Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

JAPAN DAY 7: Shibuya, Shinjuku & the Golden Gai

Our seventh day dawned with the pressing need for me to use the internet. I had some financial/work things to check on. We located an internet cafe at the top of a record store that had the advantage of letting you use the internet for free for an hour so long as you order something.

So we sat down and ordered some French toast for breakfast. What we got was this:

This is probably the most decadent breakfast I've ever had. It's French toast piled with ice cream and drizzled with honey and powdered sugar and candied nuts. Yikes! It was really good though. And vacation has special rules about what you can eat. The rules are: you can eat anything. Vacation food has no calories and lots of nutritional value, no matter what it is. Plus, it was necessary to get the internet.

Having satisfied myself that I still had money in the bank and nothing had exploded at work, I was ready to move on and walk off some of that French toast. And we commenced walking and shopping - for hours and hours.

Which means there is not much interesting to see until dinner. For dinner we went to a very fancy tempura place called Tsunahachi Rin, on the top floor of a mall in Shinjuku. This was a place where the menu was all in Japanese and communication was halting, so we ordered the chef's tasting menu. J. got the full deal with sashimi & sushi, and I got tempura only. We got to eat at the bar and the friendly cooks made it very entertaining, showing us our seafood for approval before throwing it in the fryer and doing their best to explain what needed to be explained.

I started with a very fresh salad of cabbage, greens, and bell pepper. Very refreshing, and psychologically important to eat some fresh greens when you are about to ingest a parade of fried things.

Then I was presented with an amuse of some pickled things, asparagus, and a tiny squid. It was really cute, but J. got to eat the squid. I wanted to be adventurous, but just ... couldn't put it in my mouth.
This is J.'s sashimi. Look how pretty it is! Cherry blossom pink for spring.

These are the accompaniments for the tempura. It's a bowl of daikon oroshi (grated radish) and a bowl of sauce. We were also presented with four different types of salts to dip in. There was sea salt, ume salt, parsley salt and seaweed salt.

Here's a demonstration of eating a piece of tempura.

And now it begins, a parade of delicious tempura. This is shrimp, calamari, fish and vegetable. Tempura is different from the heavy breaded deep-fried stuff we make here. Tempura is fried but heavenly light and fluffy. You can eat a lot of it without feeling stuffed or greasy.

This is one of our chefs, slicing an eel that he has just pulled from the tank and displayed for our approval. All the cooks were very friendly, even though only one spoke some English. We were completely entertained, by more than just the food.

This is a chunk of fish and .... a whole fish. Usually I have a rule about eating things that are still looking a me, but that whole little guy went right down the hatch. He was delicious. Eyes and all.

I think this was the eel and also a ... tentacle. I don't know where the tentacle came from, but it was really crispy and crunchy like a potato chip.

Finally, we got to the rice portion of the evening. It took a great deal of words and gestures and both our part and that of the chefs to convey all the different options we had for this portion of the meal. We finally opted for ochazuke, which was described to us at the Japanese risotto. It's a toasted rice in a soup of dashi with seaweed and shrimp. This is a traditional Japanese dish that's usually made by pouring tea over rice. It was a way to serve leftover rice and turn it into a new snack.

We even got a tempura dessert of tempura strawberry slice with a yogurt and strawberry accompaniment.

After that, we headed out into the wilds of Shinjuku.

Shinjuku at night was crazy. Everything was lit up and and every place was luring you to indulge in some kind of kinkiness. Everywhere you look there are gentlemen's clubs and "soaplands," which are a kind of ... um ... place. Where men go to get washed by women. I think you get the picture.

Look, I told you they have everything in Japan! It's my alma mater, distilled into its essence: a trashy bar.

If you turn off onto a side street, you will find what seems like an area of quiet streets with hotels. These are the love hotels, where you can check in for a short time and do some lovin'. The love hotels are anonymous with everything done by button or pneumatic tube, so you don't have to interact with a person. The fancy ones have theme rooms that range from Hello Kitty to S&M dungeon.

After wandering through the love hotel district, which was actually nice and peaceful compared to the rowdy streets we had just come from, we made our way to the Golden Gai. The Golden Gai is a roughly square maze of alleys that houses hundreds of tiny little bars that hold 3-10 customers each. Most of the bars have been owned by the same family for generations and are for regulars only, not very foreigner friendly. But there are some new ones that are welcoming to anyone.

We chose "Bar Plastic Model." We poked our heads in tentatively, and were immediately drawn in by a hearty welcome. The proprietors were young and the bar was a happy place, of old videogames, '80s music, and interesting video selections. We ordered up some drinks, and played a game of '70s LED baseball. The bar top is lined with bins of 45s, which the owners will let the patrons select from to make up the soundtrack. It's pretty much all 80s music, some which you will remember easily and some which you haven't thought about since you were a young'un. A video played on the wall--first it was a Buggles concert. A recent one. They look like jolly grandparents! Then it was "Cannonball Run II." A classic.

The two women on the end spoke no English, but after a couple of drinks, we actually had a great conversation, which the poor bartender had to continually translate. It was really cool to go into a little room, where you barely speak the same language as the others in it, and leave feeling like you have all new friends.

We were too afraid to go into this bar:

If you know anything about Matthew Barney, you would be scared too. This bar was subtitled a "psychoanalytic experimental bar." Yeah. I'm not ready to go into that one yet. I was really afraid of running into this:

On our way back to the hotel, we took a detour under the railroad tracks and popped into our local bar. It was called "4" and was exceedingly cool. A small place with a suave bartender.

Inside it was designed in a style that was modern but warm. They had a fabulous selection of liquors.

They had Havana Club rum, which I have never had due to it's not being available in the U.S. so my regular drink at this bar became the Havana Club and coke. J. ordered some kind of fancy whiskey. Or bartender was a master of the ice and swizzle stick and a DJ to boot.

I was so glad we found this place to end our nights. It was the perfect place to wind down.


Ah, love hotels... No comment.

said by Chubbypanda at 11:51 PM Delete

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