place becomes an Izakaya. I find it fascinating and I'm hoping we'll be back in Japan more sooner than later. And if we're around the Yaesu exit of Tokyo Station Underground you can be sure we'll be back at Hatsufuji.
Yaesu Hatsufuji Yaesu underground shopping center North 1, 2-1, Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 103-0028
There wasn't a line when we arrived and we were lead upstairs, where things did look rather busy. We got the last booth in the place and placed our orders.
It's quite simple; there were two Oden sets available for lunch, each about 680 yen and we ordered one of each.
Boy did this hit the spot.
That simmered daikon had really absorbed the flavor of the broth and was perfectly tender; not falling apart, but so easily cut with a chopstick. Our favorite item was the Toumeshi; indeed this is called the toumeshi set and I can see why. That tofu had absorbed the savory-sweet-dashi based flavor so well and rice was also a great vehicle for passing all of that. Simple, but just wonderful.
The Missus ordered the other Oden set which was quite good as well.
This was just the perfect thing for day like this. Then a kind of interesting thing happened....I'm guessing it's fairly common given the crowded nature of Tokyo.
The Missus and I were sitting across from each other in the booth. Two salarymen came in and sat down right next to us in the booth!
So now we were kinda trapped! The Missus and I looked at each other and cracked up. And we couldn't help but text each other our observations; especially when a couple of pieces of rice got stuck on one of the men's face....it kept moving around while he ate, but wouldn't fall off, and was quite mesmerizing!
Actually they were quite nice. When they noticed we were finished, they both stood up and waved us through. So, I guess this is fairly standard eating in Tokyo!
There was a line of people waiting outside in the rain as we left. I walked across the street to take a photo, and wouldn't you know; that line extended across the street!
It's easy to understand why folks would wait in the rain for this place. Good, comforting food at an inexpensive price. And it sure did hit the spot on a day like this.
Otakou Honten 2-2-3 Nihonbashi Chuo, Tokyo
Feeling nice and warm, our bellies full, we headed off in the drizzle to our next destination. I really enjoy the beer that Hitachino produces and had read that they had opened a beer bar in the Akihabara. I recommended going on the Yamanote Line from Tokyo Station, it's like a 4-5 minute ride. But of course this is the Missus; so we walked.
It turned out to be about a 30 minute walk. The Brewing Lab is located right on the Kanda River.
It's a nice cozy little place and very quiet during this time of the day as there was only one customer the whole time we were there.
There were 8 pulls on this day and we ended up getting 4 beers; even Session IPA. We ended up with the Masters Selection, Nipponia, Weizen and the Nest Lager.
The Lager was my favorite; while the Missus enjoyed the Weizen. Man, Hitachino makes some really good stuff. If you're in the area; this might be a good stop.
Hitachino Brewing Lab 1-25-4 Kandasudacho Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Soon enough, it was time to go. And this time the Missus relented and we caught the train back to Nihonbashi. We had some time to do a little shopping; then head back to the apartment for a short nap before meeting Reiko for dinner.
We headed out and along the way passed what I believe are the offices of Ajinomoto Corporation, who had their Christmas gift sets out on a on display.
We headed into the "underground Tokyo Station City", which is an apt description of the floors, street, and underground passageways that surround Tokyo Station. We needed something small to eat and decided to stop in at this little udon shop in the underground.
There was a gentleman making udon in the window, obviously a good draw for the place. But what made us stop was the sign....I asked the Missus, who can read Kanji, "does it say what I think it does"? And She said yes; "Udon, all the broth you can drink, all the tea you can drink, and rice ball....325 yen." That's like $3.25...... Okay.....
The set-up is cafeteria like; I got the special, plus extra cup of tea, and some veggies for like five bucks....really!
A simple dashi based broth (we saw folks going back for more), nice chewy noodles, onigiri, and tea..........more than a decent breakfast for us. I'm not sure when I spent five bucks for breakfast for two......
When we got back, I tried to find out what the name of this place was...to no avail. Thanks to the help of FOY (Friend of Yoso Kat - who recently celebrated her eleventh year of blogging) Kat, I actually managed to find the place. Which is located right at the corner of......
Mugimaru Yaesu Minamiguchi 八重洲2-1 八重洲地下街南1号 B1 Chūō, 東京都 〒104-0028 Japan
Like I've said, you can eat for 300 yen or 30,000 yen in Tokyo....it's your choice.
Interesting little note; we'd never exited on the Maronouchi North Exit of Tokyo Station, which was (when we were there) being renovated. There's a European feel to the façade.
Since we decided on hanging around the Chuo and Chiyoda area on this day; we headed off to the Imperial Palace which was fairly close by.
By the time we got back to Tokyo Station from Kamakura, dusk was quickly approaching.
We got back to the tiny apartment, freshened up and relaxed for a bit. Then it was off to Ebisu Station to meet our good friend Reiko, who we hadn't seen since we had dinner at Tanyaki Shinobu. Hearing that the Missus loved Yakitori, Reiko wanted to take us to an "old school" yakitori "joint" named Tatsuya.
It is a place where salarymen and old timers hang out shoulder to shoulder at the bar, drinking and filling themselves with reasonably priced skewers.....
The business hours; 8am to 5am (?!?) kind of tells you what kind of place this is.
To be honest; the yakitori here is fairly generic.......the Missus and cracked up when we actually had problems figuring out what was kimo (chicken liver), because all of it looked kind of alike!
It was an interesting view into life in Tokyo........ And super reasonably priced as well. And I'm sure this stuff would be great after like 3-4 (or 5-8) beers. It was a fun experience.
Tatsuya 1-8-16 Ebisu-Minami Shibuya, Tokyo
Reiko had another stop planned, but the place was closed. So we decided to walk into a nearby yakiniku shop.
Reiko rarely has yakiniku so she was all for it.
So we ordered a couple of plates and some beer for us.
Good lord this stuff was so good!
I mean, the beef tongue and highly marbled rib meat (A5 Kobe) was great as expected. But the Missus just loved the liver and I was just amazed at how almost buttery and tender the horumon was. And the flavor from the charcoal.......oh man!
It's amazing how a little serendipitous moment can turn into such a great meal. So now, I may have to find a great yakiniku place the next time we're in Tokyo.
There's no info in English on this shop; just a rather light entry in Tabelog.
Oumiteipurasuwan 1-8-10 Ebisu-Nishi Shibuya, Tokyo
Arriving back at Tokyo Station....walking past all the all the men displaying what we call the "Asian Gene", we had to smile.
Yes, Tokyo is a lot of bright lights, hustle and bustle....there's something going on all the time, the folks here walk really, really fast....but a few blocks away you'll find a serene moment. It's that charm that makes me want to keep on coming back.
The temple the Missus really wanted to see (among several) was Jochiji located up a trail away from the main road.
Jochiji is one of the great five temples of Kamakura.
There were a couple of interesting things to see; the Kanro-no-I, the "Nectar Well", one of the "Ten Wells of Kamakura".
But we enjoyed the statue of Hotei; the "God of Happiness". The friendly folks encouraged the Missus to rub his belly for good luck and prosperity. He does look like a jolly fellow, doesn't he?
The Main Hall features statues of the "Three Buddha's", Amida, Shaka, and Miroku.
There are quite a few caves on the temple grounds and it was quite an interesting visit.
Also, from here, if you're in the mood, is where the Daibutsu Hiking Trail begins or ends...depending on which direction you care to take.
We decided to pass. I was getting a bit hungry so we headed back to busy Komachi Street to look for something to eat. We came across this rather charming looking doorway.
Looking at the sign, there was an English translation; of which there was an English translation, it became apparent that this was a soba restaurant. We weren't quite sure to start, but decided to have lunch here.
There's a nice walkway to the restaurant. Which seemed formal, understated, but welcoming at the same time.
Heading down that walkway you enter the restaurant and we instantly saw that they made their own soba here, which sealed the deal.
The place was just starting to fill up....with tourists....Japanese tourists, which wasn't a bad sign.
Since it winter, we went with the hot soba.
The Missus had tororo; grated mountain yam...that somewhat pleasantly gooey and gluey, and mildly sweet stuff.
I went with the Tempura Soba.
The tsuyu was very pleasant, rather light, the noodles were nicely drained, slightly springy, with a nice pull. For some reason, the Missus doesn't care for the lightly battered tempura, which I like....She prefers the rather dense style you find in tempura places in the US....sigh.....
The one thing both the Missus and I didn't care for was the slightly "floury" soba cooking water (soba-yu) that they provide at the end.
The Missus says it tastes just like jiaozi cooking water that they also consume in Qingdao; so go figure.
Overall a nice meal.
Kamakura Yamaji 1-7-3 Yukinoshita Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan
After lunch, we headed back to the train station and caught the Electric Train on the Enoden line and got out at Hase. A short walk away is Kotokuin Temple.
This temple is famous for the iconic Daibutsu; the Great Buddha of Kamakura. While the Bronze Buddha of Nara is larger; the outdoor setting makes this rendering of Amida Buddha seem more impressive.
Don't you think?
On the way back to the station we passed this tiny temple.
It's Shugenji Temple. If you scroll down a bit on this website you can read the rather interesting story of the temple and the individual who formerly lived on this property Shijo Kingo.
We contemplated checking out the nearby Hasedera Temple. But decided on returning to Kamakura on another day. We needed to get back to Tokyo, to rest up a bit and then meet a good friend of ours for dinner.
After getting back to Tokyo and a good nights sleep; the Missus was ready to go fairly early in the morning. Being a short minute walk from Tokyo Station meant transportation would be a snap. The Missus had decided on a day trip to Kamakura, the former capital during the Kamakura Shogunate from 1185 - 1333. She was interested in all the temples and of course, the Daibutsu (The Great Buddha). We enjoyed Kamakura so much that we ended up returning the next day.
We arrived quite early.....during this part of the day; before hordes of tourists descend on Kamakura, the place has a relaxed, sleepy feel to. Even Komachi Street......
We decided to find a place to stop for our caffeine fix; so I kept on the look-out. I noticed the sign for Komeda's Coffee on the scond floor of one of the buildings. The place looked open so we walked up the stairs. We were cheerfully seated and handed some menus.
Looking at the menus, we were nicely surprised to see that Komeda's had a "morning special", free toast and a boiled egg with any beverage purchase. I guess the Komeda chain is well known for this special. Perfect!
The Missus and I both ordered coffee along with the "special".
Which turned out to be enough to hold us until lunch.
The young lady working was very nice........and heck, you can't complain about free breakfast, right?
Komeda's Coffee Komachi, 2 Chome−2−18 2F Kamakura
After finishing up; bolstered by caffeine, it was a short walk down the street to our first stop, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. The shrine, dedicated to Hachiman, god of war, is Kamakura's most well known and important shrine.
The backdrop and greenery makes for quite a dramatic sight.
I read that over two million people visit this shrine over the New Year holiday.
The bridges and ponds are quite lovely.
We saw this family; children in traditional garb ascending the stairs..... About halfway up; you could tell the kids were totally over the experience!
We exited via the gate on the northwest side of the temple and ended up on the road leading to our next stop.
I believe this marker is to commemorate the visit of Dogen, the famous Zen Masters' visit to Kamakura.
It was a nice walk; slightly uphill at first, then back downhill. The weather was cool, but pleasant. We had thoughts of stopping at Orindo....but decided to pass.
We also passed on a couple of other temples along the way as well.
And ended up at Kenchoji, Japan's oldest Zen Monastery, founded in 1253.
Things are set-up in the very typical Zen style with all the gates and the main buildings built in a straight line.
The Bonsho (Temple Bell) is considered a National Treasure. The Butsuden (Buddha Hall) contains a well worn statue of Jizō Bosatsu (Bodhisattva).
In direct contrast to the rather austere structures was this gate, which really stood out.
This is the Karamon (Grand Gate).
After lingering for a few minutes more, we set off.....to the next set of temples the Missus wanted to see.
We got into Tokyo mid-afternoon, and proceeded to take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station. We decided to stay in the Nihombashi area fairly close to Tokyo Station. Our apartment was pretty small; like really small, though it had a laundry in the basement (remember the Jingisukan?). So we took care of all of that stuff; got in a short nap. By the time we woke up the sun had set and it was time for dinner. In spite of the hustle and bustle, we really liked this area, it made travel around the city quite easy. Anyway, with my trusty pocket wifi, I looked up our first option on my map; some Oden sounded great, but there was a huge line at Otako Honten. Plan B, grab some yakitori from Isehiro, but they were strangely closed down for the night. Plan C? I dunno..... I guess we'd grab some ramen from this little shop.
Boy did they like the signs and the posters....and the lamps! Even inside. The young lady working was a joy, very friendly, and patient.
Anyway, we ordered the Max #1 ramen, large size for me, a negi gohan, and onsen tamago for the Missus who'd of course share some of my ramen.
Man, that was shredded scallion allright....with some nice pieces of pork and a quail egg.
This was actually pretty tasty as they sauced the rice. Plus, the Missus loved the egg.
The ramen was different from other versions I've had.
That broth was really fatty, the texture was almost like oil. It had some definite chicken tones and some porkiness as well....but good lord it was so rich to be almost greasy. It also bordered on being quite salty. Good thing it was quite hot or we'd have some sludge on our hands. That egg was quite good, nice flavor, and nicely soft boiled. I really enjoyed the noodles which were fairly thick, a bit flat, but had been prepared to a wonderful pull and chew. I don't know why places here in San Diego have such a hard time getting it right, when this random ramen place on the corner here in Tokyo nailed it? The pork was a bit on the chewy side, but had decent flavor.
The quail egg and the spinach was an interesting touch. Walking back to the apartment, I suddenly realized we'd just had Yokohama style Iekei Ramen. I remembered reading about the shop that spawned this style of ramen, Yoshimura in Yokohama. And the thing that really made this place a legend was that the owners of Yoshimura-ya actually gave away the recipe to anyone who wanted it!
This was actually pretty good, if a bit too greasy and salty for my taste. No complaints for a random ramen shop we found.
Sorry about the address; I couldn't find a Romanized version of it.
Shinagawaya Yaesu 八重洲2-3-9 Chūō, 東京都 〒103-0028, Japan
We walked back to the apartment with warm bellies. Tomorrow would be a rather early day as we were heading to Kamakura.
I have a few acquaintances who love the Michelin Star/Best Restaurants in the World kind of thing. And earlier today, one of them sent me this link, telling to look at #13....it was Maido, where we had just eaten last month. What I thought was a bit strange was that Maido was several notches above Azurmendi. Just goes to show you the fickle "sport" of ranking restaurants and also why, while I take all those things into consideration, in the end, I try to figure out the food, how the place suits us, both in cuisine and service (those restaurants where staff is constantly hovering is not for us), before making a decision. A few hours later, "SomTommy" who sometimes comments, sent me an email mentioning the same thing. I replied that I thought this was both interesting and surprising. He then asked me what my favorite restaurant in the world was. What really surprised me was how easy it was typing out my reply; it was Suzunari which we visited during our first trip to Tokyo. The place just suited us; Kaiseki, perfectly prepared, elegant, but not fussy, without pretense, in a casual atmosphere, the customers were all Japanese. Oh, and while it was basically a husband and wife team, with one assistant, this tiny shop had acquired one of those "star" thingies.
Funny thing was, we enjoyed our previous experience so much we returned the last time we were in Tokyo. So I thought I'd do a quick photo post, out of chronological order, but it seemed somewhat timely. We had our good friend Reiko make reservations for us before our last visit; we also insisted that she come along. Even though we knew the pacing of the meal, pretty much in line with traditional Kaiseki, it was still fabulous.
From the steady silent interactions of the chef, his wife, and the assistant. To the sincere service, we loved sitting at the bar, and watching the flawless execution.
The Hassun, just fantastic.
Reiko, a Tokyo native told us that this was the best meal she's ever had and we were so glad to have been able to share it with her.
I'll always remember overhearing some advice from a Japanese National who advised the young couple that if they really wanted a "true" experience, to bypass the multiple Michelin Star Kaiseki places and work a bit harder to find the places that Japanese would go to when they had a nice meal. This lead me to researching a bit and finding Suzunari. My favorite restaurant.
Suzunari 7-9 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Later during the morning I sent an email to Ed from Yuma and Cathy regarding the list. Ed's response was priceless: "Rereading the post you did, it is amazing that the place had so many little shortcomings. But you are picky." I really don't think I'm picky, but I do know what I like, and after all these years, I think I'm pretty good at mentioning those things I don't care for. Funny thing about places like Maido. These places take chances, are innovative, they have a vision, and move toward that vision. There might be items that aren't your cup of tea, but, at least for us, the highs are amazingly high.
Maido, or even Etxanobe perhaps. Suzunari? I'm pretty sure we'll be back.
But it's a big world and we've only been to 23 countries. The Missus has told me that the US can mostly wait until I'm old and decrepit. Which might be anytime now. And while all these places are great....even the occasional banquet or two.....