Yugawara Sekitei

We headed out of Kyoto to Yugawara, which is a smallish spa town in Kanagawa between Kyoto and Tokyo. A hot springs stay is a bit of an indulgence but well worth it after so many days of slogging around. Traveling can be such exhausting business! I was looking forward to a long soak and just sitting around doing nothing for a while. I think the problem with traveling is that you always feel like you have to be doing something. It’s too much pressure!

For our hot springs inn, my dad picked Sekitei, which has a few branches in various spa towns. This one was their Yugawara inn. My brother kept whining about how the inn we stayed at in Hakone a few years back was far superior, but whatever. I think every time he goes back to Japan, he just wants to revisit all the same places he loved over and over.

I will say that the food was less to my palate this time, but I’m not sure if it was just the selection of the ingredients or the culinary skill. Everything was gorgeous, at least. The package included a one night stay in their Japanese style tatami suite, 24-hour access to their hot springs (indoor and outdoor), one kaiseki style dinner and breakfast. Pictured above is the first course from the dinner. You’ll have to forgive my lack of commentary on the food, since I don’t remember a lot of the specifics! (^__^);;

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Bullet Train Bento

Aah, the train bento. I don’t think I’d ever done it before, on my other trips to Japan. This time, I intended to get a proper bento, especially since I’d be traveling in the Green Car of the Shinkansen. I found some really great bento packages in a Kyoto Station grocery shop, so we bought a whole bunch of stuff and set off for our next destination: Atami.

Pictured above is lemon tea, which I actually get at the Japanese grocery store in Maryland if I’m lucky. It’s so sweet but oh so good.

Corn salad, apple juice (sort of), and chawan-mushi (a savory egg custard). Yum!

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Arashiyama

Arashiyama is a sleepy little town on the outskirts of Kyoto, just a short train ride away. It’s quite lovely there. There’s a river, a bridge, a mountain, and a ‘monkey park.’ They had a bunch of cute shops en route to the park, so we stopped by for some sakura flavored soft ice cream. Yum! I loved it, but it might be a little surprising if you’re not used to salty flavored ice cream. There was definitely a hint of salt brined sakura leaf in the flavor.

I also got some sakura mochi, rice cake flavored with cherry blossom and wrapped in cherry blossom leaf.

And some pics from the monkey park:

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Mister Donut

While staying in Kyoto, we did a quickie side trip to neighboring Nara. There was a lot of walking involved. And temples. Not a lot of eating, however.

But we did end up at a Mister Donut, which are pretty ubiquitous in Japan. This was my first foray into this establishment. I think there was a doughnut craze here a few years back, with crazy two hour lines when they opened Krispy Kremes in Tokyo. I’m not sure if they’re particularly superior to the home-grown Misdo chain, but I guess a trend is a trend …

The seasonal flavor of ‘sakura’ was all over the place, including the doughnut shop.

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Cake & Akkun

So back to my Japan trip … where were we?

My brother really loves Kyoto. The last time he went, he strolled around his hotel one morning until he found a cute hole-in-the-wall type cafe for breakfast. Wishing to revisit that quaint little restaurant, he decided to go look for it again when we went to Kyoto with him last year. Of course, he had no idea what the address was, or the name of the place. We ended up walking aimlessly for many many blocks until we finally stumbled into a smallish cafe called “Cake & Akkun,” hungry and exhausted. It wasn’t quite the place he was looking for, but it was close enough, and I frankly didn’t care.

Thick pieces of toast and a side of egg seems to be a common breakfast ‘set’ all over Japan, and this place was no different. The “morning service” set consisted of butter toast, egg (boiled only: you cannot choose), and ‘etc.’ The etc. turned out to be coffee jello (mmm!) and potato salad. The set also came with your choice of drink:

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Jun Coffee

Day 2 in Kyoto started with breakfast in some coffee shop inside Kyoto Station called “Jun.” It was a tiny little shop and one of the only ones open so early in the morning. The service there was utter crap. I’m sorry they don’t have a Yelp page so I can properly rant at the incompetence of its staff and how slow and excruciating the service was. I suppose this blog will have to do.

At least the food was okay. The salad dressing was especially yummy. That being said, why is it that a western style breakfast set is always the same wherever you go in Japan? Buttered Texas toast. Egg (usually boiled, sometimes sunny side up). Side of salad. Coffee. Not much imagination at work. Good thing I usually skip breakfast…

Pictured above is their toast with egg and bacon set. It came with a small cup of coffee.

And some places have the Japanese style breakfast sets. Fish, rice and miso soup usually make an entrance… Healthier than bacon and eggs, at least! :)

27 Apr 2013, 11:24am
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Kyosendo

The first day in Kyoto was a busy one with tons of walking. After we stashed our stuff at the hotel and had a bite (or several) of tempura for lunch, we hopped on a bus to Yonjo street. I had a bit of an incident on the bus… I dunno about most buses in Japan, but in Kyoto, you have to pay upon exiting. The fare is 220 yen, and you pay exact change. If you don’t have exact change, you can convert your money at a machine on the bus. Now, the conversion machine is the same machine as the one where you pay. I inadvertently threw a 100 yen piece into the conversion machine, and it immediately spit out a bunch of 10 yen coins, much to the dismay of the driver lady. Hahaha…. But hey, it was confusing! The slot was right there, next to the payment bit! But now I know, I guess…

We got off the stop and walked across a river, past the kabuki-za theater and onward towards the sites. We hit Yasaka Shrine before ambling toward Koudai Temple. (By the way, it’s either Koudai Temple or Koudaiji. It’s a bit redundant to call it Koudaiji Temple). Everything was beautiful. There were a ton people there, including quite a few school groups… Maybe it’s that season of the year. We attempted to see Kiyomizu Temple but it was already evening and closing up for the day. Instead, we stopped in at a dessert shop called Kyosendo for a much needed respite. My feet were killing me at this point.

Kyosendo had a shop in the front to buy dessert gift packages and a cafe in the back for dining in. The colorful menu had all kinds of Japanese desserts listed, mostly in “sets.” A set basically meant it came with a drink. You could also order something “tanpin” or “individually” if you wanted an item by itself. There was some confusion when my brother ordered one set and one other thing individually, because the second thing wasn’t “individual” at all. It took a moment to realize that even the solo items come with a complimentary tea.

Pictured above is the sakura-mochi set, which came with a bowl of matcha – very thick green tea. It was just near the end of cherry blossom season, so a lot of places still had their sakura specials on the menu. :)

All of these pictures were taken on my brother’s Fuji X100, which means he probably took most of them.. I might’ve taken a few as well, but I don’t remember exactly which.

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Tea House Lipton

After crashing in Tokyo for one night, I was off to Kyoto the next morning on the Shinkansen (bullet train). The Green Car was very nice, indeed. It was roomy and comfortable, and I was feeling very relaxed after a long journey. The train I was on had no Wifi or power outlets, however. I’m not entirely sure I’d splurge on Green Car next time.

Kyoto Station is a behemoth, and it took me several days to get oriented on where things were. There’s the Isetan department store (11 floors of shopping), cafes, restaurants, book shops, food stores, souvenir shops…you could spend a whole day inside the station alone. There’s also the Porta underground mall adjacent to the station. We only ventured in briefly one morning, but almost everything was still closed. The Tea House Lipton was open, however, and my brother bought a few pretty looking pastries for the road.

…by the way, not all restaurants do takeaway in Japan. Most cafes do, I think, but it’s always safe to ask ahead.

Pictured above is the strawberry “candle” cake made with custard cream. We had this with a cup of Cafe du Monde coffee in Kyoto Station.

Also:

A cream puff! I think cream puffs need to catch on and be the next cupcake donut of the local fads. I propose a Beard Papa cream puffs branch for DC, pronto!

Photos in this post taken by my brother

Starbucks: Shinagawa Station

I feel like there were a lot more Starbucks in Japan than the last time I was here. The menu is pretty much the same except pricier. I got a tall cappuccino for 380 yen, or about $3.82. But unlike the cappuccinos I’ve been getting at the Starbucks in DC, it actually tasted more espresso-like. In the US, don’t usually get Starbucks espresso drinks without ordering an extra shot because it otherwise tastes like milk, not coffee.

You can supposedly get free Wifi service at Starbucks stores in Japan, but I wasn’t about to connect to it, myself. The Starbucks in Shinagawa also had some food items like this quiche – which I didn’t try – and a baum cake, which is pretty ubiquitous in Japan.

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27 Nov 2012, 4:59pm
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Thanksgiving 2012

Hey everyone! Hope you guys had a wonderful holiday. I know I haven’t been around very much here, but I’m still around and taking pictures of my food! I have a lot of stuff sitting around on my computer and camera but haven’t actually had a moment to sit down and post something. I know, I know. Same excuses! It’s actually very hard to get back into the regularity of posting after such a large gap of time…but it’s never too late to start over, right? In any case, I figured my brother cooking his very first Thanksgiving turkey warranted a splashy post!

My brother’s been living out in Minnesota for several years now, but this was actually my first trip out there. I joked that I would come only if he “cooked something fabulous,” and though that obviously wasn’t the only reason for my visit, he came through quite impressively! The above turkey was the result, and it looked amazing! He used Alton Brown’s brine recipe, which apparently calls for no stuffing. I think Alton has something against it (but I don’t know what). I’m a firm believer in Alton’s recipes though, and I think it was a success! We didn’t really know what to do with the neck and gibblets, but we did cook down the carcass to make turkey stock afterward. I sat around the house the following day stirring the pot. :)

The rest of the meal after the jump.

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Pinkberry

I love Pinkberry. I think the froyo trend is kind of overrated, but I have to make an exception for this place, because their frozen yogurt is the bomb. It’s not too mouth puckeringly tart, and it still tastes like it’s not a thousand calories. (I don’t actually know though – I’ve never checked the data). I work near one, which is pretty dangerous. Thankfully it’s been a little too cold lately so I haven’t been showing up there every week.

My favorite is the mango, and though they always have an ample selection of toppings to choose from, I usually only get two items: the mochi and the homemade gummy bears. The mochi doesn’t really taste like much but I love the chewy texture of it. The gummy bears are quite possibly the best I’ve ever had, and they’re coated in a crust of sugar.

I also love that these come in a ‘mini’ size, which is usually just the right amount for me when I need a quick sugar fix!

Thanksgiving 2011

Okay, so totally belated, but I really wanted to post these pics from Thanksgiving because it was an amazing time with lots of great food, and it would be a shame to let these linger away on my hard drive.

Hosted by my favorite foodie pair N & I, Turkey Day 2011 was bound to be a dazzling affair and it did not disappoint. Pictured above is the turkey that was purchased from an (Amish?) farm somewhere, and shipped fresh and express. I thought it came out really well, succulent and perfect. (Sorry it’s at a weird angle…it was hard to get it all in one shot!)

The rest of the feast after the jump:

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Merry Christmas!

WOW. Okay, so I’m an utter blog failure. After being away for so long, it gets harder and harder to come back, haha. However, I do have a whole lot of stuff on my computer that I can post, if only I remember the meals themselves. And with the year coming to an end and all, it seems as good a time as any to start again. Hopefully I’ll be posting more regularly for 2012…or at least that’s the plan. ♥

Meanwhile, I hope everyone has been having a great holiday and Christmas! It always feels a bit anti-climatic when Christmas falls on a weekend. It’s a day off ANYWAY so it doesn’t feel special at all. And tomorrow is back to the grind, which is no fun at all. The week between Christmas and New Year is kind of a drag, too. I didn’t really do anything too special this year. Being Japanese means Christmas is just about presents, more or less. (We’re more New Year’s people, and even that has been more and more low-key in my family in recent years). But I always try to get a log cake since it’s any excuse for seasonal sweets is a good one.

I got it from Les Delices bakery again this year. Last year’s Bûche de Noël was from there as well, and I had been a bit disappointed by the mildness of the praline cake. I decided to go with the classic chocolate this year, and it was definitely much better! The vanilla cake was very moist and soft, and the chocolate mousse icing whipped and wonderful. Not too sweet, which seems to be a pretty consistent trait with the bakery items at Les Delices.

More pics under the cut, including a poached pear tart, also from the same bakery:

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25 Sep 2011, 3:46pm
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Ravioli Party

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a ravioli dinner party. I actually didn’t think I’d be blogging the event, as I didn’t even bring my camera. I kind of regretted not bringing it after seeing how beautiful everything was! Happily, one of the dinner guests (Dan) did bring a camera, so all the pictures herein are credited to him. Thanks, Dan!

The party itself was really lovely. We must’ve opened half a dozen wine bottles while chatting about everything from international travels to hypothetical animal life-companions (don’t ask) all the while Cibo Matto played ambient music in the background. (I don’t remember if their “Shut up and eat!” song was in rotation). At one point in the evening, we witnessed something quite amazing: an enormous flock of birds circling the building next door in a surreal ritual of sorts. After circling around for about an hour, they dived into a chimney, one after the other. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen.

I digress. Aside from the wonderful company and appropriate dinner room conversation, the highlight was definitely the fabulous food. Our hostess went all out with everything! Pictured above is the crustini, with grilled veggies and crumbly cheese. (^__^)/

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28 Aug 2011, 11:25pm
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Kaz Sushi Bistro

Hey everyone! Hope you all survived Hurricane Irene this weekend! I lost power for about three hours early this morning, but other than that, things are pretty much back to normal. I’m quite shocked that the outage didn’t last longer. Pepco is either stepping up at last, or things weren’t as bad as expected around here. I’m accustomed to being out of power for days in such situations, though “accustomed” doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying…

In any case, hello again! I figured it would be quite remiss of me to end August without having blogged once during this month, so here I am. (^__^)/

Today I’m posting about Kaz Sushi Bistro, a place that I actually went to a few years ago and just had a so-so impression of at the time. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe it had something to do with high expectations. I went there shortly after a presentation I’d seen at the Smithsonian on Japanese cuisine, where Chef Kazuhiro Okochi and the illustrious Chef Masaharu Morimoto both did presentations. (This included an awe-inspiring demo of Morimoto breaking down a large fish with masterful knifing skills. It’s not the same watching him on TV vs live-action. I was in the presence of greatness). I am a huge fan of Morimoto, so when I heard that he’d sat down with Kaz at his restaurant and talked shop with him, my expectations just skyrocketed. Perhaps this was somewhat unfair. Regardless, I just never had a chance to try Kaz’s for a second go, so I went back again about a month ago, with optimism.

It probably helped that I was with an equally enthusiastic food-lover (the “Digital Nomad” Drew). I find that when you dine with other food aficionados, the meal just ends up tasting better. Such was the case this time.

Pictured above is the sushi we ordered a la carte. They were all quite fabulous, though my particular favorites were the sweet shrimp and the Walu (Hawaiian white toro). Everything was fresh and tasty. The rolls could have been a little more tightly bound, as some were falling open at the seam, but the flavors were spot on, at least.

The rest after the jump:

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