Monday, March 31, 2014

Ushio Okonomiyaki : Healthy Shizuoka Oko-yaki

There are various kinds of yaki in Japan. Okonomiyaki from Osaka, Monjyayaki from Tokyo and of course Hiroshimayaki from Hiroshima. Being the most popular okonomiyaki restaurant in the Roppongi district, Ushio boasts a healthy "Inaka" or countryside variation that is full of vegetables sans the mayonaise and brown sauce. According to the lady owner, this version comes from her hometown Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.

Despite the lack of sauce which may drive loyal okonomiyaki fans initially, the Inaka yaki (980 yen) is no short of flavours because it is filled with lots of takuan (savoury red pickles), besides the usual negi and cabbage. Topped with shoyu, bonito flakes, this tastes light and fragrant without stimulating the craving for any sauces

Oysters lovers should go for the Oyster Negi Yaki (1580 yen), which contains the fat and succulent oysters from Hiroshima. Strangely, this version reminds me of Chinese oyster omelette. Nevertheless, those who prefer the usual okonomiyaki can have their fill with the Mixed Yaki (1180 yen), which is drowned in beige sauce (likely to be a blend of mayonaise and oko brown sauce). Similar to the previous two, it is moist, fluffy, but has more ingredients such as juicy shrimps and octopus. 

Mixed Yaki (1180 yen)

Besides the main food, the ala carte dishes such as the steamed sesame chicken salad and meat gyoza were also very delicious. The salad was refreshingly crunchy in the slightly peppery dressing, though the chicken tasted like turkey meat. The meat gyoza is strictly speaking, not gyoza but simply shredded cabbage bundled by beef. Despite the delicious food,  extra charges apply for the appetizers. 

meat gyoza
Because all food are prepared in the kitchen rather than right in front of customers, one is unlikely to smell of okonomiyaki after the meal. Nonetheless, isn't it contradicting that Ushio allows smoking while trying to sell their cuisine based on a healthy concept ?
When the room was flooded with tobacco smell for the second time during the meal, that was the final straw.

Tokyo, Minato, Roppongi, 3 Chome−10−9, 木世川誠志堂ビル2F
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Tes Souhaits アテスウェイ: Ranked Best Pastry Shop in Tokyo

It's an open secret that Tokyo is a sweet paradise. But do you know which patisserie is the No.1 in this cosmopolitan city? It's neither Pierre Herme nor Sadaharu Aoki. It's A Tes Souhaits, a small pastry shop in the Ogkuibo suburb.

The man behind this shop is Chef Hideki Kawamura, a Niigata-born who has won many awards under his belt. Although he may be less well known than Sadaharu Aoki or Hidemi Sugino, I am pretty confident that he earns no less than them, given that his shop attracts long queue everyday.  

Opened in 2001, this shop has secured the prestigious No.1 title of Tokyo's Best Sweets Shop, beating thousands of other shops hands down with a reigning high average score of 4.1 on tabelog. 

The signature cake is the Mont Blanc, which is a faithful duplication of the usual Mont Blanc. It perplexed me as to why this is the most popular cake here when many of its companions that sat alongside in the display shelf fared so much better. The outer most "spaghetti-ed" paste is not too moist nor dry but it exceeded our sugar threshold.  
Crunchy Peanut Sables ( 700 yen per bottle)

Fortunately, the rest were excellent. For instance, the Fruit D' Nougat is a crunchy white chocolate wall filled with pistachio mousse, sour raspberry compote and a chewy almond dacquoise. It was bursting with pistachio deliciousness-yet with a much smoother quality that it could attained in Creme form.  
It's smooth. It's crunchy. It's bitter. It's sexy. 
This is Intense, an unassuming chocolate cake that strikes out as a dark horse because I did not expect it to be so delicious, perhaps matching the standards of Jean Paul Hevin. The nutty noisette biscuit underlying everything had an absolutely superb texture that complemented the 62% chocolate mousse and a waxen chocolate ganache that rested on top of it.  

The cake which shone unabashedly, is the St Honore Caramel. But one is not to be misled by the name, because it released the full flavors of chestnuts (the piped cream is chestnut flavour). I was worried that the avalanche of cream on top would be too buttery but it was fluffy and left no grease on the lips. What impresses is the attention to details. Most chefs would leave the choux ring base as it is, but Chef Hideki has insulated the ring with a perfect bitter caramel that adds a delightful crunch to the structure. Within the ring is pure chestnut paste and caramel mousse.  

Besides cakes, there was another world of freshly baked pastries that one wish that there is limitless stomach space to contain everything available. While I did not try the sausage croissant, I like the earthy flavor of the Bacon French Twist. But it was the majesty of the Kouign Annan (below) that sent me to cloud nine. It has surpassed the magnificence of the Kouign Annan by Gontran Cherrier with its uber crunchy layers that left an indelible memory. 
Probably the best Kouign Annan so far 
Macarons (Sakura, Matcha, Passionfruit Milk Chocolate, Vanilla and Framboise
Much as I would like to shower this place with praises, the macarons were mediocre, though it was considered a deal to snag 5 for 1350 yen. But what seems like the greatest problem is the location, which is quite a long distance to navigate on foot from Kichijoji or Nishi Ogikubo. Unless one comes during weekdays and non-holidays, there is no other choice but to take-away the cakes as dine-in is not available. 

Must Try: St Honore Caramel, Intense and Kouign Annan

A Tes Souhaits アテスウェイ 
Casa Kichijoji 2, 3-8-8, 
Musashino- shi, 
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Friday, March 28, 2014

Omotesando Koffee

Believe it or not, this zen-like Japanese house is a coffee house. Concealed in the back alleys of the busy Omotesando streets, this shop has received a cult status in Tokyo.  

The place is stripped down to its bare minimums. No tables, no chairs. Only a few marbled benches at the "Japanese garden" where one can sip on the coffee unless it rains. Hence, most people do takeaways. 

Just like the style of his shop, owner-barista Eiichi Kunimoto seemed to prefer a low profile. Trained in Naples, Italy, he dispenses coffee from the espresso machine with an unassuming charisma.  

Cappucino was our pick for a rainy winter morning. There is also espresso, machiatos and lattes. Good and full-flavoured java flavour from the Kyoto coffee beans. We couldn't demand for anything more than that.  

Seems like Kunimoto-san also has the gift of patissier as he cooks what he calls Baked Custard by hand besides his coffee chamber. The dark charred sweet treat is essentially a square version of classic Caneles, No complaints were heard from my folks who can easily lament at sugary food.

The setup feels too surreal here. But good news is that this place, originally meant to be a temporary installation, is likely to stay put at this same location for some time.  

Just don't give up finding the place if you get lost.

Omotesando Koffee

4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Access: Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda lines), Exit A2
Tel: 03 5413 9422
10am-7pm Irregular Holidays
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Andy Warhol Cafe: Eccentric is the Word

Andy Warhol Cafe is a pop up cafe that will run as long as the Andy Warhol Exhibition at Mori Art Museum. The menu is inspired by Warhol's several renowned works such as "Campbell Soup", "Hamburger" and "Banana". Like most theme cafe, the food tends to attract one's attention at first sight but compromises on flavours. We were glad that we had only the desserts and no more than that as they already created a nightmarish experience. 

The Sunglasses, a dangerously colorful parfait, cost more than a Pierre Herme cake at 880 yen but taste as cheap and artificial as one can possibly imagined. Canned cocktails fruits layered with dry sponge cakes, ultra-sticky buttercream and a stale brownie.  

 The Banana Cake 880 yen is simply a one-eighth inch slice of cold banana walnut cake topped with fruits. Any amateur home bakers would have produce a better cake than this. We were relieved that we had made the right decision to have a sumptuous ramen lunch at Gogyo before heading here. 

Campbell soup and burgers printed with the words "Andy Warhol"? Doesn't seem to worth our investment either. 
Colorful utensils to pair with colorful food

Banana cake but where's the cake???
Tadaa~ Hidden beneath the pile of fruits
Be Careful~Big Brother is watching you!

Andy Warhol Cafe 
Until 6th May (Ticket of exhibition is required)  
Daily 11am-11pm
Roppongi City View Mado Lounge  
Nearest Station Roppongi
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Monday, March 24, 2014

SCS Relaunches Spreadable Butter: Healthy and More Delicious!

Butter is something most of us spread on our toasts without thinking much of the hidden trans fats that may cause damage to our health in the long run. Fortunately, popular household butter brand SCS Butter has relaunched it's Spreadable Butter which is produced using a new and improved healthy formula. Canola oil is blended into the butter, making it a healthier spread on bread for sandwiches or party canapés. 

SCS Spreadable Butter is definitely a better and healthier option than margarine because it contains omega-6 fatty acids and linolenic acids, which helps to reduce the risk of heart attack, boost metabolism and protect the arteries from free radical damage. In fact, the new SCS butter can even increased fat burning because the short and medium fat chains are metabolized differently! 
As my family has the habit of having bread for breakfast, we can now indulge in this guilt-free spread as it contains no artificial coloring and is low in trans-fat. What amazes us is how easy and smooth it spreads on bread without having to wait for it to soften. This helps to save loads of time as most of us are either rushing for work or school. And how about the taste? It's delicate, creamy and with a light buttery fragrant.  
Stock up your pantry with these healthy SCS spreadable butter that is available at all major supermarkets islandwide at $5.95 per tub.

*Special thanks to SCS and Crowd Singapore

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gogyo 五行: Ramen on Fire

Ramen in a round black wok 
Burning like a silver flame
The summit of beauty and love.
And Gogyo was the name.

They've got it
Yeah Baby, they've got it. Wohoa~yeah
I'm your ramen, I'm your fire
At your desire.

Your eyes are not kidding you. 

This dramatic fire scene happens regularly in this ramen shop, Gogyo. This place is famous for Kogashi miso ramen (焦がし味噌麺), which literally means "burnt" ramen. The special broth is poured with lard and flambeed (set on fire),  resulting in a spectacular billowing flame.  As the broth is raised to temperatures above 100 degrees, it not only warms the noodles but the belly as the heat is trapped within the bowl. The aftermath of the fire a pool of ugly oil slick and burnt black remnants that floated everywhere but it was extremely tasty and surprisingly not too greasy. 
For lighter and cleaner palates, go for the Kogashi Shoyu Ramen 焦がし醤油麺 850yen, though I thought it lacked the garlicky, smoky depth of the miso version. Though the pork is slightly tough, it was delightful to find thin al dente noodles  instead of thick burly ones. I added 100 yen for cabbage. 

There are some side dishes during lunch such as steamed gyoza, though there are more choices during dinner. We had the deep fried chicken, karaage (380 yen) in the daily special sauce was far better than the oil drenched version at Keisuke-crunchy coating and super tender flesh. 

There is also tonkotsu ramen, Shio ramen and Tsukemen but it makes no sense to miss the Kogashi ramen on your first visit. It only has two outlets in Japan; one in Tokyo Nishi-Azabu, the other in Kyoto.
Kogashi Ramen, ramen of my desire.

Gogyo 五行
Mon-Sun 11.30am-4pm 5pm-3am (till 12am for Sundays/Holidays)
Nishiazabu 1-4-36, Minato Ku Tokyo
Nearest Station: Roppongi
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Ore no Kappo 俺の割烹: Gourmet Food at Super Low Price

Since the previous visit to Ore no French Italian, I had aimed to try at least another concept restaurant under the same 俺 ORE group. I managed to call through the busy hotline and secure seats at Ore no Kappo in Ginza, which serves traditional Japanese Kappo cuisine at super unbelievably low, low, low prices:)
Similar to the previous restaurant, the head chef Hiroshi Shimada is headhunted from 3-star michelin restaurant Azabu Yukimura and thus diners can be assured that quality is not compromised. There is neither English menu nor pictorial menu. Just one A4 sheet paper with Japanese scribblings.

Wall of Fame: Well-known chefs behind Ore no Kappo

From the list of cold appetizers, there were 3 different types of sashimi. For something more substantial, we opted for the buri sashimi 780 yen instead of the fugu. The lotus root stuffed with spicy mustard 380 yen turned out to be a replicate of the exact famous Kyushu local dish. The beef made a magnificent entrance on a large bone that transported me back to the Jurassic Park for a moment as the savagery images of carnivorous dinosaurs tearing the meat mercilessly off their victims flashed across my mind.  But of course, the slices of beef swarmed in ponzu sauce and grated radish 1780 yen was definitely better than the raw meat but they were not evenly cooked. Some were tougher to wrestle than others.  Besides the meat, we had the fish which was unbelievably huge for just 880 yen. The beans that triggered a numbing sensation on the tongue tend to mask the delicate flavor of the fish and I prefer not to have them together. However, opinions were divided on this as some detected whiffs of fishiness in this.

Nonetheless, the Kyoto-style stew of chicken and wheat gluten (780 yen) was a feast for all senses. The glistening rich savoury brown sauce puts the tender chicken in a glowing light and plumps up the chewy gluten that soaks up the entire pot of essence. Likewise, seeing that the table next to us had some giant tempura prawns (1280 yen), we could not resist but order a plate. Indeed, they delivered the crunch and juiciness as the prawns were extremely plump and fresh. The satisfaction even surpassed tempura specialty restaurant Tsunahachi. The Kani Miso rice 580yen is not too heavy-handed on the miso but the small portion suggests that it's something to be relished in dainty bites. And because our visit falls on the night of Setsubun (3rd Feburary), Eho-maki (恵方巻)-500 yen was available on the menu. These special sushi rolls are eaten for an auspicious year ahead.
Buri Sashimi ぶり刺身 780 Yen
 Lotus root stuffed with spicy mustard 380 yen

Roasted Enome Beef 1780 yen えのめ牛の赤身焼き
Steam Fish in Peppercorns 天然鯛山椒焼き 880yen
Kyoto-style Jibuni stew of chicken and wheat gluten 若鶏と京生麩の治部煮 (780 yen)

Kani Miso rice 580yen カニみそ飯
Eho-maki (恵方巻)-500 yen 

Houjicha Pudding ほうじ茶プリン 280 yen
Fried Shiratama Zenzai 揚げ白玉ぜんざい 380 yen

Renkon Mochi 蓮根もち480 yen.
Our stomachs were left with just enough room for the petite desserts. The deep fried golden roll of Zenzai mochi and red bean paste 380 yen definitely resembles the classical Chinese red ban pancake. But there were other creative items like the Renkon Mochi 480 yen.The crunchy lotus contrasted with the dessert's otherwise gelatinous texture. Houjicha Pudding 280 yen sounds rather predictable but delivers a earthy fragrance and velvety texture. 
As usual hidden charges include jazz music performance and table charge but there was no amuse bouche. Seatings from 3pm/5pm/7pm/9pm.  Is this going to be the last of my cheap gourmet food hunt in Tokyo?  Definitely not. 

Ore no Kappo 俺の割烹 銀座本店
Ginza Chuo Ku 8-8-17
Nearest Station: Ginza / Shimbashi 
Mon-Sun and Public Holidays
Seatings: 3pm/5pm/7pm/9pm
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