Category Archives: Restaurants

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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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.

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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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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Araxi

Meal. Of. The. Week.
Or Month.
Or Year? Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this dinner was utterly sublime.

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A few years ago, Araxi was good. Now it’s great. Exceptional. Extraordinary. And, dare I say it, even better than last night’s Rimrock Café.

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The housemade bread was served with olive oil and butter, a really rich (but magnificent!) combo.

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Eve, Mom, and I strategized our meal with the utmost care: two shared small plates, and two large.

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Butternut squash soup with a touch of curry oil – just enough to taste, but not overwhelm.

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Our second appetizer was a beet salad with fresh mozzarella and candied pecans.

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Main dish no. 1: Arctic Char on roasted rapini, fingerling potatoes, dijon maple dressing, and potato foam.

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And… no. 2: Parmesan Polenta with butternut squash, roasted seasonal vegetables, tapenade, and romesco sauce.

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Finally, the four of us couldn’t resist the restaurant’s signature truffle fries, and truffley they were.

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Brace yourselves. It’s time for dessert. There were a few appealing options on the menu but none quite lived up to the sound of ‘Valrhona Chocolate Fondant: warm chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream.’

Tangent: the consensus is that we really should have had two sticky toffee puddings last night rather than one of those and a chocolate cake – disappointing. As a result, Mom ventured forth a brave suggestion: two of the chocolate fondant. It was definitely the right decision.

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This cake. Mom even went as far as saying it may be one the best chocolate desserts she’s ever tasted. Eve wants it piped into her veins via IV.

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As though we hadn’t had enough to eat, our server brought a few little treats to round off the meal. The shortcake and chocolate cookie were good, but the financiers were easily the highlight. Moist and mildly sweet, they were delightful.

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Before leaving, we just had to take a look at the Araxi cookbook. What if it had the instructions for the butternut squash soup? Or better yet, that molten chocolate cake recipe?

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Well, it did. So, naturally, a copy came home with us, autographed to my sister and I by the chef and all!

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To Abby and Eve – Always eat well and hug a farmer.

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Rimrock Café

A couple trips to Whistler ago, we hit gold. We discovered the Rimrock Café. A casually sophisticated spot, this restaurant serves creative cuisine with distinctive and divine flavor combinations.

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The fluffy bread slices… that I somehow refrained from eating.

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My appetizer: sautéed wild mushroom salad with freshly made shoestring potatoes.

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Expecting sizable portions, Eve, Mom, and I split this delicious doozy of a main: salmon with goat cheese (who’da thunk it?), arctic char with porcini rub and wild mushrooms, and seared ahi tuna with wasabi butter, all served with fresh seasonal vegetables.

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The fish was hard to beat… but not impossible.

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This sticky toffee pudding is one of the few desserts that is as good as (or in this case better than) chocolate. Its mapley caramel character blew away the chocolate-hazelnut competition: not an everyday occurrence.

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Dad: “Guys, you can’t lick the plate!”

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Salsita and Singing

Last night, after a lengthy but enjoyable day of singing, my musical friends and I indulged in a marvelous mexican meal. Following the all-day choral festival, we honor choir members had an additional rehearsal for our concert this evening.

I absolutely adore singing, especially in large well balance choirs of talented musicians. The sound is simply incredible. Hands down, the center of a choir is my favorite place to listen to music. There, the strength of the fortes and the hush of the pianissimos are practically palpable. Every time, it amazes me that eighty different voices of different timbres, textures, and tones can produce a such unified, striking sound.

Our concert program for tonight includes music from classical style to gospel, 18th c. to contemporary. The whole set is splendid but, of course, I have a few favorites. Morten Lauridsen’s Dirait-on is stunning. It makes me swoon inside every time. On the other end of the spectrum, Giedrius Svilainis’ Vox Populi has a gorgeous forte fanfare of huge chords followed by a dance of intertwining and rhythmic vocal lines. The Sounding Sea, by Eric Barnum is something else entirely. A piece with wonderful text painting, it truly evokes the ocean. Listening until the very end is a must. It’s magical.

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A birds-eye view of last year’s group.

Alright, without further ado, back to the food.

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Located in Hiroo, Tokyo, Salsita is a mexican restaurant I’ve been meaning to try.

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A fairly small establishment, Salsita is a B1 restaurant with a cozy atmosphere.

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We started with chips and guacamole, an appetizer one of my friends who’s been to Salsita swears by. They did not disappoint.

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We also split these tortille vessel creations. I honestly don’t really remember what was in them, but whatever it was, it sure tasted good!

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We enjoyed Salsita’s festive placemats.

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I had enchiladas for my main. They were a bit spicy, but it’s basically impossible to go wrong with any dish where melted cheese is the main event.

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At the end of the evening, we grabbed ice cream before heading home. (Sorry, no picture, it disappeared too fast!)

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How better to end a night ended than with a little choir dress baking?

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Niseko: The Barn

Niseko night number 2. Dinner at The Barn. A meal well worth venturing out in the snow for.

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The Barn’s structure is literally barn-shaped, but so much chicer.

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Dinner was a set three course affair.

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We split a bottle of wine from the owner’s vineyard in Bourgogne, France. Not bad.

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With Mom out of the country, it was just the three of us, a father-daughters weekend.

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The focaccia had the most amazing crust! With a smear of whipped butter, delish.

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Tasmanian Salmon Confit. This slow-cooked salmon was smooth and flavorful. I’d never tasted anything like it.

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My main: Hokkaido flounder poêlé. The portion was insane, but boy was it good. Underscored by onion sauce and roasted vegetables, this light, flaky fish was sensational.

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Between dinner and dessert, we had a chance to admire the decor. This sculpture (?) won the award for wackiest artifact hands down.

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The interior was airy and elegant, despite skiers-cum-diners like us dressed in fleeces and jeans.

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I love having a sister. When it comes to ordering dessert, Eve and I are of one mind. Making the choice between Crème Brûlée with Milk Sorbet and Warm Gâteau au chocolat with Framboise Sorbet would be tough. Luckily, we never had to cross that bridge. In our typical style, we went 50/50 on one of each.

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The chocolate cake was the winner. While the crème brûlée was good, it simply couldn’t match up to warm, gooey, chocolate goodness cut by the tang of a fruity sorbet. The pudding was thick and creamy, but those rare bites sans sorbet and sugar crust felt a little lacking in flavor. Then again, maybe my deep affection for chocolate makes my assessment a little bit suspect…

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Anyways, a cup of camomile tea later, it was time to step back out into the snow drift and get some rest before another day on the slopes.

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Cicada Sisters’ Date

Cicada is one of the few restaurants that comes to mind where every course is sensational: the appetizers, the mains, and, of course, the desserts. Located in Omotesando, it serves exceptional mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

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Cicada used to be a fairly regular weekend haunt for my family, but since it relocated a few months, we had had difficultly getting a reservation. A couple weekends ago, we finally got a table. Nothing had changed. The food was absolutely perfect and just as we had remembered it. The same night, my sister and I reserved a table for the dinner the next week.

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Every time we go to Cicada, we order exactly the same thing. Why? It’s so extraordinary that we couldn’t possibly forfeit a chance to taste it.

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To start, we ordered Cicada Sangrias, delicious concoctions of red wine, orange juice, and ginger ale. I rarely opt for any cocktail other than a kir royale, but this one is to die for.

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As for appetizers, there is only one way to go. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, by this point you’ve probably realized that I am a major hummus enthusiast. Well, Cicada’s recipe may be the best I’ve ever tried. It’s a strong statement, I know. But trust me, the combination of flavors, the slight sourness of the lemon, the nuttiness of the chickpeas and tahini, and the perfectly smooth consistency is unmatched.

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A carefully crafted bite of crispy pita, a kalamata olive, and a spoonful of hummus is utterly heavenly.

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Here, you have our main dish: snapper with rosemary, potatoes, and black olives. There are no words.

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In preparation for dessert, my sister and I shared one appetizer and one main. Our waitress kept asking us if we were hungry and if we wanted more food. She was clearly oblivious to our meticulously designed eating strategy.

As we poured over the menu, just to be sure that our regular choices were the right ones, we came very close to stepping outside the box. We toyed with the idea of Torta della Nonna with Pistachio Gelato and debated the pros and cons of Rice Pudding with Glazed Apples. But, in the end, our old favorites prevailed. We were far from disappointed.

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Pistachio Crème Brûlée. This pudding is wonderfully nutty and is served in a thin layer so that every bite has a touch of burnt sugary goodness.

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Super Rich Warm Valrhona 70% Cacao Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ice Cream. The melding of textures, temperatures, and tastes is sensational. No further comment necessary.

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Like every meal I’ve had here, this one was memorable. Good food, great company.

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