Category Archives: Eating Out

Toraya: A King of Kakigori

Although I’ve only been in the states for a couple weeks, I’m already craving the delicate and immaculately prepared foodstuffs of Japan. My mouth waters for saikyo-yaki fish and miso seared vegetable, for crispy seaweed strips and for the wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) flavors of matcha and anko.

When it comes to consuming those mildly sweet, subtle wagashi treats, in my mind, there is only one place to go. Toraya.

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In Japan, kakigori are a signature of summer. Although similarly composed of shaved ice and flavored syrup, these treats are a totally other animal from your average county fair sno-cone. Traditionally, kakigori are marketed as street food. Strawberry, melon, or blue hawaii – take your pick!

Unsurprisingly, Toraya puts a refined touch on an old favorite. During the summer months, at any Toraya franchise (to the best of my knowledge), one can order the mountainous creation pictured above. A daunting mass of the most exquisite shaved ice is doused with a subtly sweet matcha syrup. It sits atop a layer of anko where it can and should be supplemented with chewy mochi rounds.

Demolishing one of these summery treats is a unique and unparalleled eating experience. The flavors complement each other flawlessly, and the textures to boot! Available until mid-September, one these kakigori is worth a trip to Toraya any time, any day.

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In a country that thrives on seasonal specials, Toraya reaches a new extreme. Yes, that’s right, the summer specials vary from shop to shop. While Tokyo Midtown offers only matcha, Akasaka has an apricot variety on tap, Ginza a strawberry sensation.

After sampling the original at Midtown and then realizing that there was an apricot option (one of my mother’s favorite flavors), we had to go back for more. So, the day for I hopped on a plane for the US, not to return until long after kakigori season, we headed down to Akasaka for that final hit of wagashi.

The original stood its ground, but I will admit that the tart tang of apricot almost gave it a run for its money!

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Ryokan Repast

As I type, I am sitting in my tatami mat room at a stunning Hokkaido ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Recently reconstructed, this Noboribetsu ryokan is a creative blend of East and West built with comfort in mind. Beautiful baths, cozy couches, gorgeous green scenery, what’s not to love? But a ryokan stay would not be complete without an intricate kaiseki dinner. Last night’s food was rich, delicate, and oh so plentiful! It was so good that I forgot to document nearly half the meal. With that in mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase a May meal from a ryokan in Nagano.

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The dauntingly long, yet promisingly delicious menu.

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Our appetizers.

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Next up, sashimi!

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And… one of my favorite spring dishes: mountain vegetable tempura.

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Your basic nimono, or simmered dish.

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Polished off with pickles and rice.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a true ryokan meal without a, shall we say unusual, fruity desert.

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Farmers’ Market @ UNU Tokyo

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Every Saturday and Sunday, a sizable farmers’ market sprawls out in the middle of Tokyo. Situated in front of UN University in Aoyama, this market boasts fabulous produce and cottage industry food items. From unusual Japanese citrus and interesting vegetables like gobo (burdock root) and manganji (peppers indigenous to the Kansai region) to freshly baked bread, frozen yogurt, and newly picked greens, this collection of covered vendors seems to have it all. In Tokyo this summer? Looking for incredible ingredients? This is the place to be.

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Farm-fresh-froyo

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Sweet and sour citrus (with samples!)

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Tokyo’s Little Slice of France: A Tale of Two Dinner Dates

Foodies are fun. There’s no doubt about it. Thus, when I discovered that a fellow debater was equally into eats, we had to hang out. Following a few–mostly successful–cooking sessions, we decided to go out to eat.

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Tucked into a quiet second story nook, Le Soufflé is one of Tokyo best-kept secrets. Although they have more to offer than simply soufflés, you can’t dine there without ordering at least one–or six in our case. (My sister came too, trust me, we were as reasonable as possible.)

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At each place setting, preserved under a glass table top is a series of diagrams illustrating the proper way in which to consume one of these creations. We followed these guidelines… more or less.

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The soufflés at Le Soufflé puff up out of their ramekins unlike any soufflé I’d seen before. Aerated and light, yet packed with flavor, they are sinfully good.

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For the savory portion of the meal, the three of us narrowed our choices down to three: mushroom, carrot, and salmon. These were promptly passed around until their disappearance. The salmon was unusual, but a little overwhelming, flavor-wise. The mushroom was tasty, but, taking us by surprise, the carrot stole the show. Slightly sweet, and thus perfect when eaten with a touch of the accompanying cream, it was dainty and delectable.

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After the success of our savory strategy, the three of us didn’t think twice before ordering three soufflés to split, once again: lemon, cassis, and praline. This time, not only was the soufflé itself flavored, but the accompanying sauce as well. Lemon and praline outshone cassis in my book, but it was a tough call, and one that we three debaters simply had to discuss at length.

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On to dinner number two. The cuisine? Once again French. This time, the crêpe place my French foodie friend goes to for a taste of home: Le Bretagne.

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We sat down at our little outdoor table, enjoying the cool June-night air that’ll disappear the second that rainy season, or tsuyu, hits. Boy, do we think alike. One savory galette and sweet crêpes it was. Not buts about it. The tomato-zucchini-cheese number disappeared rapidly, leaving us lying excitedly in wait for the main events: Valrhona chocolate with caramelized banana and “caramel complete,” salted butter caramel sauce and ice cream.

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You really can’t go wrong with caramel at crêperie. It’s always so perfectly sweet and salty. Just irresistible.

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Although we’ll be on separate continents come August, at the end of the evening, it wasn’t really goodbye–I see more foodie-fests in our future.

 

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That’s All

Last week, I crossed the stage, accepted my small black diploma, moved my tassel from right to left, and graduated from high school!

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Before heading out to a fancy celebratory dinner, we tucked into the sea of cupcakes awaiting us at the school’s reception.

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Having accepted congratulations, said goodbyes, and… taken a few irreverent photos, I waltzed out of high school, once and for good.

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Our next venue was Honda, a small Italian-ish restaurant with the most refined cuisine.

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The feast kicked off with fresh-squeezed blood orange mimosas and light, crunchy bread sticks.

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After hemming and hawing over appetizer options, I finally decided on carpaccio finished with vinaigrette. Meanwhile, having been in a similar dilemma, Mom picked white asparagus with a butter sauce and raspberry foam.

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The focaccia was incredible. Surprisingly, the rasin-pine nut variety gave the more traditional tomato olive type a real run for its money.

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Up next, pasta!

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While Dad had his with little fish and truffles, I opted for a cold tomato angel hair with mozzarella. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

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As exceptional as its predecessors are, the last savory course was the clear winner. Sautéed kinmedai with roasted seasonal vegetables, including an old favorite of mine–baby corn!

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Dessert was a slightly more solidified incarnation of pistachio crème brûlée–a petite sweet to tie off the dinner.

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It’s hard to believe that the secondary school chapter of my life has closed. Next year I leave my routine of the past 15 years behind for a brand new one. It’s exciting, yet bittersweet–much more sweet than bitter–but bittersweet nonetheless.

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That’s all.

Misuzu-kan

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Located in the mountains of Nagano, in a town called Ueda, Misuzu-kan is famous for its classic jam candies. On our way to Bessho-onsen for an overnight ryokan trip, we hopped off the shinkansen at Ueda and headed up the street to Misuzu-kan.

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Still situated in its original 1924 building, Misuzu-kan seems to have hardly changed since its inception.

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We step inside, only to be greeted by a little man pouring tiny cups of fresh apple juice, textured and tasty.

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I admire the space, the antiquated aesthetic, the stunning old light fixtures that Mom adores.

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Then, we approach the counter, where each product is laid out beautifully, scores of samples at our fingertips.

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I work my way from one end to the other. First, the nama-zeri, directly translated to fresh or raw jelly–the kind that is totally natural, with even its sugar content at a minimum.

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These samples were followed by a jar of special sugar jellies, along side a dish of red bean paste, or anko.

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But the real standouts were Misuzukan’s signature jams and fruit jellies. With a bowl of every flavor of jam on offer, as well as massive pile of individually wrapped jam candies it was tough to decide what to taste, let alone buy!

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In the end, we settled on apricot and plum jam, a large box of traditional jam jellies, and a container of sugar encrusted ones to boot!

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The wrapped up our purchases and we headed out to the onsen, large shopping bags in hand.

 

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Marea

Back in New York after a whirlwind three days up at Yale, Dad and I went out to dinner at Marea, a fancy seafood restaurant on Central Park South–one I’d been hearing about since my parents ate there 9 months ago. Let’s just say it lived up to my expectations.

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The atmosphere was buzzing with class.

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We started off with focaccia and a spot of white wine. Aerated and speckled with green olives, the bread had a light, crisp crust, and oh so much flavor.

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Dad and I both picked appetizers from the seasonal antipasti menu. My first official course was a tartaletta made with caramelized onions, marsala, cherry mostarda, and capers.

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Meanwhile, Dad indulged in fresh calamari.

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My next course was funghi risotto. A little more al dente than the typical risotto, the melding of mushroom and rice textures was exquisite.

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Dad’s pesto-bathed ricotta ravioli looked so delicious that it almost disappeared before I got the chance to document the dish. (Whoops!)

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And then, as though I wasn’t full enough, course three then wound its way to the table. Snapper for me, cuttlefish for Dad. Definitely the highlight of the meal thus far. But, then again, we have yet to arrive at the most anticipated plates of the evening.

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But before digging into the heavier stuff, we took a break our repast for some biscotti and chamomile tea.

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Alright, you’ve waited long enough: here they are.

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One Strati di Cioccolato, a sensational combination of dark chocolate and salted caramel flavors, and one Budino di Mandorla, a blissful blend of citrus and white chocolate.

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The check was accompanied by mini chocolate chou-crèmes. We left Marea full to the brim and elated, ready for many similar escapades in the future.

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The Land of Plenty: Zabar’s

Food-wise, America truly feels like the Land of Plenty, especially at a place like Zabar’s.

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Located in NYC, on the Upper West Side, Zabars is a foodie’s heaven.

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Floor to ceiling, the walls are stocked with fruits, vegetables, crackers, tea, olives, prepared salads, chocolate, cheese! How is a shopper supposed to choose?

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I’m indecisive to begin with, so faced with all this to choose from, I’ll admit it took me almost an hour just to buy breakfast food!

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Ultimately, I settled for the classic lox on jewish rye, with a couple of homemade rugelach on the side.

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With two types of fresh rugelach available, chocolate and cinnamon raison, I was inclined not to futz around. Chocolate was the obvious choice. Fortunately, my father threw a couple cinnamon ones into our order. Boy, was I surprised. With  these flakey, fruity little numbers in hand, the chocolate paled by comparison. Who knew?

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Bagels are good, but jewish rye is something else. Soft, with a crust that’s just chewy enough, slightly sour, with caraway seeds all over the place, this bread is to die for.

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Delicious when freshly sliced, this bread is just as tasty the next day: toasted and topped with nova lox and goat cheese, my favorite alternative to the classic cream cheese. There is no better breakfast.

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Breakfast of Champions

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This week, I had the immense pleasure of spending a couple days at my future alma mater: Yale College. As far as I know, universities are not famed for their cuisine. Yale, however, did have one standout breakfast option: fresh waffles, soaked with school spirit in addition to maple syrup.

 

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Soho Sunday

The globetrotter that I am this spring, I now find myself in New York!

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On this sunny spring Sunday, Dad and I headed down to Soho for brunch.

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While exploring, we encountered this endearing little bulldog. Considering the purpose of my visit, this was definitely a good omen. Boola boola!

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The architecture was charming, but after a bit of wandering around, it was time to put food in.

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Dad had made a reservation for Sunday brunch at a happening little spot called Hundred Acres. People watching in New York is fabulous. We were sandwiched between a pair of very hungry New Yorkers – the quantity of food they managed to consume was utterly incredible – and and a trio of men sporting babies on their chests.

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For the food itself, Dad and I started by splitting something ricotta fritters with apple cider syrup. A very unusual and creative combination of sweet and savory flavors, they were to die for.

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For the main event, I had soft scrambled eggs with gruyere and mushrooms, accompanied by homemade cornbread and crunchy fresh greens. The melding of flavors and textures made for a very satisfying eating experience.

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Having tanked up on brunch, Dad and headed back outside to enjoy the sun, shop, and eventually hike our jet-lagged selves back uptown.

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Along the west side of the island, stretching from the Meatpacking District up to 30th Street, runs a swath of park called the High Line. The old elevated train tracks down here have been revamped and are now a NYC destination.

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The wooden deck chairs that line the High Line are elegant and relatively comfortable, in my opinion. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, they seem like the place to be.

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If you know where to look, there’s a great view of the iconic empire state building.

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It always feels like spring when the flowers come out. Daffodils are everywhere! (And they just happen to be my favorites!)

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