At 4 am usually airport food offerings are slim to say the least. I was pleased enough to see signs for a 24-hour food area in Singapore's airport, expecting perhaps an edible pastry or, praise the heavens, a simple rice or soup dish.
While only one of the kiosks in said food court was open, we had some very good food. Too tired to take pictures, we tucked into a roasted pork noodle soup and a solid congee. Much better than they had to be with quality that might be expected a hawker center. I'm still of the opinion that Tokyo's handmade noodles were better, but in this last chapter of The Airport Food Showdown, Singapore put forth a very strong dark horse contender. Certainly, 4 am grub in a desserted food court in the Singapore airport garners the people's choice award.
Despite the incredibly early departure, Tokyo and Singapore are actually quite far apart. About 6+ hours in the air, I believe.
For those unfamiliar, Narita airport is a good ways from Tokyo proper. A 1-1.5 hour train ride is the most common means to get to the city, and a taxi costs well over $200. Welcome to Japan. But going straight from Narita to Tokyo would be much too easy. I've been to Japan many, many times so despite the language barrier there's hardly any intimidation factor. So naturally we had to stop at a random kaitenzushi restaurant located in a suburb of the city. Airport, train, taxi, eat, taxi, train, train, shuttle bus. Finally to our hotel. But it was worth it, you'll see.Kappazushi
isn't so much ignored by most sushi fans as it is outwardly scoffed at. Imagine NYC foodies at an automated McDonalds or, perhaps more favorably, Shake Shack. (OK, perhaps this latter scenario would be hailed by some to be among the great inventions of the past century, but you get my drift.) Kaitenzushi are among my most favorite restaurant concepts in the world. Have loved them since I was a kid, still love them now. My favorite as a child was Tsukiji Honten, just a few minutes away from Shibuya station's Hachiko gate. I think in my mid-teens I put away something like 26 plates. Oh, how I yearn for more innocent times. Today, tabelog, a very popular retaurant rating site, has suggested that the restaurant is now a shadow of its former self. At Y105, just over a dollar, for each plate of two pieces, Kappazushi was a frugal choice for our first meal in Japan.
But to be perfectly honest, the primary reason I selected Kappazushi was for its oh-so-Japanese technological gimmickry. Namely, the option to order a la carte via touch screen and to receive said orders by an express shinkansen conveyor belt. Hard to understand? Don't worry, pictures should help that.
The conveyor belt of delights
Par for the course, if a bit sparse, since we showed up shortly after 3 pm.
Something like a signature dish, our taxi driver recommended it. It was quite good all things considered.
The touch screen ordering system
Very cool, very efficient. One orders up to four items at a time, and they come directly to the table via express train.
Next stop, my mouth
I was borderline obsessed with how cool and efficient this whole system was. And to make it even better the staff members on the floor couldn't have been nicer.
After this most technological meal we went to our hotel, the Prince Park Tower, located between the Akabanebashi and Shibakoen metro stops. Japan's metro and rail network can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Here's a map
if you're curious.
For dinner we headed we again turned to tabelog and decided to eat at a popular izakaya, Tanto
. It took two calls to get them to accommodate us and even then they didn't have an opening until nearly 10 pm. The restaurant is located in the Hachimaki Building at 4-10-11 in the Roppongi neighborhood. Tokyo addresses follow an effectively indecipherable code, so good luck with that.
Tanto is a very small restaurant, a couple four-tops in screened off areas, a short wall of deuces, and perhaps one six-top. I'd say the restaurant sits no more than 25 at one time. Like many thousands of other restaurants in Japan it's also quite peculiarly located. The third floor of an unassuming sliver of a building. Tokyo is really one of those cities where hidden gems are the norm rather than the exception.
Izakaya cuisine refers to small plates, meant to be eaten while drinking with beer. This was a neo-izakaya of sorts, serving the kind of eclectic, creative food that young Japanese seemingly like to eat. For every Westernized riff on a Japanese classic was a Japanized riff on a Western classic. For those familiar with the kind of new izakaya popular on St. Marks and Midtown East, Tanto is similar, just with much more attention paid to ingredient quality and execution.
An unimpeachable negi-toro spooned atop grilled bread, drizzled with a light sour cream and tobiko. A quintessential example of this style of cooking.
Shrimp, broccoli, bagna cauda
I was less convinced by this dish because it was such a far departure from the rustic bagna cauda I associate with Northern Italian cuisine. It was very tasty--both shrimp and broccoli were well-cooked--just a bit strange. This warm salad of sorts is one of their most popular dishes.
Rather than use the belly as is traditional, the jowl was sliced in 1/2" thick slices and braised. I missed the meltingly soft fat that comes with the belly version, but this offered a meatier, porkier experience. Rather than custardy, the meat, when portioned between us, was almost like a pulled pork.
Another Japanese comfort food classic, these chicken nuggets are usually no larger than an inch by an inch and delicately seasoned before frying. Here, the thigh meat, in much larger pieces, was presuambly marinated in a heavy brine of soy, sake, and sugar. The end result was a much more intense, and not quite as delicate, fried chicken dish.
Yes, seriously. Our waiter not very subtly steered us toward trying one. We chose the version with Japanese mushrooms, bacon, and cheese. I would less call this pizza than a topped flatbread. With that said, it had a certain white trash appeal and the execution was very good. It looks over-topped, I realize this, but the crisp, crackery crust was more than able to stand up to it all.
Scallop, uni, tobiko, nori
We selected this off the specials menu, and it was quite intense but quite good. A whole scallop, roe and all, was broiled, popped on a sheet of nori, then topped with a generous scoop of uni and a sprinkling of tobiko and chives. Wrap and eat. The texture of the scallop was more baked/broiled than seared, and I think I would've preferred the latter, but overall this was a very cool, luxurious dish.
Foie gras fried rice
Another unlikely marriage that worked quite well. It was, however, exactly as described and tasted exactly as I imagined. This makes me think the pairing of foie gras and Japanese fried rice isn't necessarily one that is greater than the sum of its parts. Still, you have your typical dashi-tasting fried rice with large hunks of foie gras strewn throughout. Each bite of foie added a noticeable explosion of fatty, livery flavor. Not a dish for those who aren't fans of foie.
With a couple beers and this food I think we spent about $45 per person. In Tokyo, if one expects to sit down in any comfort, that's pretty cheap.
Our late dinner behind us we returned to the hotel for a few hours of sleep. The next day would bring two meals with excruciating wait times and a third with some two Michelin starred tempura.
Edited by BryanZ, 01 August 2009 - 03:37 PM.