McDonald’s American Vintage Campaign: I’m Lovin’ It!


There is ANIME for everything in Japan!!

There is ANIME for everything in Japan!!

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”  ~Carson McCullers

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”  ~Peter De Vries

“Too much has been forgotten in the name of memory.”  ~Don DeLillo, Americana

50s-fads-skirt-200x250Remember the good’old days when everyone was young and innocent and all was right with the world?  When poodle skirts flowed and showed curvy calves, and neck scarves and bobby socks completed a look….  When school-produced and chaperon-provided “Sock Hops” dances were held in gyms across the country…and “The Twist” defined a decade?  When red & blue 3-D glasses were common in theaters across the country, and pointedly, women’s bullet-bras shaped the standard of what was alluring?  When beatniks were not quite cool, but would never be found at the faddish American drive-in….

And women unfortunately "knew their place...."

And women unfortunately “knew their place….”

Those are some of the things I think about when I consider “American Vintage.”

12063653094_bf5aa0b4d0_b

american-vintageWell, McDonald’s in the Far East is flirting with all-things Americana, particularly with their new “American Vintage Campaign,” unveiled through a 1950s American Diner menu recently released here in Okinawa.  In a phrase, McDonald’s Japan is attempting to take the nostalgia that many in the East have for most things West, and cram it into sandwiches and on top of fries which neither resonate with our prototypical ideal of an American Diner, nor with the food of that time!

Fonzie would at least be cooler than Obama....

Fonzie probably would benefit from Obama-Card….

dreamNow, when an America thinks of a 1950s Diner, what may come to mind?  Perhaps “Happy Days” and “The Fonz.”  Or, perhaps, you might think about a classic period true American Diner or the time, a la James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (and the other strap-hangers and wallflower that make up that iconic night crew).  And the standard American vintage meal of the period is easy enough to conjure up:  a no frills burger, fries, soda, and perhaps a malted milkshake….

True Vintage Food, Americana Style

True Vintage Food, Americana Style

the-fonzdb-2However, here in Japan, they are…doing it wrong.  As least partly.  For instance, the signature “American Vintage Diner” items seem to consist of two sandwiches and special-order french-fries.  The burger – the “Diner Double Beef” – is anything but American Vintage!  Check out the layers of oddly unique Asian-inspired flavors and textures:  a double beef burger on “graham” buns (???), with Chicago-style steakhouse sauce (whatever that is), fresh onion, cheddar cheese, and get this – an egg, AND, wait for it…

The Diner Double-Beef!!

The Diner Double-Beef!!

Mashed potato sauce!  Yummy.  In fact, so oddly delicious (I’m told) that Inside the Actors’ Guild has invited a new word for it:  scrumtrulescent.

The Actors' Guild Can't be Wrong

The Actors’ Guild Can’t be Wrong

diner-honey-mustardhBC255DDCThere is also a crispy chicken sandwich – the “Diner Honey Mustard” – with, yes, you guessed it, honey mustard, in addition to bacon, cheddar, and lettuce.  Now that seems more like it, I mean, more something like we would find on a diner menu.  Although mustard of such sauciness may have been a wee-tad spicy for the conservatism of the McCarthy-era 50s.  However, it wouldn’t be weirdly Japanese if they got even this one (and just one), just about right; both sandwiches are served with what they call “Classic Fries,” which, in the Far East interpretation, is presented as a build-your-own fries box, complete with processed cheese product to be squirted directly from a plastic packet, then topped with a sprinkling of “bacon-flavor topping.”  We all should be smart enough to know that such a phrase only means artificial bacon flavoring infused into the most unappetizing parts of the pig…which I’m told doesn’t taste or feel like bacon bits at all.  I can honestly say that in my nearly 48 years on the planet I never encountered such a concoction at a Micky-D’s!  Anywhere in the world for that matter.

12064150876_f6dbb8ea71_b

funny-Ronald-McDonald-girl-cute12063680024_1ff019f119_bHowever clever McDonald’s in Japan has been with their vintage-themed décor, it still can’t quite bring one to consider either the establishment or their newfound food as anything close to an American 1950s diner.  They have reproduced some classically delightful Americana posters and prints, and in some instances, have made clever use of space, color, and shape.  For instance, turning the waste bin into a jukebox is a stroke of genius, as is covering their service counters with a loud, McDonald’s palette infused checkerboard pattern.  They also offer an American Vintage tee-shirt, which I’m sure will sell “real good” (note the vintage grammar in the photo at left), as most things American do here in Okinawa where our western influence is at extreme.

The Hippest Trash Cans Around!

The Hippest Trash Cans Around!

Count'em, FOUR thumbs up!

Count’em, FOUR thumbs up!

12063655374_33c9c0ff06_bIn all fairness, I can’t say that I’ve tried these menu items.  And my heart and arteries thank me for, daily.  Oddly enough though, I do frequent McDonald’s here in Okinawa about 1,000 times more than I ever did back in the Motherland.  Fountain sodas are hard to find in Okinawa, where everything is canned or bottled, and the Western-style breakfast they offer simply can’t be beat when pressed for time or confounded by a lack of orange juice at home….  The food franchises here are especially clean and well attired.  The service, like most anywhere else in Japan, is friendly and impeccable, and amazingly fast compared to our standards of fast-food at home.  All these things combined make a trip to the Golden Arches quite refreshing here in the Far East, so much so that I was the one to ask the wife to stop by in order to pay homage to this vintage campaign!  That said, though, the true downfall of Japan isn’t going to come through scarce natural resources, a failing economy, or a slow cultural death brought on by over-indulgence on manga, anime, and coffee and comic overdoses.  Rather, it’s going to be through good’old vintage health problems brought on by the “MegaMac!”  My Gawd look at that monstrosity!

My Hearts Hurts from Just Looking at it....

My Hearts Hurts from Just Looking at it….

Would Huggy-Bear Approve?

Would Huggy-Bear Approve?

That could be BBQ sauce on his head.

That could be BBQ sauce on his head.

However, it gets even BETTER!  This vintage campaign is actually a set of three battling bites of Americana:  “1950s American Diner” now playing, “1970s Soul Food,” and “1980s Pop Culture Cuisine.  If you think they have missed the mark on American 50s diner food and feel, wait until the “Soul Food” menu comes out at the end of the month.  On tap will be the Huggy Bear “Hot & Groovy Chicken” and “Hot & Groovy Beef.”  At least they’ve been uber-creative with their entrée names….  It remains to be seen if they will inadvertently offend those Americans who insist of being African as well.  The overall campaign ends at the beginning of March when their 1980s Pop Culture Boy-George “American BBQ Chicken” and, you’ll never guess, the “American BBQ Beef” will have been served since the middle of February.

Demotivational-Posters-McDonalds-5

Stay tuned for those delicious developments.  I can already smell the humor and fun!

Which do YOU prefer??

Which do YOU prefer?? More importantly, which would WIN?!?!

meanwhile-in-japan-mcdonalds-kfc-funnykevinbolk2

Becoming a Fixture at the Transit Café; A Restaurant Review


Not This Kind of Transit Spaghetti

Not This Kind of Transit Spaghetti

Transit Café:  2-220-2F Miyagi, Chatan, Okinawa; 098-936-5076; Open Lunch 1100-1600, Dinner 1700-2330.

Ambiance:  Very Good; indoor smoking is allowed during meals

Service:  Very Good

Cocktails:  Outstanding; wide range of international cocktails; the drinks alone are worth visiting!

Food Quality:  Very Good.

Features:  indoor eat-at bar counter, outdoor bar, late lunch, pet-friendly (terrace only), set lunch, sweets, terrace seats (limited), tropical cocktails, wide variety of alcoholic beverages.  Located across the street from Sunabe Seawall with terrific scenic views.  English menu available; credit cards accepted.  Due to limited seating, reservations are HIGHLY encouraged.  The establishment is not very kid-friendly, in terms of space, ambiance, and meals/food selection.

Cuisine:  International Café Fare; Japanese & Okinawan; tapas-style plates with mains available.

Price/Value:  Expensive but Exceptional!

Trendy Ambiance at the Transit

Trendy Ambiance at the Transit

“A thought is an idea in transit.” ~Pythagoras

“It is safest to take the unpopular side in the first instance. Transit from the unpopular is easy… but from the popular to the unpopular is so steep and rugged that it is impossible to maintain it.” ~William Lamb Melbourne

Fresh Food, Fresh Air, Fresh Ambiance

Fresh Food, Fresh Air, Fresh Ambiance

Lucky for us, the thought of grabbing a bite to eat at the Transit Café is still a very popular idea.  I am so very happy that the Transit has survived the ravages of time and fickleness of people.  It, however, remains as trendy and with even better service and selection that during my previous times living in Okinawa.

Eagerly Awaiting our Next Cocktail Creation at the Indoor Bar

Eagerly Awaiting our Next Cocktail Creation at the Indoor Bar

The Staff Really are this Cool - and Good

The Staff Really are this Cool – and Good

The Transit Café was one of the first places I took Jody to help introduce her to Okinawa, Chatan Cho, and the Sunabe Seawall area.  We have been back numerous times already.  With little surprise, we found the place packed regardless of time or day.  Reservations are a must here if you want to sit at a table, inside or out; bar seating, however, is most likely available for a small party (2-4), and provides an intimate relationship with the staff and cooks.

Seating is Limited; Make a Reservation

Seating is Limited; Make a Reservation

Drink Selections...From Miami??

Drink Selections…From Miami??

The food at Transit changes slightly based on availability of ingredients, but they typically always have certain signature dishes.  One of our favorites is their version of “cheese fondue.”  This can be ordered with a few options, but the one we’ve settled on is the larger platter, complete with meat (shrimp and chicken), assorted veggies, and bread (you can request extra, as we do) to dip.  This is a large plate of food, so be careful when ordering more!  Luckily, many of the dishes are Okinawan/Japanese-reasonable size, more akin to tapas back home, so you can order a few to share.  The mains are, as well, on the smaller side, but certainly provide more fill.

Not to Miss:  Transit Fondue!

Not to Miss: Transit Fondue!

Frozen Mojitos; Currently our Fav

Frozen Mojitos; Currently our Fav

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on their cocktail selection and preparation.  The staff at the Transit Café are consummate professionals when it comes to mixed drinks; they are prepared perfectly, and presented as a feast for the eyes.  Out of all the places we’ve visited, this is the only restaurant to really provide a first-class drink experience.  In similar fashion, their desserts are at once decadent and always delightful.  Being only two blocks away, we find ourselves venturing down the street just to sample a cocktail and split a dessert….

Fondue and Frozen Mojitos

Fondue and Frozen Mojitos

Unfortunately, Smoking is Allowed

Unfortunately, Smoking is Allowed

The ambience at Transit is very peaceful and serene, with a host of international easy-listening and romantic tunes playing on their sound-system.  Transit Café is located on the 2nd floor across the street from the seawall, and if you are lucky enough to sit on the balcony (remember:  make a reservation), you will have scenic vistas of the East China Sea as it rolls in and meets and washes over Okinawa.  However, like I’ve already mentioned:  don’t discount sitting at the bar.  It’s amazing to watch the magic and choreographed dance this staff of 5 or 6 move around a combined bar and kitchen area the size of most closets in order to produce such high-quality, fabulous delectable delights.

The Transit Sits Over the Bar Next Door

The Transit Sits Over the Bar Next Door

Although Jody and I are, in essence, ultimately only transiting through Okinawa for the next three years, we will most certainly become fixtures at the Transit Café.  Visit them; you’ll be glad you did!

Trendy Music Displayed and Played

Trendy Music Displayed and Played

Website: http://www.transitcafe-okinawa.com/transit/index.html

Directions:  The Transit Café is located in Chatan on the seawall.  From Kadena Gate 1, turn left onto 58. Take your first right (GI Bill Pay and Sunny net will be in the shopping plaza on the right corner).  Follow that road straight until it dead ends at the sea wall.  Turn right and Transit will be just on your right.  Find parking where you can along the seawall.

transit-map

A Splash of Ramen: “Kitchen Splash” Restaurant Review


A Splash of Seashells

A Splash of Seashells

“Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.” ~Ludwig van Beethoven

“Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things” ~Russian Proverb quotes

“What’s a soup kitchen?” ~Paris Hilton

She has never had to live on Ramen.

She has never had to live on Ramen.

Good Soup is better than Second-Hand Art

Good Soup is better than Second-Hand Art

Kitchen Splash:  2-93 Miyagi, Chatan Town, 098-926-0151

Ambiance:  Average, except indoor smoking is allowed during dinner

Service:  Good

Cocktails:  Beer & Awamori available, cocktails very limited

Food Quality:  Average

Features :  Japanese cuisine, all you can drink, bar counter, close to Sunabe Seawall, international, pet-friendly (terrace only), ramen, set lunch, tatami rooms, terrace seating (very limited), English menu available.

Cuisine:  Japanese / Okinawan, Noodles

Price/Value:  Average

I often think gyoza and edamame make the world'go'round.  Oh, and blue-eyed beauties.

I often think gyoza and edamame make the world’go’round. Oh, and blue-eyed beauties.

Having a good wife, and needing only a local source of rich soup, Jody and I set out for “Kitchen Splash,” a noodle house of sorts located less than a block off Sunabe Seawall in the heart of commercial Miyagi.  And in the way of noodles, they do not disappoint.  However….

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

Group Tatami Area

Group Tatami Area

The restaurant is clean and fairly spacious inside, although the outdoor terrace seating is cramped and very limited, but pet friendly.  The décor matches the name; there are rustic touches here and there that both hint and call-out from the nearby sea.  There is a larger tatami area for group seating.  While we were there, the staff were playing a Japanese boy-group concert on their rather large flat screen TV mounted from the ceiling, and although the volume was higher than I would have liked, the music was actually good and the video?  Well, highly entertaining!

Rustic Seating

Rustic Seating

The menu has a full selection of noodles and soup, but offers little else.  The cocktails are very limited, and pricey by my standards.  However, there is a wide range of beer and Awamori.

Menu Selections

Menu Selections

Before the Kick-Boxing Match with her Meal

Before the Kick-Boxing Match with her Meal

We ordered gyoza and edamame for starters, both served quickly, steaming hot, and turned out to be quite tasty and fresh.  The service was prompt, although we were initially the only two in the eatery, soon joined by 4-6 others, most of whom appeared to be local shift workers just getting off for dinner.  When the soups came, we were both somewhat disappointed.  A large portion of our letdown, I believe, stems from our basic lack of understanding of the menu and options for our dishes.  I ended up with soy ramen soup with pork and vegetables, but instead of the yummy, meaty slices of pork that one can find in other ramen houses, my soup had a number of very fatty and what appeared to be second-hand pieces of pork, most of which I chose not to eat.  Jody tried a dish neither of us was familiar with, and although the spelling offered on the menus was “Tammen,” I believe what she wound up with was “Taman” soup, a spicy garlic and red-sauce concoction based on the local Okinawa fish Taman.

Fatty Pork...and Indoor Smoking - I'll Pass

Fatty Pork…and Indoor Smoking – I’ll Pass

We finished most of our meals, and took our short walk – 3 or 4 blocks – back home, where I remained somewhat disappointed in my ramen, and Jody quickly wound up with a pretty bad belly ache.  Even though we ordered her soup with “skoshi” spice, her meal was produced with a healthy kick, which she continued to fight through the evening.  Both ailments quickly passed, and we agreed we would splash in again at this kitchen, eager to give then another try.  But probably only for lunch, when indoor smoking, for some reason, is not allowed by the staff.  If the chances of Paris Hilton showing up here were even measureable, perhaps we would return for dinner.  However, we instead prefer not to share our evening meal with smokers in such close quarters.

Respectfully, No Microwave Used Here

Respectfully, No Microwave Used Here

Rustic Seating

Rustic Seating

• Open Lunch 11:30-15:00 / Dinner 17:00-24:00, Closed Wed

• $ accepted

• English menu available

• Parking is available, but problematic along the main seawall roads

• Pet friendly (terrace only)

• Takeout available

Sushi SNAFU! Tuna & Sake Amawari Resturant Review


“I’m not making art, I’m making sushi.” ~Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto

He was NOT our chef

He was NOT our chef

Tune & Sake Amawari, Chatan Cho

Tune & Sake Amawari, Chatan Cho

Amawari Tuna & Sake

Chatan Cho, Immediately behind Family Mart outside Kadena AB Gate 1

Ambiance: Poor

Service: Good

Cocktails: Poor

Food Quality: Average to Below Average

Price/Value: Poor

[This will be the first of a long line of restaurant reviews while stationed here on Okinawa]

Monday night Jody and I decided that it was high time for her to finally dive in and try some local, authentic Okinawan sushi. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating. So, instead of focusing on a known and reputable sushi establishment from which to dine, we let an alternate agenda cloud our better judgment.

You see, Family Mart – one of two primary local convenience store chains here on-island – has these really cute and yummy single serving sizes of rather odd flavors of ice cream, gelato, and sorbet generally not found back in the states. Since this particular dessert was the true goal of the evening, and thanks to Tropical Storm Toraji appearing from virtually nowhere but brining driving rain and gusting winds, we decided to try a Sunabe eatery located immediately behind our local Family Mart, allowing us to make mad and relatively dry dashes to both locations, thereby killing the proverbial two birds with one stone.

Third TS in Three Weeks!

Third TS in Three Weeks!

I would like to kill a couple of those angry birds....

I would like to kill a couple of those angry birds….

Tuna & Sake Amawari is the name of this place. Although I do believe it was here both other times I’ve lived on island, it never had the curbside appeal that would cause me to want to take the jog off the roads and into their parking lot. You see, it is right next to a pachinko parlor, with a hard to maneuver in parking lot. Things Vegas, but without all the glitz, public transportation, and all-you-can-eat steak buffets.

Crazy actually IS crazy in Okinawa, not this Vegas knock-off

Crazy actually IS crazy in Okinawa, not this Vegas knock-off

On quick glance as we arrived around 7-ish, there were few cars in the parking, none of them American. Although this was not a positive sign, I didn’t say anything to Jody as I was excited for her to finally be trying something I had talked up so much in anticipation of our fling into the Far East.

Ambiance is...not as it is portrayed

Ambiance is…not as it is portrayed

We entered, and there were maybe three tables taken; a couple at one, a group of men at another, and a single sitting at another…we’ll refer to him as “loser” since he plays into the story. We immediately directed away from the tables and tatami area, and instead were whisked all the way into the back corner, where a privacy curtain was drawn…which offered no privacy at all. It was a nice gesture though.

Looks nice, but for Gaijin?

Looks nice, but for Gaijin?

The Ever Popular "Obama Roll" Isn't Available.  Yet.

The Ever Popular “Obama Roll” Isn’t Available.  Yet.

The wait staff brought us a menu in English, and right off the get-go, the menu of this Amawari is very limited. One “set,” a popular term in Japanese restaurants that means a heck of a lot more than simply “meal combo” back home, stated quite plainly in English that there was no translation available by stating directly“…in Japanese only.” Fine. It looked nice though.

After deciphering the mojito (spelled using our alphabet) colors into flavors (all of which were in Japanese), I ordered a lime mojito. It came quickly, but was very light in color, with absolutely no mint, muddled or otherwise present in the glass. It was light and refreshing, but very weak on alcohol, and seemed to be watered down with a large portion of what tasted like ginger ale. I couldn’t help but notice that the loser got one as well, and I swear to you that his had mint! Maybe it was the light playing tricks. Or maybe his mojito actually wins. It wasn’t an expensive drink, clocking in at around 400 yen. You get what you pay for, yes? Sometimes no.

Here the Bar is Low.  In fact, there isn't a Sushi Bar at all....

Here the Bar is Low. In fact, there isn’t a Sushi Bar at all….

We waited an awful long time to order, and just as I realized we had a “call” button at the table (as many restaurants in Japan and Okinawa do), the staff must have figured out that the ignorant Gaijin would never figure it out, and a waitress came and cheerfully took our order. I ordered garlic fried rice, edamame, and yakitori. Jody ordered two plates of sushi – grilled fatty tuna sushi, and salmon sushi, each five pieces.

Large Menus, Limited Selection

Large Menus, Limited Selection

The garlic fried rice appeared first, served in a wooden bowl with a pleasant and effectively small ladle, with volume enough for the both of us to share, leaving leftovers. It was fresh, hot, and delicious, loaded with egg, bacon, and yes, plenty of garlic. The bacon was nearly as rendered as we would expect in the West, but it played off very well with the garlic and toasted sesame flavors inherent in the dish. This dish seemed to improve upon our Las Vegas odds of having a pleasing meal after the initial disappointment of the mojito.

The edamame came next, served steaming on an interesting bamboo platter, the combination looking quite appealing. However, it was somewhat of a letdown. Either it wasn’t fresh, or was overcooked, or quite possibly a little of both. It’s sad that the totally American-staffed and American-operated Sidelines sports bar, which replaced the quaint and quiet Fujiya joint a block and a half off the seawall, actually had some fresh, perfectly cooked and well-seasoned edamame. That review is for another time, but mostly because we were just using them for their Wi-Fi until ours was installed at the condo.

More Menu Options

More Menu Options

Finally the time arrived for the main event. The yakitori was served as chunks of dark-meat chicken resting in sauce, rather than chicken that was grilled with the sauce. Almost every other instance I can recall involving this concoction, it was presented on a skewer, enhancing and validating the grilled aspect that makes this dish so succulent. Amawari’s version lacked the deep smoky charring and caramelized sugars of the roasted sauce, but was acceptable nonetheless.

The sushi, however, was quite a disappointment. The grilled fatty tuna, listed exactly this way on the menu, was brought to our table with little fanfare, in terms of preparation or presentation. On a rather plane long rectangular tray were arranged hearty pieces of tuna over rice without further accoutrement, less the token dollop of wasabi. Although the “grilling” was done tableside, it consisted of nothing more than a blow-torch flame run back and forth across the tuna until the meat turned a rather unappetizing beige, the same color of every single building and structure on all the Marine bases on Okinawa. Jody said it tasted good, though.

Slender Selections

Slender Selections

The salmon was presented in the same fashion, complete with its own unappetizing qualities. It seems the Japanese leave part of what I’ll call here a “blood vein” on the fish. Although we understand this element of the fish to be edible, its sinew-like appearance does nothing to help the diner eat with her eyes first. And we would not think to serve such a cut in the United States. Loser-man of winning cocktail-fame appeared to order this same dish, although I was too far away to attempt to begin to spy at how his fish was prepared.

But perhaps the worst part of Jody’s sushi experience was tactile. Jody, a seasoned sushi-eater and chop sticks-user, was unable to keep any of the sushi together. Between the size of the pieces and their tendency to explode into their constituent parts, Jody was again let down. I did notice that Mr. Winning Sushi & Cocktail but single-diner-loser had no trouble whatsoever in eating his. My on the fly advice to Jody based on a quick time-series study of his movements and technique were, alas, to no avail. At least Jody is rather adept at keeping stains off her shirt, a skill I cannot claim proficiency with.

Private SNAFU probably didn't eat here....

Private SNAFU probably didn’t eat here….

All in all, this was a sad dining experience on Okinawa. Although I have come to not expect much physically from an eatery’s surroundings, I do expect a certain level of pleasant if not groovy ambiance, and certainly outstanding food is easy enough to find. Not in this case however; Amawari lacked both.

This is Your Brain on Sushi

This is Your Brain on Sushi