Monday, March 28, 2016


It would be an odd man who went to Tokyo specifically for the martinis.  On the other hand, if you were a martini enthusiast, and you found yourself in a Tokyo bar where there was a martini on the drinks list, it would be an even odder man who could resist checking out the local variations.  I did not resist.
And so at the Granbell Hotel – the bar of which looked very slightly like this (it’s a photograph from the website):

I had a martini which looked exactly like this (it's my photograph): 

 I was at a table and didn't see how it was made, but it wasn’t at all bad.  And later at the Gracery Hotel, the bar of which looked more or less like this (again, a website shot):

And you could look out the window and see this (really):

The martini looked like this:

 And yes, that’s how it came, I didn't drink half of it before taking the picture.  And here’s a thing.  Those of us who like the martini tend to enjoy the process, the ritual, involved in making it.  We like the delayed gratification as we watch the ingredients being assembled, the shaking or stirring, the impaling and insertion of the olive.  And we know the Japanese enjoy rituals too: the tea ceremony, various water rituals, setsuban, seppuki, and whatnot.
So it hardly came as a surprise that the bartender at the Gracery was ritualistic and ceremonious.  An ice pick was used to chip the ice off a block that was of a staggering clarity, ingredients were measured more precisely than I’ve ever seen anywhere, Angosura bitters were involved, the olive came on an elegant metal cocktail stick.  I thought about stealing it, obviously, but resisted, thinking it would be bad form, and might bring shame on my family for generations.
And this Gracery martini was perfectly good too, the only problem, I could obviously drink ‘em quicker than the bartender could make ‘em.  I decided one was enough.
          Google “Tokyo martini” and you’ll be led to a recipe from the America Bartending School involving one ounce sake and two ounces Cucumber Vodka – a basil or mint leaf garnish is optional.  Really?  I mean really.  It gets worse.  Bobby Flay has a recipe for a saketini, which involves two and a half ounces of sake, an ounce of vodka and a Japanese cucumber garnish.  Great minds with half a thought between them.
      I could see substituting sake for vermouth, but now back home I didn’t have any sake to hand, whereas there was some shochu (distilled from sweet potatoes) chilling in the fridge. Shochu is stronger than sake, also stronger than vermouth – but I work with the materials I have to hand.  It looked like this:

I’m calling it the Shinjuku martini, though I don't imagine I'm really the first to make one.  It tasted OK, but it’s not one of great drinks, I think.  You can taste the gin and you can taste the shochu, but they don’t really combine.  You could pretend this is symbol of east/west relations, but I won’t.  I can’t honestly say that its taste transports me back to old Shinjuku but it’s a start.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


 I saw City of Gold over the weekend, it's the documentary by Laura Gabbert about Jonathan Gold, the LA Times food critic, and all round good egg.

It’s a good, fun, fascinating movie I think, about the man (and his family), and about the processes of eating, writing and criticism.  And I think it’s a serious and important film too about Los Angeles, and mapping, and the methods by which we come to know a city and ourselves, in this case through eating and writing, and a lot of driving too.  This is, of course a form of psycheogeography.  

Mr. Gold powers his Dodge pickup truck all over the city, to high and low eateries, places that in most cases most of us will never go. I don’t imagine anybody in the city goes as far and wide to eat as he does, though some of us try to do some minor version of it, though many of course don’t.

It seems to me that Los Angeles is divided between those people who’ll happily drive 25 miles down the freeway for the sake of a very average pizza, and those other people who won’t go to the end of the street unless they know there’s plenty of parking and the menu features artisanal tater-tots that conform exactly to their tastes.

Fans of foodie movie minutiae will also be thrilled to learn that the Psychogourmet himself makes a half-second appearance, about ten minutes from the end of City of Gold, peering around a bookcase at a Jonathan Gold reading at Skylight books.  Well worth the price of admission.

You can see the trailer here:

Friday, March 18, 2016


 Some more food images from Tokyo:
A welcoming pig in Kabuki-cho:

Another pig, this one on the roof above a Korean barbecue joint in Tokyo’s Koreatown:

And sausages – who knew the Japanese were such keen sausage enthusiasts, and that the sausages were so Germanic?  According to Ivan Orkin in The Wurst of Lucky Peach, it’s because of German prisoners of war in Japan after World War one.  These were just a snack plate at the hotel.

These were from the cafeteria in the Tokyo zoo.

This is salted cod chin:

This is a croque monsieur (would you believe?) in the department store Halc:

Whale for sale:

And no, I have no personal experience of what goes on at this place (I gather it’s a space themed joint), but who isn’t intrigued by the idea of a bit of neo fooding?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


I have been in Tokyo and I have been eating, of course.  There are reckoned to be 80,000 restaurants in Tokyo (for a population of 37 million), and everybody tells you it’s very hard to find a really bad one, and I didn't try.

As with so many things Japanese, there’s something simultaneously very alien and very appealingly obsessive about much of the food and the eating culture.  Another thing people tell you is great about Japanese restaurants is that they specialize, sometime minutely.  Whereas a western restaurant will offer a menu of meat and fish, pasta and a vegetarian option, a sushi restaurant in Japan will only serve sushi, perhaps only eel.  People were also talking about a restaurant that specializes only in tomato. 

I ate sushi, of course.  This is ark shell:

This is flying squid, and no I’m not exactly sure what that stuff is in the middle of it, squid stuff, I suppose:

There were oysters, eaten at a thoroughly Japanese restaurant with the unlikely name of Ostrea; those giant ones are Hirotawans, from Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture:

Elsewhere there was fugu, or puffer fish.  Here are some live ones seen on the street:

And here’s the stuff I bought from a supermarket:

In Food Sake Tokyo Yukari Sakamoto’s guidebook to Tokyo food she tells us “It is rare to be poisoned in restaurants, but not unheard of.”   I weighed the risk of death against the bragging rights and decided in favor of the latter.  And no, it didn’t have a lot of taste, and I tried to convince myself that I was experiencing some tingling in the tongue and lips and but I’m not really not sure that I did, and I’ve since learned that if the fish was farmed then I wouldn’t have tingled anyway.

And most memorably there was naizo – offal, nose to tail eating, at Shinjuki Horumon – a smoke-filled, rough and ready place, behind a metal door and not much frequented by gaijin as far as I could tell (though I did later find out, to my chagrin, that it had appeared on some ludicrous tv show), but the staff were welcoming if slightly amused by our presence.  It was a party of three and it no doubt helped that one of us (not me, obviously) spoke Japanese.

To be honest I can’t tell you absolutely everything I ate – and I'm pretty sure it was all beef offal, but don't shoot me if you recognize some non-beef parts in these pics.  I know there was tongue sashimi, marinated and made very, very tender and I think the best tongue of any sort that I've ever eaten:

And there was heart:

And there was whatever the things are on this plate:

I know there’s some udder and some intestine and that thing on the back of the grill that looks like a sliced penis, yep, that’s a sliced penis – actually “sao” to the locals. 

It tasted pretty much the way you’d imagine, i.e, not actually all that tasty but very, very chewy.  And as we reeled out into the night one of these two lads said, in English, “See you again tomorrow.”  And I did think we should have gone back the next night, but there were other adventures to be had.

One of the interesting issues about finding somewhere to eat in Tokyo is that the indicators that signal a good restaurant in the west, seem not to apply here.  Notions of ambiance or atmosphere or mood lighting really do go out the window, if there is a window, which often there isn’t.

Restaurants that look as brightly lit as MacDonald’s turn out to have amazingly good food, grubby-looking little ten-seater establishments turn out to be wonderful.  In places like that, you can see the chef and the chef can see and this bolsters intimacy and trust, or at least I think it does.  There was a certain amount of looking at the incomprehensible outside of a restaurant and just plunging in, like this one:

The deep fried squid legs (yes, that's piped mayonnaise!) and the boneless pork toe were knock outs:

 There are many restaurants in the subway stations, most famously in Yurakucho there’s  Sukiyabashi Jiro, (seen in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi), a Michelin 3 Star with a 30,000 Japanese yen tasting menu (that’s about $250), and word is you’re in and out in 20 minutes.  Needless to say, I didn’t go there.

And of course, as everybody tells you, the department stores are amazing resources for food.  The basements have food halls, and there are generally restaurants up on the top floors.  The store Takashimaya in Shinjuku has 20 or so full-on restaurants, including Katsukura, a place I was told I must go for the tonkatsu – that’s Kyoto-style pork, coated in panko and deep fried, served “Rosu” juicy, fatty, tender, sublime.  And in a department store.

The most extraordinary space I ate in was a restaurant called The Moon, part of the Mori Art Museum on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills – a futuristic, slightly dodgy, and I dare say Ballardian urban development where the likes of Apple, Google and Goldman Sachs have their headquarters, and where people live in high-rise “residences.”

The food at The Moon is pretty odd – hybrid Japanese-French nouvelle cuisine of the “have I eaten yet?” variety, that looks like this:

Or this - that's battered bamboos shoot and a cup of sake, and I couldn't work out what the other thing is:

These are the restaurant’s photos not mine.  And sure, it was all tasty enough but way too fancy for its own good.  Or at least for mine.  Still, I could console myself with the view across Tokyo, and the knowledge that somewhere down there are at least 79,999 other restaurants.  Maybe you'll stop at one of them on your way home.