Friday, December 08, 2017

Dean & DeLuca Ice Cream, Japan

Dean & DeLuca is relatively well known in major cities for their gourmet, curated, line of markets and cafes, plus mail-order business.  During my 2017 visit to Tokyo, my hotel had a Dean & DeLuca downstairs, but I never visited it.

Tokyo was Dean & DeLuca's first international location.  And in Japan, they carry a house brand of incredible Super Premium Ice Cream.

It wasn't there that I tried their ice cream though (although now I wish I had discovered it sooner, as they did serve it at that cafe/market, and I certainly would have returned for it!).  Instead, I had it on my return flight, on Japan Airlines, where they offer Dean & DeLuca ice cream on the "Anytime You Wish" menu (for flights out of Japan only, it was Häagen-Dazs on my flight from the US).

Um, it was delicious.  Really, really good ice cream, and I promise it is not just because I was a captive audience!  Available in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and pistachio.
Madagascar Vanilla.
Our flight had only one option: Madagascar Vanilla.  Vanilla is generally a flavor I reserve only for pairing with a fruit crisp/crumble/pie, a base for a sundae or shake, or perhaps an affogato.  It is not a flavor I generally will eat on its own, and in most cases, a flavor I just don't really like (an exception is Three Twins), which, until I tried this, I believed was the best vanilla out there.

It was creamy.  It was luxurious.  When they talk about a smooth mouthfeel, this is what they mean.  It was so rich, it almost tasted like it was laced with mascarpone, or something more than just cream.  (I wonder if, like the soft serve in Japan, they use higher milk fat percentage?).

The vanilla flavor was also very pronounced, with flecks of real vanilla bean in the ice cream.

Amazingly, I enjoyed it just plain, I didn't bother make an affogato, add anything else I had with me as toppings, or do anything to it.  It was perfect as it was.

I immediately ordered a second one.  Seriously, the best vanilla ice cream I've ever had.
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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Saryo Itoen, Haneda Airport, Tokyo

My last stop on my way out of Tokyo was Haneda airport.  Literally, the last stop.

Still not entirely satisfied, and wanting "just one more sweet treat", I was drawn in by a soft serve shop, Saryo Itoen, in the airport.

My order was not a success, and I left more sad than I started.  That said, I think I ordered poorly, and should have gone elsewhere, as there were many other shops (I counted at least 5) that sold soft serve (soft cream), which is really what I wanted.

Uh, next time?

Setting

The shop is located in the edo market area inside Haneda, outside security, upstairs from the departures level.  This area is all different shops, mostly restaurants, all which have distinct look and feel, and are certainly not a standard food court.

There are tempura shops, sushi bars, and more, but I zeroed in on the sweets (of which I had many choices).
Interior-Exterior.
  Saryo Itoen really did look like a standalone building ... inside.
"Patio" Seating.
The seating area was designed to look like patio seating, on low benches, under red umbrellas.  It really did not feel like an airport.
Ordering Window.
The ordering window did actually look like a food court though, just a window with light up menu and register.

Menu

Fake Food "Menu".
Near the entrance was a display, per Japanese style. with fake plastic displays of the standard items, plus signs with all the seasonal items.

There were many tempting parfaits, with red bean and mochi as common toppings, with or without soft serve.
Full Menu.
My original intention was to get soft serve, likely as a parfait, but ...  soft serve was only available in green tea or roasted brown tea, both caffeinated (as it is a tea shop, after all).

I saw that they also offered the famous Cremia soft serve, but only the plain flavor I had at Silkream already (which I did enjoy), which was great, except, it was available in a cone only, no toppings.
Seasonal Fall Special.
So I moved on to the seasonal special, featuring chestnuts, as was very common throughout Tokyo in the fall.  I loved some of my previous chestnut desserts (like the Mont Blanc soft serve parfait from Mother Farm Milk Bar) and hated others (like the Mont Blanc soft serve from Ministop), so I knew this was a gamble, but, I still took it (after confirming with the server that it did indeed include ice cream, as it was a bit hard to tell from the picture).

Food

My order was prepared quickly.
Plated up.
It was handed over on a tray, with spoon and wet cloth for each of us (as there was someone else with me, and it was clear we were sharing).  The dessert bowl and spoons were disposable, the tray was not.
Jelly Dessert w/ Chestnut. ¥870.
Well, this certainly wasn't what I wanted it to be, although, it looked decent enough.

For starters, uh, no soft serve ice cream.  At first, I wasn't even sure there *was* ice cream.  But there was, a scoop of hard serve, very hard serve (top right).

But stepping back first.

The base was clear jellies, plain, boring, flavorless besides sweet.  With the jellies was red beans, full little beans, but they didn't taste ... "fresh" if that makes any sense.  They seemed old, and clearly from a can (which I'm sure all red bean is, but still, there was something just very low quality about these).  I did not like the base.

On top of the jellies and beans was a scoop of sweetened red bean paste (better than the beans, sweetened, little bits of texture in it, but uninteresting), 3 dango balls (again, these just didn't taste like a quality item, very boring), 2 small soft mochi (one pink, one green, neither had flavor, but were soft enough), and 2 chunks of chestnut (and somehow, I didn't care for these either).  These items were all better than the base, but, none particularly good, and I didn't care for them either.

But the real problem was the sauce drizzled all over it, that was also down in the jelly / red bean mix.  It was very sweet, and there was too much of it.  It had a flavor that just tasted ... off.  I'm sure it was "chestnut", but I hated it.

The only component of this that I liked was the scoop of ice cream.  It was hard as a rock when served though, it took forever to soften enough to get a plastic spoon into it to taste it.  As it softened, it actually was quite good, nice flavor, actual bits of chestnut in it.  Good ice cream, but, alas, hard serve, and not what I wanted, and certainly not with all the other bits I didn't like.

This was really a complete ordering fail on my part.
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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Longrain, Tokyo

What do you do, when you are in Tokyo, have eaten exclusively Japanese food for a week and a half (generally from convenience stores, street food stalls, or very authentic holes-in-the-wall), and you find out* that one of your favorite Thai restaurants from Sydney, Longrain (which I've reviewed before), has just opened a restaurant in Tokyo, literally only, three weeks prior, directly across the street from your hotel?

Yeah, you get a few friends, and you hightail it there.

*Ok, like I didn't know this was happening and it was a surprise.  I had been tracking the opening for months, and was delighted that it did happen before my arrival.
Thai Feast.
Three of us visited at about 6pm on a Sunday night, without reservations.  We were able to get a table, but the place filled up quickly, and we certainly did not have prime seating.  I do recommend making a booking, particularly if you want a view (more on that soon).

But the short version?  It was good.  A very different experience than the rest of my time in Tokyo, certainly not a local Tokyo thing, but, for me, who complains constantly about the lack of good thai cuisine in San Francisco, I was thrilled to get a chance to have one of my Sydney favorites, even if not in Sydney.  I'd return.

Setting

Longrain is located up on the 39th floor of the Yebisu Garden Place Tower.  There isn't much signage in the lobby, and the mixed use building didn't make it easy to find.  We finally just got in an elevator, unsure if we were going to wind up in an office.
Signage.
But as soon as we got out of the elevator, I recognized the signature green glow of the Longrain sign.  There were several other restaurants on this floor as well.
Stunning Bar.
The centerpiece of the restaurant was the bar.  It was, simply put, gorgeous.

It was huge, the lighting above it reminded me of the view of a city from afar, and it had ample seating.  Just like in Sydney, the cocktail program has as much attention as the food, and the assortment of liquor and mixers was large.

The bar was a constant source of action.
Tables.
Most people sat at tables however, as the cuisine is all designed for sharing.  Wooden tables, concrete walls, very modern, very swanky, very designed space.

Those with bookings had the seats along the windows, with absolutely incredible views out over Tokyo.

It felt somewhat like it was trying a bit hard, with loud music and a certain vibe going on, but, it worked.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with plates that had slightly sloped edges, that looked nice, but, were form over function.  They caused my different dishes to all slide into each other and mix together, which I do not think was by design.

Fork and spoon, no knives, no chopsticks.

Since everything is designed to share, serving utensils were brought with every dish, and our individual plates and utensils were changed out between courses.

Each diner also had a Longrain branded wet wipe waiting for them, embracing the local culture.

Service

The service started out great.  English speaking, english menus, very attentive.  One of my dining companions was struggling to cut something at one point, and a server swooped in with a knife out of no where.

But ... about halfway through our meal, that all changed.  Our server went MIA.  

It started out fairly innocent.  Our cocktails ran out, and we weren't offered a chance to order others.  Then our water ran out, and no refills were provided.  It got worse, as we finished our meal.

We sat with empty dishes, and dirty plates, in front of us for a very, very long time.  I couldn't find our server to flag him over.  Finally, I gestured at someone else, who brought us the bill.  I explained that we didn't want the bill, we wanted to order dessert.  

Once we did successfully order dessert, things picked up for a moment, our table was cleared, new dishes brought out, but then, it happened again.  Getting the bill, and then getting it settled, was more drama.

I think what happened is that we had the only English speaking server, and he had a normal section to cover of folks who made reservations, and they were all on the other side of the restaurant?  I'm not sure.  And they have only been open 3 weeks.  But, it was a very complete breakdown, quite disappointing.

Drinks

As I mentioned, the cocktail program was as exciting in Tokyo as in Sydney.
Drink Menu.
The drink menu had a large selection of beer, wine, classic cocktails, soft drinks (including house made lychee, passionfruit, elderflower, etc drinks), mocktails, and, fun cocktails.

My dining companion who does not drink alcohol was excited enough by the house made interesting soft drinks, but then amazed that he had so many non-alcoholic cocktails to pick from that sounded interesting, and not just sweet.

I too was overwhelmed, and would have gladly picked many of them.  I planned to order a second drink, but alas, we were never given that opportunity, so I only got a chance to try mine (and one other).
Gin Sin. ¥1100.
"Gin, lychee, ginger, kafr lime leaf, lemon."

I settled on the gin sin.

It was great, a nicely balanced drink.

The lychee was sweet, but the ginger and citrus balanced it out, and it was fairly heavy on the gin (in a good way), so it stayed refreshing, and not too sweet.

My drink came with a full lychee in it, slices of fresh ginger, a kafir lime leaf, and, uh, a clothespin on the side.

I really enjoyed the drink, appreciated how well designed it was, and it matched my mood perfectly.  Refreshing, interesting, and a nice compliment to the food.
Red Dragon. ¥1300.
"Chilli vodka, raspberries, peach cranberry."

One dining companion went for the Red Dragon, another drink I almost ordered, so I was thrilled when he offered me a sip.

This was very interesting.  The chili vodka was indeed spicy.  It had kick.  Serious kick.  But it also had plenty of muddled raspberries, and they were sweet.  It was a crazy combination, and it worked somehow.

I'm not sure I would have wanted to sip on this all night, but, for a few sips at the start of the meal, it certainly woke up the palette.

Dinner

And finally, the food.  The menu had many of the same items as Sydney, plus a few things I hadn't seen before.

Our food was all well prepared, flavorful, nicely presented.  Not as spicy as Sydney, but overall, very solid, and better than Thai cuisine in San Francisco.  I hope it does well in Tokyo.

Menus

Set Dinner. ¥5500.
The first page of the menu is a set menu, featuring all of Longrain's greatest hits, mostly the same as the menus I had in Sydney for large group dinners.

The signature betel leaf starter, a choice of two salads, choice of two meat mains, choice of three curries, stir fried greens, rice, choice of three desserts, and coffee/tea.

Everything I wanted was on that menu, but, we weren't that hungry, and I knew this would be a feast.  Still, if you want a thai banquet, this sounded great, and is a great value.
A La Carte.
We went a la carte, sharing all dishes (as recommended by the restaurant).  The menu was large and overwhelming, and we wanted it all.  Our decisions were made easier by the fact that many dishes are available in half-size, so we could order more things.

Starters / Salads

We skipped the appetizers, although I wanted to try the crispy tiger prawn with sweet chili, and the seafood spring rolls with corn, and I wanted my companions to try the signature miang kham, but as only 3 diners, we had to make hard choices, so we ruled out the starters.

Unless you consider a salad-like dish a starter?  Here again, I would have gladly ordered the jicama salad with chili coconut dressing, or even the papaya salad (it had been so long since I had a good one!), but I really wanted them to experience the eggnet, the other Longrain signature dish (and one I've really enjoyed before). {LINK}
Filled Eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, cucumber relish (half).  ¥1380.
When the dish hit the table, I was struck instantly by one thing.  The color.  It was much more brilliant orange than in Sydney.  Which makes sense, as I had been remarking on the color of the egg yolks at breakfast every single morning.  This was the first of the differences.

But it wasn't just the color that was different from the eggnet I enjoyed in Sydney so many times.  What was under it was quite different too.  Same ingredients, but, entirely different proportions.

It was mostly bean sprouts.  Very crisp, fresh bean sprouts, but, lots of sprouts.  There was barely any ground pork, and only two tiny prawns in our order.  A little bit of chopped peanut.  It didn't have nearly as much of the dressing, and didn't seem to have really soaked up any of the flavorful marinade I so loved.

The flavors were still good, and the cucumber relish on the side had a great level of acidity and spice to add in, but, this was very different from what I knew, and I was a bit worried about what this would mean for the rest of our meal.

It also had very large chunks of coriander, a theme that would continue throughout the meal, and was quite distracting.

The others, who didn't have strong expectations for the dish, thought it was fine, and "refreshing".  I was not thrilled though, and wouldn't order again.

We opted for the half size, which was perfect for 3 people, we all got enough, but weren't left with leftovers.

Mains

Picking the mains was very hard.  I had some classics from Sydney I wanted to try again.  My companions wanted some curries.  And then there were tons of seafood dishes that called out to me.  In the end, we picked 4 mains, 2 of which we could order half size.

The rest of our dishes were served all at once, with new plates.  
Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar (half). ¥1680.
The caramelised pork hock is another dish I knew from Sydney, and absolutely adored in the past.  It was my one pick for main that I wasn't willing to pass up.  Unlike the egg net however, this one lived up to my Sydney memories..


The chunks of pork hock were perfectly caramelized.  The edges so crispy, the fat perfectly melty.  Seriously, so good.  The sauce, a sweet caramel sauce, was crazy delicious.  Oooh, and the crispy shallot slices on top too?  Sooo good.

Minus a fraction of a point for tons of cilantro garnish, but, overall, this was fantastic, sweet, a bit spicy, great textures, and just oh so good.  My favorite dish.
Peanut curry beef shin, long red peppers and Thai basil (half). ¥1800.
The others really wanted a curry, and selected the peanut curry beef shin.  It was fine, but I'm not really one for curries, so I only had a few bites.
Whole crispy fried snapper, tamarind, chilli, lime. ¥4800.
One diner really wanted the crispy fried snapper.  Not my top choice of seafood, but still more interesting than most, so, I was happy to go along with this one.

It was a fairly standard preparation, pieces of the snapper, battered, fried, and then stuffed back into the body.  Garnished with (guess what?) cilantro, and thin shreds of some kind of chili.

It wasn't crispy exactly, but the batter was light, the fish mild and moist.  I liked the flavors in the sauce, a mix of tamarind, spicy chilies, lime, and more.

The face did have a fair amount of meat left in it, and I had a fun time digging out the even more flavorful and moist bits from the cheek.  It did make me laugh though ... it wasn't that many years ago that I was entirely unfamiliar with eating fish cheeks, much less digging them out of a carcass myself.

Overall, well executed, fine, but not much different from a crispy fried fish anywhere.
Stir fried Asian greens, garlic, oyster sauce.  ¥1800. 
I wanted to have some vegetables (2 weeks straights of crazy epic breakfast buffets and constant dining out was catching up with me), so I ordered the kinda boring sounding stir fried asian greens, although I could tell my dining companions kinda questioned this.

I knew something they didn't though.  I knew that I had really liked this dish in Sydney.

The greens were a mix of some leafy bitter green and pea pods.  All were cooked perfectly, not mushy, but I adored the pea pods.  Really crisp, really fresh.  Yes, I'm raving about pea pods.

The light oyster (and soy?) sauce made the dish a bit more interesting.

Overall very good, although obviously very simple.  This one wasn't available in half size, so we got the full portion.
Thai jasmine rice. ¥500.
I didn't try the rice, which we added on to go along with the curry.


Dessert

And then ... dessert.  My favorite part of a meal.  We worked hard to get dessert, given how long it took, and how many tries, to get a server to bring us a dessert menu.
Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu had so many great choices.  The "Layered Longrain special" sounded a lot like the dessert always included in the group menu in Sydney, the one I always rave about.  But then there was a taro pudding based dessert (I love pudding! I love taro!), a sampler platter with pandan cream puffs (pandan!), and another with fresh figs (figs!)

I was glad to be there with two others, thinking we'd share a bunch of desserts, except they both broke the news that they weren't really hungry and didn't want much, if anything.  Still, we got two.
Taro pudding, sweet coconut cream, praline cashew nut ice cream. ¥1600.
Taro.  Pudding.  Cream.  Praline.  Ice Cream.  So many things I love.  I had to get this.

It wasn't ... quite what I was expecting.  First, the pudding.  Not a custard style pudding, rather more like the British meaning of pudding.  A ... cake?  A thick cake, decent taro flavor, but still, cake.

I liked the coconut cream drizzled over it, since I like coconut cream, but that still didn't change the fact that it was cake, not pudding.

I did really like the praline cashew nut ice cream.  It was creamy, loaded with bits of sweet caramelized praline.  Creamy, sweet, crunchy.  Hard to go wrong.

On top, taro chips.

I was let down by this dessert, since it wasn't what I had in mind, and I don't like cakes, but the ice cream was nice at least.
Layered Longrain special Black sticky rice, coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit. ¥1000.
The second dessert was the signature special dessert, one that always changes slightly, but has black sticky rice at the base, vanilla tapioca, coconut jelly, whipped cream, and coconut shreds.

This was just as good as Sydney versions, although, we didn't really find any fruit.  I think it may have been melon, and they left it out due to my allergy? Melon was all over the dinner and bar menu.

The vanilla tapioca was creamy, there was tons of great coconut flavors in the jelly and cream, the coconut shreds provided a nice crunch.  Good flavors, good textures.  I didn't care for the black sticky rice, but I think I just wasn't in the mood.

Overall, good, and I was glad to polish this, and the ice cream from the taro dish, off once my companions had their 2-3 bites.
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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Breakfast @ Victor's, Westin Tokyo

During my stay at the Westin in Tokyo, I was able to indulge in many epic breakfasts.  The options were fairly generous.  I could opt for the easiest option, an expanded continental buffet in the Executive Lounge (quick, calm, more than extensive enough, and perfect if you have massive buffet fatigue).  Or, go all in, for the HUGE multi-national buffet at the Terrace restaurant (the complete opposite of the lounge, extremely noisy, frantic, and way too many options).  Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could dine at Victor's, the fancy french restaurant on the top floor.

My final morning, I decided to check it out, even though I knew it would not be a fast option, and, I certainly could go straight from a morning workout in my gym clothes.  I skipped my morning workout, put on adult clothing, and headed up to breakfast.
Breakfast @ Victor's.
It really was completely different from the buffet choices.

A real restaurant, and quite a fancy one at that.  There were only a couple other tables with diners at them.  Service was fantastic.  It was very quiet and calm.

If you want a longer, formal meal, this is certainly a good option.

Setting

Victor's is located on the top floor, adjacent to the Compass Rose (a bar that I enjoyed a few drinks at previous nights, also recommended).
Interior.
The decor was formal elegant, with columns and large paintings on the walls, white table cloths, padded chairs.

Soft music played in the background.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with napkins in napkin rings, water goblets, and multiple sets of utensils.

Like I said, not exactly a casual breakfast offering.

Menu

Even at breakfast, a set menu is prominent, but there are some limited a la carte items are available.  The menu certainly didn't lead you to them though.
Exclusive Breakfast. Y4,630.
The main menu at Victor's is the "Exclusive Breakfast", normally a lofty Y4,630.  It is an odd three course menu, and not one I was particularly pleased with:

Morning starter’s
Selection of morning starters: Please choose from below…..
  • Juice : Orange , Grapefruit , Tomato , Cranberry , Pineapple
  • Milk : Milk , Low fat milk , Soy milk , Non fat milk
  • Yogurt : Plain or Low fat served with Berry or Banana
  • Smoothie : Superfoods Blueberry
Energizers 
Selection of Energizers ; Please choose from below…..
  • Bread basket : From our bakery kitchen including White bread , Whole wheat, Rye bread , Croissant , Danish , Scone
  • Cereals : Corn flakes , All bran , Rice crispies , Muesli , Oatmeal served hot
  • Victorʼs energizer : French toast Orange Flavor , Pancakes Lemon Flavor
Nutritious plate
Selection of Nutritious plates ; Please choose which elevates your senses today…
  • Victor's: Egg cooked any style your with choice of extras : Sausage , Bacon , Ham , Chicken breast Sautéed vegetables , mashed potato
  • Power up: Minute steak with fried egg , Balsamic sauce, Sautéed vegetables , mashed potato
  • High Protein: Egg white omelet , pan fried bean curd , seasonal vegetables
  • Refreshing Morning Salad: Chilled spa egg , mixed green salad and avocado , tomato dressing
So, looking at the menu.  I needed to select a juice / smoothie / yogurt / milk as a starter.  I wanted none of those things.

Then one "Energizer".  I thought that the "Victor's Energizer" would be a piece of french toast and a pancake, since it was listed as "Victor's Energizer", and had no "or's" in it, but alas, if you went for that, you needed to pick just one or the other.  I wanted to try both of these!

I also was interested in the bread basket, but that *did* include everything listed, and I certainly didn't want three slices of toast, a danish, a croissant, and scones.  I just wanted the scones, as I saw someone else with the bread basket, and the scones looked good (and were served with clotted cream!).  But alas, I could go for the entire bread basket OR french toast OR pancakes. None of these were available from the a la carte menu.

Finally, I was supposed to pick a "Nutritious plate", all egg based dishes served with tons of sides.  I don't really like eggs.  I didn't want steak, mashed potatoes, tofu, and cooked veggies for breakfast.

Really, not the menu for me.
A la carte, Page 1.
So I moved on to the a la carte menu, but it was not what I was looking for either.

"Superfoods" (e.g. smoothies, oatmeal, egg whites), "Egg dishes" (omelets), "Main Dish" (just the steak), and Salads were all that the first page offered. No breakfast carbs, nothing I wanted.
A la carte: Page 2.
Next, "Vegetable dish" (mashed potatoes, veggies, hash browns), fruits, yogurt, cereal, and toast.

Still, no french toast, pancakes, or breakfast pastries.
A la carte: Beverages.
And lastly, beverages. Just juices, coffee, tea.

Food & Drink

In the end, I basically got what I wanted: french toast and pancakes, although it took several back and forths, and repeated explanations that I didn't want a starter or an egg dish, and I didn't want to pick one or the other.  I'm glad they let me do this, but clearly, Victor's wasn't the right venue for me.

I also wanted sparkling water, but, just like in the restaurant downstairs, that would incur an extra fee, no eligible for SPG amenity inclusion.
Coffee.
As I sat, I was asked if I'd like coffee or tea.  I went for coffee.  It was brought promptly, with the menu.

It was a very strong coffee, and not particularly good.  I noted later that the a la carte menu had both"coffee" and "American coffee" listed, and I'm sure this was the former (note the small size), but, it also was just too acidic and harsh for me.
Decaf Coffee. 
Since I needed a second cup to pair with my food, as that tiny cup was gone far too fast, I moved on to decaf.  I actually liked it much more.  Less harsh, and it didn't taste instant.
Toppings: Butter, Syrup, Whipped Cream.
Alongside my "energizers", I was provided two packaged butters, a small pitcher of syrup, and a bowl of whipped cream.

I'm not sure if all of this normally comes with each of the dishes, or if just syrup and butter goes with the pancake, whipped cream with the french toast, etc, but I was glad to see these.  I wanted to ask for them (especially whipped cream), but I already felt like such a difficult case I didn't want to press my luck.
Pancake, Lemon Flavor.
First up, the pancake.

A large, fluffy, good looking pancake.  Nice presentation with the lemon garnish and little herb.

But it was the least remarkable pancake I've probably ever had.  It had a slight lemon flavor to it, but mostly, it just tasted like dry cake.  It wasn't burnt, it wasn't thin, it wasn't flabby, but wow, it was just highly uninteresting.

I slathered on butter and syrup, but nothing made this taste like anything.  I was very glad I had opted for two dishes!
French Toast, Orange Flavor.
The french toast was better.

A large thick slice, clearly coated in eggy batter, topped with mandarin oranges and some little herb.  They clearly do a nice job with presentation.

As an aside, I need to discuss french toast in general.

French toast, like bread pudding, comes in many styles.  Sometimes it is just a thin slice of regular bread in a slightly cinnamon-y batter (boo). Sometimes it is super eggy, with scrambled eggs almost poking out the sides (double boo).  Sometimes it is soggy.  Sometimes it is dry, and relies on you to add lots of butter and syrup.  Other times it is rich bread, crispy on top, moist inside, like bread pudding.  Huge variety, but in general, I'm not a huge fan of french toast, as it just often isn't the specific style I like.

That said, I had fantastic french toast at The Prince Gallery Oasis restaurant just days before, so I hoped to relive that, thinking perhaps Tokyo style french toast was the kind I liked.

This was somewhere in the middle.  No where near as good as the one at Oasis, but certainly not simple boring flabby french toast.

The bread was a large chunk of standard french loaf, lots of crust.  I didn't care for all the crust, it was chewy yet soggy.  Because, this was very, very, moist french toast.  Honestly, I'm not sure I've had french toast this moist before.  I am not sure that was by design, as it almost seemed like they just failed to cook it long enough? Or soaked it too long?  I couldn't even tell if it had been cooked on a cooktop.

Once I got over the surprise of this being a soggy/moist pile of custardy bread, I was more ok with it.  I tried to think of it as very custardy bread pudding, without a crispy top.  I mostly scooped out the near liquid interior, and left behind the chewy soggy crust.

It was very orange flavored though, clearly soaked in lots of orange juice perhaps.  I didn't actually want orange flavored french toast, so I wished it wasn't so orange-y, but, since it was advertised as an orange item, they did do well there.

I added all the whipped cream, and all the syrup, to this, and found it decently enjoyable, although certainly not something I'd get again.
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Monday, December 04, 2017

Soft Serve from Ministop, Tokyo

Tokyo is a land of many wonders.

One of which is incredible soft serve ice cream.  Seriously, Japan is obsessed with "Soft Cream", crazy high quality, and I'm not complaining.  I had some truly fantastic soft cream during my visit, like the Cremia, made with 25% whipped cream (!) at Silkream, the creative Mont Blanc parfait (with jellies and cocoa crispies in it!) at Mother Farm Milk Bar, and a very creamy version coated in praline from Zaku Zaku.

Another of which is convenience stores.  These are nothing like convenience stores in the United States.  The food quality is high.  There is often seating.  There is serious competition in this space.  People actually seek them out as a place to eat lunch or pick up dinner.  Which of course, I did.  I visited 7-Eleven for tasty salads and onigiri, Lawson for the famed egg salad sandwich and fried chicken, and Family Mart for great pudding.

But on my last evening, I discovered a wondrous place that combined soft cream and convenience stores: Ministop.  A smaller chain of convenience stores, with a huge soft serve sign out front.  The sign drew me in.  Ministop can be found in Japan, but also in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Phillippines, and South Korea.

After a few quick moments of internet research, I found out that Ministop is known for the soft serve.  How was this never on my radar before??!
"Soft-serve ice cream is one of MINISTOP's flagship products. 
We use raw milk produced in Hokkaido for the ingredients, and are confident in their high quality. 
Vanilla is the classic flavor, but you can also enjoy limited-time flavors or soft-serve mixed with vanilla."
What's a girl to do, when walking back to her hotel at night, feeling like she needs "just one more treat"?  Yup, I had no choice.  I had to get soft serve.  From Ministop.

I found out later that Ministop uses 20% fat in their soft serve, not as high as the Cremia at 25%, but, much higher than the 3-6% found in most US based soft serve (sometimes it goes up to 10%, but I've never seen higher).  Vanilla is Ministop's signature offering, but they always have a seasonal flavor as well.  When I was there ... yup, like everywhere else, it was chestnut.  Well, not just chestnut, Mont Blanc.

Unfortunately, I didn't like my pick, but, if I were in Tokyo longer, I'd actually try again, as I think I just poorly ordered.
Ministop Cafe Menu.
The picture menu made it fairly easy to see the offerings.  Vanilla soft cream in a cake style cone.  What looked like a mont blanc creation in a huge chocolate (?) waffle cone.  A mix of the two.  There were also assorted fruit parfaits with soft serve layered with dragonfruit, mango, and more, shakes, floats, potatoes in every form (that really did look good), corn dogs (!), and more.

The hot items were all displayed near the register, and really looked better than the ones from the competition.  Again, why hadn't I found Ministop before?

But I was a bit stumped by the soft serve.  Did they really have a soft serve machine?  Some of the other convenience stores also sorta had soft serve ... it was packaged ice cream in the freezer that somehow was quasi soft.
Soft Serve Machine!
I almost walked out, but there was so much signage about the soft serve, I just couldn't give up.

And then I spotted it!  In the back corner, behind the register.  There *was* a soft serve machine!
Packaged up To Go.
When I ordered, I was asked a question I didn't quite understand.  And then my cashier disappeared for a long time to make my soft serve.

From the picture, I knew it wasn't going to just be soft serve in a cone, but I didn't quite expect it to take quite so long to prepare.  Then again, the last time I ordered a Mont Blanc soft serve (at Mother Farm Milk Bar), it ended up being a many layered creation with jelly and rice crispies in the bottom, so, I really had no idea what I was getting.

The answer in this case?  I think I said I wanted it packaged to go, rather than to eat there.  And, um, wow.  They package soft serve to go!!!!  In seriously elaborate packaging.

My cone was placed into a cardboard holder, which did indeed hold it upright.  It had a protective dome over the top.  And then it was carefully set into a bag.

I've never seen something like this before.  Which, I guess, is true for many things in Japan, but wow, they've innovated on soft serve packaging too.
Premium Wakuri Mont Blanc Soft Cream: Top View.
So, under that dome, what did I have?

Chestnut flavored soft serve, with some kind of chestnut gel layered around it sorta like a Mont Blanc.  The obsession with chestnut, and the Mont Blanc form, just doesn't cease to amaze me.

The dome lid ruined the presentation slightly, but it wasn't a big deal, I was still quite impressed with the whole thing.

That said, I didn't actually like it.

In particular, I hated the chestnut gel stuff.  It had a bad flavor, and a worse consistency.  I tried to scrape this off, but then I just wound up with tons of it on my spoon.

The soft serve itself was quite creamy, a great texture, light brown color.  But ... I didn't like the chestnut flavor.

My companion said, "you don't like chestnut, why do you keep ordering chestnut?", but I reminded him that I do like chestnut.  I really liked the one at Milk Bar, and I had been eating the candied chestnuts off danishes at breakfast every morning.  (Side note: The next day, I'd also make a chestnut based impulse order, and it too would go similarly poorly).
Premium Wakuri Mont Blanc Soft Cream: Side View. ¥330.
The cone was a waffle cone, a dark color.  I thought at first it might be chocolate, but I think it too was chestnut?  A different cone than the one they use for the other ice cream, this one specially branded for the Mont Blanc soft cream.  (Side note: There regular cones actually say "Ministop" in the cone itself ... no standard Joy cups here!).

It was crispy, not stale, and decent enough I guess.

Also, this was a massive creation, served with a spoon like other soft serve sundaes in cones we saw on the trip.

Overall, I didn't like this.  But, I could tell the soft serve quality was high, I was amazed by the packaging, and I'm thrilled to see offerings like this in the first place.  We need more soft serve, and more soft serve sundaes-in-cones!
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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sekai de Niban-me ni Oishii Melonpan, Tokyo

On my previous trip to Japan, I discovered melonpan by accident, when it was brought in for a special event at the office.  I had no idea what it was, where it came from, but, I took one bite, and I was hooked (as I described when I reviewed melonpan in Paris next).  What was this magical sweet bread with a crispy top?  I quickly learned it was melonpan (e.g. "pan", the word for bread, "melon" since it looks like a melon).  

Since then, I've tried melonpan whenever I've found it, which, isn't very often (and usually isn't very successful, like in Sydney at a Japanese bakery I did love).
A Melonpan Adventure.
So when I knew I was headed to Tokyo again, I instantly sought out recommendations for melonpan, and stumbled upon Sekai de Niban-me ni Oishii Melonpan ... which translates to “The Second-Most Delicious Ice Cream Melon Bread in the World.”

I laughed, a lot, at the name.  I laughed even more at the signs I saw posted with warnings on how messy it was.  But I respected the reviewers, and they all agreed that this was very good.

So on my very first day there, I gathered a crew, and to melonpan we went.

The Setting

Like many things in Tokyo, it was a bit hard to find, only because there wasn't much of a sign, and, well, none of us can read Japanese anyway.
Ordering Window.
 One thing to note: this is not a restaurant or cafe, and it doesn't even have seating.  Its just a window.
English!
Luckily for us, one sign was in English, although I'm certain there were more options, they just weren't translated for us.

Our options were pretty simple: melonpan, filled with vanilla, chocolate, or green tea ice cream.  You can add a slice of pineapple as well.  They also make a bread loaf of melonpan, a rusk (crispy one), and tiny one.
Warning!
The aforementioned warning sign made me laugh again when I saw it in person.

"Don't enjoy this too much!", it warned.  It also gave instructions on how to eat, including using a straw-spoon (which none of my co-workers did), and a strong warning to leave it in the bag else a mess would result.
Made to Order.
Each order was sliced to order, and stuffed with the ice cream of choice.

I had read that the bread was supposed to be served warm, to help melt the ice cream, but perhaps because it was 90+ degrees, they felt that step wasn't necessary for us?  Ours weren't served warm.

The Food

The best seller is the simple melonpan with vanilla ice cream, but, reviewers all say to get the pineapple slice inside, so, I did.
Melonpan with Pineapple.
My server sliced it, and added the pineapple slice, and then added the ice cream.
Melonpan Ice, Vanilla, with Pineapple (half).
I asked to have ours cut in half, since I was sharing with someone, and knew this was something they did. She happily obliged, cut it in half, and gave us each our own halves in separate paper. I'm glad I braved asking in my non-Japanese, as splitting it otherwise would have been hard.

It also came with a chunk of the crispy melonpan rusk stuck in the side (two pieces in a full order).

It was ... ok.

The bread wasn't hot, as I mentioned.  The top wasn't nearly as crispy as I hoped, although the bread was light and fluffy, mildly sweet.

The ice cream was just generic vanilla.  It melted ok.

I didn't like the pineapple, for no reason other than I don't really care for pineapple.

I did really like the melonpan rusk though, super crispy, super sweet, more closely related to what I remembered the top of the melonpan being like.

But overall, this was just kinda meh.  Lackluster melonpan, lackluster ice cream.  And it was supposed to be one of the top ones in Tokyo?  Hmm.
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