Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Bretagne in Omotesandō

Omotesandō is a very brand-conscious, upscale, fashionable district in Tokyo. It's home to boutiques by Pierre Hermé, La Maison du Chocolat, Louis Vuitton, and Hanae Mori, among others. It's part of Minato-ku, one of the most expensive wards within Tokyo.

A few years ago Hiromi read something about a fancy crêpe shop in Omotesando serving galette, or buckwheat-based crêpe, an idea which fascinated Hiromi. In Seattle, where savory crêpes are less unusual, they're a bit easier to find, but most of Tokyo thinks of crepes as a street dessert food for Harajuku-haunting junior high school girls.

We wanted to go out to brunch after returning from Aomori, and Hiromi was in the mood to revisit Le Bretagne, the crêpe shop in question, so we made our way to Omotesando without bothering to look it up, as Hiromi was sure we could find it by memory.

As a rule, if you aren't living, working, or regularly shopping in a particular neighborhood in Tokyo, don't ever make this assumption. We were quite on the wrong side of things, and only with a bit of expensive fancy web searching on my rental cell phone (thanks Softbank Telecom!) were we able to locate the address and realize the error of our ways.

There it is!

If you aren't already familiar with Tokyo, you need to know two things: 1) it is easy to get lost in a city full of small alleys of which you have only the vaguest memory, and 2) none of said alleys, or even minor streets, have actual names. Only fairly major thoroughfares and highways have meaningful designations. People in Japan give directions almost entirely using landmarks and notable features.

Le Menu

It took a while to get in... On a sunny Tokyo day when everyone in the city with a non-service industry job has the day off, the place was packed, and we had a 20 minute wait to be seated even after our long odyssey.

Pear cidre

 

It was brunch, but we wanted a little taste of sparkling pear cider, which is fermented much like beer and has a similar percentage of alcohol... 3-6%, depending on variety. The small cups let us taste without feeling overly indulgent for early afternoon.

Roquefort and walnut mixed greens salad

Hiromi loves blue cheese, so we decided to order a little side salad made with roquefort and walnuts.

Both of us were somehow craving eggs... Except for a great chawan mushi at the last onsen where we stayed and that fantastic egg cooked in a shell, I guess we just hadn't had our fair share of ovoid cholesterol delivery vehicles of late.

Galette de sarrasin with spinach, artichokes, tomatoes and egg

 

Galette de sarrasin with ham, egg and gruyere cheese

As you'd expect, I had the vegetarian thing and Hiromi had the ham and cheese.The nice gently fried egg helped pull the galettes together. The texture was crispy and the taste was nutty, and the filling was pleasingly decadent.

Facing the kitchen, dreaming of pear cider

 

After skipping breakfast with the intention of doing an early brunch, then walking around hopelessly lost until our early brunch turned into a fashionably late lunch, we were still craving a bit of dessert. On our previous trip here three years ago, we were satisfied with a single rhubarb-orange dessert crepe, also made with the buckwheat flour, shared between the two of us.

But this time, we were a bit hungrier. So both of us ordered dessert...

Buckwheat times three

My dessert was this buckwheat crêpe served with a buckwheat ice cream and drizzled with buckwheat flower honey. As expected, the texture and flavor of the crêpe was nothing short of spectacular. The ice cream was interesting and I've been known to use a bit of buckwheat honey myself, but the overall impact comes across as just a little bit healthy... nice, but not overly indulgent.

And then I tasted this...

Crêpe with "milk" ice cream and salted butter caramel sauce

Oh. My. God. It could inspire religion in the hardest-core of agnostics. It alone serves as proof that the divine exists right on this little green planet. Hiromi jealously guarded this, but I definitely stole my fair share... This had the most fantastic caramel sauce ever... a little buttery, and apparently a little salty, and very deep and rich in flavor. I didn't know it was possible.

The ice cream was simple and creamy and made with remarkably good milk. It provided just the right balance to the intensity of the caramel.

Thanks to our self-indulgence, we ended up with an extravagant JPY 9000 lunch ($80-90). A similar lunch (though not quite at the same level of quality) at one of Seattle's few crêpe  shops wouldn't have gone for much more than $50, but somehow, in Omotesando, where madamu go to spend their mid-level executive husbands' excess income on lunch and shopping, it seemed just like another day... and not a yen wasted.

 

Asamushi Onsen breakfast

So my low-protein dinner transitioned into the extreme opposite in the morning... not only did everyone have a pot of tofu, made right at the table in bunrai nabe style, but we also had this surprisingly nice egg dish.

Where's the egg, you ask?

Well, it's on the side. There's a little negi, soup stock, and miso, and we mix the egg in using waribashi... Within a couple of minutes, the flame underneath the seashell cooks up the egg.

Hiromi's version of the egg dish also featured some dried scallops.
Dekitate toufu

Fresh and creamy tofu, served with a little negi and shouyu for dipping.

Of course there's a fair assortment of tsukemono (pickled vegetables), some yamaimo, a little hijiki... a very complete, very substantial breakfast.

Our breakfast is served with a little houjicha, roasted green tea, which somehow seemed a very homey way to start the day.

Scenes from an old Korean village

Namsangol Village is meant partially as a tourist attraction, and partially to educate Korean schoolchildren about their country's history. It's a reconstruction of an old Korean village, focusing pr imarily on the accommodations of royalty and wealthy craftsmen. It provides a glimpse, however superficial, of the lives of people before electricity, elaborate subway systems and sophisticated HVAC systems.

I visited Namsangol on my last trip to Korea, but that trip long predates this little journal of my re-imagined life, so I took my afternoon distraction in this area as an opportunity to look at things with fresh eyes.

Old-style kitchen

Old-Style kitchen, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Window, Bedding, and Chest

Window, Bedding, and Chest, , Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

A place to rest

A place to rest, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Central heating

Central heating, ondol room, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Want heated flooring? Heat the whole foundation. This is called an ondol room, and you can still rent rooms in Korea which simulate this via electrically heated flooring.

Half-timber and sky

Half-timber and sky, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Roof endcap tile

Roof endcap tile, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Work was so much harder then

Work was so much harder then, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Thatch storage and well

Thatch storage and well, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

If I had a door handle like that...

If I had a door handle like that, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

Games the ancestors played

Games the ancestors played, Namsangol Village, Seoul, Korea

 

Pat guksu

This is hearty, extremely simple lunch fare.

Pat guksu *

Pat guksu

It may not look pretty, but this pat guksu dish is packed with protein and it's very comforting. It's basically pureed azuki beans with handmade wheat noodles. When you receive your order, you have to make a small but fairly important decision: sweet or salty?

You then add sugar or salt to taste, stir to dissolve, and then start digging into the noodles. When the noodles are gone, you eat the red bean puree until you are full.

Mul gimchi

Mul gimchi

The water kimchi, this one with more variety of vegetables than ones I've previously featured, offers a bit of heat and tartness that contrasts nicely with the hearty but plain-tasting noodle dish. Of course there's also some ordinary kimchi to share, but this one is just for me.

More handmade noodle goodness

At the same shop, my friend orders a somewhat more elaborate noodle dish topped with gim (nori, aka laver).

* This pat guksu may have a more specific name that I'm neglecting... I'll post an update later...

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Korean ddeok sweets at Jilsiru

Jilsiru cafe

Jilsiru storefront, Insadong, Seoul

After a little walking around Jongro (aka Jongno) on Monday, a friend suggested we go to this nice Korean ddeok cafe in neighboring Insadong. The cafe serves teas, smoothie-like concoctions and traditional and updated Korean confections.

Ddeok assortment

Various glutinous rice cakes: yuja, su

Clockwise, from top: Yuja-flavored (jp. yuzu) ddeok with coconut, ssuk (jp. yomogi, mugwort) flavored rice cake, red bean filled, and apple with coconut.

Red-bean ddeok

Red-bean filled ddeok

I could swear I detected a slight hint of gaennip (perilla, shiso) in this red-bean filled ddeok but my friend was convinced that couldn't possibly be the case.

Persimmon shake

Persimmon shake with pumpkin seeds

This fairly simple frozen persimmon shake was a delight, though in retrospect I think I should have ordered some bitter tea to accompany my sweets, instead of a sweet drink.

Jilsriru take-home souvenirs

In case you need something to take home with you...

 

Off to Korea and Japan on Thursday

Just a little note... I'm departing to Seoul on Thursday, April 19, where I'll be doing a little ceramics hunting, catching up with a few friends, and probably eating a little too much.

I'm flying solo on that leg of the trip, and then meeting up with Hiromi in Tokyo from April 27 to May 8, where I'll be staying in Ochanomizu. We have  a side trip to Aomori planned in the middle of that, but I guess I'll be doing the urban thing most of the time.

If your path might be crossing mine, let me know!

Omu-udon

omu-udon

Uninspired weeknight cuisine...

Lack of inspiration doesn't have to result in dreary food. When I made this, my lack of motivation to cook led me to procrastinate until the only practical options were either to go out and grab some mediocre takeout, or to throw something edible together with the least possible effort.

My cupboard full of noodles, various seaweeds, dried mushrooms and other staple goods is often neglected... It's got an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem. But it's a potential treasure chest of easy weeknight meal options.

I dug through my Asian noodle stash and discovered I have some dry udon, Japanese wheat noodles. In my refrigerator I've got an undisturbed head of cabbage. I've still got some wild leeks and a few verpas, and I've got some ordinary onions and ginger handy, and some fruit sauce usually used for croquettes or tonkatsu. I just bought some eggs.

A vague plan coalesces in my little head.

I get to work chopping vegetables and boiling the water for the noodles, and about 15 minutes later, dinner is on the table.

Out of nothing emerges an improvised yaki-udon, served with a fluffy omelet on top...

There it is, omu-udon.

 

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Shishito and Shiitake Kushiyaki

U

Kushiyaki is the Japanese equivalent of kebabs. Most anything that's grilled on a stick can be called kushiyaki, though items that are served already in their sauce tend to have other, more specific names (yakitori, for example).

Ideally, I'd break out my shichirin on a warm night and keep eating various nibbles of grilled goodness until the coals burn out... but since I was dining alone tonight, that seemed like overkill. The All-Clad grill pan came to my rescue. I really only needed one stick, as I had a few other things to eat as well. I started cooking dinner with a persistent headache, so I wasn't in the mood for anything that required a lot of commitment.

Tonight's kushiyaki featured some oversized shishitou, which are generally small, wrinkly chilies with just a slight hint of heat, and some fat shiitake mushrooms.

Shishitou are actually probably best dipped in nothing more than a bit of salt, but I prepared some ginger and soy sauce as a dip for the grilled shiitake.

Thanks to some ibuprofen and the comfort of warm rice and daikon-shungiku miso soup, my headache gradually dulled and mostly disappeared by the time I finished eating dinner. A little imo-jochu might have helped even more...

Listen to your produce guys

This time of year, I usually completely ignore canteloupe (aka muskmelon). The taste rarely seems worthwhile in the winter.

If you should have the good fortune to have a competent greengrocer near you, though, it's possible to discover small produce surprises when you least expect them.

When one of the Sosio's folks told me that they had great canteloupe right now, I looked a bit askance at him. It just seemed too unlikely. He challenged my skepticism with a little taste from a fruit he hat already cut into, and I turned into an easy sale.

Canteloupe, whole Muskmelon, sliced

These melons are surprisingly sweet and flavorful. While they don't reach the insane greatness of the summer Tuscan melons I go out of my way for when the season hits, they're way more than I ever expect this time of year.

This isn't to say that it's a good idea to go out to the supermarket and buy any random melon you might see right now... Chances are it'll be rock-hard and flavorless.

No, the message is simpler: get to know the produce people where you live. The good ones will rarely steer you wrong. They may help you find some hidden gems.  They'll probably know a bit more about what's good than you will.

In the summertime, when so many things are plentiful and good, I've been known to walk in to Sosio's or a similar market and ask them what I want right now. They know what is at its peak.

I've said roughly the same thing before when I talked about late summer tomatoes, but it's good to remember that, even in the winter, you can benefit from the intimacy a good vegetable and fruit shop will have with what they sell.

Seville orange-enhanced martini

I promise: This is not one of those fruity, syrupy drinks masquerading as a martini. No, it's not traditional, but it's also only the slightest departure from the standard martini.

Seville oranges, also known as bitter oranges, don't seem to be tremendously juicy... at least not this time of year. I know the flavor well, but this is the first time to play with the fresh fruit. In Japan I've also encountered daidai, which are somewhat similar, but I remember them as smaller.

I'm quite happy with an old-school martini, which to me means gin AND vermouth. I don't understand the "dry vodka martini" cult, because it seems to me just to be an excuse to put straight vodka in a pretty glass.

Shaken or stirred? I'm not religious about that... I usually shake, which tends to make for a somewhat cloudy martini thanks to all of those ice crystals, but it still tastes nice.

The drink is 2 scant shots Quintessential Gin (complex but not very intense; a little drier than the average dry gin), 1 half shot Cinzano vermouth, and whatever juice I could extract out of one seville orange. I used a dash of Peychaud's bitters. I did a channel-cut from the skin of that nice seville orange for the garnish.

Because this type of orange is not sweet, the overall flavor highlights the gin itself, but the citrus flavor adds a nice accent, and brings out some of the hidden aromatics.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55