Japan Trip Day 2 – The good, the bad and the deep fried

By | January 31, 2008

Breakfast at Omborato

I never thought that I’d be awake at 7:30 am while on vacation, but that’s where I found myself on Day 2. Dragging ourselves from the warm beds of the Century Hyatt Tokyo, we groggily dressed and headed out the door. Destination: Omborato.

Omborato

Omborato InteriorNow truth be told, this restaurant wasn’t even on our radar when planning. However, by the end of the trip this place had become our second home. Almost exactly on schedule, we’d crawl out of our beds and make the arduous trek down the elevators to be welcomed by the quasi-genki waitresses.

Why did we do that? What was it about Omborato that attracted us its tranquil existence? Was it the Zenness of the place? Perhaps it was the eloquent juxtaposition of traditional Japanese decorations set in a modern décor… or the great food. Perhaps.

Then again, we’re simple men and simple things attract us; things like free breakfast vouchers. Whole ThingThe deal was that we could use these vouchers at the only two restaurants in the hotel open for breakfast. At the restaurant-that-shall-not-be-named, we had the American-style buffet representing. From soggy bacon to chewy scrambled eggs to overcooked pancakes – if you were looking to torture your stomach with overly greasy excuses for food, then this was the place. In corner B, we had Omborato representing a breakfast tray with a certain quiet confidence. SLIMED

From left to right, top to bottom, we have some steamed vegetables and tofu; Spinach Gomae (Gomae just means sesame sauce by the way, so if you want to avoid looking like a total ‘tard in a restaurant, order Spinach Gomae or Toro Gomae or whatever.. not just Gomae); salted fish eggs; grated Daikon; a poached egg; random pickled vegetables; salted Black Cod with random tofu bits; Red Tuna with Yamato-imo; congee (rice gruel); and finally, miso soup. From the mildness of the tofu to the saltiness of the fish eggs to the smokiness of the cod, most things were up to par.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and I thus direct your attention to the Tuna and Yamato-imo. Yamato-imo is… an acquired taste – it’s slimy, it’s smelly and it’s just something you don’t want in your mouth.

On the bright side, if you can somehow manage to choke it down, it’s really quite good for you – being rich in vitamins and all. With our first meal of the day behind us, we headed to the subway station to begin our day. First stop, brunch at Tsukiji fish market.

Tsukiji Market – Dai Wa Sushi (the good)

Dai Wa SushiLocated just minutes away from the Tsukiji-shijo stop, the market is to Tokyo what Granville Island is to Vancouver. Hailed as the largest fish market in the world, there is an incredible ecosystem that guided by Adam Smith’s invisible hand distributes each day’s catch to thousands of restaurants and merchants.

No matter what type of fish you are looking for, if it can be found in Japan then Tsukiji is the place to get it. With a plethora of merchants and restaurants in this area, it can be overwhelming trying to decide on a place to eat.

Pulling a Toucan Sam, we simply followed our noses and within minutes, found ourselves lining up in front of Sushi Dai. Ok, I lied. We’d read about Sushi Dai ahead of hand, we had to ask for directions and it took us twenty minutes to find the place when it should have taken five (tip: turn right at the train station exit, then turn right at the Shell station).

Inside of the restaurantLocated right by the docks, Dai Wa Sushi is a tiny restaurant that seats only a handful of people and serves up the freshest sushi in the world. They’re open only for breakfast and lunch and wait times can range from twenty minutes to four hours (on the weekends) so get there early.

As you may remember, we got up early for this so our wait time was only thirty minutes or so. Sitting down, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the sushi chefs place the sushi directly on the counter in front of you. In Japan, you don’t need no sushi plates!

With breakfast but a memory, we ordered the Omakase (chef’s choice) set which includes 10 pieces of Nigiri (rice with rice ontop), 4 pieces of roll and finally, a piece of your own choosing. When sushi is served, a chef will typically start with a lighter fish such as Maguro (Tuna) and progress to fishes that have a stronger taste such as Saba (Mackerel).

The first piece we got was a beautiful piece of O-toro (high grade Tuna belly). For readers less acquainted with different types of Tuna available, there are various cuts much like beef. The “normal” cuts are analogous to something like a sirloin. It’s cheap, it’s not too fatty and you can get some pretty decent sirloin.

The next step up is Toro which is the worst cut of the Tuna belly. Significantly better than “normal” Tuna, Toro will have a higher fat content with larger flakes that will be visible. You might encounter an occasional sinewy bit here and there. First piece - O-toro

Of course, once you’d had the middle of the line, you’ll want to try the really good stuff which is Chu-toro. If Toro is Grade A Angus Filet Mignon, then Chu-toro would be Grade AAA Filet Mignon. Melt in your mouth goodness, you’ll think that this is the best fish there is.

That is, until you try O-toro! Going back to the beef analogy, many people will go through life never having tried Kobe Beef and they’ll be perfectly happy with their Grade AAA Angus. One bite though and you’ll never be able to go back. I’d had O-toro before in Vancouver, but this piece put everything I’d ever eaten to shame. It was fresh, it was sweet and it was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sweetness of the fish dissolved in my mouth the way a rich custard would. No chewing involved (except the rice). Yes, it was that good!

Next up, a big block of Tamago (sweet egg). It wasn’t significantly better than the stuff here in Vancouver, but it did come out hot which was a nice contrast to the cold that we were used to. Tamago
Tai Most, if not all of the Tai (Sea Bream or Red Snapper) you find in Vancouver is farmed and sent to restaurants frozen. As a result, it’ll often have a firm rubbery texture that would make Nike proud. The Tai here was firm with a texture that gave way to your bites. No frozen rubberness here!
Ika (squid) isn’t something we normally order in Vancouver. As with the Tai, it’s often rubbery, bland and generally unappetizing. It’s also not normally served with the ponzu sauce as shown. An amazing mix of contrasts, it was tender, yet firm; salty, yet sweet. Ika
Miso Soup Most of the meals we had in Japan came with a variant of Miso soup and Sushi Dai was no exception. I would have preferred this to come at the beginning of the meal, but I suspect that they were just bringing these out when convenient. Then again, what do I know? Perhaps the cosmic gods of Japan decreed that the Miso soup should have come out at that time.
If you had to pick one sea animal to represent the bastard child of Satan, Uni (sea urchin) would be it. Chock full of preservatives and vacuum packed for consumption by the unknowing masses, most uni will come in sterile white trays that are better suited to medical labs than restaurants.As for the taste, imagine that you’re a participant in the 2 girls, 1 cup video.Bump up the cholesterol a little and voila! You have packaged Uni.

Luckily for me, things are a little different at Tsukiji. As with the O-toro, it was sweet, fresh and melted in your mouth.

Uni
Benito The poor cousin of Blue-fin Tuna, Bonito is what you’ll eat if you can’t afford O-toro. As it is related to Tuna, the taste is pretty similar with a firmer texture.
For those that don’t like slimy, Shiori is not for you! Made up of tens if not hundreds of baby shrimp, the slight slimy texture was offset by the sweetness of the fresh shrimp.
The Tsubugai (Whelk Clam) was quite possible the freshest thing we ate that day. When served, it was still moving! Squeamish people need not worry, it didn’t move that much… the texture here was crunchy – a little like eating a giant oyster flavored piece of chicken cartilage.
The combo finished off with a piece of Aji (Mackerel) unlike anything I’d eaten in Vancouver. The taste was strong, but without being overly fishy.In the background, you can see the Tuna and Fish Egg + Cucumber rolls. Those (as I discovered later) are pretty standard in most sushi places. No, they don’t have California rolls.
Finally, the last piece of the Omakase was the Anago (Marine Eel). A light fish, Anago is usually served at the end of the meal due to its sweetness. It’s not something you can get in Vancouver easily, so enjoy it here while you can!Finally, we were allowed to choose another piece of sushi to round out our meal; we all chose O-toro.

Total cost: 3500 yen or so.

Our stomachs satisfied, we headed off to Ginza where the shops were expensive and the tourists had more money than taste.

Confectionery West

As with other Asian cities, Tokyo has a couple of months where the humidity destroys your will to live. Walking around Ginza for a couple of hours did us in and thus our guide book brought us to Confectionery West. Long before Beard Papa’s was churning out their delectable cream puffs, Confectionery West was showing them how it was done.The sorbets and ice cream were very flavorful and smooth.

Average cost for the desserts was in the 700 yen range.

Random Basement Restaurant in Random Ginza Mall (the bad)

Finishing up at Confectionery West, we shopped for a little bit longer and decided to get a snack at a restaurant in the basement of a mall. Being a little on the hungry side (it was 4pm after all), I decided to splurge with some sushi and ramen.

With fond memories of Tsukiji dancing in my head, I ordered the Omakase set. Now the first thing you’ll notice is that the Uni looks a little gangrened. Against my better judgment, i choked it down with a mouthful of tea. The Sea Urchin had its revenge on me!I didn’t fare any better with any of the other pieces of that plate either. Old, fishy and likely to give me food poisoning, I turned my attention to the Ramen.
Well this piece of crap consisted of dried pieces of pork in a chinese soup base with instant noodles. Ramen my ass! I’d been culinarily raped!Moral of this story: don’t go to restaurants in the basement of malls in Ginza. They’re there to rip off unsuspecting tourists like you and me.

Total cost: around 3,000 yen. *sigh*


The Deep Fried

My stomach writhing in agony, we headed off to dinner at Tenpura Tsunahach. Found in multiple locations throughout Tokyo, this restaurants specialty lies in, you guessed it, Tempura.Buckling down, we ordered our drinks and food. Sitting at the bar was a neat experience because we could see the chefs frying our food. Of course, if you’re watching your weight – seeing the amount of oil that goes in probably isn’t so good for you. Chef Preparing Stuff

Tempura Sauce
As with Tonkatsu, the ingredients for Tempura aren’t hard to come by. Oil, Flour and stuff you want to deep fry. The key in making Tempura then really lies in the frying technique. If your oil is too hot, the oil will start to smoke which your food burn faster (and give you cancer). Too cool and the food takes longer to cook which results in oilier food.The sauce provided is a light mixture of Soy Sauce mixed with Dashi (Fish) Stock. The white stuff you see in the background is Daikon Radish and I can’t for the life of me remember what the red stuff was. Either way, the vegetables help to lighten the heaviness of the Tempura.
The meal started off easy enough. Some starches and a random stringy green vegetable. They were a decent representation of what Tempura should be.
Tempura
Tempura Prawn Next up, the prawns. Fresh with a light batter, they were fried to perfection. Eating these was no problem, tail and all!
The next fish dish that came was a deep fried Eel. The meat was good, but the thing that really made this dish special was the deep fried spine. Delicious!
Fish
Fried Cake Now the fundamental problem with something like Tempura is that no matter how good it is, at the end of the day, it’s still a deep fried piece of food. Now, having gone through three dishes, this fourth dish was not going to go down easy. A hodgepodge of random vegetables and seafoods, I took one bite and gave up.You can have too much of a good thing!

Overall, the meal was quite satisfying though I think everyone agreed that the meal was a little much in terms of what could be eaten. Our wallets 5,000 yen lighter and our stomaches 10 lbs heavier, we slowly made our way back to the hotel. Next up… Satou Beef.

4 thoughts on “Japan Trip Day 2 – The good, the bad and the deep fried

  1. Chiro

    Hi, I came via NSMB (lol). Awesome articles! If you are still in Tokyo area, you got to go visit “Ramen museum” in Shin Yokohama. It is a must for Ramen lover. Hope you guys make it there. http://www.raumen.co.jp/home/

    Reply
  2. Eddy

    very nice review / blog .. I also went to sushi dai during my trip last summer.. I loved the uni so much i ordered another one! (but at a 500 yen a piece rate, i had to stop the ordering!)

    The ginza place does not look like is good at all! haha if i do go to ginza, and see a resturant that offers a dinner menu less than 8000 yen, I would probably walk away!

    Reply
  3. Paul

    Hail the king of procrastination…we Revsceners have waited 2 years for this review. Looks like you walked into some culinary minefields just like we did. Love that breakfast shot at the top though!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *