Allison Day


Fridgg.com

Other Sushi Randomness

Here I include sushi restaurant reviews and book reviews, as well as anything else that doesn’t fit into any other category.


Note: I wrote this post shortly after New Year’s. And then couldn’t decide when to post it, or if I should post it, and… now it’s two months late and I’m posting it anyways. Yeah… I’m an awesome blogger like that. Enjoy!

Happy New Year!

I hope 2014 started out with a little less excitement for you than it did for me!

Ever since starting Sushi Day back in 2006, I’ve gotten the responsibility for making sushi for my family’s New Year’s celebration every year.

On top of that, for the last three years since we mentioned it in my Miso Hungry Podcast, I’ve also started making the kuromame every year (we used to just have canned kuromame).

Making all that has never been a problem. Until now. (DUN DUN DUN!)

I started the kuromame on time – started soaking it two nights before New Year’s Day, then simmered it all day on New Year’s Eve. Buuuut… it seems I had the heat turned too low, because the beans were crunchy (crunchy!!!) after eight hours of simmering. GAH.

“Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just leave it on low overnight, and if it’s still not ready, I’ll cook it on high all morning while I’m making the sushi.” It was a totally solid plan.

… that is, until I noticed the power light on my laptop charger dimming, then brightening, then dimming again around 2:30am.

“Uh… am I using too much power?” Not that that makes any sense at all, but it was 2:30am. I wasn’t exactly thinking straight.

I ran out to the kitchen, and turned off our electric stove. Everything seemed fine (although for some reason our apartment seemed a tad bit dimmer than usual), so I tiptoed back to bed, trying not to wake Son.

A few minutes later, the power cut out entirely.

This time I did wake up Son, and made him go check outside. All the neighborhood lights were out. Great.

As we were falling back asleep, the sound of sirens cut through the air. “I wonder what that could be…?”

7am. The alarm on my phone is blaring. Sushi time!

Except… not. We have power, but only just barely. Not enough for the rice cooker to work, and no rice means no sushi! (And remember the part where we have an electric stove? Yeah, no way to cook rice the old-fashioned way, either.)

Crap. Crappity crap crap.

I stepped outside to run to Starbucks (which… um… was closed due to power outage. *facepalm*) and ran into one of my neighbors. “Do you have power?” “Just a little.” “Any idea what happened?”

Turns out a drunk driver was playing chicken with a power pole at 2:30am, and they both lost. -_-

Okay. Don’t freak out.

At a loss for what to do, I called my dad to see if I could try to bring everything over and make all the sushi at his house. (Which, by the way, is very difficult to do when the local cell towers are ALSO without power. Oy vey.) And then I realized that the car was in the garage… and I can’t get into the garage…

Called my mom. She suggested having Grandma cook some rice, and heading out there a few hours earlier than we had all planned to go. Okay. That should work. I woke Son, to tell him the plan and get him ready to go…

AND THEN THE POWER CAME BACK ON.

*happy dance*

Once I was sure the power was going to stay on, I started the rice, over-caffinated myself, and got the kuromame cooking again.

Two hours and 27 rolls of sushi, a successfully-cooked pot of kuromame, and a bowl of New Year’s ozoni later, we were ready to go. Right on time!

Moral of the story? Don’t drink and drive! (And maybe buy a backup generator for important cooking days… ;) )



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Ramen Burger

Have you heard of the Ramen Burger™?

They say it’s the next Cronut.


Ramen burger on TV

Started in New York just two months ago by Chef Keizo Shimamoto, the Ramen Burger™ has taken the ramen world by storm.

If his name sounds familiar to you, there’s a good reason for it – Keizo and I have been friends for several years now, and I’ve mentioned him when we went to the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum and his ramen shop Bassanova the first time Son and I went to Japan, and then again when we went back to Bassanova and then got monjayaki and ramen with him in the middle of a typhoon during our second trip to Japan with Rachael and her family.


Prep

A few weeks ago, Keizo sent out a message to a bunch of his LA friends. The ramen burger was coming to LA!

Even better (at least, as far as I was concerned), he was bringing the ramen burger to the Torrance Mitsuwa!

Since it was so convenient for us (we go to the Torrance Mitsuwa all the time), and we REALLY wanted to try a ramen burger, Son and I volunteered to help.


Allison with the Ramen Burger shirt

When we got there at 9:30am, they said there were already more than 300 people in line. (They weren’t going to start serving Ramen Burgers™ until 11am.) Some of the people near the front of the line had been there since 6am!


Ramen burger line

At one point, there were over 1000 people in line. The line wrapped around the entire Mitsuwa building, until the tail met the front of the line… and Mitsuwa’s a pretty large building.


Ramen burger line

Never have I been so glad to be able to volunteer for something – especially since it was a pretty hot day in Torrance.


Ramen burger line

Since there were so many of Keizo’s friends volunteering, I just hung out for the first couple of hours (and explained to all the random people passing by what a ramen burger is) while Son and Cam and Tracy (the other photographers) took photos of the prep and the enormous line.


Chef Keizo flipping buns


Chef Keizo showing volunteers how to cook the buns

Keizo was busy prepping, and showing all of the volunteers how to prepare the Ramen Burgers™.


Chef Keizo showing how to prepare a ramen burger


Chef Keizo with the first ramen burgers


Chef Keizo eating the first ramen burger


The first round of prep volunteers


Starting to cook ramen burgers for the media

It wasn’t long before the news stations and other journalists started crowding in.


News stations filming ramen burger prep


Getting ready to start


Keizo with his ramen burger

So… what is a ramen burger?


Allison holding a wrapped ramen burger

It comes wrapped in this neat wrapper that acts like a bowl, to catch the sauce and loose noodles.


Allison with a wrapped ramen buger

And when you open it up, you find two ramen “buns”, surrounding an angus beef patty, arugula, their special shoyu-based “secret sauce”, and green onions.


Ramen Burger

(Yeah, I’m a food blogger, of course I had to Instagram a photo of it!)


Allison taking a picture of her ramen burger


Ramen burger

So how does it taste?


Allison eating a ramen buger

Pretty gosh darned good, in my opinion.


Ramen burger with a bite taken out of it

I love ramen, I love burgers, and what Keizo has made is the perfect combination of the two.


Allison eating ramen burger with Lana in the background


The crowd

Everyone who had waited in line for hours seemed to think it was worth it, too!


The first people to get their ramen burgers


Keizo being filmed by CBS 2


Allison with her ramen burger shirt

Sweetest moment of the day? Keizo serving his mom the very first ramen burger of the day – and she loved it!


Keizo with his mom and brother


Lana being filmed by CBS 2

Hey, who’s that food blogger? Lana showed up! ^_^

Lucky woman didn’t even have to wait in line – one of the members of the media didn’t want to finish his, so he gave the rest of his ramen burger to her.


Allison and Keizo


The line inside Mitsuwa


People purchasing ramen burgers


Ramen burger prep line


Allison wrapping burgers

A few hours after we started, a couple of the volunteers had to leave, so I got to step in and wrap the ramen burgers for the next three hours.


Allison wrapping burgers


Allison handing off a burger

By 3pm, the last of the ramen burgers were gone. We had cooked, wrapped, and sold more than 500 of them. The day was a total success!

If you didn’t get to try a ramen burger this time around, you can try them every weekend at Smorgasburg in NY, or on weekdays for the next two weeks at Dassara in Brooklyn.

If you want to know when the ramen burger will be back in LA, follow me on twitter or facebook – I’ll announce it next time Keizo brings his Ramen Burger™ back to LA!

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Ramen shop

It’s time for another Mitsuwa fair, and all of the delicious things that comes with it!

This past weekend they had their Kyushu and Okinawa Fair at the Torrance, Costa Mesa, and San Diego stores. (If you’re near San Jose, Chicago, or New Jersey, check out their event page – the fair is in those cities this upcoming Thursday through Sunday!)


Condiments for ramen

As usual, they had a guest ramen shop visiting from Japan. This time, it was “Tanaka Shoten” with their “Hakata Nagahama Ramen”.


Ramen

We loved the light flavor of the broth, and the chashu was flavorful and just fell apart in your mouth.

They also offered a rice bowl topped with spicy cod roe, which Son loved.


Spicy cod roe rice bowl

We loved everything so much, we came back two days later for two more bowls of ramen and another rice bowl!


Allison eating the ramen

One very cool part about these Mitsuwa fairs is getting to see all of the interesting products they import from Japan just for the fair.


Allison shopping

Since this was an Okinawa fair, there were quite a few sweet potato products, including purple sweet potato somen (you can expect to see a recipe using that one of these days!) and sweet potato sticks.


Strawberry pudding cream puff stand

They also had “Pie Fresh AMAO strawberry Pudding on Choux” from “Kikuya” from the Oita Prefecture.


Strawberry cream puffs

They were interesting – custard and a flan-like strawberry pudding inside a cream puff.


Allison shopping

The caramel sauce was a little too bitter for my tastes, but aside from that they were delicious.


Sushi stand

They also had various types of sushi rolls, including mackerel sushi (which we didn’t try), and the Genkai Roll Sushi.


Sushi packaging

Japanese packaging is always so pretty!


Sushi

The Genkai Roll was delicious. The fillings in the roll included anago, shrimp, crab, cucumber, tamago, and mushrooms.


Sushi


Crepe stand

And, of course, we can never resist Japanese crepes!


Allison with the crepe

Since they had a “purple yam special” crepe, we obviously had to try it.


Purple sweet potato crepe

A little too potato-ey for our tastes (we would have expected them to sweeten the purple sweet potato puree just a bit), but it sure does look nice, doesn’t it?


Purple sweet potato crepe

Want to know when the next Mitsuwa fair is? Check out their event page (the next fair is in just a few weeks!), or follow me on Twitter or Instagram – I always post photos when I go!

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If you live near Torrance, CA or New Jersey, and if you like Japanese food (which, if you don’t, I hate to tell you this might not be the right food blog for you… ;) ), then you MUST go to the Mitsuwa Japanese Gourmet Fair this weekend (next weekend if you’re in New Jersey). (Also, if you live near Costa Mesa, San Jose, San Diego, or Chicago, they all have smaller versions of the fair, so those stores may have some, but not all, of the things I mention here.)


Ramen shop sign

Mitsuwa has these food fairs every year and I always try to make a point to go, because there is always SO much good food to try that they don’t normally carry!

I visited Friday, and let’s just say that my tummy is in a very happy place right now. :D

First things first, let’s talk about the food that they sell to be eaten there. Because oh my goodness, I think this food fair was my favorite of all the ones we’ve been to.

If you haven’t ever been to a Mitsuwa, then you should know that every one has a large food court with about five or so different Japanese restaurants there, as well as assorted other shops, and a large grocery section. For the food fairs, Mitsuwa takes over one of the restaurants and brings in a restaurant from Japan.

This time, they brought in Kamome Diner, owned by a man named Mr. Chiba, from Kesennuma, Japan. His shop served “Kesennuma Ramen Ushio Aji (Salt)” – a shio (salt broth) ramen – and a salmon bowl with sesame shoyu (soy sauce).


Kesennuma Ramen Ushio Aji (Salt)

We LOVED the ramen. A lot of time ramen can be pretty heavy, but since this had a chicken-based broth instead of a pork base, this was really light. The chashu was incredibly flavorful. We could have happily eaten another bowl. ($11 with the egg, less if you go without.)

(Pardon the instagram photos – someone forgot to bring his camera.)


Salmon bowl with sesame shoyu

I wasn’t expecting much from this, but it was insanely good. The sauce was a little bit sweet, and perfect for the fresh salmon. Seriously, so good we went back for a second bowl (and at only $4, totally worth it!) Even as we were eating it, Son was telling me that we will have to replicate this at home – so hey, maybe you guys will get a recipe sometime soon!

That was it for the food court (although all the other restaurants are still open, so you could totally have takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen, or all sorts of other delicious things, at least if you’re at the Torrance store!), but there was plenty of packaged food available to purchase.

We didn’t buy/try everything (some of the stuff is CRAZY expensive, like seafood salads that cost $40/lb!!!), but here’s what we did get:


Seafood bento

This seafood bento (which I’d call a chirashi, because there was definitely sumeshi underneath all that seafood, but what do I know? ;) ) was so beautiful, we couldn’t pass it by. Son really wanted to try it.


Seafood bento

It’s a little pricy at about $16, but SO WORTH IT. It consists of sushi rice topped with a mixture of uni, tamago, mushrooms, two types of tobiko, ikura, crab, and… I’m not entirely sure what that translucent white thing is, but it was delicious.


Seafood bento

I have never tasted such a satisfying bento/chirashi before! Everything was fresh, perfectly seasoned, and all the ingredients were wonderfully complementary, not to mention the presentation is gorgeous. Son really wants to go back tomorrow and get another one. :D


Croquettes

When we bought these, Son was all, “Meh, I don’t really like croquettes, just get whatever you want.”

And then he actually tried them after taking the photos, and was more like, “OMG THESE ARE THE BEST THINGS EVER! WHY AREN’T ALL CROQUETTES THIS DELICIOUS?!?!”

(Okay, maybe not so much yelling, but you could tell that’s what he meant. ;) )


Croquettes

We got potato and butter, salmon cream, and uni cream croquettes. The potato was alright, not too exciting. Tasted like mashed potatoes. However the salmon and uni croquettes were MIND BLOWING. Imagine taking the best things about salmon and uni, then make them creamier, mix them with potato, roll them in panko, and fry them up. It tastes even more amazing than it sounds.

They’re $1.50 each, but fairly large, so not too pricy.


Fish cakes

The thing Son loves most about every Mitsuwa food fair is the stalls that sell a huge variety of fish cakes. He always buys a bunch, then brings them home to put in his instant ramen or eat them over rice. They’re pretty much his favorite thing ever.

This time, they were all on sticks. There were six types (not like I have any idea what they all were – sorry!) and we got one of each.


Fish cakes

Delicious x 6. (Obviously we had to try a little of each, so we could report back to you!)

$2 each.


Sesame makidora

I’m a total sucker for anything black sesame (Rachael is 100% to blame for that one) so I just had to get one of these black sesame makidora (rolled dorayaki – like little Japanese pancakes filled with some sort of filling).


Sesame makidora

Mmmm, yum. I always love Japanese sweets, especially if black sesame is involved. :D

$2 each – they also had red bean, custard, and matcha fillings.


Caramel and custard imagawayaki

I’ve had something like these Sweet Pumpkin Obanyaki before and wasn’t super enthused about them, but this time, everything was different. We skipped the red bean one, and went for the caramel and custard ones.

HOLY COW THAT CARAMEL.

So here’s what you do.

Buy a caramel one. (I bet the custard is good too, but I haven’t actually tried that one yet.)

Heat it up just a bit, until the pastry is warm and the caramel is soft.

Take a bite. Make sure you get some of the caramel.

Do a happy dance around the kitchen because it is SO FREAKING GOOD.

Eat the rest, and then wish you had bought a few more at the fair.

Realize that hey, there are still two more days of the fair!

Rejoice.


Caramel and custard imagawayaki

These were quite a bit sweeter than I’d usually expect from Japanese sweets (that caramel is LEGIT caramel!), but I did not mind one bit, they were so good.

$2 each – there was also a red bean-filled one, but I seriously recommend the caramel.


Green tea cheesecake

Lastly, green tea cheesecake.

We almost didn’t try this one. Son wanted to buy something for his dad, so he decided on the cheesecake. Then while we were in the checkout line, he piped up, “I kind of want to get another one, because I really want to try it…” So he ran back to grab another one for us. ;)

This is true Japanese cheeesecake. Now, forget everything that comes to mind when you think of cheesecake. This is nothing like the rich, heavy, sweet American cheesecakes you’re probably familiar with. No, this is super light, not too sweet (especially with the green tea flavor), with only the slightest hint of cheese.

In other words, absolutely delicious.

About $20 each.


Green tea cheesecake

We also got a lemon chiffon cake which we haven’t opened yet because we’re saving it for dessert on Father’s Day (hi Dad!)

So if that hasn’t convinced you that you should go check out the Mitsuwa Japanese Gourmet Fair, you should go read Mary the Food Librarian’s post… and if you’re STILL not convinced, then there’s no hope for you at all. ;)

Personally, Son and I plan to stop by at least once more this weekend, because, um, we kind of want to get more of everything. :D

For more information, you can visit Mitsuwa’s website.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, I was not paid to write this review. Mitsuwa probably has absolutely no idea who I am. I just adore Japanese food (obviously) and want you all to be able to share in the deliciousness as well!

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This post is about you guys. I adore you, you guys are incredibly precious to me, and I have a new project that I’ve created just for you.


Kimchee, bacon, and egg sandwich

We all know you guys like food. Looking at photos of food, reading about food, learning about and drooling over all types of different foods.

That much is clear – otherwise, why would you be here?


Cauliflower soup

But what you may not have known is that when I’m not spending all my waking hours cooking for and maintaining this blog like a good food blogger (which as you’ve probably guessed is, ahem, pretty much always), I work as a programmer.

I’m a programmer who loves food, so it was an obvious choice to spend the last two months working as hard as I can on something for people like you and me – something for people who love food.


Zucchini blossom and pancetta pizza

And so I present to you, Fridgg!

It’s currently in a closed beta, which means it’s not open to the public just yet. So if you want a peek inside before the general public gets their hands on it, you can head over and sign up for an invite!

I’m really excited to finally be able to show Fridgg to you guys, and I really hope you guys love it!


Ramen

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Our second day in Japan began with onigiri. Delicious, delicious onigiri.


Onigiri display at Mai Mai

We found an onigiri specialty shop in Shimbashi station (when facing the entrance to the JR lines, it’s in the far left corner) called Mai Mai.

(We went there so often, the woman who works there started bringing out the English menu whenever she saw us coming!)


Mai Mai

(And what is it with Japanese women taking pictures of posters? Every single time we passed this huge poster in the train station, there was always a group of girls/women standing in front of it, taking photos – no matter what time of day or night. I’m not exaggerating – there literally was not a single time we went by where there wasn’t at least one female (usually quite a few more) taking a picture of it.)


Every time we passed this, there were girls taking pictures of it.

So back to the onigiri. One thing we really loved about the onigiri at Mai Mai was that they used a mixed-grain rice for it.


Onigiri

It was delicious.


Yum.

The first time we went, we got an onigiri filled with mayo mixed with salmon, and an onigiri filled with miso paste. (The onigiri there are 220 yen each – about $2.75.)


Onigiri with mayonnaise salmon

I couldn’t tell you which I liked more, because they were both fantastic. Although now that I think about it, I’m still dreaming about that miso onigiri…


Onigiri with miso

There was a bakery in the train station that we passed by every day, called Kobeya Bakery.


Kobeya Bakery

Apparently they’re known for their mango hand pies, so of course we had to stop in and see how they were.


Display at the bakery

And while we were there, we could’t resist drooling over all the rest of their baked goods as well.


Display at the bakery


Display at the bakery

Once we made our purchases, we walked back to a nearby outdoor plaza that had plenty of seating.


Mango hand pie

It’s no wonder the mango hand pies are their specialty – they were fantastic! Not too sweet, and full of perfectly ripe mango.


Schoolchildren and a businessman sharing a bench

All sorts of people can be seen sharing a bench there – like a businessman trying to catch a quick nap, next to some schoolgirls enjoying a snack.


Upward view in the plaza

But the thing I was really excited about was the tonkatsu sandwich we also purchased from the bakery.


Tonkatsu sandwiches

Ever since Rachael and I recorded our Miso Hungry Podcast episode about tonkatsu, I’ve been wanting to try a katsu sando (tonkatsu sandwich).


Tonkatsu sandwiches

Hooooly cow. (Perhaps “holy pig” would be more appropriate in this case.)

I’m kind of obsessed.


Tonkatsu sandwiches

The katsu sando was made with perfectly fried tonkatsu and a tangy sauce between two soft pieces of white bread. So simple, yet so ridiculously freaking good.

(806 yen for the mango hand pie and katsu sando – about $10.40.)


So yummy!


Shimbashi Station

Back through the station…


Shimbashi Station

… and then we were off to our actual destination.


Takoyaki stand across the street from the Tokyo Dome

(Not this takoyaki stand, though there is takoyaki in our future!)


Architecture near the Tokyo Dome

No, we were headed to the Tokyo Dome that day. Though not normally much of a baseball fan, Son wanted to find a gift shop because there was some Japanese baseball team jersey he wanted to see if he could buy.


Grilled cod roe with mayo onigiri

But before wandering the Tokyo Dome, we found we were hungry again (something you’ll find to be a common theme of this trip) so we sat down to eat another onigiri that we had gone back to Mai Mai’s to get after we enjoyed the first two so much.

This time, the filling was grilled cod roe mixed with mayonnaise. Delicious.


Grilled cod roe with mayo onigiri

And then we got slightly (understatement of the century) sidetracked by a manga store that was right next to the food court we had sat down in.


Anime store

So… we’re kind of closet One Piece fans.


Allison holding the One Piece book we got

In the first few years we were going out, we spent a ton of time watching episodes of it together.


Manga

It’s unfortunately been a while since we’ve had time to watch, but I’ve been wanting to for a while.


Inside the anime store

Which meant it was pretty much impossibly not to buy the manga I was holding a few photos up… and a One Piece shaped ice tray. Heh.


Allison buying the book and ice tray

I’m going to be the Pirate King!


Allison standing with a Luffy statue

Aaaaanyways… after that minor distraction, we were off wandering again, trying to find the baseball gift shop Son had found online.


Tokyo Dome City

We wandered around Tokyo Dome City, finding some very interesting menus.


Allison looking at the Baseball Cafe menu

And some very interesting bugs. (I nearly sat on that!)


Weird bug

Finally we found the gift shop, attached to the Tokyo Dome (a baseball stadium).


Tokyo Dome

Unfortunately we didn’t find the jersey Son wanted, but it was definitely interesting to wander around.


Baseball souviner shop at Tokyo Dome


Tokyo Dome

Then we went to find more food. Of course.


Takoyaki shop

Like I said earlier, takoyaki was to be had today!


Takoyaki

Mmmm, takoyaki.


Takoyaki

Such a guilty pleasure. Just look at those huge pieces of octopus! (450 yen for 6 pieces – about $5.75)


Huge piece of octopus in the takoyaki

Son opted to get a salmon ochazuke. (750 yen – about $9.50)


Ochazuke shop

Ochazuke is a dish where you pour a hot liquid (I’ve mostly seen it with green tea, but this one had dashi) over a rice bowl.


Son's ochazuke

This is the first time I’ve seen it made with all these toppings, but it was fantastic!


Son's salmon ochazuke

Then it was back to the train station.


Train station

We love the train system in Japan.


Train station

Especially when there are little dessert shops right near the train tracks!


Dessert shop

This one was in Akihabara station, which I believe was the station nearest the Tokyo Dome.


Allison buying flan tart


Clock reads 15:22


Tart

A quarter of a flan-like tart cost us about $4.70.


View from the elevator in our hotel

After that it was back to the hotel for a nap, then we wandered around the area for a bit.


Interesting clock near our station

There’s some really interesting architecture near the Shimbashi station.


Our hotel

By then it was late enough that we just wanted to find something to eat and get back to sleep. (Yep, still a bit jet-lagged.)


Ueno station

Son decided he wanted to go check out Ueno station and see what they had there.

Japanese train stations almost always have an excellent selection of pretty gosh darned good food, whether it be in restaurants or take-out.


Ecute

Ecute is a little food mall in Ueno station that has a bunch of little stores selling a huge variety of both sweet and savory foods.


Shops inside Ecute

We looked around for a bit – there were so many options, it was hard to choose!


Bentos

But we finally decided on a bento box (1000 yen – about $13).


Buying a bento


More shops


Salads

After all the ramen and greasy foods (takoyaki and katsu sando aren’t exactly light foods!) of the past few days, I wanted something lighter, so I got a small salad as well.


Buying a salad

Back at the hotel we got into the food… I just love the bento boxes in Japan! So many interesting foods, you can’t possibly get bored with all that variety (and Son is obsessed with all the different kinds of rice).

The fish was fantastic, all the different tsukemono and types of rice were delicious, and I especially loved the little meatball – tsukune – in the lower right corner.


The bento we bought

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View from our hotel room

Day 1. Our first full day in Japan. We woke up to find we had quite a lovely view of Hamarikyu Gardens from our hotel room.

Since we weren’t able to get our JR Passes the previous evening when we arrived in Japan, off we went to Shinagawa station, where there was a JR Exchange Office.

And back we went to our hotel room, because someone (we won’t name names, but it starts with “S” and ends with “on”) neglected to bring their passport, and we couldn’t exchange our JR passes without it. (They wouldn’t even take a photocopy! Boo.)

But we weren’t totally empty-handed – since the first time we were in Japan we stayed across the street from Shinagawa station, we became quite well acquainted with the curry pan from a bakery in the station. Obviously, we couldn’t walk by and not get one.


Curry pan

Do you have any idea how impossible it is to resist buying a cream puff when you can smell them, freshly baked, the scent wafting through the train station? It’s like going by Krispy Kreme when that “Freshly Baked” sign is blinking, or In N’ Out when you can smell french fries cooking from across the street. Or smelling bacon, anytime, ever. Instant cravings.


Beard Papa's Display

Yeah, so there’s a Beard Papa’s shop in Shimbashi station, right near the entrance to the JR station. And Son has a coworker who’s OBSESSED with Beard Papa’s (hi, Victor!), so of course we had to stop by and see how the ones in Japan compared to the ones in the US.

All in the name of research and being a good friend. Yup. That’s our excuse, and we’re sticking with it.


Beard Papa's Ice Cream Puffs

No comparison. None. At all. Even just the plain custard-filled cream puff blew our minds. (Which unfortunately is, I’m pretty sure, the only one we had there that you can actually get in the US. Come on, US Beard Papa’s! What’s your deal?!) Best. Cream puffs. Ever.


Beard Papa's classic cream puff

So, after a quick jaunt up to our hotel room to retrieve aforementioned someone’s passport, off we went to Tokyo Station to exchange our JR Passes. (Tokyo Station is in the opposite direction of Shinagawa Station, a little bit closer to Shimbashi Station so cost us less, and also has a JR Exchange Office.)


Tsukemen

After attaining our JR Passes, we decided to walk around Tokyo a bit. (When I say Tokyo, I mean the area around Tokyo station.) By then our stomachs were starting to grumble (a curry bun and a cream puff, shared between the two of us, does not make for much of a breakfast.)


Tsukemen noodles

Mind you, neither of us read or speak Japanese, and we’re only somewhat familiar with certain parts of Tokyo. So when it comes to finding a good place to eat… we’re pretty much useless. After a bit of wandering, we ended up at a ramen place with a line out the door for lunch – always a good sign.


Tsukemen soup

I got the tsukemen, which is similar to ramen, but the noodles are served on the side and the broth is thicker than normal ramen.


Gyoza

Son had the miso ramen, and we shared an order of gyoza.


Tsukemen noodles

The tsukemen was ridiculously good. The weirdness of squishing into a table across from a couple of businessmen was worth it for that tsukemen.


Eating the tsukemen

Son’s ramen and the gyoza weren’t bad either, but we were both in agreement that my tsukemen was the winner of that meal. (The meal came out to 997 yen – about $12 – such a deal!)


Miso ramen

After lunch, we walked around a bit, then headed back to Shimbashi station.

We couldn’t help but stop by Beard Papa’s again – more research, of course.


Tully's

We also stopped by the Tully’s inbetween Shimbashi and Shiodome stations (on the way to our hotel).


Allison in Tully's

Hoping for a taste of home, and unable to resist buying boba milk tea (me, an addict? Nah…), we stopped there for a second, and then sat down in the courtyard outside.


Boba milk tea from Tully's

We were so, so sorely disappointed.


Beard Papa's cruller

In the boba, I mean. The cruller-type pastry we bought from Beard Papa’s (filled with the same sort of pastry cream as the regular cream puffs) was fantastic! Quite possibly even better than the original cream puffs.


Boba

But that boba… ugh. Such a waste of 150 yen.


Huge crowd near Tully's

After a quick nap – jet lag had us utterly exhausted by that time – we took the train over to Harajuku.


Harajuku

We walked around Harajuku for a bit, then through Yoyogi park – one of our very favorite parks in Tokyo. This time it was too late to see the Rockabilly dancers or visit food stalls, but it was still nice, a moment of calm in the middle of a busy city.

We searched for the Sword Museum on the other side, but it ended up being closed by the time we got there.


Sword Museum sign

So instead, since we were in the area, we took a train to Shindaita station and walked to Bassanova – the ramen shop where Keizo of Go Ramen works.


Boom and Keizo making ramen at Bassanova

We got to meet Boom, another Japanese-American who began working at Bassanova after Keizo mentioned on his blog that they were looking for more employees.


Boom and Keizo making ramen at Bassanova

Son got the Tom Yum Ramen, a spicy Thai-style ramen. It was fantastic. Seriously, we haven’t had anything here that wasn’t amazingly good.


Son's Tom Yum Ramen

But that wasn’t what I was here for.

I came to Bassanova looking to get my Green Curry Ramen Soba fix!


Allison's Green Curry Soba

Ooooh, baby. That’s some freaking fantastic soba.

I’m still working on convincing Keizo to open a branch of Bassanova in LA, so I don’t have to travel all the way to Tokyo to get my fix!

I swear, it’s like a drug.

And 1800 yen (about $23) for 2 bowls of ramen makes it a very affordable drug.


Tom Yum Ramen

After hanging out at Bassanova with Keizo for a bit, we took the train to Shibuya to walk off all that ramen.


Walking around Shibuya

Then back to the hotel to pass out. Day 1 was a ramen-filled success!

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As some of you might know, in January of this year I started a podcast – Miso Hungry Podcast, all about Japanese food! – with Rachael Hutchings of La Fuji Mama. (And if you didn’t know, then you should definitely go listen to one of our 25 (plus 2 mini) episodes! Seriously, go. Now. This post can wait, promise. ^_^)

A couple of months into the podcast, Rachael mentioned that she was planning a trip to Japan with her husband in the summer, as she does every summer. (They lived in Japan for a while a few years back, and his job takes him back to Tokyo for a few weeks every year.)

Half-jokingly, one of us proposed that I should go too, as a “research trip” for the podcast. The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like an awesome idea… and when I mentioned it to Son, he was totally on board.

So what started as a wild, “that would be cool” sort of idea, ended up as a full-fledged trip to Japan. In the middle of June, solidly in typhoon season, six of us (on three different flights) headed off to Japan – Rachael, her husband, and their two daughters, and Son and I.


Reading the Kindle before we left

Son and I booked our flight on Singapore Air. It’s the same airline we flew the first time we went to Japan, and we highly recommend it. Even though we fly economy, they have great service, friendly flight attendants, and food that’s actually pretty good.


Singapore Sling

To say I’m a bit out of touch with what’s trendy/cool/”in” would be an understatement. Especially when it comes to anything having to do with any sort of alcohol.

The super-sweet flight attendant who took care of our part of the plane recommended that we get a Singapore Sling, on one of the instances when she came by with the drink cart. (I think she thought Son and I were on our honeymoon.)

So we got one to share, which she made super-weak (I’m pretty sure it was practically a virgin cocktail) because neither of us ever drink.

Of course I, the dork that I am, was sitting there thinking, “How cool, they have a cocktail named after their airline! And it’s not half bad, either… actually pretty good, for something with alcohol in it.”

(Remember the part where I said I don’t drink… and I’m waaay out of touch? Yeah…)


Singapore Sling description

Dinner was buta kakuni (Japanese braised pork) with rice, which came with tamago and shrimp on the side, a rice cracker, a roll w/ butter, soba with dipping sauce, and chocolate brownie ice cream. For airplane food, it was damn good.

(Asian airlines always have the best food! I’m told food on the American airlines can’t even compare. Word to the wise – although both options offered by Singapore Air at each meal are pretty decent, the one with Asian food is almost always better.)


Airplane dinner

After a few hours of “sleeping” – aka Son watching various movies and me reading an entire Robert Jordan book on my Kindle, we got another light meal – this time chicken curry with rice, which came with a roll with butter, seafood salad, and a mocha cake. Again, delicious (although the cake kind of sucked.)


Airplane curry

We landed at Narita Airport around 7pm Japan time… which unfortunately was juuust too late to exchange our JR Exchange Order for a JR Pass.

(PRO TIP: if you are going to be staying in one city, without traveling elsewhere much, then the JR Pass may not be worth it for you, since local trains usually aren’t too expensive. However, if you’re planning on using the Shinkansen a lot – we used it to go to Kyoto and Osaka – then it might be worth buying one before your trip to Japan.)


Son on the train

So, since we were too late to get our JR Passes, we ended up spending 2800 yen (about $35) for tickets on the Rapid train to get from the airport (which is about 1 hour away from Tokyo) to Shimbashi station (which is the closest big station to the hotel where we were staying.)


Allison on the train

By the time we got to our hotel, we were 100% completely and totally exhausted. Also, kind of lost. (Park Hotel Tokyo, which is where we were staying, is kind of hard to find from the subway station level, and the lobby is on the 20-somthingth floor.)

And by that time, everything was closed. Luckily for us, there was a Family Mart convenience store (aka “combini”) on the subway level of the hotel building, which our bellboy was kind enough to point us to.

Thank goodness for Family Mart. Open 24-hours, always brightly lit, and always with plenty of food… it became our favorite place over the next two weeks. Every morning we would buy a bottle of water there, every night a tuna with mayo onigiri for the next morning’s breakfast… and any time we found ourselves still hungry when most restaurants were already closed (or we were too exhausted to go out), Family Mart was there with plenty of good food.

Seriously. I’m not kidding about it being really freaking good food (um, hello American convenience stores, get your act together please!)

For our first meal back in Japan, we ended up with inari sushi and futomaki, fruit jelly, and a cherry soda. (Sushi was good, Son ate the fruit jelly, and I’m generally not a fan of cherry-flavored things so I didn’t really like the soda, but Son says it was good.) All for about 800 yen (about $10). Only in Japan will I ever advocate getting convenience store sushi! ^_^


Family mart dinner

Okay, so our “first” day in Japan wasn’t so exciting… hence it being labeled “Day 0″. But the next day included ramen, cream puffs, and more ramen… so stay tuned for the next post!

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seared albacore tuna belly nigiri

Sustainability is an important food issue these days. But what people don’t always realize, is that it can also be a very delicious issue.

Luckily, we have people like Hajime Sato of Mashiko, the lovely people at I Love Blue Sea, and Casson Trenor to show us just how delicious sustainability can be.


The Butterfly Project Loft

Last week was a perfect example of this. There was an event in Los Angeles – A VIP Mindshare LA Sustainable Sushi Experience with Tataki Sushi at the very cool Project Butterfly Loft that Son, Rachael, and I were lucky enough to get to go to.


Kin Lui and Raymond Ho, chefs at Tataki Sushi Bar in San Francisco

Tataki is a sushi bar in San Francisco… actually, three sushi bars in San Francisco. And now they’re looking to open a branch in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it. A sustainable sushi restaurant in LA? You can bet I’ll be there quite a bit… and I’m going to be doing anything I can to help them do well. Want to help? Email me and I’ll get your info to Casson.


Casson Trenor

But as much as the dinner was about getting the word out about bringing Tataki to Los Angeles, it was also just as much about the food. And oh boy, was it ever about the food… amazing, delicious, creative food!


Course 1: Pumpkin-carrot soup and a coho salmon salad with three types of seaweed and a miso-sesame dressing

The first course was made up of a pumpkin-carrot soup, and a coho salmon salad that had three types of seaweed in it. The soup had the sort of flavor that seems like a new, different flavor, but you just cannot stop eating it. The seaweed in the salad was a new experience for me – more than your typical wakame seaweed that you find in many Japanese applications. It was texturally fascinating, and the salmon, of course, melted in your mouth.

Coho salmon is generally considered a good choice in terms of sustainability, because of how it is fished – especially when it uses trolling methods (a hook-and-line method that tows fishing lines behind or alongside a boat, which is considered an environmentally responsible fishing method.).


Course 2: Canal Oysters with tobiko, basil chiffonade, Sriracha, and ponzu sauce

The second of nine courses consisted of Canal oysters, topped with tobiko, basil chiffonade, and a Sriracha ponzu sauce. I only recently developed a taste for oysters – three years ago, at the first sustainable sushi dinner I attended at Mashiko. (It’s all coming full circle!) These were delicious. Of course. (There’s a good chance I will be trying to make these at home, soon.)


Course 2: Canal Oysters with tobiko, basil chiffonade, Sriracha, and ponzu sauce

Oysters are one of the best types of seafood you can eat. They are almost always farmed, and according to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, most of these farming operations are very well managed – so as consumers we have little to worry about here.


Course 3: Albacore tuna poke with endive and nori

The third course was a Hawaiian-influenced albacore tuna poke, with nori and endive. I really want more of this. I had never considered endive as a pairing for sashimi, but when you spoon a little of the poke onto it and take a bite, it’s entirely addictive.

Albacore tuna is a great choice, especially when compared to unsustainable options like bluefin tuna. The albacore tuna is much smaller than the bluefin, and something that Casson constantly says is that the smaller the fish, the better option it is. (Sardines are a great option.)


Course 4: Vegan tsukune made of mountain yam, panko, water chestnuts, and bean curd. (Tsukune are usually chicken meatballs)

The next course was a vegan tsukune, made of mountain yam, panko, water chestnuts, and bean curd. “But,” I’m sure you’re wondering, “if it’s vegan, then that means there’s no fish. How does this fit into a sustainable sushi dinner?”

Part of what Casson and the chefs at Tataki are trying to show is that sustainability is about more than just eating the right fish – vegetables are a vastly overlooked solution. As you’ll see later (and as I’ve mentioned in the past), vegan sushi can be so good, that even meat-lovers crave it.

That goes for these meatballs two-fold. Tsukune are usually meatballs made of chicken, but I’d claim that this vegan version is even better. You have no idea how much I am still craving them. (Casson, when you guys open a LA branch of Tataki, these had better be on the menu!)


Course 5: Arctic char sashimi with dill and capers

Course number five consisted of arctic char sashimi with dill and capers. Although obviously not a very Japanese dish, it utterly melts in your mouth.

I’ve been talking about arctic char as a sustainable substitution for salmon for quite a while, and for good reason – it’s delicious. And sustainable! Most of the arctic char sold in the US is farmed, and luckily for us, done in closed systems – land-based systems that prevent a lot of the issues that come with open farms.


Course 6: Horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and daikon, kampachi, skipjack tuna with mustard and scallions, hokkaido scallops layered with lemon slices.

It wouldn’t be a sustainable sushi dinner without a sashimi course, and Tataki definitely delivered. The course included horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and daikon, kampachi, skipjack tuna with mustard and scallions, and hokkaido scallops layered with lemon slices. The skipjack tuna melted me, and in my opinion you can never go wrong with scallops. The horse mackerel and kampachi? Also amazing.

Not surprisingly, horse mackerel, kanpachi, skipjack tuna, and scallops are all good choices when it comes to sustainability.


seared albacore tuna belly nigiri and black cod 'faux-nagi' (made to taste like unagi)

The seventh course had everyone sighing happily. This course consisted of four nigiri, but Casson had very specific instructions about the order in which you were to eat them. Traditionally, you are supposed to eat sushi in the order from the most delicate to the fattiest/most flavorful, and this was no exception.


black cod 'faux-nagi' (made to taste like unagi)

We were instructed to start with the suzuki (striped bass) nigiri, that was topped with tobiko.

Then we were to sample the seared albacore belly nigiri – this was when the room lit up with ecstatic groans. (Although everything was amazing, if I had to pick a single favorite bite from the evening, it would have been this.)


Course 7: Suzuki (striped bass) nigiri with tobiko, seared albacore tuna belly nigiri, saba (mackerel) nigiri with candied kombu, black cod 'faux-nagi' (made to taste like unagi)

Third of the nigiri we were instructed to eat was the saba (mackerel) mackerel with candied kombu.

Lastly, something that I’ve made and posted here in the past – Tataki’s black cod “faux-nagi”. As we know, unagi is a bad choice when it comes to sustainability… the problem is that everybody loves it. So Tataki came up with this black cod-based substitution… try it, and you’ll see that it does quite well in place of unagi.


Course 8: Reggae Roll - vegan uramaki with asparagus and cucumber, topped with avocado, cherry tomato, and shaved pumpkin. Served with avocado puree, Sriracha aioli, and Sriracha sauce for dipping.

Then we moved on to the (ura)maki sushi course. Or rather, courses. Although this was billed as a 9-course dinner, it really turned out to be more like 12 courses after all the maki rolls!

Like I mentioned before, they started the maki course with a vegan roll – the Reggae Roll. Filled with asparagus and cucumber, and topped with avocado, cherry tomato, and shaved pumpkin, then served with avocado puree, Sriracha aioli, and Sriracha sauce for dipping… it’s so flavorful, you have no opportunity to miss the fish.


Course 8: Golden State Roll - uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. All ingredients are local.

The second of the four rolls was the Golden State Roll – an uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. Everyone really liked the use of apple in a sushi roll… and I always, always love anything made with scallops.


Course 8: Golden State Roll - uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. All ingredients are local.

Another concept that Casson speaks of often is the idea that using ingredients that are local is more sustainable than using ingredients that have to be shipped from very far away. Every ingredient in the Golden State Roll is local to California. It’s common sense, if you think about it. Local uses fewer resources, and keeps demand for ingredients more spread out (instead of, for example, everyone buying tuna from a single source like Japan).


Course 8: Tataki Roll - uramaki filled with avocado, cucumber, and topped with albacore, arctic char, black cod 'faux-nagi', and multi-colored tobiko.

“When you think about the Rainbow Roll, it’s pretty much carnage on a plate (in terms of sustainability).”

Casson said this as they brought out the Tataki Roll, and it’s true – you often have every sort of popular, unsustainable fish packed on top when you order a Rainbow Roll. So as a sustainable replacement, he offers the Tataki Roll – uramaki filled with avocado, cucumber, and topped with albacore, arctic char, black cod ‘faux-nagi’, and multi-colored tobiko. All sustainable ingredients that we’ve already seen, and entirely delicious.


Course 8: Russian Roulette Roll - asparagus, scallop, crawfish, sriracha, kewpie mayonnaise, soy-marinated masago. One of the rolls is filled with habanero oil, hence the name.

The last of the sushi roll courses was one that, quite frankly, terrified me. They brought it out, and our entire table just sat and stared at it, no one daring to touch it.

“Why,” you ask? Well, the name tells all. This is known as the Russian Roulette – a roll with asparagus, scallop, crawfish, sriracha, kewpie mayonnaise, and soy-marinated masago. It all sounds innocent enough, until Casson warned us that one of the pieces had been filled with habanero oil… hence the glass of sake included with the plate.

We all stared at the plate warily, as if it held a poisonous snake. Other tables had already started eating the Russian Roulette, piece by piece. You could tell when someone got the loaded piece of sushi – they would go red in the face, and the room would erupt in a ruckus.


Rachael

Finally, Rachael was the first one at our table daring enough to reach out and take a piece. We all watched her with bated breath… until she smiled and admitted, “I got it.” Not that you could tell – the spice had no effect on her at all. (Have I ever mentioned that she’ll eat anything? I’d even venture to say she can handle spicier foods than Son can, and that’s saying a lot.)

Needless to say we were all relieved, and were able to enjoy the rest of sushi without the sense of dread that had previously haunted us.


Course 9: Shiso and lychee granita with plum wine and yogurt

Last course was dessert – a shiso and lychee granita with plum wine and yogurt. To me, it tasted like Vietnam – not a bad thing at all. (Son was convinced it had fish mint in it – a Vietnamese herb that apparently tastes quite similar to shiso.)


Allison

All in all, the dinner event was a grand success. We met a lot of interesting people, ate great food, and Casson gleefully embarrassed me in front of the entire dinner.

I’m really excited about the future of sustainable dining (seriously – bouncing-off-the-walls, dancing-around-the-room excited), and eagerly anticipating the arrival of Tataki in Los Angeles!


Rachael, Allison, and Casson

P.S. This is an excellent time to go check out my Miso Hungry Podcast… this week’s episode is all about sushi! We talk about this sushi dinner, and also talk quite a bit about the new documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, that I highly recommend all of you go see.

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