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.

ars

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/

“Live Fish Bowl Prime:” Gourmet Food at a Japanese Ryokan


Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, live fish bowl prime WM

“Live Fish Bowl Prime.” Sure, it sounds like an obscure faddish cartoon shown on Adult Swim back in the 1990s. Or at least it should’ve been.  But it turned out to be a machine translation (Google Translate via iPhone) of an item on Jody’s Japanese menu during dinner our first night at a high-end ryokan on Miyajima.

This is What it Meant!

This is What it Meant!

“What on earth does that mean?!” I asked Jody, laughing at how much technology fails a simple translation. “Who knows!” she responded with an anticipating smile, staring at her phone.

Individualized Menus, for Him and Her

Individualized Menus, for Him and Her

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, personalized menu 2 WMOur menu was personalized each night, it’s approval demonstrated by the han-stamp of the resident chef of the ryokan. The dinners were all served as 12-course meals, each choice indicated on the menu with a distinct line of Japanese. We attempted to translate each one, course by course. But as you might guess, something often gets lost in translation. Some of our favorite translations, besides “live fish bowl prime,” include “Hiroshima cow” and “fried bird”….  Or the one shown below.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, the problem with machine translation WM

Concrete Soup. Yummy. Luckily it was MUCH better than it sounded…at least in English.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, afternoon tea in our tatami room WMA ryokan (旅館) or “inn” is a type of traditional Japanese lodge that originated beginning back in the 17th century, maturing as today’s concept in the late 19th century. Originally serving travelers along Japan’s foot and horse paths, they now serve modern tourists at major sites throughout Japan. Typical features include tatami-matted rooms, communal hot spring baths, in-room personalized dining, and public areas where visitors may relax and socialize.

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, welcome to Miyajima

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, outdoor private onsen bath WMWe stayed in a ridiculously priced ryokan, the Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto in the resort location of Miyajima, a famous island retreat on the outskirts of Hiroshima. We were there celebrating, although at the time, we still didn’t know what we were celebrating. You can read more about that rather confusing situation is Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!  But in short, we booked one of the most expensive rooms in an already expensive lodge in honor of either Jody’s retirement, or her promotion.  Neither had happened yet.

Our Main Tatami Room, set for Tea

Our Main Tatami Room, set for Tea

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, flirting with the floating Torii WMRyokan are becoming more difficult to find within Japanese urban centers as mainstream and modern hotels are offering more at a much more affordable price-point. They have, however, have found their modern niche by catering to tourists with deep pockets, and are usually concentrated in scenic areas, exactly like Miyajima where we vacationed prior to moving on to Hiroshima proper.

View of the Setting Sun and Floating Torii from our Room

View of the Setting Sun and Floating Torii from our Room

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, sunset from our room 4 WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine,_6894Ryokan guest rooms are styled in traditional Japanese: tatami floors, sliding wooden doors, and rice-paper accented privacy screens. Most ryokan feature common bathing areas segregated by gender, using the water from a nearby hot spring (onsen). Higher-end inns provide private bathing facilities. These Japanese inns also provide yukata for guests to wear, and geta (wooden sandals) are available at exits for strolls outside.

Our Private Outdoor Onsen-Fed Soaking Tub

Our Private Outdoor Onsen-Fed Soaking Tub

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Kevin playing the Japanese part 2Based on a number of reviews, we selected room 502 of the Arimoto Hotel, a very large corner room on the top floor of the ryokan, featuring sunset views of Miyajima’s famous “floating Torii,” as well as private outdoor hot-spring fed bathing and personalized in-room dining.  Check out the hotel’s website; our room is featured as the inn’s “Guest of Honor” billeting, and is also featured in a bridal shoot.  I must admit that it does serve as a fabulous setting to accent the beauty of a beaming bride, certainly more so than it does for my cheesy Japanese peace pose below.

Me Modeling (poorly) Japanese Yukata

Me Modeling (poorly) Japanese Yukata

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, Jody's fish bowl WMYukata (浴衣 literal “bath clothes”), are casual Japanese garments, sometimes referred to as a summer kimono, worn by men and women. Designed for hot weather, they are unlined and often made of cotton. As with kimono, the general rule is that younger women (and kids) wear bright, vivid colors and bold patterns, while older people wear dark, matured colors and dull patterns. Men in general wear solid dark colors. Yukata are staple wear during a stay at ryokan, commonly seen throughout the establishments. I rather enjoyed my own interpretation of their wear!

Yukata Ready-to-Wear and Me Ready for Dinner

Yukata Ready-to-Wear and Me Ready for Dinner

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, fresh fish WMI initially wore the yukata to and from our private balcony bath fed by the resort’s on-site hot-spring. The deep-soak tub was set to offer 180 degree views of the setting sun over Miyajima’s western shore. But since there was really no way for anyone to be a voyeur of our bathing habits, I quickly did away with any clothing at all. The yukata was, however, very comfortable to wear for dinner after a long afternoon soak to soothe achy muscles from the day’s adventures.

Our Dining Room

Our Dining Room

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Jody and her Live Fishbowl Prime!The main tatami room serves three important functions: dining, tea and for sleep. Breakfast and dinner are served there, with tea service in the afternoon. But at night, tables and floor chairs and hidden away and lush futon bedding is spread out directly on the tatami floor, where ample pillows, sheets and blankets are provided for a deep, restful sleep after a day of hiking around Miyajima.

Our Bedroom (yes it is the same room)

Our Bedroom (yes it is the same room)

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, tabletop shabu-shabu WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Japanese place setting WMRyokan stays include dinner and breakfast, and most guests take their meals in their room. Meals are central to a ryokan stay: the price and ratings of inns are heavily based on the quality of their food. Traditional Japanese cuisine called kaiseki, a meal consisting of a number of small, varied dishes, is featured, which includes seasonal and regional specialties. The meals are tailored and cooked to order, and service times are selected by the guests daily.

Can you Spot the Fried Lotus - YUMMY!

Can you Spot the Fried Lotus – YUMMY!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, meat and veg WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, beautiful salad WMWhile we got off to a rough start with the ryokan staff, due mainly to some of our specific dietary requests and the lack of English-speaking staff, we came to thoroughly enjoy our in-room meal service. Dinner was unrushed and personal, served by a private waitress, course by course, and lasted anywhere from two to three hours. We had the opportunity to enjoy some local Hiroshima wine while Jody tried quite a few new fish dishes, as I focused my meals more and more on the local high-quality and perfectly delicious Hiroshima beef…with some pork and chicken thrown in as well.  Lucky for us, after the first night of only machine translation of our meal, a waitress called “Emmy” was placed with us, who having spent 8 years in England spoke quite good English, even if it was more aligned to the Queen’s.  She actually stayed an extra day to help us in our culinary adventures as she was moving on to a 9-monht contract job on an Italian cruise ship as a hairdresser.

Stone-Grilling Fresh Hiroshima Beef - the BEST!

Stone-Grilling Fresh Hiroshima Beef – the BEST!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, Hiroshima mussels on hot stones WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, appetizer Hiroshima beef mock sushi WMHiroshima specializes in farm-raised oysters, which were served fresh and in a multitude of ways. One of the more surprising items that Jody enjoyed was fresh stonefish, and not only was she served the delicate and sometimes poisonous meal (if prepared wrong), the fish itself took center stage in her dinner’s presentation! I can’t say it’s appearance is all that…appetizing.

Stonefish: it's a Good Thing we don't eat their Faces!

Stonefish: it’s a Good Thing we don’t eat their Faces!

Miyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, personal fish soup composite WMMiyajima 2015, Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto Hotel, in-room dining, Conger Eel and dipping sauces WMBut the most surprising course was a small covered dish of fresh seafood destined to be steamed tableside during dinner. Just after being placed on the table, the dish made a loud knocking sound, quite to our collective surprise. Our waitress, as curious as we were about the sound’s source, innocently lifted the dish’s top. And out flopped a large, live shrimp! We jumped back a bit as the crustacean made good attempt to escape, which our waitress was all too happy to block. Trapped back in its ceramic cell, the dish was placed on a flame for steaming, and no other sound was heard…until Jody’s coos upon eating the poor crustacean.

The Offending Prawn, Embarrassed about it's Behavior and Turned Red

The Offending Prawn, Embarrassed about it’s Behavior and Turned Red

But was it worth truly worth the expense? In terms of such an important celebration, sure it was! Spending money on treasured experiences is never a bad thing. Enjoying “live fish bowl prime,” the premium fresh seafood served to us during our ryokan stay:  priceless!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, peaceful day on the waterfront WM

See Miyjima Grand Arimoto Ryokan for more photos of our stay!

 

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.

tongren3

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.

Burgermondayflyer

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

Fabulous Curry House FAB!


2805259029Curry House FAB (うみべのかれーやさんふぁぶ): perhaps better known to local gaijin as the “Yellow Curry House” for its bright yellow appearance along the Sunabe Seawall, this “mom& pop” establishment serves a wide variety of fresh world-inspired curries for lunch and dinner.  Oh, did I mention it’s an all-you-can-eat curry buffet?!?

Ambiance:  Local establishment with a very casual atmosphere and terrific 3rd story eat-in balcony overlooking Sunabe Seawall and the East China Sea.  As is always the case along Sunabe, there is very limited parking.

Service:  Serve yourself!  Including drinks, water, salad, desserts, and, of course, the curry.  Naan is baked fresh to order and only takes a few minutes.

pic_fabCocktails:  Beer and “Beer Set” are available.

Food Quality:  Very Good.

Features:  Fabulous but rustic outdoor seating along their bar-balcony and outside balcony tables are available.  Inside seating is limited, but additional tables are found up a steep flight of stairs.  Kid-friendly; sorry, no pets.  Yen only, but credit is okay, and English menu is available.

Cuisine:  Six world-inspired curries (Japanese, Indian, Thai) cooked fresh and served hot.

Price/Value:  Exceptional.  Ranked 4 of 5 stars on Trip Advisor, and as the #10 of 129 restaurants in Chatan-Cho.

I'm not sure what's better:  the sunset, the curry, or my view of Jody!

I’m not sure what’s better: the sunset, the curry, or my view of Jody!

Balcony seating is unbeatable!

Balcony seating is unbeatable!

Okinawa Eats 2013, Fab Curry House, Kevin and Jody enjoying all you can eat curry at Sunabe0600004053_1I started eating at FAB back in 1999, when I discovered the joys of diving along the Sunabe Seawall of Miyagi, Chatan Cho, and I was so relieved to see it still doing a brisk business upon my return last year (2013).  Although it might have taken quite some time to discover this eatery on my own, I, like most other gaijin, were introduced to this den of deliciousness by fellow divers.  Stated quite simply, it’s a local, fresh, curry buffet which includes drinks (water, tea), rice, French fries, salad, a single serving of freshly baked naan, and dessert, all for under $10.  The curries are offered on a varied schedule be day of the week, and include yogurt chicken curry with onions, yogurt chicken curry (sweet), and, if you like your curry more spicy, try two different “tastes” of Thai curry.  There is a vegetarian curry offered, along with some Indian-inspired staples.  Their Japanese ginger-dressing is the absolute perfect topping on their freshly shredded cabbage salad, and while I haven’t tried their desserts, they seem very popular with the local Japanese and Okinawans.  In fact, see this page for a coupon for a free dessert!

My kids used to love this place!

My kids used to love this place!

Okinawa Eats 2013, Fab Curry House, warm and cozy seating

2626122213166545313If you are tired of the usual suspects when it comes to curry (think “Coco Curry), take a slight detour down to the seawall.  Not only will you fill your belly, you can fill the rest of your senses by taking in a fresh ocean breeze, and perhaps enjoy the setting sun during a casual after dinner stroll.  FAB is, in a word, FABULOUS, and never fails to please.

1409357485

Phone:  098-936-5964

E-mail:  FAB@estate.ocn.ne.jp

Hours:  11:30 – 21:45 (Last order 21:00), Open all year

Directions:  see map graphic; address 1-655 Miyagi Chatan Cho.  FAB is located adjacent to a small green space/park, just south of a gazebo along the seawall.  Look up at the third floors of the buildings nearby and you won’t miss the brightness of the “Yellow” curry house!

yellow curry house mapmap_fab