Thursday, February 26, 2015

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo

A few weeks ago Raku and I went to afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton. We'd been putting this location off because Raku went about a year ago on a weekend, and didn't remember it favorably. But it turns out our experience was very nice. I recently went to an afternoon tea on a weekend with John, and I will say that our experience wasn't nearly as good as I'd expected. Maybe afternoon tea is just better on a weekday?

We had a window seat, and it was extremely comfortable. The two of us had a corner with a sofa and two armchairs. Five people could have squeezed into the same place, but it felt extra luxurious to have so much room for just two people. The view is also fantastic. Many of hotels serve afternoon tea on a high floor, but that doesn't always guarantee a good view. Even though it was a grey day we could see Sky Tree, both of our own apartment buildings, and even mountains in the distance. This is the only location that has a live piano player, which perhaps isn't necessary, but was a nice touch.

One drawback of at the Ritz Carlton is that you can drink as much tea as you like, but of only one selection per person. They keep the pots on little warmers, but we didn't have any trouble with our tea over brewing. For some reason they kept our teapots on sideboards and poured each cup for us, though I saw some teapots resting on tables. I didn't like that as well - particularly because they served me Raku's tea by accident more than once.

The menu had a particularly Japanese twist to it, with a matcha mousse and a purple sweet potato tart as well as foie gras rolled in black sesame and snow crab served with a jerky made from fish eggs. The crab was probably our least favorite even though it was very interesting to look at. The flavors just didn't come together well. I don't always like green tea flavored desserts, but the matcha mousse was surprisingly delicious.

Possibly my favorite part was that when the scones came out they also brought by a jam cart with a huge selection of Wilkin & Sons jam. We were each allowed to select a flavor, and obviously shared. The damson plum was phenomenal (seriously, I have been searching for it in stores ever since!) with a wonderfully rich but tart flavor. The grapefruit was a big disappointment though, very bitter and pith-y tasting.

I don't know than anything will ever displace The Mandarin Oriental as the best tea in Tokyo, but at the end of the afternoon I felt relaxed, happy and completely satisfied with the experience, with particularly high marks for a spacious relaxing space.

Tokyo Ritz Carlton Afternoon Tea
Hours: 12:00-5:00
Phone: 03-6434-8711
Address: 9-7-1 Tokyo Midtown, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Read About Other Afternoon Teas:
Peninsula Hotel Tokyo
The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo (second time)
Park Hyatt Shinjuku
Four Seasons Marunouchi
Hotel Chinzanso
The Mandarin Oriental

Monday, February 23, 2015

Pre-spring Thoughts

It's unseasonably warm today, and I'm absolutely loving it. The last week has felt so busy with networking events, dinners out, and late nights of drinking. By Sunday the only thing I wanted to do was sit on the couch all day reading, drink lots of hot tea, and then continue reading while I soaked in the bathtub.

I'm feeling much more refreshed today, and excited for spring to hurry up and arrive. Cherry blossoms are only about a month away, and this year my sister will be here visiting at the same time, so it will be extra wonderful. We're planning a trip to Kyoto and some more things that she didn't have time for during her first visit.

Sakura drinks are back - this year it's a "Caramelly Sakura Latter" waaaaay too sweet

A teddy bear bouquet

Pina Coladas with Raku
Glitter nails!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pal System Food Co-op

A few months ago I joined a food co-op called Pal System. I didn't even realize this was something that existed, but now every week I can order food and have it delivered directly to my door on Tuesday mornings. I've been waiting to post a review so that I could share a fully formed opinion, but I have to say I'm really pleased with how it's been working out.

Every week I get a paper catalogue showing me what's for sale. Then I fill in a scantron form to place my order and turn it in when my next delivery arrives. The catalogue and order form are all in Japanese, but with photographs of each product it's easy to match the order numbers up from the catalogue to the order form. It's also easy to tell the price and the quantities are clearly listed by weight or number (ex: 2 apples, 250 g strawberries).

I pretty much only order fruits and vegetables, but I've found the quality to be very high overall. I also find the prices to be lower and the quantities higher than my local grocery store. While the foods don't meet all the requirements to be organic they label Eco fruits and vegetables that use less chemicals and are better for the environment. Each product lists what prefecture(s) it is grown in.

I really enjoy having less to carry home from the grocery store, and the 180 yen/week delivery fees seems totally reasonable. In fact, I think I make that up in savings most weeks. But be aware they will charge that fee every week though, even if you don't order anything.

There are only a few things I'm not crazy about. The first is the huge amounts of paper wasted each week on the catalogue. It's possible to order online in Japanese, but I find that google translate doesn't work very well, and it's still easier for me to use the paper form. I also find that the food selection is very much geared toward traditional Japanese cooking (which makes perfect sense.) Some things, for example zucchini, bell peppers, and celery aren't offered - at least not on a regular basis, even though I can get those in most grocery stores without any problem. My only other frustration is that sometimes a product lists several prefectures that it could have been grown in, and I would prefer to know the exact prefecture. It might be an over abundance of caution, but I still feel wary of radioactive farmland.

It cost 1000 yen to buy into the co-op, but any time I choose to leave the co-op that money will be refunded with interest. As a promotion I was also given four weeks without a delivery charge and several gifts like free carrots, onions, and bread.

If you're thinking about joining, I'd definitely recommend it.

My first delivery

The pears came protected in bubble wrap!
The Catalogue
Making Selections

Monday, February 16, 2015

Red Mango Frozen Yogurt in Shimokitazawa

John and I found another frozen yogurt option in Tokyo! There is now a Red Mango in Shimokitazawa. It's not in the very center of Tokyo, but it's in a great neighborhood with lots of fun shops, restaurants, and coffee shops. Definitely a neighborhood worth exploring.

The quality of the frozen yogurt at Red Mango was great, but they don't have many flavors. Their website claims they have plain, chocolate, and a rotating flavor of the day, but when we went they had plain, strawberry, and pear. John was pretty disappointed that there wasn't any chocolate, but settled for strawberry. I tried the pear, and was surprised by how good it was. The flavor didn't taste artificial at all. The toppings tend towards fruit and nuts rather than candy, but John and I both got chocolate biscuits (crunchy chocolate cookie bits.) John was again disappointed that they didn't have chocolate chips, but I liked the biscuits better.

In the vein of treating the yogurt like it was healthy we were offered a free health boost topping. Collagen and placenta are the only two I remember - we passed on that. On the second floor there is ample seating and a good view for people watching.

Red Mango
Hours: 11:00-10:00, last order 9:30
Phone: 03-5431-5633
Address: 2-19-17 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

Read about other frozen yogurt in Tokyo:
Partyland Frozen Yogurt

Friday, February 13, 2015

Soup Curry from Japanese Soul Cooking

I've finally gotten back to working my way through Japanese Soul Cooking, and last week I made the Sapporo Soup Curry. As a disclaimer, I have to admit I've never had Soup Curry before, but I love most curries, and the picture looked so delicious on a cold wintery night I had to try it.

John was less than excited when he got home because he'd had curry for lunch. Oops.

I was impressed with how simple the recipe was and how quickly it came together. I didn't need to buy any unfamiliar ingredients, and it was easy to chop up all the vegetables while watching TV. (We just got Hulu Plus, and I have been bingeing Nashville) 

The recipe calls for chicken legs, and I'll admit that I was tempted to use chicken breasts. But it seems like cheating to change a recipe and then review it. And the point here is to learn about Japanese cooking, not to adapt Japanese recipes to be more American. I will say that dark meat chicken is a lot harder to work with, it's just so slippery and wiggly even with a super sharp knife. But wow is the texture fantastic!

Overall, the soup was good but not great. I don't think I did a very good job of slicing the zucchini and eggplant into the shape I was supposed to, so there were rather large chunks that didn't have much flavor. And while the broth tasted like curry, the thinner texture of it being soup just made me miss the thicker texture of a normal curry. I wouldn't mind eating it again, but it's not something I would crave.

Read about other JSC Recipes:
Oyakodon/Gyudon/Shiso Pasta
Mabo Dofu
Sesame Karaage
Tan Tan Men
Pork Gyoza
Ebi Chili
Japanese Soul Cooking Review

I love chopping vegetables

It does't look too appetizing in the beginning 
Sapporo Soup Curry

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Early Spring in Tokyo

Yesterday was the first official day of spring in Japan. It seems so strange to me that spring could start so early, only compounded by the fact that it's been sleeting and snowing all day long. But the longer I think about it, the more I think I understand. While the weather might still be what I associate with winter, the first week of February is when the ume (Japanese plum) flowers start blooming. 

They're not as famous as the cherry blossoms, but I love that even in the month when we're most likely to have snow in Tokyo, trees all over the city are bursting out with pink, white, and purple flowers. In fact, I can't think of a better reason to designate it spring. So while all of you over there in the west face the rest of winter I'll be trying to ignore how cold I am and enjoying the early spring flowers instead.

Adorably matching father and daughter

Glitter nails!

Crazy colored bath salts - a great way to stay warm

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tokyo Run For The Cure

Guess what? I'm terribly late in writing about this, but Raku and I ran a 5K! In the rain!

Back at the end of summer we signed up for the Tokyo Run for the Cure, and then at the end of November we ran it. It was the first race either of us had ever done, so we weren't really sure what to expect. The weather report looked iffy all week, but we decided to tough it out, even if it was raining.

On the morning of the race we arrived at Hibiya Koen in a light rain, checked in, and got our race shirts. They also gave everyone colored stickers to denote 10K runners, 5K runners, and 5K walkers. Unfortunately as the rain started to pick up most people's stickers started to fall off, and the organization seemed to crumble a little bit too.

Before the races started they had a group of Hooters girls do some cheerleading routines to pump us up, which frankly, I found really strange. Then we were led in a series of stretches and warmups. As cranky as I felt in the cold rain it was hilarious to watch so many people doing stretches while holding umbrellas.

From the park we were herded over to the Imperial Palace loop in groups, which is when the organization seemed to be most lacking. Once we had all discarded our umbrellas and coats in the park we ended up having to stand at the starting line in the pouring rain for about twenty minutes. 

Finally we were off running, and after a few minutes we started to warm up and stopped noticing the rain as much. By the end of the race the rain had stopped, and we were quite proud of ourselves for being so hardcore.

People warned us beforehand that racing could be addictive and that before we knew it we'd be training for a half marathon. Well, maybe it was the disorganization or the discomfort of the rain, but I don't think I have the heart of a runner. I'm glad I had the experience, but I honestly didn't feel any more excited or proud of myself than when Raku and I run the palace loop by ourselves.

That said, the money benefits a great cause, and it's a healthy active way to spend a Saturday morning. If you have the chance, think about signing up - just cross your fingers that it doesn't rain.

A cheerleading routine

Stretching in the rain

Soaking, but victorious