Friday, February 29, 2008

More from the Plum Tree Festival / 梅まつり

Enjoy the celebration of the Plum Festival in Umegaoka.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tokyo Family Restaurant / 東京ファミリーレストラン

Hi again everybody, today's intro to good cuisine comes courtesy of a place called "Tokyo Family Restaurant". This evening was a special event, one that was work-related though. One of our members recently got married and this was a little celebration for the newlyweds; however, most people do not like to have their pictures posted without permission, I'm only going to focus on the food!! As our group consisted twenty-plus people, food was served at intervals. Not exactly a set menu but quite filling. Also included was an all-you-drink menu including beer and cocktails. I was not familiar with this place, but the food was great. And although it wasn't included in our party menu, this restaurant also features a large variety of beers from around the world. I'll have to try some of them another time. And now to introduce the evening's menu.

For appetizers, we have on the left, mini sausage wrapped with
bacon, spicy eggplant, and a side of carrots.

On the right, we have our salad filled with lettuce, tomatoes,
cucumbers, olives, cheese, and covered with a vinaigrette dressing.

Here we have a Turkish-style brique served with tzatzki sauce (a sauce made with yogurt and dill), very delicious. Which was followed by a potato soup with chorizo.

Oh, and just in case you thought I might have had a little too much to drink, I settled for only two beers (Heineken) and a glass of Lemoncello with Tonic. And now for the entrees.

Now, here's something to my liking. Marinated chicken skewers which you add some lemon to. I didn't see the menu of this restaurant but there is no doubt in my mind that this was a serving of shish tawook, a favorite Lebanese dish of mine.

And the last dish to be served was this Southeast Asian specialty. But it appears nobody mixed in the extremely spicy red peppers which are still sitting on the side. I was already full by this time and only had a couple of fork fulls. Next time, I would like to come here to enjoy their world beers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Something Different

Today I thought I would write about something other than food, books, or films. Everybody probably has their quirky collections and today, I'm going to share with you one of mine. My brother and I used to collect Matchbox cars when we were little. Of course my brother would store his away and keep them in prime condition while we played and trashed mine!! I don't think I had a Matchbox without a scratch on it. But as I left my Matchboxes at home in the U.S. I'm not going to talk about those. Not too long ago, in one of those "get to know your friends" essay, I think there was a question about hobbies. I have a friend back home who collects a lot of Ferrari mini cars (probably any kind of sports car) and I'm no different. I have a small collection of Lamborghini mini-cars. Well, one mini car and six Choro-Qs which is like a Japanese version of Matchbox. A can coffee company was doing a promotion with Lamborghini and if you bought a can of their coffee, you were also treated with a Lamborghini Choro-Q. The large yellow Lamborghini is a Lamborghini Diablo. I shall introduce you to the Choro-Qs as well.

Lamborghini Countach LP500S

Lamborghini Countach LP400

Lamborghini Murcielago

Lamborghini Urraco

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini 350GT

Monday, February 25, 2008

なんつっ亭 / Nantsutei

One of my friends said that he enjoyed my food essays and that I should keep writing them. And it just so happens that Mikako and I tried a new ramen joint today before heading off to the theaters to see "Earth". Yep, our first movie at the theater for 2008. Anyway, Mikako had watched a television program that was featuring different ramen shops. The two that caught her attention was Nakamoto Ramen with their spicy tantan-men, and Nantsu-tei which is where we went today. The shop is located near the North Exit of Ikebukuro station. Mikako ordered the regular ramen while I ordered their chashu-men. This ramen is a tonkotsu based ramen filled with a healthy dose of green onions and bean sprouts.

Doesn't it look delicious? But on our very subjective scale of 1 - 5, Mikako and I rated it a 3. The price you pay for the volume you get is a little on the high side. And to be really honest, the ramen doesn't taste all that different other ramen shops we've been to.


The next ramen shop to check out on our list aside from Nakamoto is Ivan Ramen. Yes, an American has opened a ramen shop in Tokyo. I'm looking forward to checking that place out.


梅まつり / Plum Tree Festival

Although the weather wasn't great today (strong and cold winds all day), Mikako and I decided to go for a walk. Our destination today was Hanegi Park in Umegaoka. From February 2 to 24, Hanegi Park has a plum tree festival. It probably doesn't draw a big crowd as the cherry blossoms but it's still nice to look at.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Scenic Scenes from the Maldives

Can you tell I'm in a vacation mood? Everytime Mikako and I look at these pictures, we keep wondering to ourselves if we'll ever make it back to the Maldives. Of course we want to visit other places too but this was our first real vacation together, and this was before we got married.
It's been about four years now but its still fresh in our minds. Most of my friends have already seen these pictures but I thought I would share them again with any new blog readers I may have picked up.

Here I am standing in front of our temporary home for five glorious days in the summer of 2004. This was five months before the huge tsunami hit these islands and wiped this place out. They were out of business for a little over a year. But with their renewal after the tsunami, they have expanded and added quite a few more water bungalows and more activities (I read it on their homepage). Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all inclusive in our package tour. My friends were amazed that I didn't take any pictures of all the food we ate. It was mostly an Italian buffet as the owner of this particular resort were Italians.

This is the view of our water bungalow I took while wading around our little neighborhood. The restaurant is located in the center of the island, along with a large swimming pool. We went to the pool only once though, it was more fun to snorkel and swim in the actual ocean. Now that I've made you all jealous and made myself sad - because I also have to work tomorrow morning,
I think it's time for me to go to bed.
Good night.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

日の丸軒 / Hi no Maru Ken

I came across this restaurant in a book I was reading in Japanese. The book was titled "Tokyo Curry Bible". It's best to study a language with a subject that's to your liking. As I looked at the address of this place, I realized it was located on the same street that we live on. And since I'm also a big lover of curry, I suggested to Mikako that we check the place out. The picture of the restaurant in the book looked pretty promising. A very European atmosphere. The book lists it as a moderately expensive blend of Russian, Middle-East, and Southeast Asian Cuisine. When we went, we ordered the dinner set menu which consisted of a spinach curry with home-made cheese, a lamb shish-kabob, and something called tameiya, a croquette made with broad beans.


The food was delicious, but the atmosphere of the restaurant itself was nothing like what I imagined from the book. The restaurant is located on the second floor of a non-descript building and there isn't a large sign advertising itself. As you walk up the stairs to the second floor, you are greeted by a darkened room with a strange array of interior decor. The day we went, we seemed to be the only customers in the place. We were directed to a room in the back, the only area that seemed to be brighter than the rest of the restaurant. Oh, but the chef. He just adds to the strange atmosphere of this place, if your familiar with Japanese anime, we swear he looked to be a long-haired version of the "Laughing Salesman"!! Still, the food is delicious so who cares?




Tuesday, February 19, 2008

王将 / Oushou

I'm back, this time to tell you about a little chain restaurant that I would definitely take my brother to if he can ever find himself flying across the big blue water. The restaurant is called Oushou. You see, my bro, he's a big fan of gyoza (you're not going to make me use the old Americanized pot-stickers are ya?). Of course not. Anyway, when we were little, I used to hate gyoza. I thought it was one of the nastiest foods ever. Then I became an adult and moved to Tokyo. Now, I can't live without my gyoza. It's almost a given that you would order some with your ramen. Anyway, Oushou is a pretty much a fast-food Chinese outlet. Not like McD's mind you. I used to always order the gyoza set which came with six pieces of gyoza (which is a one person serving at this restaurant), plus a bowl of rice, a small plate of kimchee, soup, and a croquette (it used to be served with a couple of chicken nuggets). However, after being diagnosed with diabetes, I now split the one-person serving of gyoza with my wife. That means just 3 pieces! But what I usually order when I go to Oushou is the buta-kimu plate (sauteed pork and kimchee) with a bowl of rice and gyoza.
Doesn't this look delicious?  

And when my brother and his wife do eventually come to visit Tokyo, I also want to take them to the Gyoza Stadium in Ikebukuro. Of course, I will probably eat more than three pieces of gyoza there.


Monday, February 18, 2008

金持気分? / Feeling Rich?


I heard from my wife today, that my brother-in-law also checks out my blog, but because I write most of it in English, I think he may not understand it. So, for my brother-in-law, I've decided to write this post in Japanese. I will write the English translation afterwards. So:


So, what do I mean by feeling rich today? Well, just take a look at the picture. I tossed a 10,000yen note into the tub. Is that rich or what? Huh?, of course I wouldn't toss a 10,000yen not into the tub, you think I'm crazy? Look closely. The 10,000yen note is a bath salt in the shape of a 10,000yen note. Actually it's to make your bath bubbly.


Did you take a closer look. The kanji in the middle of the note is the kanji characters for "bubble bath". Ain't it cool?

ま、自分はこうゆうくだらない物大好き! Well, I just love these kind of novelties!

次の写真はその札をもっと近くに見える! The next picture is a closer look at the note!

さて、義理の弟、楽しく読んで下さいませ! To my brother-in-law, have fun reading!

Vanished American Landmark

To my friends and former co-workers, a bit of nolstalgia. Tower lives on in Japan!!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (February 2008)

Welcome to another episode of Ern's literary morsels. I know the month isn't quite over but it seems like some people are thinking that I'm constantly eating out with all the culinary adventures I've been writing about. But if you would just check the date on some of the pictures, especially the ones I took with my cell phone camera, you would see that the pictures were taken three to four years ago. My wife suggested laying off the food essays for a while. Hm, but it's one of my favorite subjects. Maybe I'll write about my previous travels and add pictures so you can all travel with me. So anyway, no food essay today - which is the reason you're getting my book essay a little early. In fact, the last book I will talk about, I'm still only half-way through reading it.

HOLY COW: AN INDIAN ADVENTURE by Sarah MacDonald - I started the month of February with my favorite genre - a travel essay. MacDonald traveled through India when she was in her 20s and told herself she would never, ever go to that land again. She just hated it!! On her last day there, an Indian holy man said she would one day come back to this country, and that she would return for love! Of course, she didn't put any stock into the matter. Not until twenty some odd years had passed. Her boyfriend worked for the Australian Broadcasting Company's Delhi office. She decided to give up her successful career - she was a well-known television personality in Australia, she gave up her home, her life, and found herself returning to a land she said she would never go back to. This book is a collection of her adventures while living in India, the often used and very cliched "Land of Contrasts". She talks about all the things she sees floating in the Ganges, taking part in a festival where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gather, the Taj Mahal, Bollywood movie stars, and she even takes a trip to the turmoil infested lands of Kashmir. Aside from all the beggars, I think I would enjoy India myself too. I do want to see the Taj Mahal with my own eyes one day!

THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST by Mohsin Hamid - Here's an interesting book you might want to read. The entire story takes place at a small cafe in Lahore, Pakistan. The narrator is a bearded Pakistani man who is also a graduate from Princeton. He is conversing with a nervous American man who seems to be out of place and doesn't appear to be a regular tourist. He invites this stranger to sit with and begins to is tell the story of how his life was in America, how he fell in love with a woman named Erica, how he managed to get a job with a firm called Underwood Samson, and how the events of September 11 has led him back to his homeland and to their meeting. Excellent read, of course it might put some of you off as the narrative does give the American government a good bashing, but with a fair argument to back up what he says. Once you start reading, you won't be able to put this book down!

BEYOND THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES: THE NIXIE'S SONG by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black - I just read that "The Spiderwick Chronicles" was adapted for the silver screen as I had read that series, I of course had to read the continuing adventures. It seems that after the success of "Lord of the Rings" and the Harry Potter films, Hollywood jumped on the band wagon to make a bunch of films adapted from children's fantasy literature. Let's see, there was "The Chronicles of Narnia", which I've read but have yet to see the movie, there was "Eragon" which I watched but didn't read. Now there is Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" and I imagine there will be a sequel to "Eragon", and to "The Golden Compass" of course as that is the first book in a trilogy that's titled "His Dark Materials". Oh wait, I'm sorry, some of you are not familiar with the Spiderwick series? It's about faeries and how the more aware of us are can see them and not all faeries, ogres, giants, water-nymphs, are harmless as most children were led to believe.

THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini - Oh my God, you must read this book!! I don't know about the film but I think I may have to go see it. This is a story about love, honor, betrayal, regret, and redemption. Two childhood friends are the best of pals and do almost everything together. Amir is the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul. Hassan is the son of the man's servant. It's the early 70s in a peaceful Afghanistan. Amir and Hassan spend their days telling stories, running kites, and just causing all sorts of mischief. Until one day an event occurs that changes everything. Amir sees his friend being raped by the village bullies but does not do anything to intervene. Afterwards Hassan becomes withdrawn while Amir tries to rationalize his cowardice. Things do not improve as Amir and his family moved to the States and Amir marries and becomes a successful novelist, but he is still haunted by the event of his childhood. When he learns that Hassan has been killed by the Taliban from an old friend of his father who says to Amir, "there is a way to be good again." Amir finds himself heading back to his native land that's under Taliban rule to save the son of Hassan. The story is intense!! It brought me to tears a few times. You must definitely read this, and I heard the movie had really good reviews as well. Of course I will go see it!

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY by Jean-Dominique Bauby - I'm curious as to how this book was adapted for the silver screen. The movie being based on the true story of the former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine. In December of 1995, he suffered a massive stroke. When he came out of a coma, he found himself to be suffering from "locked-in syndrome" - his mind was alert but his entire body except for his left eye was unable to move. He was able to write this memoir letter by letter. It must have taken him a long time with the help of a lot of people to write this book. Not as intense as "The Kite Runner" but still when you think about the author writing this, it makes it pretty intense. Easy read though.

THE ESSENTIAL AFRICA by Michael Poliza - Beautiful photography book of wildlife and landscapes of southern Africa - the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the deserts of Namibia, the wildlife of Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Of course I didn't want to forget you non-readers, and I enjoy looking through visual books myself too.

名もなき日々by 岩間史郎 - NA MO NAKI HIBI by Shiro Iwama - This photography book has only a collection of thirty or so photographs from something we no longer see - happy Afghans in a still peaceful country. The photographer was diagnosed with cancer not too long ago. He said he seemed to have lost hope and the will to live. But a friend of his came upon these pictures the photographer took when he traveled through Afghanistan in 1975.
The photographer traveled from Peshawar, Pakistan to Kabul. He traveled to Bamiyan, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar- i Sharif, and virtually circled the country. No pictures of bombed out Soviet tanks, no Taliban, no houses in ruins. Too bad he didn't take more pictures.

PLAYING FOR PIZZA by John Grisham - If you think you in for another legal thriller, you will be highly disappointed. This is a light-hearted story about a third string quarterback in the NFL who manages to lose an all important Superbowl game in the last eleven minutes by throwing three interceptions and finds himself without a team with no prospect of playing for another one, not in the States at least. So, his agent (who stays with him for quite a while) manages to get him a position as the starting quarterback for the Parma the Italian NFL league. It's "Mr. Baseball" with American football, and Italy for Japan. But it's a fun read, especially if you like Italy and all things Italian.

THE LONELY PLANET STORY: The fascinating story of the adventurous couple who backpacked across Asia and then built the most successful travel publishing business on the planet. by Tony and Maureen Wheeler - Most of you are probably familiar with the Lonely Planet travel guides. This is as the subtitle says, the story of how Maureen and Tony Wheeler and how they built up their empire. Sometime I dream about traveling around the world but for me, it will probably just remain a dream. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop traveling. The first trip abroad was a road trip from London to Australia when it was still fairly safe to drive through countries like Iran and Afghanistan. It was the second extended trip that slowly brought them to fame as they were the first company to publish an extended travel guide to Southeast Asia which later became known as the Yellow Bible (the original cover was yellow). I must return to the book to see how it progresses. I've read up to the point where they set up a shop in the U.S. (Lonely Planet is based in Australia if you didn't know) and are finally turning a profit. I must say, I have supported them to by buying and using the Lonely Planet guides to Laos and Tunisia. And so ends another month of reading. Maybe I'll watch a few movies tomorrow too as it's my weekend!

Happy Reading!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

May the Force be With Me

How do ya like my light saber? Or should I say ice-saber. I had neglected to mention one particularly thing about the hotel we stayed in at Lake Towada. My mother-in-law called us about two or three weeks after we had returned to Tokyo to tell us that the hotel we stayed at has closed down!! It was such a nice place too. The outdoor bath was awesome. I was going to try to take a picture of the bath when there wasn't anyone around but that wasn't to be. By the way, that is one solid piece of an icicle.

Oh my, what a terrible picture of me. This is inside our room at the now closed Lake Towada Grand Hotel South Annex. I love onsen!! I wonder when we'll get a chance to go to another one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Keeping Warm in Winter

Hey everybody, with the weather being as cold as it is and with it snowing in Tokyo on occasion, perhaps you're all wondering what Mikako and I do to keep ourselves warm. The answer is quite simple - kimchee chige. What is kimchee chige? Well, it is a Korean one pot dish. All you need is a large pot, sautee some pork in oil before adding the kimchee sauce base. Then you fill the pot up with Chinese cabbage, green onions, scallions, and top it off with some tofu, let it simmer - then enjoy with your bowl of rice. Of course, by the time I decided to share this with all of you, Mikako and I had eaten quite a bit of it already. Just imagine more of the same things in this pot. You really must try it - and it will keep you warm in winter.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Manuel: A Taste of Portugal in Tokyo

A few months ago I was reading a book titled "World Food: Portugal", a favorite series of mine that's published by Lonely Planet. And a little before that, Mikako and I were walking around my work neighborhood of Shibuya (after a large hot spring and spa center exploded) and as we were walking around the area, we happened to stumble upon this cute little yellow building that seems to be out of place in Tokyo. On taking a closer look at it, I found it to be a Portuguese restaurant. I told Mikako we'll have to come by here and check this place out when it's open. I kept making plans but they kept getting postponed. Finally, after about two months I invited a couple of friends of mine for dinner here and we were not disappointed. Joining us for dinner was our friend Tetsu, who had just bought himself a new mansion (which doesn't have the same meaning in English when you're in Japan). It just means he bought himself a new place of living. Not really an apartment but also not a condo. Also joining us for dinner was my friend Anzai and his girlfriend Chu. With five of us, we figured we could order a variety of items from the menu and try a bit of everything. It was a Sunday night and fortunately I had made reservations. We reserved a table for five at 7:45pm. The place was already crowded before we got there. It seems quite a few other people are aware of the existence of this little place. Before ordering the main course, we ordered three appetizers. We toasted with Portuguese beer and then ate.

The first item to be devoured by us was an assortment of meats - featuring chicken, beef, and pork. Also included was what appeared to be some mini onions. It was all quite delicious. One of the waiters recommended to us a dish called pasteis de Bacalhau which is a croquette made with salted cod. Also delicious. And one other dish we ordered from the appetizer menu was something called miscaros parados - a tempura of maitake mushrooms with coriander sauce. Also for you trivia buffs who thought tempura was a staple of the Japanese diet and that it originated from there might be surprised to know that it was the Portuguese who introduced tempura to Japanese cuisine. Amazing but true you know. But our main dish was yet to
come. The main staple of Portugal is what's called bacalhau - and there seems to be a number of ways to make it too. This is what I was really looking forward to eating. Of course I was enjoying the appetizers and beer as well. I intended to order
myself a glass of vino verde too. This translates to green wine but what it's not really green. It's very young white wine. The beer was refreshing too. Not too strong and had a great flavor. And here we have the featured product, bacalhau no tacho, a stew of salted cod and vegetables.

Doesn't that just make your mouth water? Most of you know me as a meat-lovin' carnivore but I was enjoying this feast of salted cod. My mother would be happy to know that I'm eating more seafood than ever before. With five of us, one item after another was soon consumed and so we ordered three more entrees. Here we have bacalhau c natas, alcatra, and carne de porco a Alentejana which is salted cod au gratin, beef marinated in red wine with mushrooms over potatoes and sauteed pork with clams, an unusual but excellent combination.

We were getting pretty full after consuming all the above, but my main reason for bringing Mikako here was for the risotto. Mikako loves risotto and I had checked the menu previously and knew that this restaurant served three or four different kins of rissotto.

This evening we ordered the arroz de marisco which is a seafood rissotto. Of course, this wasn't exactly my image of rissotto, I pictured more of a creamy rice dish, this was more like a soup, delicious though it was. And to cap off the evening, we ordered an assortment of desserts. We just couldn't pass up the baba de camel which translates to "camel drool". Sound pretty disgusting, but what it's actually a caramel flavored mousse. It was very sweet too. Also on the dessert menu was biscuit with condensed milk. We thought that doesn't sound like much of a dessert but we just had to order to satisfy our curiosity. I mean, how delicious can a few biscuits covered with condensed milk be? But you will notice on the plate that it was more like pudding than anything. Not too sweet and I think it was the best dessert out of the three we ordered. The third dessert was a coconut cake. My father would probably like this one best in my opinion. I did have that glass of wine too and it also was very light and fruity. I'm not a big wine fan but I can see myself ordering a bottle of this.

And just so you are not confused, the desserts starting from the top and going clockwise are the "Camel's Drool", the biscuit with condensed milk, and the coconut cake. Our entire bill for the five of us came out to a little over 32,000yen, which would make it about USD$60.00 per person. This is actually quite a reasonable price for Tokyo. Mikako and I are looking forward to coming here again. Perhaps it will be just the two of us next time. Of course, I suggested to Anzai that we revive our shokuji-kai that we used to do every couple of months or so, an dinner event, where we would usually choose an ethnic cuisine and invite a bunch of our friends for a night of good food and drink. In the past we had a shokuji-kai at a Thai restaurant, a Turkish restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a Hungarian restaurant, and a Tunisian restaurant. I've also found a nice Romanian restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant, and an Israeli restaurant. However, we may go simple next time and do Italian. Anzai showed us pictures of some of what's on the menu at a favorite restaurant of his and the crab rissotto looks like something to die for!! Next time I shall have to remember to take a picture of the menu so I can remember the original names of the dishes. I didn't do too bad this time around and my friends all loved this restaurant!