Monday, June 21, 2010

Brasserie Perle

The other day on one of my jogs I stumbled upon an interesting looking french brasserie. Brasserie Perle is in a bright yellow house with a cute front patio and is the only commercial building on the entire street. It is in the middle of the block and three turns from the nearest main street. I have no idea how anyone ever finds this place. But once they do, I guarantee you they keep going back. And we know why.

After spending the day with my kanji translator (and failing that, asking my boss) and a copy of the menu I'd swiped, I already had my mouth watering over the beef cheeks, duck confit, lamb and market fresh salmon to come. When we arrived, we also found a chalkboard full of daily specials and a very friendly trilingual french waiter at the ready. Ryan opted for the 5-course chef's menu, whereas I had my eye on two things off the a la carte menu.  Here was Ryan's first course, a small cube of pork something and a sea snail, which he said was quite tasty.
After that, he had a ham and cheese quiche with green salad and a cold pumpkin soup that he said was subtle and creamy and, good as it all sounded, I stopped paying attention to what he was saying when my foie gras arrived. I mean, look at this thing! It was huge and perfectly cooked, with some root vegetables underneath and a wine reduction on top. I usually like foie to have a sweet element and was worried with all the savory that arrived, but the tang of the sauce combined with the ever so slight crunch from the sear were just perfect. Then Ryan had some very tender beef atop veggies and I had the duck confit with a mustard sauce. Once again I was bowled over. How could this small restaurant on a sleepy street in the quietest district in Tokyo have such a great chef turning out such amazing food? It boggles the mind. 

Even the coffee was good!  For dessert I went with the chocolate cake and Ryan had creme brulee. Both delicious. Can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My own yukata

Just in time for festival season, I have purchased my own yukata. I bought it down in the old neighborhood of Yanaka, which is very near to our house. Although the yukata are one size fits all, the salesman allowed me to try it on to see if I liked the look. I'm glad that I have the pictures from this process because I may need them to recreate what he did when I try to put it on myself. In particular, you have to be careful with the way you wrap it. The right side needs to go first and then the left side over that. If you do the reverse you apparently look like a corpse. This is the most often stated problem if you google "foreigner wearing yukata". The other problem is that many foreign women have curvy hips that don't fit properly in the yukata. Not this foreigner, though. Pretty straight up and down, I am.

So after the wrap, you fold over the top section at the waist and tie a thin belt to keep it in place. This establishes the proper floor length but also gives it the appearance of having two pieces. On top of it all will go the bright, thick piece of satin called the obi. I have no idea how to tie that, but that is where the internets come in handy. The actual yukata that I bought is a deeper shade of red, with colorful flowers, and the obi is bright gold on the outside and orange on the inside.  I even bought wooden flip flops called getta to wear with it.  This weekend I will get to wear the yukata at a birthday party on a boat. Pictures to follow! 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

who wears short shorts?

When Chad and Bill were visiting, we were fortuitously graced with an early festival (the season is usually more in July and August) held at the Yushima Tenjin. In the streets near the temple, many portable shrines, or mikoshi, were being carried by teams of people wearing the traditional outfit, which is this cotton wrap shirt, with pants apparently optional. They weave around the neighborhood, yelling and kind of doing "the pony", so that the heavy mikoshi bounces around on their shoulders. It must be incredibly painful and from what we could tell must be some kind of endurance test. Folks follow along encouraging the holders, and subbing in when it becomes unbearable. 
Eventually everyone makes their way to the shrine where there are the typical food stalls that we have come to love. This is where our portion of the endurance test comes in, as we take turns sampling (in no particular order): a gyro; pork on a stick; beef on a stick; a potato chip on a stick (sensing a theme); a lychee fruit thing in gelatin on, you guessed it, a stick; an amaretto cookie thing made in a small pan in front of us; takoyaki (octopus dough balls); baby donut balls (I forget what they are called) and yakisoba noodles. 

While all that eating was going on, we watched the last of the parade trickle in. Here is a guy balancing and dancing with that long stick. Impressive, sure, but my favorite part about this crew, was that the rear of their parade was being brought up by three strollers with sleeping babies.
This crew pulled their drum cart and dead trees (??) through the row of food stalls.
The shrine also provided some live music and a puppet show. Here, Chad and Bill (ubiquitous stick in hand) look on.
There are also games. Here a family of mikoshi holders in their short shorts observe a shooting gallery.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

a weekend of live entertainment

Sometime around early May I guess, we noticed that they were starting to build some sort of monstrosity at the shrine across the street from us.
Metal scaffolding and tarps in every shade of gray and green went up, accompanied by hammering and the buzzing of table saws at ungodly hours of the morning (okay, maybe it was 9, but still).

Then a box office went up and flyers were hung all over the block. My boss informed me that this was the annual theatre production by a troupe of amateur actors (called something like "aquarium group"; we found out why later). She stressed the amateur part in the description as the reason why she and her husband had never gone to see them. But after a week of hearing the live music (the accordion/horn/violin trio sounded particularly moody and jazzy) and the shouting of the actors (we could have sworn there was some kind of domestic dispute going on outside our window, the shouting during rehearsal was that loud) and the applause, we were all quite intrigued. The four of us went to see the play last Friday night.

The play was approximately 3 hours long with no intermission. It started outside around a sort of makeshift pool with a broken red rocking horse sitting in it (the thing people are sitting on in the picture above). After a 20 minute prologue that included two witches, three peddlers, an old scared drunk man on a bike, a really angry old woman and two beautiful kimono-clad women rotating around on this elevated merry go round, we filed into the rickety structure to take our seats on ascending tatami covered benches, but only after we first removed our shoes and placed them in the small white bags that were provided when we purchased the tickets. Inside the structure was an elaborate double-decker bar facade that rotated around to reveal a small store and dirty apartment facade on the other side. (no cameras were allowed inside, so I have borrowed a few from their website).

Apparently the story had something to do with a Japanese community living in a small town in China. There were two sisters separated at birth and people trying to get in touch with missing parts of their lives. We of course got none of this. We couldn't understand a bit. When the young gal in the sailor suit (one of the sisters) gets shot, she falls into a small pool of water in the floor of the stage. Out of nowhere, 3 ninjas jump out (I'm not making this up) to grab her body. The bar facade rolls backward to reveal a giant pool of water in the base of the stage. The ninjas hook her up to that broken red horse (from the prologue) that is now connected to the ceiling and hoist her up to the sky and out of view, while water sprays her from multiple hoses in the pool. People in the first row were given plastic blankets to shield them from inevitable castoff. It was mayhem and it was wonderful. Despite not understanding a bit, it was totally entertaining. Not in my wildest imagination could I predict what was going to happen from one scene to the next. At one point during the non-intermission set change, we watched a short stand up routine, an old kimono'd man in drag and three construction guys carry a beam across the stage with childlike drawings of fish and octopus attached to their heads, as if to say "don't mind us, we're just some fish swimming through".

After the play ended, they invited everyone back into the seating area for some sake and senbei. I guess they might not be able to afford to do this again next year, so were having one last party before the season ended. The gal below played one of the peddlers. She spoke English and came to chat with us after the play.

And then on Saturday night we went to see the boyfriend of one of Ryan's students play a gig at this small venue in Asakusa. This tiny, eclectic bar called Tribal Village only held about a dozen people, but I can honestly say that he could have filled a bigger place. Junya played a good variety of Japanese and American favorites, a couple of original songs and even took requests from the audience. The best part about it was that he looked like he was having a total blast up there. He is a really talented musician. I hope he keeps it up. The gal in the hat came up and belted out a few duets with him and played some killer percussion. Fun night.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

En Izakaya in Suidobashi

For their last night in Tokyo, Chad and Bill treated us to a yummy dinner at En in Suidobashi. Located on the 5th floor of the building that is just maybe 5 meters from the suidobashi subway exit, this high-end izakaya was extremely convenient to get to. And that is a good thing, because I can guarantee we will go again.
First up was this beautifully presented tuna sashimi with raw wasabi that can be grated by hand (nice touch).

And then came rice balls in a kind of steamed green, various pickles, small fish in a sweet and tangy sauce, ground chicken (and cartilage bits) formed into tubes and grilled on a bbq (much better than it sounds). Somewhere in there was also thick cut "french bacon", which went too fast for me to photograph (it was indeed as good as it sounds). All of this was accompanied by a tasty and totally affordable bottle of French red wine. For dessert, Chad ordered this dish below. Although mochi balls with red beans is a common combination here, I have never seen it prepared in such a lovely manner. The balls were initially sitting in cold water in the basket on the right.

Other desserts included matcha cheesecake and a caramel flan that came nestled in this larger glass of ice. A great meal was had by all and they even had menus that we could understand. The waitstaff was very friendly and professional. It felt much more like a fancy kaiseke place than an izakaya. We'll definitely be going back.


the Laos festival and conveyor belt sushi

Despite Ryan's discovery of a review calling the Laos festival in Yoyogi park "laousy", Chad, Bill and I decided to take a little peak for ourselves. For one thing, the rain wasn't helping them out any. Considering the Thai festival the weekend before had the same areal footprint but with an order of magnitude more people, we weren't very optimistic.

The first thing I notice when we got down there amidst the stalls was a peculiar, slightly rotten smell that reminded me of Singapore. After a little poking around, I found the source of the funky fragrance --THESE GUYS!-- which, you may recall are not my favorite.

We didn't stay long.

On one of the nights of Chad and Bill's visit, we all went to conveyor belt, or "kaiten", sushi at a restaurant near our house. The drill is that various things on small plates go chugging alongside the table and when something looks appealing, you grab it. You can even order things special from that little video screen. When you finish, you push a button on the screen and someone runs over to count up the plates (different color plates mean different prices) and tally your bill. At first we were a little timid. We weren't sure how popular items were and if they had been circling the restaurant for hours or if they were fresh. There were some sushi with creamed corn and some burrito rolls, for instance, that were down right frightening. But once we got the hang of it, we really got the hang of it. Below is the carnage.