Nico's Reviews

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  • Peter, Peninsula Hotel: Yurakucho (Bars / Ginza)
  • 2014/08/24
  • The setting at Peter is designed to feel the love. Lots of tables for twos, where you sit side-by-side while contemplating the Tokyo skyline and the imperial palace. The room is sleek, the service is on point, everything you'd want to make it a night.

    The food is good too. Just un-original. At their prices, you'd expect the kitchen to be striving for a little more. The set menu started with a trio of tuna -- the most interesting of the three bites was a pan-fried but still raw in the center piece of tuna with a walnut on top. I'm not sure yet that tuna and walnut go together, but it was a step in the right direction.

    We were later served a piece of pan-fried bass, and then the real purpose of the meal came: a side-by-side degustation of three cuts of beef. Australian tenderloin, American ribeye and Japanese wagyu battling it out on the plate. I've never understood the fascination with tenderloin, so although this was a fine one, it lost on flavor. My favorite was the ribeye while my dining companion chose the wagyu. Unlimited olive rolls tasted great and were used to mop up steak juices. The steak is high quality and grilled perfectly.

    The dessert was where creativity shone more. It was a combination of banana foster with a cookie on top. Was like a childhood memory.

    All in all, i enjoyed my evening at Peter. It was like visiting an old friend where there are no surprises left. you get good steak, good seafood, but no curveballs or anything that you didn't anticipate.
  • Tamawarai: Harajuku (Soba / Harajuku)
  • 2013/03/03
  • It is a rare thing that food leaves me smiling for a good hour after I chowed it down, but the fresh tofu at Tamawarai did just that.

    I ordered the chilled soba topped with freshly-made tofu, and when it arrived, the first thing i noticed was how small the portion was. I thought i was being cheated out of my money for such a small portion (which cost 1700 yen). But then the aromas started coming out, and I was hooked. The shavings of dried bonito and the pungency of the spring onions immediately caught my attention. And then I tried the tofu -- it was like a cloud. It was like eating mascarpone it was so light and fluffy. I have no idea how they managed tofu to taste like that.

    The noodles were also excellent, and dressed in a simple sauce. At the end they brought soba broth to round off the meal. I was surprised to feel more full than expected.

    The room is nice and spartan. A bit quiet too, but that was fine with me. Most soba dishes range between 1000-2000 yen. You can get tempura soba for about 2500 yen, or a tasting menu that includes other small side dishes for 5000-7000 yen.
  • Cafe Landtmann: Omotesando (Cafes / Omotesando, Aoyama)
  • 2013/01/23
  • I've never quite understood the appeal of sacher torte. It's one the most venerated things out of Austria (together with Mozart balls, if you've ever been the recipient of this most popular souvenir), and I just don't get it. I even had sacher torte at the sacher hotel in vienna, and it still didn't make sense. It consists of a dry chocolate sponge, layered with a thin (read: too thin) layer of apricot jam, topped with a chocolate glaze and served with a side of whipped cream. Thank god for the cream, because otherwise this would be dry as hell.

    Still, sacher torte holds some sort of appeal to many people, and thusly I ended up having dinner at the branch of this Vienna institution. The meal was for the most part good. We got a set menu that includes a choice of appetizer, main dish and dessert (4,500yen if i remember right). The soups were tasty, but on the salty side. The main Schnitzel done right, which was the highlight of the meal. The other main was described as boiled beef, and that's basically what it was -- a perfectly decent slab of boiled beef with boiled veggies and a side of boiled potatoes. Authentic? Maybe, but you'd expect the kitchen to elevate the dish a bit more too.

    Dessert was, as you'd expect, a slice of that dry chocolate cake, and this interesting ricotta dumpling with berry sauce, which although a tad dry, it was much better than the cake. (In all fairness, my dining partner thought the cake was delicious)

    The view out the terrace is nice, and would recommend the patio if the weather permits.
  • Tsukiji Sushi Sei  (Sushi / Tsukiji)
  • 2013/01/23
  • The sushi here was surprisingly good. I went to the area to have my knives sharpened, and asked the people at the store for a lunch recommendation. I told them I was in the mood for sushi, but didn't want to drop 3,500 yen for the good places (the going rate for the set menus in tsukiji). They suggested I try the 1000 yen lunch menu at sushi sei. How right they were!

    The quality of the fish was good, and the unagi portion was out of this world for only 1,000 yen. A tasty miso soup came with the set, and I left a happy camper. If you're in the area and have the 3,500 to spend, you might as well go for the really good stuff, but for a 1,000 yen this more than does the trick.
  • Les Creations de Narisawa (French / Omotesando, Aoyama)
  • 2012/09/29
  • I like a restaurant with a sense of humor, and the amuse bouche at Narisawa was basically a fuck you to fine dining -- an onion ring. Mind you, not just an onion ring: the batter was made with charred spring onions, and it came on a beautifully preserved leaf. It was a nice first bite, and it set a lighter tone for the rest of the meal. Likewise, my other favorite thing was the bread and butter service. The cube of butter looks like it's covered in moss thanks to black olive and parsley powder.

    I went for lunch, when you can choose between a lunch menu (7,500 yen), or the full dinner menu (21,000 yen). The table next to us got the full dinner menu, and it's hard to see why it costs three times as much. True, they got a few extra dishes, but they also got a lot of the same dishes we got, and overall it didn't seem to make the experience three times better.

    My other favorite dish was the dessert: a hollowed pineapple filled with coconut, passion fruit, pudding, tapioca, lime and other treats. The chefs have a thing for table-side theater, and the waiter finishes the dish by shaking a coconut sauce in a cocktail maker and pouring it on top. I've rarely had so much fun carving the sides of the pineapple and mixing it with the innards of the dessert.

    The fish course was unfortunately a downer. It consisted basically of Provence flavors: tomatoes, capers, olives, basil that were baked inside a plastic bag with a piece of mackerel and potatoes. The fish was overcooked, and the presentation tableside of a plastic bag that the waiter then snips open for you didn't cause much wonder.

    On the other hand, the seafood and asparagus appetizer was delicious, especially how the butter and anchovy dressing complemented the bitter wild greens that topped the dish.

    The meal is crowned in the end with an assortment of little pastries and macaroons. Here, things were hit and miss, and I wished the kitchen would do fewer of them but make the quality more consistent.

    I was ticked off that the restaurant offered my female dining companion a menu with no prices. Is this sexist thing still necessary? Also, for a restaurant that talks sustainability, I was annoyed that if you ask for water, they automatically open a bottle of mineral water instead of offering perfectly acceptable tap.

    I can see why this restaurant has earned two michelin stars, and regularly makes the list of the best 50 restaurants in the world. Food is creative, and there are moments of brilliance here and there (I just wish they were more consistent). Service in English is available.
  • Amy's Bakeshop (American / Kichijoji)
  • 2012/09/29
  • This shop has a lot of buzz amongst foodies in Tokyo. Having lived in the United States though for a few years, I can't see what is so special about it. They offer American-style pastries well made, and that's good, but they're not reinventing the wheel here.

    I've tried several of their offerings, and my favorites were the zucchini and walnut loaf, and the lemon curd muffin. The loaf was moist and just a tad sweet, while the muffin has an intense lemony kick that keeps you interested (I often loose interest in muffins after a few bites).

    I wasn't crazy about their carrot cake -- found it to be dry, and only worked together with the cream cheese icing. The cheesecake, on the other hand, was quite delicious. This is not the dense New York deli style cheesecake, but a much lighter and subtler version.

    Unless you live in the area, this is a bit of a trek. I'd recommend going there for a bit of nostalgia, if you hail from North America, or to taste what well-made American pastries taste like.
  • Pizzeria e Trattoria da Isa (Italian / Nakameguro)
  • 2012/08/25
  • There's pizza, and there's the pizza at da Isa. I love the atmosphere of a casual eatery (though the prices suggest otherwise -- better hit it at lunch time when the pizzas come for 1000 yen), and the charred and chewy crust. The owner is often at the shop, personally handling the oven. I've had various margaritas and other pizzas, as well as a fried pizza that I only recommend if you're feeling indulgent.

    This is quite a nice treat, and the perfect combination of top-level food in an unpretentious environment.
  • Levain (Bakery / Yoyogiuehara)
  • 2012/08/25
  • This is fantastic bread. I have to confess I don't really care for Japanese soft bread, shokupan. I like crusty, chewy and slightly heavy bread, and Levain makes some of the best I've had in Tokyo. The bakery offers breads made with various mixes of flour, nuts or raisins. The cafe next door offers light lunches and pretty yummy sandwiches.
  • The Market SE1 (Ice Cream / Yokohama)
  • 2012/08/25
  • The gelato at this tiny shop is gorgeous. I've been on several occasions, and the flavors always change to reflect whatever seasonal fruit is coming in. I've had banana, peach, pineapple, lemon and champagne gelatos, and they've all been stunningly good. The espresso was also delicious.

    The shop is a one-man operation, and the owner speaks good English. This is definitely worth a detour if you're visiting the enoshima beach or the enoshima aquarium.
  • Darjeeling (Indian & South Asian / Jimbocho)
  • 2012/08/25
  • There were some nice touches to my lunch at Darjeeling -- they bring you some nice pickles, an appetizer fritter and a few homemade sauces.

    Unfortunately though, the curry and the tandoori chicken were average and not as enjoyable as I hoped it would be. For the price though (900 yen), this was a good deal all in all for lunch.
  • Torisoba Sanpoichi (Ramen / Takadanobaba)
  • 2012/02/27
  • This is pretty good stuff. Torisoba does an all-chicken ramen with excellent results. My favorite part was the piece of boneless wing (wing i think? Or maybe it was a different part) that was treated like Singaporean chicken rice, with the skin slightly gelatinized.

    The soup was light and comforting, and the bowl worked in good harmony. I was happy by the end, and didn't get the I-can't-believe-I-ate-so-much-fat-and-salt that you get from some ramen.
  • Il Pleut sur la Seine (Classes-Cooking / Daikanyama)
  • 2012/01/22
  • I was pretty disappointed by my visit to this shop. This was supposed to be one of Tokyo's top rated pastry shops, and I made a special trip out to Daikanyama to try their confections.

    And they ranged from average to mediocre. What a pity. The bockstock was well made, if kind of boring. They toasted it before bringing it to the table, so it was nice and warm.

    The "fantasy" cake, unfortunately, was an ill-conceived dream. It combined dark-caramel buttercream with a raspberry gelee, fruit cream, booze and tons of other stuff. None of it added up, and the buttercream hardened, making it unpleasant.

    Who knows, maybe some of their other stuff is better?
  • Afuri (Ramen / Ebisu)
  • 2012/01/22
  • Afuri gives its ramen a few special touches here and there that make it stand out among the thousands of ramen stores in Tokyo.

    To begin with, the soup is a clear chicken and fish broth, and they don't pile up a ton of fat on it, which results in a lighter soup. That shouldn't suggest, however, that it is lacking in flavor. I ordered the store's most famous bowl -- yuzu shio ramen, and the soup was brightened with the citrusy aroma of the yuzu. The egg was fantastic, and the noodles are thin and cooked chewy. The pork slice gets charcoal-grilled, but it's not as tender as I wish it would have been.

    The store has kind of an "industrial, unfinished" look, and the staff have multiple piercings. This is quite a busy shop, so keep in mind you might have stand in line.
  • Yataira Takaryu Ramen (Ramen / Takadanobaba)
  • 2012/01/03
  • Yataira ramen was a revelation.

    Most ramen is made to satisfy a craving for fat and salt. The soups are heavy, and a copious amount of fat gives the soup body and substance. On top of that, many ramen stores literally boil the hell out of the bones, drawing every bit of flavor, fat and collagen out of them, and emulsifying everything into what ends up looking like a "cream soup."

    There are ramen stores like Yataira, on the other hand, where they approach the soup differently. They simmer the broth at low temperatures for prolonged periods of time, and the result is clear and lighter. At Yataira, they do an all-chicken broth that simmers for 12 hours. The owner then ages half of it in the fridge (flavors become rounder), but also explained that it looses aroma so for the final bowl, he combines half old stock with half fresh stock. A small helping of rendered chicken fat tops the bowl, and rather than pork, the soup is crowned with shredded chicken that was steamed in rice wine.

    The result might disappoint those who expect their ramen to be a kick in the flavor nuts. For me, however, this was as delicious as it gets. The soup opens gently, but has an incredible depth of flavor. The noodles are chewy, and the chicken makes for a lighter meal.

    The owner was quite friendly, and explained that he used to work at a Chinese restaurant until it went out of business and decided to open a ramen shop. Even though this is in a back alley of Takadanobaba, I would highly recommend that you drop by for a visit.
  • Hanjiro Curry Soup (Curry / Futakotamagawa)
  • 2011/12/19
  • The curry at Hanjiro was a revelation of the potential of Japanese-style curry.

    Up until now, Japanese curry was budget food for me; you buy a block of mysterious spices at the grocery store, and make a pot that will last for days. And this is a mainstay of budget restaurants where they offer a bowl of curry for less than 500 yen.

    Hanjiro is completely different. The soup has great depth of flavor, but isn't overpowered by any one component. Moreover, all of the toppings are handled with extreme care, and the quality shows. If I had only known that Japanese curry could be this good!

    It's difficult to compare the soup to other curries, because this isn't a riff off an Indian curry, but it isn't like the brown goo you're used to in Japan. It is somewhere in between, with a great mixed of toasted spices and a healthy dose of garlic. I ordered the chicken and veggie currie (1400 yen), and it came with about 8 different veggies, each one cooked independently, which avoided the problem of overcooking some while leaving some undercooked. The chicken was moist, and falling off the bone it was so tender. All of it was crowned with a good bowl of rice and pickles, which helped cut through the intensity of the curry. I ordered spice level 2, which was a good amount. Any more than that, and I think the heat might start to be overpowering.

    Tsunashima is not located close to anything important, so going to Hanjiro might require a special trip (or, you could stop on your way to or from Yokohama). I suggest you do.
  • Taishoken (Ramen / Ikebukuro)
  • 2011/12/01
  • This was an unexpected bowl of ramen. I went to Taishoken to try the mythical birthplace of tsukemen, which essentially means that the soup and noodles are served separately, and the soup is concentrated.

    What I didn't expect was how light the broth was at Taishoken. I definitely liked this style of a milder, gentler broth. I did find though that they added too much sugar, which made it too sweet for my taste. Likewishe, the pork was on the dry side. Unlike other ramen places that use belly, or mix lean and fatty cuts, the slices at taishoken are almost pure pork roast with little fat. This matches nicely with the lighter soup, but the pork was a tad too dry.

    The noodles on the other hand are superb. Some of the best I've ever had -- chewy, flavorful and delicious to slurp.

    Nice ramen place. If you're into ramen, this is a must stop and definitely ranks up there with some of the nicer bowls available in the city.
  • Ivan Ramen: Kyodo (Ramen / Shimokitazawa)
  • 2011/11/08
  • This is some damn good ramen. I came here out of curiosity to see the foreigner chef doing ramen, but after the fact, all i can think of is the soup.

    Most ramen hits you in the face with flavor. The soup at Ivan ramen initially doesn't seem to be as intense. This is not to say that it's thin, but the flavor opens up slower, and more gently. It's a combination that slowly envelops you, teases you. I had the shio-ramen, so i wonder if this quality goes away with some of the more heavily-seasoned soups.

    The noodles are wonderful, and with tiny specks of rye flour. The pork was initially slightly dry to my taste, but i changed my mind to liking it afterwards.

    The other point i liked about Ivan is that the portion was controlled. I don't get the trend at some ramen shops to pile up the veggies so high, it looks like a rendition of mount fuji in bean sprouts. This, on the other hand, is a proper portion to feel full but like you can continue your day after having ramen.

    Kyodo is not a major hub, so it might take a special trip to go eat at Ivan, but i suggest you do sometime. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
  • Streamer Coffee Company (Coffee / Shibuya)
  • 2011/10/17
  • I worked in coffee shops for a while, and tried to teach myself how to make latte art. However, what I was able to make, and what they're pouring at Streamer, are completely different beasts.

    The staff is damn good at making latte art. Some of the designs I've seen them pour are off the hooks. And the coffee is good. And they have free wifi. And the coffee shop has a cool, laid back atmosphere. Why aren't you there already sipping a latte?

  • Cafe L'Ambre (Coffee / Shimbashi)
  • 2011/10/17
  • Cafe L'Ambre was quite the experience. It was recommended to me by some of the most coffee-obsessed people I know, and was unequivocally declared 'the best coffee shop in the world.' I just had to try it.

    I was a bit worried about whether the staff would be friendly, but those worries melted away as soon as set foot on the shop. They have an English menu, and lots of coffee choices. No lattes here, or anything like that. Just serious coffee, most of it made with the drip method over a cloth filter. They also do cold brewing, but I didn't try it this time.

    I ordered what struck me as the most unique thing in the menu -- beans from El salvador that had been aged for 30 years. I've had aged beans before (5 years), but never to this extent. Since I don't know what these beans tasted like before 30 years, it's hard to know how exactly they changed, except that this coffee had a very long finish and a depth of flavor that was intense yet gentle at the same time (hard to describe...you'll just have to go and try it!).

    After finishing my coffee, I explained to the staff that I wanted to make better coffee at home, and was happy to find that they sell some moderately-priced coffee brewing equipment (cloth filters). They also sell some not-so-moderately-priced grinders, so I just bought the filter.

    All in all, if you care about coffee, definitely drop by to try some of the best coffee on offer in Tokyo.
  • Bake Shop (Bakery / Jiyugaoka)
  • 2011/10/14
  • This bakery epitomizes some of my stereotypes of what a cafe in Jiyugaoka should be like.

    Inside a shop selling expensive lifestyle products? Check.
    Laid back, yet sophisticated atmosphere? Check.
    Use of fair trade, organic ingredients? Check.

    That being said, this would be a good place to kick back, catch up with a friend, and load up on American-style pastries (pancakes anyone?). It won't blow your mind culinary-speaking, but the quality is good and the atmosphere is nice.
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