Category Archives: Dining adventures

Tokyo Part 2: Eats

Okay, I admit: we probably ate more [junk] than was particularly healthy in the 5 days we were in Tokyo.  Even though traditional Japanese eats are generally fairly healthy, not overly greasy, fresh and all that good stuff; as tourists, we certainly strayed more into the strange only-in-Japan eats that are not very healthy, quite greasy, and all that jazz.

The day we arrived, I was jet-legged as heck.  My friend, having arrived from Korea was quite in her element (1 hr time difference I think), but in consideration of my floatiness we stayed close to home to eat.  It was almost 10pm anyway by the time we found our apartment, was introduced around by our host, and got ready to head back into the night.  We wandered around and decided on a little place underground that was for okonomiyaki.  For those who are not familiar, this would be a pseudo pancake made mostly of shredded cabbage, some meat of your choice, soba noodles if you like that, egg if you will, and all held together with a pancake-esque batter.  Many internet sites will tell you that Tokyian Okonomiyaki is quite different from Osakan Okonomiyaki (I made up these two tribe names, can you tell?) in that one is denser and the other has a more liquid consistency.  So I was prepared to have a goopier version of the ones we eat at home.  What I WASN’T prepared for, however was the SIZE of the okonomiyaki we got to share.  We expected pizza sized okonomiyaki…and got…literally pancake sized okonomiyaki.  Even with the addition of some pork and a serving of soba noodles to add in…it was MINUTE.  Good thing we were more interested in the beer (nama biru, anyone?) and the pancake was just to hold us until morning. lol.  But it was good, and it taught us 2 lessons: 1) don’t overlook the restaurants in the basements, and 2) don’t expect a meal sized meal.

[Tsukiji Market]

First stop, of course, for a fish lover like me…. the super famous Tsukiji!! We skipped the tuna, because frozen tuna and yelling people was not a good enough incentive to wake up at 3am…and went there for a brunch instead.  I have to say, it was a bit underwhelming.  I was in the understanding that the market was to be moved to a new location, but due to some issues with the new location they have not yet moved.  However, we didn’t find too many places to look at for fish.  A few larger sushi restaurants, a famous tamago (the egg rolls), some random sushi stalls, and a few small stores for everyday groceries….that was about it!  We tried the tamago place, and I got a grilled scallop with uni on top.  Then ducked into a small (I mean SMALL…there was a counter and 6 seats around it!) stall for some sushi.  My friend doesn’t like raw stuff, so I felt sort of bad for dragging her around here.  But, when that tuna rice bowl came, all guilt went flying out the window (or tarp…cuz there was no window…). OH.MY.GOD. my friend told me that Japan will ruin sushi for me when I get home…and he was right.  For Y700, I got 3 types of tuna: regular tuna, toro, and negitoro…on a steaming bowl of rice. I am drooling just thinking about it.  If you like Tuna…definitely go to Tsukiji and find yourself any stall and order it.  My friend had salmon bowl…which was good still but I can find that quality of salmon here in Vancouver.  However, the tuna we get is like…frozen sponges…in comparison.

My brother also recently came back from Tokyo and he lined up for one of the larger sushi restaurants for their tuna set.  His verdict is the same: even if you don’t like tuna, go to Tsukiji and try some real tuna.

[Asakusa]

The little shopping area in front of the famous temple in Asakusa is filled with stalls and stalls of snacks and souvenirs.  Off to the side was a little store that sold deep fried meat cake called Asakua Menchi.  It’s made with pork and some onions, breaded and deep fried. It was so so good, and at Y180 each, it was easy on the budget too.  The two of us shared one, and they are so busy that there is a little space next door for people to stop and eat (walking and eating is a taboo in Japan!  Don’t do it!).  The little space only had chairs, and a beer vending machine.  Either canned or if you want there is a Sapporo keg there too… so good.  Definitely recommended!  Lots of famous people go there, and this place was showcased a few times on Korean shows also.

Next we went in search of this ice cream shop that was famous for having the “matcha-est matcha ice cream in the world”.  The place is called Suzukien, and they showcase 7 levels of matcha icecream – from very mild to very strong matcha flavours.  My friend challenged the super matcha icecream and I settled for a normal macho flavour.  They have testers, so we tried 3 levels of matcha ice creams…and I have to say I was very disappointed.  The extreme super matcha was….just normal.  The colour was pretty intensely matcha green but, it wasn’t that much more matcha flavour than the normal one.  Not worth the hike over to this place.

[Motomura Gyukatsu]

This place.  This place…. was so so good, it seriously needs it’s own shout-out on this post.  It’s a deep fried Gyu Katsu, and it comes with rice, soup, and an individual grill so if you like your meat more cooked, you go ahead and cook the sh*t out of it.  The Gyu katsu comes out crispy and still rare on the inside, and it was MELT-IN-YOUR-MOUTH tender.  I just did a quick zap zap on the grill to heat it up.  Pretty sure I could eat just this for a month straight with no complaints. We went to one in Shinjuku.  If you Google Streetmaps Motomura Gyukatsu Shinjuku, it’ll actually show the lineup that’s usually outside this place.  We went at 11am hoping to miss the lunch crowd and still had to wait a little bit.  By the time we got out, the line was down the street.

Again, this place was underground…so don’t bypass all the little places that are in the basement!!

[Midori Sushi]

Yep that’s right, belt sushi.  Despite having had the chance to have the freshest seafood at Tsukiji, we decided that no trip to Japan was complete without trying out the sushi belt restaurant scene.

No disappointments here.  We went to Midori Sushi in Shibuya after visiting Hachiko and viewing the not really that busy crosswalk (more on that later)..and there was a MSSIVE line up.  But it moved along steadily and we got in before the hangries took over.

Seated at the sushi bar, we were right in front of all the action.  Plus the sushi chef was super attentive to the two really confused looking foreigners in front of him 🙂 Everything was priced by the colour of plate that the food was on, and there was a special menu that you can order from.  If you are in front of the sushi chef team, simply fill out the number on a little order form and pass it over the counter, or if you are seating in a booth further away you can play with the iPad and get sushi delivered to you via express rail (literally, a toy train that zips over with your food order!)

We ate till we burst, and still didn’t break budget. Plus everything was still super fresh and tasty – none of that North American half warm, will-this-make-me-sick, conveyor grossness here!

[Kushiya Monogatari Labi1 Ikebukuro – All you can Deep Fry Restaurant @ Sunshine City]

Ok.  You get to pick your food of choice, batter it if you’d like, add some bread crumbs if you like that…deep fry it to the golden browness of your choice….what’s not to like?

Well pretty much everything.  We hiked over the Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, and found the place. It was nice and clean and bright…the price wasn’t bad for all you can eat…but that’s about all the good stuff I could say about this place.  If you are a high school kid looking for cheap all you can eat fun, MAYBE.  If you actually have any opinion on what goes in your mouth, forget it.

The choice of food was limited: beef chunks that were hard and dry, mushrooms (3 kinds), zucchini, imitation crab, baby corn, eggplant…

The oil was likely not changed daily (we went for an early lunch…and already the oil tasted old).

Just. Yuck.

We purchased the buffet, and I pretty much just ate fried mushrooms and zucchinis with a side of corn salad. Totally not worth it.  Plus we came out smelling like old frying oil. Not cool.

So in short, find a tempura restaurant anywhere and satisfy any deep fried cravings elsewhere.

[Department stores & Convenience Stores]

Everyday on the way from our house to the train, and as well as on the way back at the end of the day, we would stop at a convenience store.  There were multiple meals that were just pick something up and eat at home because we were so knackered by the end of the day.

The Seibu Department Store has a very impressive selection of ready to eat foods in their basement floor.  There were different cuisines from around the world, and everything we had was so good.  Honourable mention goes to the amazeballs Egg Sandwich that we had, as well as the seafood salad.  Both were impeccably wrapped, and the seafood salad even came with a small ice pack and a warning from the little lady to eat it within 3 hours (note that this was communicated via hand gestures and pointing to my watch). Call me a small town girl if you must, but man was I impressed that within my set of chopsticks came a toothpick.  That is so thoughtful lol.  Plus the people there were super helpful.  When we couldn’t locate the egg sandwich stall, another worker from another store actually walked us there despite the crazy lineups THEY had at their store.  CRAZY!!!

If you are in Japan, please make an effort to try all their different instant noodles!  We discovered 2 that we really enjoyed, and one of them I have not yet found outside of Japan.  Nissin has a Tomato Chili flavour cup noodle…and it’s not at all spicy but its nice tomato based soup doesn’t leave that really salty after taste that most other cup noodles leave behind. Much to my displeasure – I have had to get my brother to import me one when he visited.  It’ll have to hold until next time! (p.s. why don’t we have this in North America?!…if anyone knows where I can get this outside Japan, please let me know!!!!)

The precooked foods from convenience stores were also surprisingly good.  We tried the steamed buns at a random convenience store in Asakusa, and it was SO good I wanted another…except I was so full I thought I was going to be sick =P

The ice creams from the convenience stores…were a hit and miss.  I love ice cream. I thought I loved all ice cream.  Not the case.  I tried this Egg Custard ice cream that is supposed to take after a famous egg custard tart you can get in Japan…. it was 100% sugar.  I couldn’t taste egg, or cream…it was simply a glob of sugar.  Nothing against the actual egg tart cuz that was great [you can get the real thing in Shinjuku and a lot of other places, it’s called Bake Cheese Tart – it’s really good, go try one!]…but man the ice cream version was UGH!  Haagen-Dazs has a bunch of Japan only flavours and I had hoped to find the special edition mocha ones, but alas…none could be found.  I also missed out on the Sweet Potato flavoured one…I love sweet potatoes…you can get bbq sweet potatoes at convenience stores as soon as the weather grows chilly.  Happiness is easily found in my world 😉

[Mutekiya Ramen]

I admit: I don’t like ramen. Instant ramen is find…but the real stuff…I don’t like it.  I will not go out of my way to go eat it.

Recently, a lot of ramen restaurants have popped up in Vancouver.  I have so far been to 3 (the 3 big ones along Robson towards to the Denman side), and only one of them I would actually go back to.

There was this little ramen place between our apartment and the train station.  Every day, regardless of the time or weather, there is a lineup… and I mean a LINE UP.

Imagine our surprise when one day, we decided to be lazy and leave the house at 10am instead of 9am…to find…only 2 people in line! Well…that meant we had to rearrange our schedule because there was no way we were missing this.  Turns out the place wasn’t open for another 15 minutes…but that’s ok…we waited.

Man, it was GREAT!  I ate almost the whole bowl (I have yet to finish that much noodles…of any kind…) and seriously if ramen tasted like that at home, I would have it always.  I wasn’t even thirsty after!!!  If you are in the Ikebukuro area, definitely go give it a try!  (Keep in mind I really haven’t tried that many different places so if you have other recommendations, I’m all ears!)

That’s all for now that I can think of! More later!

[Part 3: Sights of Tokyo]

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Filed under Adventures, Dining adventures, Food, Tokyo

What a let down…

So my friend Hannah and I went to Victoria for a weekend, thinking it’d be a great weekend trip and a superb afternoon tea opportunity at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.   Since BC Ferries had a pkg’d deal with the Empress, I figure, why not stay at this hotel that every tourist that has stepped foot on Victoria has taken a pic of/with?

Well now I can tell you why NOT to stay there.

For a 5 star hotel, I was unimpressed from the get-go.  As in..before we even checked in.  That’d be because we stood there in a line for a good half hour. To check in.  I didn’t even have to wait that long at the Wynn in Vegas (yeah it’s the Wynn), and it was FILLED with people checking in.  There were 4 people ahead of us in line.

Then when it was FINALLY our turn, they didn’t have the room we were supposed to get with this package. Which took anoter 10 minutes for this girl to *kick another room out of their room* so we could take the room. Uhhh I hope she just pulled that from her butt cuz I felt so bad.

Parking lot sucked butt.  The corridor leading from the parkade to the lobby was seriously haunted and it plain smelled OLD. Like…soap, talc, mold…all meshed in one.  Grossness?

The room itself was…old. Heh. It’s cute, if you like old things and stepping back into time.  Which, believe me, I do.  But for some strange reason, I didn’t feel at peace in my room.  I was so scared, in fact, that I couldn’t close and lock the bathroom door when I showered because I was so creeped out.

You know when you just..feel..off?

It felt off. We kept all the lights on, kept the TV going (I woke up to equestrian broadcasting)…and yeah.

I spook easy…but not that bad!

I think it’s time for the Empress to get a major overhaul.

The dinner, at the restaurant that was supposedly voted best seafood in Victoria was a disappointment at best.  I didn’t even bother with a name. Service was slow, and just plain terrible.  It got to the point where I just wanted to get up and leave because our waiter was MIA, and the other waiter refused to serve us…or even offer to find our waiter for us.  The food was mediocre, which really is just horrible…because we ordered a seafood platter in Victoria.  It shouldn’t be anything but amazing.

Complete disappointment.

But the high tea at the Empress Hotel was top notch. If you are a tea drinker, the Empress Blend is a definite recommendation for you. That high tea plus the ferry ride to and fro the island were the only highlights of the trip.

You can bet it’ll be at least another 2 years before I make it over again.

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Dining adventures, Disappointments

Food for thought…part I

I’ve recently transferred branches within the bank, and now am working out of the Lonsdale Quay area in North Vancouver. The branch is still being set up, so the whole team have had the luxury of wining and dining together as a group during lunch hours. In the past week and a half, I’ve tried so many new places I think I need to share.

.1. Screaming Mimi’s

Screaming Mimi's @ Lonsdale Quay

Located right inside the Lonsdale Quay, you’ll find the best fresh oysters, clams, and mussels ever.  Screaming Mimi’s has a daily selection of fresh shellfish that they will steam on the spot when you make the purchase, as well as a deli bar with the most delicious choice of seafood creations.  Try their battered and fried oysters, it’s honestly a taste of heaven.  A pound of steamed mussels and/or clams comes to around $5 Cad (it fits one of those large square styrofoam take out boxes…pretty decent!)

.2.  East Side Mario’s

East Side Mario's @ Lonsdale Quay

On the second floor of the Lonsdale Quay, you’ll find East Side Mario’s.  A family style restaurant with all you can eat garlic bread and salad to go with your entrée, you might find yourself making two meals out of one.  I ordered the seafood linguine here, and it was superb.  Prices were decent, but nothing special to report.  It’s just another pasta place.  If you are ever in the Quay area, I would suggest a more adventurous meal…perhaps check out the restaurants outside of the Quay on the streets!

.3. The Cheshire Cheese

Falling way short of spectacular, I won’t even bother with a picture for this.  The Cheshire Cheese is located right beside East Side Mario’s on the second floor of Lonsdale Quay (yes, we’re always at the Quay…an hour of lunch only allows for so far of a walk).  They serve a variety of English style pub foods, and while the food everyone ordered were decent, the service really really really needs improvement.  It seems to be catered to the elderly clientele, or for those with no time constraints.  It took a good 45 minutes for our food to arrive, so we were all scarfing it down to make it back to work in time for a meeting.  If you are craving some hearty English fare (fish and chips are their claim to fame…but the fish and chips stand in the food court is cheaper…and better in my opinion), and don’t feel like wandering away from the Quay, go up to the Cheshire Cheese.

.4. Anatoli Souvlaki

http://www.anatolisouvlaki.com/

Great Greek food located on Lonsdale Avenue just around the corner from the Quay.  The place looks TINY from the outside, but like a clown car, it has no ends.  Service was good, food was great.  With Greek, I find that most places are just satisfying, but the food here was a step above.  I’m a moussaka girl, and most of the time, I find it too rich for my likes.  Anatoli makes it just right.  My colleague tried the lamb souvlaki and said he’ll definitely get that again.  Recommended if you’re looking for Greek in the area.

.5. Marinaside Grill

http://marinagrill.com/

Fantastic little hideaway under the second narrows bridge, this place also has a famous fish and chips.  I am a very picky fish and chips person, and I think I have to say that Pajo’s is still the best.  The inside was very dim, pub like, on one side, and a more fine dining look on the other.  I was quite confused when I stepped inside, thinking they were two seperate restaurants.  Service was ok, beer was great.  The menu had HUGE selection, so I think I might have to go back and re-review this one.

.6.  West of Them Java Coffee House

I stop in here every morning for a nice cup of coffee. The stuff here makes Tim Horton’s taste like coloured water.  It’s on 1st Avenue just off Lonsdale.  Go in and say hi, and try one of their banana chocolate chip loafs.  MMmm.

.7.  Cafe for Contemporary Art

http://cafeforcontemporaryart.wordpress.com/

This place is a fantastic find.  It’s actually just half a block from my work, and it’s got STYLE.  The owner is super friendly, and the staff are really helpful.  My manager claims they have the best pannini’s, so I’ll have to go in for food one day.  So far, their tea choices have more than satisfied my afternoon tea cravings.

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Filed under Dining adventures