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Are you sure this is Calamari?

Oh man, that's one of the saddest looking dishes I've ever seen in my life.

Jun 12, 2010
brandon g in General Topics

Your single favorite dish in LA

Any agnolotti at Angelini Osteria

Mar 13, 2010
brandon g in Los Angeles Area

Tsukiji donburi

If you are talking about the two Daiwas on the map next to each other, they are connected. Unless they have another southern or northern location you're talking about somewhere that I'm not aware of? Daiwa sushi has a double space as indicated on the map, but it's just one restaurant with two counters, not two different restaurants. Between Dai and Daiwa, people debate which is better, but doing so to me is splitting hairs - they're both good and I choose the one with the shorter line. I've been to Sushi Dai without waiting when there's a big line at Daiwa and vice versa. I could never figure out why people would wait an hour to eat at one when there were only a couple people in line at the other. Lines are shorter on weekdays and on days with bad weather. Maybe you thought that eating a couple pieces of sushi at each was a reasonable idea, but if you don't know, like Silverjay said, this could take forever. Those lines can easily get over an hour. Look at the number of seats and then the number of people in line and you can get a feel for how long the wait is. Also consider that some of the fish vendors will pop in for sushi once in a while through the back door, and they don't wait. This doesn't happen a lot, but you'll notice if you're in the front of the line and you wait another twenty minutes because of it.

LOL about the single ikura and the high five. And the "ginormous mess up, done by the book." Classic. Unfortunately that crap is going on 365 days a year, so even if you are there by yourself on your best behavior, those jackasses will still be causing more of their share of annoyances to the people who are just trying to get through a normal (hard) day's work. If I was in Japan I'd join you but unfortunately I'm not.

Mar 05, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Tsukiji donburi

Sorry Scharn, now I feel bad generalizing that all the places make good domburi. E ETO is right, I guess because I had to go to Tsukiji for work I probably had different expectations. When I lived in Tokyo I had to be there in the morning a couple times a week, and I was extremely grateful that there was good quality food that I could eat in five minutes at 7 am. IMHO the selection and quality of domburi there are are much better than you can get walking through Shinjuku station or somewhere like that, so if it's on your way to work it is a godsend. Fortunately for me I was never served half frozen tuna. If it was raining I would often eat at Sushi Dai or Daiwa because there are no lines in the rain, and I think their food is great for the price. That said, I have mixed feelings about whether it's worth waiting in line at those places if it's not your first time to the market, and most good sushi bars in Tokyo serve a chirashi that's as good as most of the kaisen don there. But I still have to affirm, if you are running to work with five minutes to eat, and you have ¥1200 in your pocket, Tsukiji is not a bad place to be. These days I have to drop $7 at Starbucks for a crappy pastry and a coffee every morning instead.

P.S. I do not recommend eating a few pieces of sushi and leaving any restaurant unless you absolutely have to eat at all these places in one day. They will think you left because you thought the food was bad.

Mar 04, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Tsukiji donburi

I've eaten at every counter on the street pictured in that blog and I've never had anything bad. I always eat a tekka-don and it's always good. The ones that sell mostly fish bowls usually have better sushi rice than the ones that sell lots of cooked stuff, but you really can't go wrong, especially for less than ¥1000.

Mar 02, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Eating in Tokyo / MSG

Well I have to say that sounds like hell to me. My concern with ramen would be that even if there's no MSG in the soup, one of the most common toppings is menma, which is a slivered bamboo shooot. I know most people don't make it themselves, even if they're "kodawari," or artisanal places. Packaged menma all has MSG in it, so get it without menma. If you can get that no-MSG ramen book that kikisakura linked to it might lead to lots of fun.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menma

You may not be able to dip it in soy sauce, but you can eat sashimi for sure. I have only heard of MSG in sushi rice at the cheapest places. Besides sashimi, honestly I'm having a hard time thinking of anything that's 100% safe, but even in the US I would be scared to eat anything in any restaurant if I were you. All the restaurants here use processed ingredients for everything too, as I'm sure you already know. Grilled fish in Japan is really good, but there's a tiny, tiny chance that they might put ajinomoto in the salt they use. I would say there's only about a 1 in 100 chance of that though, so if you're feelin lucky eat grilled fish. Tofu is safe. I didn't really understand if you can eat soy sauce or not, but if you can, soba should be OK at an upscale hand made (teuchi) soba place, as they all make soup from natural ingredients.

Regarding pickles, anything store bought probably has MSG added to it, like I said, and most restaurants that aren't kaiseki type places don't make their own pickles. Artificial color is a dead giveaway. Store bought kim chi often has MSG in it too.

If I were you, assuming you don't speak Japanese, I would have someone write a note that says you are severely allergic to MSG, that it could kill you, that you can't eat fake dashi, etc., and show that to the servers, or better yet the chef (sit at the counter) in restaurants. Japanese people are very nice and they will not ignore you. Just don't do it at a really busy hole in the wall during their rush. Thousands of the 200,000+ restaurants in Tokyo have chefs who would never use any processed ingredients and they are proud of it. Although there's a lot of MSG in Japan, there are infinitely more restaurants there that make everything from scratch than there are in America. It seems like such a waste to not eat something in any restaurant because you fear what a fraction of them are doing. Above $25 for a lunch or diner set, I would guess that half of restaurants make miso soup from scratch, so why deprive yourself if you can eat it? With so many restaurants in Tokyo owned by the chefs behind the counter, all you have to do is find a few nice places and you can eat whatever you want every day. Good luck!

Mar 01, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Eating in Tokyo / MSG

First, I guess you have to figure out how sensitive you are to MSG, which is a naturally occurring substance. Manufactured MSG, and the MSG in things like dashi (Japanese soup stock) and soy sauce differ slightly in the concentrations of their isomers, but there's MSG in a lot of natural food.

First, lets talk about manufactured MSG, or "Ajinomoto." I would estimate that among the Chinese food in Japan, including ramen, about 75% of places use MSG, with the concentration being higher for cheaper food and lower for nicer places. Among Japanese restaurants the use of Ajinomoto is less, but instant dashi has added MSG in it, and most places that charge you less than $10 for a meal probably make their miso soup and other broths with instant dashi. Cheap pickles are seasoned with Ajinomoto. Frozen fish cakes have lots of Ajinomoto. The more I think about it, the more it seems most processed food in Japan has MSG added to it, especially if it's frozen. Of course this isn't just in Japan. KFC puts MSG in almost everything they make. Most of the fast food companies have something with MSG in them if you look at their ingredients.

On to natural MSG. If they make it with dashi or soy sauce, it has natural MSG in it. Virtually every liquid in Japanese food is made with dashi. All soup, including miso shiru; soba, udon, somen, hiyamugi, and every other noodle broth; chawanmushi; ankake (the goopy thickened broth); most nabe (hotpot) soup stocks; and dipping sauces like tempura sauce, are all made with dashi and thus have MSG in them. Soy sauce has quite a high concentration of glutamates in it too, so soy sauce and anything that has soy sauce in it, meaning almost every food that is brown, all have MSG. If you eat in Western restaurants watch out for Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and even tomatoes.

My advise is to just not eat too much cheap food that has liquids in it. Although a lot of people believe they have severe allergies to MSG, most of them still eat food with MSG in it without knowing it. Soy sauce and tonkatsu sauce both have MSG in them, regardless of quality. That is part of the reason they taste good. Some cheap sushi bars actually put MSG in their sushi rice. If you really have an allergy to MSG, the highest concentration you are going to get is in soup or chinese food so just avoid that stuff. Chinese cooks in cheaper restaurants have a little dish of it next to the wok and throw in a teaspoon to most of the stuff they make. It's not hard for them to pick up a little more than you might want. I personally think that's what gives people a headache, the same way some processed sweets sometimes make my teeth hurt. Too much of anything can irritate your body. If you have miso soup with your ¥20,000 kaiseki dinner and you don't get a headache, it means you're not allergic to MSG. I'm not trying to be snarky, but there have been lots of studies that have had difficulty producing symptoms when giving people MSG in double blind studies. They tried hard and couldn't get repeatable evidence that differed greatly from placebo, probably because results differed based on the actual composition of the food. I'm not saying you're lying, I just want to point out that this is not as simple as a dash of Ajinomoto. Considering that, my advise, acknowledging that you are probably already eating MSG, is just to avoid processed food and cheap soup. The fact is good ramen places don't add anything to their soup stock that wouldn't be in the stock at a three-star-Michelin French restaurant.

If you don't beleive me about the science (and there are more of these):
http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/jo...

Feb 28, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Lunch/dinner prices at Kintame (Monzennakacho)

Is this the place you guys are talking about?

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1310/A131...

Feb 18, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Ryugin or Kanda?

First I want to say that my post in favor of Kanda was mainly to let you know that I think that they make good food and that going there wouldn't be a bad choice. Ryugin sounds great and I hope to eat there next time I'm in Tokyo. I've eaten expensive kaiseki at well known places that weren't that great, and I think you're lucky to have narrowed it down to these two restaurants if you're spending the kind of money that you are.

That said, if your husband suspects he might not like some things that could be served, I worry that you might be be slightly disappointed. Even if you enjoy your meal, spending 50,000 yen on dinner should always result in an incredible experience, and if he doesn't love his food, you might not have as much fun as you should. I think Uncle Yabai is correct in saying that requesting certain accommodations might create an odd feeling before your meal, although I'm sure they could make due. The thing is, after taking many people to Japan I can tell you that some of my friends (who will eat anything) were slightly disappointed in kaiseki in Tokyo given the amount of money involved and considering all the other great food they had in Japan. If you are eating in a historic inn, after an outdoor bath, overlooking a beautiful garden, and in your own private room, yes - it is guaranteed magic; but lets face it, in Tokyo you are eating in a box and you have to adore the food to get your money's worth. Consider this: You can eat sushi in Tsukiji, soba at Kanda Yabu or another historic soba-ya, and still spend 30,000 yen on tempura at Kondo for the same price. I guarantee you will still remember those meals for the rest of your life, and there's almost no risk of disappointment. Even though I loved Kanda that's still close to a coin flip for me!

Feb 03, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Ryugin or Kanda?

Sorry, I don't know why I keep writing Ryujin instead of Ryugin.

Feb 03, 2010
brandon g in Japan

Ryugin or Kanda?

I've never been to Ryujin, but the best meal I've ever had in Japan was at Kanda. That said, many dishes were subtle and I don't know if someone who very familiar and kind of obsessed with the ingredients would have enjoyed it as much as I did. I guess that's true for many kaiseki experiences though. From the (many) reviews I've read about Ryujin, I would have to say that even if it has gone more traditional many Japanese chefs would still consider it more of a fusion style. If you're not excited at paying a $50 for a freshly dug Kyoto bamboo shoot just grilled with salt, then Ryujin may be a more enjoyable experience for you. And example of what I mean: I had a dish of hamaguri clams and fresh wakame "shabu shabu" that was one of the best dished I have ever had in Japan in my life. For someone who doesn't eat wakame and hamaguri all the time, this probably would have been extremely boring, but the quality of ingredients was truly extraordinary. Also, I sat at the counter at Kanda and I was unimpressed with the atmosphere, although Kanda San was VERY nice to us. Still, as far as flavors go, the food I had at Kanda was IMHO the best representation of the flavors that true Japanese technique produces that I have ever experienced. For what it's worth, I'm a professional chef and I have trained in Japanese food for many years. That doesn't really mean anything other than the fact that I care more about some things more than a non-professional, and my palate, for better or worse, is kind of skewed. I don't think you can really go wrong either way. Also regarding your husband, I didn't have anything I consider really "adventurous" there. Have fun!

Feb 03, 2010
brandon g in Japan

My soba noodles were a gummy mess

Soba noodles, both fresh and dry, are packed with starch on them, and it needs to be rinsed off after cooking. You should boil them in the shortest amount of time it takes for the core to lose its hardness, strain them, quickly wash them in two changes of cold running tap water, and then plunge them into very cold ice water. After they're good and cold put them in a strainer and shake off as much water as you can.

Sep 23, 2009
brandon g in Home Cooking

Soba noodles...

Wheat is not required as a binder, but it makes it easier and cheaper to make soba. Whether or not you can taste the difference in a dried product I can't say, but I have had fresh 80% buckwheat soba that was better than 100% many times due to the fact that the quality of the soba flour was better. Marukai has a lot of dried soba, so your best bet is to buy one of each until you find the one that has the most flavor. The cheapest ones are usually, but not always the worst.

Sep 23, 2009
brandon g in Los Angeles Area