Travels in Japan 2019

by foodhoe on February 29, 2020

Hey there, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted anything, but I haven’t stopped taking photos of all the good food.   Late last year Mr. K and I went to Japan, an ancient, magical place that I have been eager to visit for a very long time.  35 years ago, I spent a year in Tokyo studying Japanese at the International division of Waseda University.  Going back, it was the same but different; this time around, I wasn’t on a starving student’s budget!  We spent an awesome and epic 2 weeks exploring Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and finally Tokyo.

We landed in Nagoya which is a large suburban city that offers a gentle transition for travelers to  Japan, as it lacks the intense crowds and chaos of the bigger cities.  We had time to adjust, figure out our bullet train schedule, see the sights and of course, eat some local specialties.  The first night we ventured out to Tempura and Wine Kojima (two of my favorite things), where we had remarkably fresh maguro sashimi served with real grated wasabi.

Here are a few examples of the brilliantly crafted tempura:  Shiso leaves with a delicate crisp tempura batter topped with salmon roe and dotted with fresh wasabi.  The texture of the batter was both light and crunchy, so unlike the thick chewy coating we get here in the states.

Along with the superior crisp batter, the array of items dipped in and then expertly fried were mind boggling!  Spears of asparagus covered with freshly shaved parmesan,  scallops, thin slices of matsutake mushroom along with thicker baton shaped pieces, lotus root stuffed with foie gras then dipped in the delicate tempura batter and fried… so many beautiful and amazing flavors!  We had camembert cheese tempura with a tiny bit of jam which was also incredible.  I really need to learn how to make tempura because I never thought beyond prawn and vegetables and now I want to explore the delicious possibilities…

One of the regional specialties of Nagoya is Unagi, the most famous dish is called Hitsumabushi.  The eel is grilled and  served on a bowl of rice with shredded toasted seaweed, tsukemono pickles, grated fresh wasabi, green onions.  My Aunt Motoe instructed us to begin with just the eel and rice. The grilled flesh is rich and succulent coated with a sticky sweet and savory marinade that has delectably burnt edges and is so good with the plain steamed rice.

Next we added in the condiments, each element gave additional dimensions to the dish, and then our server came by with a pot of green tea and poured it into our bowls, making ochazuke, which was the best, my favorite!

We had an interesting appetizer of deep fried eel bone senbei that looked intimidating but were surprisingly not tough, just delightfully crunchy and savory.

We frequented convenience stores like Family Mart and 7-11 because they had ATM machines but the snacks were so fun to check out!  And then there were really amazing arrays of sandwiches and musubi and convenience foods.

One last specialty dish was this Ogura Toast, which is fluffy white bread toasted and buttered then filled with sweet red bean paste.  It was excellent with a cup of strong coffee.

Our next stop was Kyoto, which was so epic, it will be another post… soon, I promise!

 

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4269 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA | 650.213.1111 | website

Mr. K and I recently drove down to Palo Alto to check out the Sunday Sushi Platter that is available for a limited time at The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse.  The Alexander’s Steakhouse brand is known for high end steaks and American-Asian fusion cuisine and The Sea being an upscale seafood concept where Chef Yu Min Lin blends contemporary cuisine with Japanese sensibility and ingredients to transform The Sea’s menu into the extraordinary.  Chef Lin grew up in Taiwan and trained in Japan and was previously at the Michelin two-starred Providence in Los Angeles.  In 2008 with Chef Michael Cimarusti, he defeated the famous Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto, in “Battle Black Fish” on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America program.  Ooh!  His résumé includes stints at the French Laundry and Manresa, even more ooh…  Chef Lin is a sushi master who meticulously sources all his seafood and will prepare and design an incredible selection of seasonal fresh fish for the Sunday menu through September 1st, 2019.  The atmosphere in the sprawling restaurant is sleek and luxurious offering a variety of lovely dining spaces including options to host a private event.  Seafood is the main attraction, but steaks are also on the menu, the tasting menu is $135 ($200 with pairings) and requires full table participation.  The full menu is available in the spacious and more casual bar, which is where I would probably want to hang out.

The interior is posh and elegant, the lighting is soft and flattering, and the service matched the sophistication.

 

I enjoyed a lovely Crémant de Bourgogne, Val de Mer, Non Dosé N.V. ($13)

We couldn’t resist the tray of delectable breads which came by more than once.  They were all delicious: especially the sesame flat bread (right), cheddar biscuit (center) and a buttery furikake croissant which had a wonderful flakey crisp crust.  A word of warning, they do fill you up, and you need to save room for the main event!

Our server Han brought us an adorable amuse of fried smelt, fresh from the fryer which was gone in two bites.  He was fantastic, friendly and approachable and magically appeared whenever we needed anything.

Of course we had to order the famous Hamachi Shots ($28), which are served in 6 separate shot glasses, tender slices of yellowtail hamachi, layered with pieces of avocado, frizzled ginger, jalapeño, micro daikon and drizzled with a pungent truffled ponzu that was absolutely delightful. Yes, truffled ponzu is still a thing…

The Sushi Platter ($35) is a beautiful assortment of nigiri and rolls with two dipping sauces: soy sauce & wasabi and the other is a ponzu with truffle oil, as well as an assortment of pickles, pickled daikon, cucumber and ginger as a palate cleanser.  The platter has 9 compartments, the top row is filled with condiments, so I would say that the standard platter comes with 6 pieces of sushi.  We asked for additional items from the daily specials, which included hotate (scallop) and uni (urchin), and the chef threw in a tamagoyaki (rolled egg omelette) and a piece from a shrimp tempura roll.  Note: this platter included a few extra items and would be priced accordingly.

Han dropped off an order of the Lobster Rocks, comparing them to the famous Taiwanese snack called popcorn chicken that I adore.  The lobster meat is coated with a batter made from black squid ink then deep-fried, making them look like rocks served on a rich layer of almond purée, truffle emulsion, and mitsuba ($32).   They are fabulous, the sweetness of the lobster combined with the fresh, pungent earthiness of the truffle sauce dragged through the rich almond sauce was heavenly.  
 

I just swooned over the Urchin with champagne beurre blanc served with brioche toast.  The Half Moon Bay sea urchin are dramatically presented in the spiny shell and are so decadent and rich spooned over the delicately crisp brioche toast.  It melts in your mouth, suffusing your tastebuds with the intense flavors of the sea, lemony beurre blanc and a satisfying crunch from the toast. So very moreish….

Han encouraged us to look at the desert menu but we were too full, everything sounded so rich and decadent!  And I am glad we didn’t try to eat a dessert because he dropped off a plate of mignardises, bite-size morsels of browned butter coconut brittle and chocolates, which were perfect and all that we needed.

And then he brought us a cone of cotton candy, an Alexander’s trademark.  A wondrous cloud of pina colada flavored spun sugar, a familiar childhood treat that melts in your mouth.  I used to love this stuff…  And so our grand meal ended, we left feeling pampered and stuffed silly and with the cotton candy packed in a plastic sack to enjoy later.

Note: I was invited to dine as a guest of the house, which was incentive to drive the distance to Palo Alto.  We loved our sumptuous meal and felt that the $200-ish cost of the meal was reasonable for a grand night out and would definitely recommend it if you are in the area!  Thanks so much to The Sea and their excellent staff.

They definitely have the fine art of service down!

The restaurant is open for dinner nightly, Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and on Sunday and Monday from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m.
The bar and lounge open at 5:00 p.m
Valet parking is available Monday through Saturday plus private off-street spots are an option.
An outdoor patio has room for 50. The Sea also has substantial private dining options with a half dozen venues of various sizes and a full conference center that can accommodate up to 200 guests.

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Barrel Club Brunch rolls out at LB Steakhouse in San Jose

June 18, 2019

334 Santana Row, Ste 1000, San Jose  |  408.244.1180 | website Last weekend I was invited to a sneak preview of the new over-the-top Barrel Club Brunch menu at LB Steakhouse on Santana Row in San Jose.  Starting this weekend the new menu will be served on Saturdays and Sundays with a kick-off event on June 22 to […]

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The fabulous mole buffet at Los Moles in Emeryville

June 10, 2019

1320 65th Street, Emeryville, CA  94608 | Phone+1 (510) 570-1703 | website This is one of my favorite brunches in the East Bay.  Every weekend Los Moles puts out an amazing buffet where you can sample all eight of their fantastic Mole sauces created by owner/chef Lito Saldana.  It’s a lavish spread of everything you could […]

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Veggie Lee Chinese restaurant in Hayward

June 3, 2019

25036 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward  | 510.785.7133 | www.veggielee.com We first heard of Chef Lee when he was the executive chef at Daimo, a Cantonese restaurant in Richmond which won numerous awards for his ambitious menu and meticulous preparations back in the day.  He left and opened a branch of Daimo in San Leandro, which was our […]

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Soft opening at Top Hatters Kitchen and Bar in San Leandro

April 14, 2019

855 MacArthur Blvd, San Leandro, CA 94577 | 510.632.5320 | facebook |  Mr. K and I were so excited to eat at the newest dining destination in the East Bay, which incredibly, is located in San Leandro!  It has been lovingly transformed from The Top Hatters hat shop into a restaurant that is sleek and […]

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Allie Daddy’s BBQ in San Leandro

March 10, 2019

15832 Farnsworth Street, San Leandro | 510-878-2228 | Tues-Sun 5pm to midnight. I recently went with a bunch of food friends to check out Allie Daddy’s BBQ, which is in an obscure little strip mall in San Leandro, buried deep in the suburban labyrinth.  It’s in the Manor Plaza, in an area that seems stuck […]

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