Dinner at Ar’s of Shiodome, Tokyo


“All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.” ~Charlie Trotter, American chef and restaurateur

Modern Shiodome City District

Modern Shiodome City District

Shiodome (汐留) is a district in Tokyo recently developed at the turn of this century, redeveloped and remade into an attractive, somewhat upscale area full of shops, eateries, and businesses.  Its spectacular skyscrapers are the home of the headquarters of Nippon Television, but more importantly for tourists to the city, a large variety of cafes, theaters, hotels and the subject of this blog – “Sky-View” restaurants.

Shiodome (pronounced shee-oh-dome-eh, meaning “halt the tides”) was originally a tidal marsh sitting between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Bay.  During the Edo Period in Japan (1603-1867), the marshes were dried up and reclaimed as land for the then many feudal lords hungry for space.

Redevelopment and Revitalization of Shiodome

Redevelopment and Revitalization of Shiodome

In 1872, Shiodome was chosen as the site of the Shimbashi rail station, originally the Tokyo terminal of Japan’s first railway line.  When the modern site of Tokyo station was developed as Tokyo and rail in Japan grew, Shiodome was basically converted into a train freight yard, a state and function in which it remained well into the 1980s.  Today the district is unrecognizable, featuring all the modern aspects of city planning with motorized pedestrian traffic, elevated walkways, and underground passages that connect most of the densely packed buildings in the area.

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Ar’s Italian Cuisine, one of the Sky View restaurants located in Shiodome, was recommended to us by our hotel’s very helpful concierge.  A short but cold walk away, our journey was made easier by the pedestrian ways connecting all the buildings in the area.

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tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-dinner-with-jody-and-a-viewshiodome-sky-viewAr’s is located in a modern skyscraper above the 40th floor, providing amazing views of Tokyo and the famed Tokyo Tower from a warm and tastefully decorated space.  But there is a much richer experience to be had here than just enjoying the view.  Ar’s is an upscale eatery, and although there were only a couple of other groups there upon our arrival at about 2000, everyone was dressed in business formal, all men wearing coat and tie and ladies in dresses and heels.

Jody with Our Sky View

Jody with Our Sky View

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-dinner-with-a-viewtokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-delicious-kobe-beef-with-a-fancy-knifeOur wait staff was headed by a man who spoke actually very good English.  Tatsuhiko Tochimoto, the establishment’s Assistant Manager and true professional in terms of service, acted as our interface to the rest of the facility, providing detailed explanations of our menu in terms of ingredients and preparation.  We had reserved a table by the windows, not realizing that almost every table had a fabulous view.  Jody and I both ordered full course meals (see their menu for more) and a bottle of wine, and while the food was absolutely delicious and presented as creative works of art, what will stay with us for the rest of our lives is not the food but the way we were treated.

Appetizers

Appetizers

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-conger-eel-souptokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-baked-fishThe service at Ar’s was outstanding and very attentive.  It seems that there was a staff to customer ratio of about 1 to 1, which meant that we never asked for anything.  Water and wine was poured as if on que, and Tochimoto-san stopped by often between courses to chat, and with each course to explain our food in great detail.  While at time I would find this overbearing, especially being during date-night with my lovely wife, Tochimoto-san made us feel warmly welcome, much like family would.

Fabulous Friends & Food

Fabulous Friends & Food

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-seafood-pastatokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-picture-souvenior-with-dessertAt one point he came up with a camera, and asked if he could take our photo.  “Sure,” we said, somewhat confused.  What does he want with our photo?  He mentioned something about taking pictures of their special guests….  An hour later, delivered with our courses of sweets and dessert, was a small framed photo of me and Jody there at dinner; the staff had printed and framed the photo as part of our dinner!  Such a uniquely fabulous touch to an already first-rate dinner.

Our Framed Keep-Sake with Dinner

Our Framed Keep-Sake with Dinner

tokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-kiss-in-the-wedding-chapeltokyo-2016-dinner-at-ars-fancy-dessertsThen, after we finished dinner, Tochimoto-san asked if we had a few moments.  Again, “sure” we said, this time with some eager expectation.  He brought us to an area down the hall from the restaurant, into a wedding chapel that they work in combination with.  This chapel is “special” we were told, because it overlooks both the Tokyo Tower AND the newer, taller landmark, Tokyo’s SkyTree.  He offered to take photos of our quickie wedding ceremony over the city lights of Tokyo.  His business card states “A to Z Dining,” and that is no exaggeration.  Such a fabulous night in Tokyo for us both!

Wedding Chapel with a View

Wedding Chapel with a View

Full disclosure:  this level of service and quality of food does not come cheap in Japan.  And while we spent a relatively enormous sum eating dinner at Ar’s, both Jody and I will tell you, without hesitation, that our experience there was worth every single dollar.  And email Tochimoto-san directly at “tochi0905@gmail.com” to reserve your own unforgettable spiritual dining experience.

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Ar’s Italian Cuisine & Sky Bar SPADE

Lunch starting @ 3,000 JPY, Dinner @ 10,000 JPY

03-5537-6431 (+81-3-5537-6431)

Dinner 17:30-23:30 (last order 22:30) and Lunch 11:30-15:30 (last order 14:30)

Rail:  Toei Oedo Line to Shiodome Station, take Exit 4-minute walk

Address:  41F, 1-5-2, Higashishinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-7102

http://ars-dining.com/

As You Like: Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima


 

Okonomiyaki are really more like really thin pancakes….

“Nagata-ya,” said the tiny female valet as she tapped a map she was marking for us. We were checking into the ANA Crowne Plaza in Hiroshima and were asking about where to get the savory Japanese pancake for which that prefecture is so famous. This woman, all 5’2” high and 42 kilos strong, then proceeded to drag all four of our bags to our room…without using a luggage cart. We could barely handle two of our overstuffed, overweight and oversized American suitcases.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, delicious concoction! WM

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, uses for related utensilsOur appetites, however, were no match for the oversized okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, pronounced “Oh-kono-me-ya-key”) served through Hiroshima. Often called a Japanese pancake, they are really more a crepe. In any case, the thinness of the dough simply serves as the foundation for oh so much more. “Okonomi” in Japanese means “as you like,” referring to the many permutations of ingredients from which a diner can choose to pile onto their grilled (“yaki”) goodness. The delicacy is most popular in Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto) or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but can be found throughout, including in Okinawa. The biggest regional differences are in the toppings and batter used, along with how they are arranged during cooking.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, Nagata-Ya Hiroshima Style WM

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, ideas on how to eatWe had passed Nagata-ya the day before happily by accident, and decided to stop by on Saturday after enjoying Hiroshima’s peace park and museum. There was no line late Friday afternoon, but when we returned on Saturday about 3pm, there was a line stretching down the street in front of the store. We decided to stick it out, and ended up waiting probably about 20 minutes. The staff however, like in most of Japan, were amazingly and happily efficient, taking orders outside on electronic keypads, which were then transmitted wirelessly directly back to the kitchen. By the time we sat down at the grill-side counter, our okonomiyaki creation had already been started.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, menu WM

Okonomiyaki became very popular during WWII when rice was in very short supply. Due to the lack of other ingredients, a simpler version was made with more readily available fixings. Suffering harsh wartime conditions, the freshly grilled and hot wheat pancake was nutritious, filling, and inexpensive, all at the same time.

The Line at Nagata-ya's

The Line at Nagata-ya’s

Hiroshima 2015, Peace Memorial Park, Jody night portrait with the A-DomeOsaka-style okonomiyaki mixes all the constituent ingredients, including shredded cabbage, egg, green onion and usually some type of protein, into the batter before grilling. The okonomiyaki in Hiroshima uses very similar elements, the biggest differences being that they are layered on top of the grilled batter rather than mixed within, and include a layer of noodles (soba or udon), and are often topped with a fried egg.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, grilled deliciousness WM

I am a huge fan of udon (my favorite soup in the whole wide world), so we elected for this starchy layer over soba. Looking up and down the grill, however, showed that we seemed to have made a faux pas of sorts: our order was the only one involving the pasta-like noodles. Seriously though, I think okonomiyaki would be better with soba. Nagata-ya offers a “jumbo” coke, and for once, Japan finally served an American-worthy sized soda!

Yes, ours is the only one with udon....

Yes, ours is the only one with udon….

What results is a meal about the size of a dinner plate, and the thickness of the deepest dish pizza you can imagine. It was impossible for me and Jody to imagine eating one each, so we ordered one to share, a move that seemed to surprise our waitress to some extent.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, busy line chefs 2 WM

Part of the rather unique flavor of this Japanese culinary specialty comes from okonomi sauce that is brushed on during grilling. This glaze is best described as one part steak sauce, two parts BBQ, and one part tonkatsu sauce. Eating the okonomiyaki I was unsure that I really liked the sauce, and now weeks later, I still remain undecided. Although peculiar, it certainly didn’t stop me from devouring my portion of the savory pancake!

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, cooked to order WM

In Okinawa, okonomiyaki is called hirayachi (ヒラヤーチー) and is much simpler, using less components than those described above from other areas of Japan. However, Okinawans enjoy this dish mostly at home and cooked at home, so there are very few okonomiyaki restaurants in Okinawa. We have found one (and only one) since our trip to Hiroshima, but haven’t found a way or place to partake of the Ryukyuan version.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, hungry Jody WM

Yes, Japan is known for sushi, sashimi and even Kobe beef. But Okonomiyaki too is a uniquely, if much less known distinctive Japanese dish, and should be included as part of any culinary adventure to this corner of the Far East. Seek it out, whether you find yourself in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. But in Hiroshima, seek out Nagata-ya’s. You and your oversized American appetite will not be disappointed.  But more importantly, you won’t be afraid to admit how much you really love these really thin pancakes!

Cutting into our very own fresh Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Cutting into our very own fresh Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

 

For More Information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki

http://japanesefood.about.com/od/holidaytraditionalfood/r/hirookonomiyaki.htm

http://nagataya-okonomi.com/en/shop.html

Cambodian Food & Friends


18464649729_6dfe7baf29_b“This is perfect,” Jody smiled B-I-G big as she realized how intriguing our dining experience for the evening would be. “What a wonderful idea and cause!”

After having so many problems with our Cambodian tour company’s restaurant selections in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh during our recent travels, this one – Romdeng hit our desired mark: an upscale dining experience set in a beautiful colonial mansion surrounded by a pool-side garden located deep in the hectic heart of Phnom Penh…

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…but one which offered a culinary adventure where diners could not just eat, but could eat proudly and ethically.

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You see, Romdeng is a training restaurant, where homeless, orphans, and otherwise disenfranchised young people are given a chance for a new life with a much more secure future. Cambodia is in dire need of such programs; just 40 years ago, while the country was still reeling from the detrimental effects of the Vietnam war, the Khmer Rouge (which I will be blogging about at length – stay tuned) came to power and purged the country’s cities of all people, murdered all those with higher educations, professions, and even poor eyesight, and in doing so in a little over three years, managed to kill about one out of every three people then alive in Cambodia, reverting what remained to an agrarian-bases stone age. It will take many generations to recover from such widespread devastation of such depth; such restaurants serve a critical role in the country’s current recovery.

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And Romdeng is part of re-establishing Cambodian’s people and their professions. The staff are dressed in two different colored shifts, clearly labeled (in English) whether they are trainees or teachers. The Teachers are all graduates of the program, one which lasts a year or more during which much more than just professional training is offered. The trainees all do internships in the kitchen, at the bar, and in serving food. But they are also provided educational classes in the basics, and are given room and board for the duration. Needless to say, there is a lot of pride among the staff trainers, and likewise, much to learn for the young but energetic students.

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The restaurant’s interior is outfitted with locally produced furniture and décor, including silk from a local sewing vocational school and paintings from a local artistry training center. The eclectic gift shop sells a wide array of branded merchandise whose sales provide additional support to these training centers. Romdeng sources all of its ingredients used in their dishes from local farmers and purifies their own local water. The establishment and its rehabilitative social outreach are all run by Mith Samlanh, who has worked tirelessly to build and provide futures to former street children and marginalized young people throughout Phnom Penh since 1994.

Fried Tarantula at Romdeng

Fried Tarantula at Romdeng

Romdeng offers a true taste of Cambodia cuisine, serving authentic Khmer foods that range from almost forgotten recipes from rural provinces to contemporary creative Khmer cuisine. The adventurous can also try one of Cambodia’s most popular snacks: fried tarantula. I, however, did not.

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Because we had our meals built into our tour itinerary, we weren’t able to sample many of the foods available, but instead were held to a “set” menu. For starters, we had crunchy yet savory pork and pumpkin laap with fresh local herbs. This was followed by Cambodia style chicken and straw mushroom soup, seasoned with preserved lime. Our main was delicious beef fillet sautéed with galangal and lemongrass, two of the main ingredients used in Khmer cooking, of course served with fresh steamed Jasmine rice. And dessert was nothing overly complex, and nor does it have to be in the Asian tropics where fruits are overly ripe and plentiful: Khmer style assorted fruits accented with a touch of heat provided by a dusting of chili salt.

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Romdeng is also just one eatery in a network called TREE, a global alliance of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) training restaurants offering high quality standards of practice in such social enterprises. TREE restaurants are based upon a highly successful model which provides enhanced customer satisfaction through direct involvement in social engineering, but also enhanced sustainability through the use and reuse of local resources, produced by locals themselves. All profits from TREE restaurants are reinvested in the social programs which support their students during their long and often difficult journeys in becoming skilled, productive and happier people facing a much more secure future than their pasts would belie or allow.

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Romdeng is 0pen every day 11am – 10:30pm (kitchen closes at 9.30pm), and is located at #74 St 174, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They can be contacted by ringing (855) 92 219 565, or emailing E contact@romdeng-restaurant.org. Reservations are accepted and encouraged. Find them on Facebook as well!

Best Burger in the Far East? Malone’s Made in China


 

Malone's Pub-Like Storefront

Malone’s Pub-Like Storefront

There’s a problem with finding a good hamburger in Asian. They just don’t get it here. I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t have ‘Merican beef, or they are just philosophically opposed to ‘Merican mimicry. What is served as a burger is really just, well, meatloaf, referred to as “hamburg” throughout Japan. Read McDonald’s Can Kiss My Ass for more concerning this particular affliction for which there seems to be no inoculation. Until finding Café Captain Kangaroo this past weekend in the northern reaches of Okinawa with their fabulous array of deliciously hand-crafted burgers, the best beef patty with the usual accoutrements we had the pleasure of devouring was…

Made in China.

tongren2

At Malone’s, in Shanghai, to be exact. Described as an “American Café,” Malone’s is home to one of the most extensive burger menus in that far-eastern Asian metropolis. Located conveniently close to a few Western embassies and consulates right in the middle of the Tongren Lu district of Shanghai just around the corner from the Shanghai Center, Malone’s has been described – note the past tense – as “packed with expats and the out-of-town business crowd.” The three-story establishment used to offer differing venues, where a Filipino cover band used to play on the 2nd floor most nights, and the 3rd floor “Loft” offered a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The extensive bar and the outdoor seating areas hinted at quite a maximum occupancy, but on the cold fall evening we visited, no one was sitting outside, and only about ¼ of the indoor seats were taken.

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These characterizations all share one important similarity: their tenses are all in the past. It seems that although Malone’s was at one time the place to be for Westerners visiting Shanghai, complete with an award-winning burger, today the bar/eatery is a mere shadow of its former self.

Past Awards Quite Dated

Past Awards Quite Dated

However, having arrived very late in Shanghai after traveling all afternoon and evening, Jody and I were hungry for a late dinner before bed. Our local Chinese guide, asking if we were interested in a good burger, recommended this particular place, which happened to be within walking distance from our hotel. Normally we both shy away from American food and chains traveling in Asia, but the lure and lore of a REAL burger was too much to pass up. Fifteen minutes later we were walking into Malone’s, and within another 15 and after a round of cold Chinese Tiger beers, a truly wonderful burger did arrive. It certainly didn’t take 15 to devour.

While the Atmosphere is Lacking, the Burgers are NOT!

While the Atmosphere is Lacking, the Burgers are NOT!

Malone’s opened its doors about 20 years ago as an international extension of a Vancouver, Canada-based chain of the same name. As the first western-owned and run restaurant outside of high-end hotels in the city, it was originally managed by a group of Canadian expats who wanted to bring western-style dining in a neighborhood-pub setting to Shanghai. It appears that the change in management from foreigners to locals has been a change for the worse. The bar is rather dirty, with the 2nd and 3rd floors closed during our visit. We were seated on the 2nd floor, but only after we asked about alternative seating since there were so many smokers and smoke on the first floor. The area clearly hadn’t been used, clean, or refurbished in I would guess at least a year or two. The service was okay, the beer was cold, and the food actually well above par. And all for a reasonable price. It’s unfortunately that this place has taken such a nose-dive.

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I can still recommend the burgers at Malone’s for those that are craving a western-style meal after spending a fair amount of time flirting with mere “hamburg” in the Far East. But I wouldn’t visit the pub looking for atmosphere, music, or any type of night-life…. Read some recent thoroughly trashing reviews at SmartShanghai.com and Trip Advisor.

Map

Address:  255 Tongren Road, near Nanjing Xi Lu; 铜仁路255号, 近南京西路, Shanghai, China

Phone:  86 21 6247 2400

Website:  www.malones.com.cn

Email:  malones@malones.com.cn

METRO:  Jing’an Temple, 15 mins. walk

Hours:  Daily, 10am-2am

Kiss My Ass McDonald’s! Better Burgers at Café Captain Kangaroo


There are MUCH better burger options....

There are MUCH better burger options….

Oh, the shame. Not finishing the best burger found on Okinawa. Especially when my wife and all the rather petite Japanese women surrounding me devoured theirs without issue….

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, storefront hamburger island cafe captina kangaroo

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, no pickles on our burgers!In and Out isn’t part of the in-crowd on Okinawa…mainly since it doesn’t exist here. Apparently there aren’t enough meaty guys on the island to have a Fives Guys. You can get steaks and shakes on Okinawa, but not coincidently enough to have a Steak and Shake. There is an Applebee’s, but it’s on base, overpriced and full of loud and usually overly boisterous Americans watching some inane sporting event. And while they do serve a pretty good burger, at twice the cost and half the taste, it “udderly” fails in comparison to those award-winning beefy concoctions at Captain Kangaroo’s!

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, award-winning burgers

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, opening hours artNow, Jody and I debated whether the burgers there are alone worth the long drive to Nago, and while the outcome is close, we agree there probably needs to be another reason to make the trek. Even if it’s just for the scenic drive up Highway 58. On an island full of “hamburg” joints that serve what amounts to really good meatloaf, a REAL hamburg-ER is a rare and treasured culinary find.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, comfy and casual seating

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, iconic logo in pastels“‘Roo’s” is minimally furnished with an eclectic assortment of comfy chairs and lounging couches. The quick-order counter, at an unusual height that’s not high enough for bar stools and too low for the dining chairs provided, is a great option if you are either in danger of dehydration from uncontrolled salivation or simply on the move and don’t want to wait the 20 minutes we did during high time from 1300-1500.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, counter service bar none

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, street-side signDiners will find themselves surrounded by surfer-themed movie posters and random knickknacks, from an empty SPAM tin repurposed as a napkin holder, to our table’s hamburger warps held in place by an old Kraft Cheese cylinder…. A large selection of Japanese comics are easily selected from a wall of simple bookshelves, and randomly interesting magazines are for the borrowing in the small waiting area.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, waiting area and cashier's counter

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, comfy and casual seating 2Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, anniversary smilesWe were seated in two easy chairs alongside a classic low coffee table of just the right size, an arrangement both casual and comfy at the same time. To top off the café’s relaxed experience, soft reggae and world music plays softly in the background, and for those lucky enough of eating in the back raised corner of the small shop, there is an incomparable view of the East China Sea certainly not found at any burger joint found back home.

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, Jody ready for lunch

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, heart-shaped ketchupCafé Captain Kangaroo came to Nago, Okinawa, in 2007, purposed specifically to become an iconic burger shop. The Captain’s family tree is traced all the way back to Osaka, Japan, on Honshu, where the surname was established in 1997 as only a bar; no explanation is given for the rather odd moniker. The staff are all very friendly and cheerful, and good English is widely spoken. During our visit on a lazy almost-Spring Sunday afternoon were about a half and half mix of Japanese and gaijin, all enjoying their beefy meals. There were about five people working during our visit, and their smiles combined with the fun, casual attitude of the place certainly helped to make the burgers even more delicious. Oddly enough, we witnessed one of the staffers eating a late lunch. Their pick off the menu: TACO RICE!

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, no pickles on our burgers!

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, menu masterpiecesOkinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, all decisions involve hamburgersYes, that Okinawan ubiquitous meal is indeed offered, but as one of only eleven mains on the menu – one key to the café’s massive success. The focus is on quality and taste, and with only a few items to master, both are promises made and delivered upon. The menu is offered bilingually in Japanese and English, with most items costing about 1,000 yen or less. Combos can be made by adding in a potato set offering a choice of hashbrowns, wedges with skin, or traditional fries. Drinks can also be added at a “set” price to complete your combination platter.

The Amazing "Sparky" Burger

The Amazing “Sparky” Burger

Jody and I both ordered the “Sparky” burger, and within about 10 minutes, were served a veritable skyscraper of a burger! A home-baked sesame-covered bun grilled crispy and served hot off the griddle, slathered with BBQ sauce (not overdone), a beef patty, cheese (Swiss we believe), tons of fresh, crispy lettuce and juicy tomato, and finally topped with our favorite: an impossibly large serving of crispy deep-fried delicious shoestring onions. The tower was held against toppling by a long bamboo spear, and multiple triangular sandwich holders are provided – and required!

Notice the "Heartfelt" Ketchup!

Notice the “Heartfelt” Ketchup!

Ketchup is served on the plate, but placed there with great care. The Japanese couple next to us had their sauce in the shaped of animated musical notes, while ours came in the shape of blood-red beating hearts – very fitting since this was our first date and outing on our own in many weeks! On the table are salt, pepper, chili spice, and garlic salt, the last of which I *forgot* to use. Oh well, a great excuse to return. And SOON.

Shirts Sold at Café Roo's

Shirts Sold at Café Roo’s

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, sorry cash onlyCaptain Kangaroo’s rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor, where it is also ranked the #1 restaurant in all of Nago (out of something like 348 establishments). Given some of the styles and qualities of foods that can be found in this corner of the Far East in a large city, this standing is quite an accomplishment. I have been hearing the hype about this place for over a year now, and generally don’t give into such popularity contests: seldom does anything live up to such impossibly high expectations. Hamburger Island Café Captain Kangaroo’s does, on all accounts. And all our deliciousness for 2,600 yen, or about $23.50.

Jody mocks my last uneaten bit in silent contempt.....

Jody mocks my last uneaten bit in silent contempt…..

Oh, and about that shame of not finishing my burger? In my defense, I did have a large portion of chocolate ice cream for lunch.

At least I have my priorities in the right order….

Okinawa Mar 2015, Captain Kangaroo, a plate of burger heavan

Ambiance:  Eclectically furnished and casual burger joint of the highest caliber. Furniture groupings provide comfy and casual seating for couples and large groups of up to eight.

Service:  A small establishment which prides itself on quality and perfection. Food is all cooked fresh order, and the joint can be crowded during lunch and in the afternoons. While the wait to get a spot inside may be 20 or 30 minutes, your order is taken promptly and the food appears quicker than you might think possible. The staff is overly laid-back and friendly, and English is widely and easily spoken.

Food Quality:  Excellent without question. Ranked on Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in Nago.

Features:  Quaint eatery with conditioned indoor seating.  Easy-going atmosphere which is beachwear and kid-friendly.

Cuisine:  Burgers, burgers, and burgers. Plus eight more types of burgers. Plus taco rice.

Price/Value:  Excellent.

Address: 183 Umusa, Nago City

Phone: 098-054-3698

Opening Times: Every day except Holidays and Wednesdays, 11:00~20:00 (last order 19:40)

Directions: Take 58 north to Nago (or the Expressway until it ends and joins 58), then a slight left onto 449 once passing the seaside Nago baseball stadium. Captain Kangaroo, a small shop that’s easy to miss, is about 0.9 kilometers down the road on the left. Additional parking is found just before the storefront, and also to the rear of the burger joint.

Website: http://www.roo-bar.jp

Dim Sum: Dinner and then Some


 Kuruma_Fuji_full_699193“Nothing can be more delicious than Jiaozi, as nothing can be more comfortable than lying down to sleep.” ~Chinese proverb

 “Dumpling means, in essence, ‘reunion’,” our Chinese guide “Jason” explained as we were seated for a traditional Chinese dim sum dumpling meal during our stay in Xi’an, China. “And the dumpling banquet means generally the same thing.”

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, bronze relief of dumpling making of the past 3

Chinese dumplings, particularly Jiaozi (餃子/饺子), are the traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve and at special family reunions. During these reunions, extended family members from afar may gather together to make dumplings. They are eaten again as a farewell feast to family members or friends who may not be seen for some time.

Other legendary mutant barbarians...who LOVE dumplings.

Other legendary mutant barbarians…who LOVE dumplings.

 

It seems that dumplings and China share a flavorful history together. A common legend goes that dumplings were first invented out of necessity in China during the era of the Three Kingdoms, around 225 AD. In this tale, a play on words is made between early mantou, a Chinese steamed bun and type of dumpling, and the homophonous word mántóu, meaning “barbarian’s head.”

Barbarian's head:  not so delicious.

Barbarian’s head: not so delicious.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, dumpling making tools of the trade WMrestaurant-2011-07-13-16-00-Leongs-LegendGeneral Zhuge Liang, a military leader and minister of the times, found his army’s advance blocked by a swift-moving and unfordable river after subduing a barbarian king and his unruly henchmen. A local barbarian lord informed spoke of times past when the barbarians would sacrifice 49 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit, which would allow passage as the heads would effectively dam the raging waters. Liang, however, did not want to cause unnecessary bloodshed, and instead killed cows and horses and used their meat to fill buns shaped roughly like human heads. After throwing these surrogate tops into the river’s flow, the river spirit allowed him and his army to cross. To honor the event, Liang named the buns “barbarian’s head,” mántóu (蠻頭), which evolved into the present day’s more appetizing but perhaps less buoyant dumplings referred to as mantou (饅頭).

A variety of dumplings for dinner.

A variety of dumplings for dinner.

Guess what the filling is??

Guess what the filling is??

Duck-filled and fun.

Duck-filled and fun.

Dumplings are considered a special food in the Spring Festival, or Chinese (Lunar) New Year to which people are deeply and emotionally attached. On the eve of the New Year, dumplings become the centerpiece in any celebratory banquet. Eating dumplings at the New Year is a way of marking the occasion with wishes and prayers for happiness, fortune, and wealth. The dumplings’ very shape resembles an old Chinese currency called ingot (元宝), and the word jiǎozi shares the same pronunciation with 角子 (jiǎozi), which was a small jiao coin used in antiquity. Thus consuming these little delicacies has come to be associated with luck and fortune. For us, some of the shapes our dumplings came in reflected their fillings, particularly in terms of duck and pork. Yep, there were little piggies and majestic ducks staring us in the face! No translation needed there. In another humorous twist, when the dumplings are made on the eve of the Spring Festival, the Chinese will place a coin secretly into one. The person who finds it will likely have good fortune in the New Year, even if he or she has to spend it on tooth repairs….

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, bronze relief of dumpling making of the past 3

Making dumplings is a community affair.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, bronze relief of dumpling making of the pastChina 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, dumpling recipes and ingredients WMMaking dumplings is a labor of love requiring a fair amount of preparation. Thus, dumplings have come to symbolize reunions where there are many hands available to help in their crafting. As you might expect, many Chinese learn to make dumplings at a very young age, and enjoy a lifetime of reunions around a kitchen table, chattering and laughing while familial connections are assembled, much as the dumplings. In an analogous King Konnection, my mother would make chicken and dumplings fresh during our own family reunions, and lucky for me and my siblings, we did all enjoy in helping in her efforts. What is it exactly about the formality of making and consuming dumplings that crosses culture so well?

Dim Sum Dumpling Dinner

Dim Sum Dumpling Dinner

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, famous dumpling chain in ChinaChina 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, lazy susan family style dumpling dinnerDim sum (點心) is a style of Chinese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition yum cha (tea tasting), which has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest and refresh. Teahouses were established along the roadside, and what started as a relaxing respite while traveling the road over the centuries has transformed into an often loud but fulfilling dining experience. While we arrived early at a famous dumpling restaurant chain in China, by the time of our departure the tables were filled to capacity and the rambunctious sounds of the diner’s laughter, the server’s questions, and the reverberations of serving carts and dishes melded into a cacophony of delight, filling the eatery much the way the dumplings were stuffed to capacity.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, steaming dumplings being served

EVERYTHING goes on the Lazy Susan!

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, eating the last of the dumplings!China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, ready for our super yummy famous dumpling dinner in ChinaA traditional dim sum meal includes various types of steamed buns, dumplings, and rice noodle roles, all of which are stuffed with delicious mixtures of goodness, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and various vegetables and spices. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party, where, because of small portions, people can try a wide variety of food. In fact, many of our meals in China were served this way, where the table’s lazy Susan quickly became the best friend of the famished. Coordinating Susan’s movements to meet twelve diners’ demands, however, was downright comical!

Japanese yaki-gyoza.  YUM!

Japanese yaki-gyoza. YUM!

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One of the creepier Japanese mascots....

One of the creepier Japanese mascots….

Gyōza is the Japanese version of the Chinese dumpling jiaozi. The Japanese word gyōza is derived from the Chinese word jiaozi (餃子), and although it is written using the same Chinese characters, its pronunciation shifts using Japanese sounds. The most prominent and generalized differences between Japanese-style gyōza and Chinese-style jiaozi are a rich garlic flavor (less noticeable in China), the light seasoning of Japanese gyōza with salt and soy sauce, and the fact that gyōza wrappers are much thinner. Gyōza are also usually served with a soy-based sauce seasoned with rice vinegar and/or rāyu (chili oil), while the most common filling consists of a mixture of minced pork, cabbage, chives, and any combination of sesame oil, garlic and/or ginger. Jiaozi in China ae generally only steamed; if they are prepared by pan-frying and then steaming as most Japanese gyōza, they are more correctly known as goutie (pot stickers), a direct analogy to their Japanese cousins.

The Japanese Gyoza Association mascot.  Seriously.

The Japanese Gyoza Association mascot. Seriously.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, enjoying our dumpling dinnerBe they pot stickers or gyōza, I’m just happy that I don’t have to deal in barbarians (or their heads, attached or detached) in order to eat such tasty treats. In fact, they are so tantalizingly good here on Okinawa that I just texted Jody to pick up some on her way home from work. SCORE! Not only do I NOT have to cook dinner (and skate on my domestic engineering responsibilities), but Jody and I will celebrate our reunion this evening over some beautifully fried and steam Japanese dumplings.

China 2014, Xian, Dumpling Dinner, rubbing buddha's belly for good luck and long life

Now I completely understand why he’s so fat and jolly!

 After all, reunions should be celebrated, no matter how big or how small.