Monday, January 19, 2015

Food Chronicling around Japan

Japan is a country where the great eating and drinking never stops.  Something tasty is around every corner.  Some bites are better than others.  And some bites have been the best I've tasted in the course of my food travels.

Here's a look at some of the tastiest bites from my week in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo:

Afternoon break on the hotel balcony
Palace Hotel Tokyo

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki in Osaka

Back in Osaka and back to eating some of the city's specialties.  Okonomiyaki is a filling and satisfying meal that packs in flavors and textures.  Momojuu the second time around was just as fun as the first visit.  This time we learned more about monjayaki.

Originating from the Tokyo area, monjayaki is another savory "pancake".  The differences between okonomiyaki and monjayaki are the seasonings and cooking style.  Okonomiyaki is a firmer pancake form, while monjayaki is softer, spread throughout the iron cooktop, and eaten straight from that heat source.

I love both dishes, but if I had a choice I would go for the monjayaki.  It's lighter and more fun to eat because of its interactivity right in front of you on the cooktop.

The table

Monday, January 12, 2015

My best tempura experience to date

At a reputable luxury hotel, it is almost guaranteed that the food will be enjoyable.  The setting, the service, and the quality of food are all top notch.  The Ritz Carlton Kyoto's dining selection is no different.

Below the lobby, the hotel's Japanese restaurant, Mizuki, features 4 kinds of Japanese specialty cuisines: kaiseki, sushi, teppan, and tempura.  You can sit at eat specialized station or in the main dining area to eat a little of everything.

When in Japan and there's a beautiful tempura bar, you must go there.  At these bars, each piece is fried at your eating pace.  I thought my tempura experience in Tokyo was amazing, and this just brought up the bar.  Mizuki's tempura has been my best experience to date.

The seafood and vegetables were all local and seasonal.  The chef, who is a humble genius at the fryer and with his tempura artistry, watches as you dine and eat.  He paces your next bites, fries them according to your pace, and explains how each bite will be best enhanced with sauce, lemon, or salt.  The batter was perfection and paper thin while perfectly fried inside.  So amazing.

Steps down to the Japanese restaurant

Tempura bar

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Overnight at the new Ritz Carlton Kyoto

Food is the main feature in every city I travel.  Equally important is the hotel.  It's where I spend a third to half of my time so it's crucial that the hotel is clean, well maintained, and centrally located to the better parts of the city.  If it's a reputable brand name hotel, that adds points.  And massive points go to brand new hotels all with the above criteria.

One of my favorite things to do online is to research new hotels, more specifically new luxury hotels in cities I'll potentially visit in the next couple of years.  If it's a new city to visit, it's all the more important that the hotel is new, or opened within the last two years, to guarantee clean comfort.

The Ritz Carlton Kyoto is the newest in the city.  It was actually supposed to open after the Four Seasons, but the Ritz Carlton stayed mostly on track while the Four Seasons is still delayed.  So on February 2014, the hotel opened along the Kanagawa River.

For one night (thanks to a lot of accumulated Marriott Rewards points), my family and I enjoyed the Zen luxury in one of Japan's most beautiful getaways.  Any time of the year is great to visit Kyoto.  Early fall was perfect as the trees were still lush green and the temperature was perfect for walking.

The hotel's Japanese architecture influence is evident all around in the simplicity, and the establishment's pampering is evident in all the detailed luxury in the rooms and around the hotel grounds, including the friendly service of all the staff.  This overnight break was the perfect pause between the busier cities of Osaka and Tokyo.

Unfortunately, I completely didn't take any room shots - just photos of the rooms details like the coffee and tea sets.  I got to lost in being impressed with the luxurious details, like Christofle silverware, two kinds of tea and coffee stations, and the beautiful Zen surroundings.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto

Monday, January 05, 2015

Kyoto's Natural Beauty

Back to Japan!  Flying back from the Bay Area, we took a weeklong layover in Japan.  It was a long journey to get into a bed - from San Jose, CA to Narita, then a train ride from Narita to Tokyo, dropped off our bigger luggages at our hotel in Tokyo, and then another bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka.  Close to 24 hours.  Whew.  It's a sweaty adventure hauling all our 2 months worth of luggages around.  Which reminds me, advice for packing in Japan: pack efficiently so you can travel from point to point within the country with ease.

After a couple of nights in Osaka, we hired a hotel van to take us from Osaka to Kyoto.  Prior trips to Kyoto we took bullet trains and local trains, about 20-30 minutes each way.  This time around, and with our heavy luggages, we decided to take a little roadtrip to see the sights along the way.

In the 2 hour drive, there really wasn't much to see (unlike roadtrips around Europe where the scene changes frequently).  However, the clean, efficient highways are quite admirable.  Once you enter the Kyoto area, the city is pretty spread out.  Driving around the city, I realized it's actually pretty necessary to get around the city via a vehicle or by the various train lines combined with a lot of walking.

The in-town drive revealed so many hidden enclaves humbly showing off Kyoto's natural beauty.  This city personifies nature.  Clean, orderly, green, lush, mountains, water.. it has it all.  There are endless temples, gardens, and paths.  It's overwhelming if you're in the city for a short stay, in our case for one night.

One of the main landmarks we visited was the city's famous Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  Crowds and crowds huddled on designated sides for their best photo opportunity.  And then serene, clean, shimmering beauty of the golden temple on the water.

Another highlight of the trip was a walk along the Kamagawa River, located right next to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton (more on the hotel in my next post).  The wide river has huge step stones to cross the calm water, bridges for cards and pedestrians, and restaurants lining the water for patrons to enjoy the quiet setting.  The small city has so many restaurants along the river, in side streets, along the main roads, and in covered street alleys.  Eating is non-stop and endless.

Kyoto is a beautiful break from the bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka.  Many parts of Kyoto have modernized over the years, with name brand department stores and shopping brands.  And despite that, the city has managed to preserve its history and natural beauty.

Golden Pavilion