Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Food Crawl in Omotesando

Over the past few months a number of new restaurants have opened up near the shopping district of Omotesando, which justified my spending one afternoon just to do some serious food crawling in the area.

I began at the booth of Luke's Lobster, the offshoot of this popular restaurant originated in New York which opened their first Tokyo branch in April this year. More like a food-truck-style takeaway booth with benches outside than a proper sit-down restaurant, the shop is located right next to the local lifestyle fashion store Journal Standard, on the street level. Eating alfresco under the heat was quite tricky but the food was delicious and definitely worth the sweat.

I arrived slightly earlier than the usual lunch crowd so there's no line at all with plenty of seats available. Two sizes of the famous lobster roll were available - US or regular, but in case you were thinking the US size must be gigantic like a foot-long sub, you would be disappointed as it's no bigger than the width of my palm. Still, inside the butter roll was packed with sumptuous, overflowing Maine lobster meat, with the source of their lobsters indicated on the blackboard next to the cashier. It's not heavily seasoned, like those laden with mayo, nor stuffed with fillers like onions or celery, just pure, refreshing taste from the lobster meat plus light seasonings with salt and butter and maybe a splash of lemon. The lobster meat was left in chunk so you have a good mouthful of it in every bite and the texture and taste were great. In case you were not into lobster, they also have shrimp or crab or a combination of them.

Where? Luke's Lobster, Jingumae 6-7-1, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
LUKE'S 表参道店 東京都渋谷区神宮前6-7-1

I was just barely half full by the time I was done with my lobster roll, so I made a quick stroll over to the new Dominique Ansel Bakery, which took over the Tokyo crowd by storm at their opening last month, as the first overseas branch for this ultra-popular New York-based pastry shop. I was embracing myself to a long line outside the bakery but to my surprise, only a handful of people were waiting to get in and order. The bakery/cafe looked clean and bright, with display case on one side then a small pantry further back. The first floor served simple pastry items while the second floor has a more complete menu with savory dishes as well.

There were way too many items that looked and sounded amazing - if you are serious enough about pastry multiple visits were necessary to "sweep" the whole menu and try every single item. But this time I decided to give it a quick taste and move on. By the time I was there, it's too late their famous Cronut, which probably sold out before noon, but their namesake and equally popular Kouign Amann, or DKA in short, was still available. Yes I do love its caramelized, flakey crust with the buttery, soft pastry inside. I also liked my cold matcha latte - but in this heat I guess I just love everything that's cold. I did regret not having the room to try a couple made-to-order items, including the Cookie Shot and Frozen S'more, or a few cakes which were only available in their Japan branch. But there's always the next time - I am sure the bakery is here to stay and I just hope next time the waiting line will be as short as this time.

Where? Dominique Ansel Bakery Japan, Jingumae 5-7-14, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Dominique Ansel Bakery Japan 東京都渋谷区神宮前6-7-1

After something savory and something sweet, I walked further up into the trendy Aoyama neighborhood for some serious coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee, yet another shop originated from the States. The coffee shop originated in the west coast in early 2000's and started off as a pure coffee roaster operating off farmer's market. But now it has developed into a series of full-service cafes with a cultish following known for its focus on single-origin beans roasted fresh every day and insisted that they brew every single cup to order using a slow pour-over process by professionally-trained baristas, with shops now in the Bay Area, LA, New York, and since late last year, Tokyo with its 2 branches.

Their Aoyama cafe was located on a quiet street up the stairs on the second floor above the Zucca boutique. The decor was minimal but warm, with almost half the space dedicated to the preparation area, where the drinks and a few simple pastry items were prepared. It's bright and spacious and comfortable, even with a small, outdoor patio with shade of trees for people to hang out or for some quiet time. And there's a small shop to sell the beans and other souvenirs and coffee equipment.

Menu was simple but each cup was prepared through a rigorous and long process, with all the beans roasted within the last 48 hours before being brewed. At its opening in March, it's said that people waited for a few hours for a cup of coffee. I am not a serious coffee connoisseur but I thought the glass of iced coffee - cold-brewed for 12 hours - has a clean and rich flavors, and great on its own with maybe just a tight dash of syrup. This is a perfect place to get away from the heat and for a break from the shopping actions at the designer boutiques around.

Where? Blue Bottle Coffee Aoyama Cafe, 3-13-14 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
東京都港区南青山 3-13-14

My afternoon food crawl ended at my usual hangout at the Omotesando Hills, the shopping mall right next to the Metro Station. The branch of Hasegawa Saketen on the 3rd Floor is the go-to place for replenishing my sake stock, and next to the shop, they also have a small bar area serving drinks and snacks for a sake-matching experience.

The space was compact but luckily it wasn't crowded on the weekday, and I just went for a flight of special summer brew served with some simple snacks. And this time, I particularly enjoyed the summer edition of Yamatoshizuku Natsu Junmai by Akita Seishu from Akita Prefecture. It's fresh, filled with floral aroma with refreshing acidity. It's bottled without the first heat sanitization so it continued with mild fermentation in the bottle giving the wine a mild bubbly hint. It's delicious and certainly went down really well, perhaps a little too easy. And the simple snack of string beans, marinated saba and fermented squid was tasty and with good, strong flavor to contrast with those of the clean sake. Of course I always brought home a few bottles from the shop - this time, it was a few limited edition bottles specifically made for the Expo Milano. I was trying to get them at the Japan Pavilion at the Expo earlier but they were all sold out, so glad I was able to get them in Tokyo this time.

After a few hours at 4 different shops and basically non-stop eating and drinking, it's just about time for dinner. Well, that was another big feast and perhaps another story.

Where? Hasegawa Saketen Omotesando Hills, 3rd Floor Omotesando Hills, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
はせがわ酒店表参道ヒルズ店 東京都渋谷区神宮前4-12-10 表参道ヒルズ本館3F

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