Smitten with Tokyo’s Unparalleled Hospitality
One of the greatest questions has to be, “Do you have an active passport?” I was recently asked that – to which I promptly replied, “YES!” And so my trip to Tokyo began …
While I had been to the city twice before (in ’86 and ’98), by no means was I an expert at it. Speaking only a few words of Japanese, yet armed with my very cool Google Translate App, the city still seemed a bit daunting – especially when even cab drivers with maps seemed to get lost on a regular basis. Still, the warmth of Tokyo’s people by far makde up for any discomfort caused by language barriers. And, as typical for me, that warmth showed up in spades during my dining experiences there.
Later that night, for dinner, I was taken to Jojo-en to enjoy a Yakiniku dinner, Japanese barbecue which is often believed to be derived from Korean cuisine. This, my first Yakiniku experience, is well described by Wikipedia:
In a yakiniku restaurant, diners order several types of prepared raw ingredients (either individually or as a set) which are brought to the table. The ingredients are cooked by the diners on a grill built into the table throughout the duration of the meal, several pieces at a time. The ingredients are then dipped in sauces known as tare before being eaten. The most common sauce is made of Japanese soy sauce mixed with sake, mirin, sugar, garlic, fruit juice and sesame. Garlic-and-shallot or miso-based dips are sometimes used. Different kinds of Korean side dishes like kimchi, nameul, bibimbap are also served alongside.
Ever since having discovered Roy Choi and his Kogi BBQ here in LA, I’ve been a huge kimchi and Korean cuisine fan. Combined with the fun we had barbecuing our lush variety of meats, including Kobe beef, I had an ah-mazing time …
Among the first dishes was a radish kimchi (Kkak Doo Gee) … something I’d eagerly get here in LA whenever possible.
Beef Tongue (Gyutan) … um, I’d say it’s an “acquired taste” that I haven’t yet acquired. But a delicacy for sure nonetheless.
Korean Vegetable Pancakes (Chijimi) … while it has Korean heritage, I’m told it’s definitely a Japanese staple.
And wrapping up with green tea ice cream in a heart design. The presentation alone made it a DeathbedFood dessert in my book.
Then, on the next (and my last) night there, exhausted from a whirlwind 5-day LA-Tokyo trip, jet lag, and trying to learn the Tokyo subway, I just wanted something close to the hotel and easy to figure out … so the restaurant with the “No Fish No Life” sign seemed just right …
That place turned out to be Kaikaya, among the most warm and inviting dining experiences I’ve ever had while dining alone. Later, when I checked out their website, I see part of the appeal … after all, who wouldn’t like a place that touts itself as:
In some country, there is a port town. In this town, there is a restaurant. Owned by a mysterious Japanese man who cooks marvelous seafood dishes.
Their menu had a ton of lovely options including those that I ordered: TAKO-NEGI JUU (octopus and scallions), TJAGA-IMO no SHIOKARA BATAA (potatoes with squid sauce), and EBI no EBINIYORU EBI-SOUSU (prawns with prawn sauce). Though I loved what I had, I still feel bad that I didn’t go for any sushi because I so obviously disappointed the dedicated chefs in front of me at the sushi bar (pictured below).
For quite awhile, no one behind the bar really spoke to me. I figured it was because they didn’t really speak English and maybe because I didn’t get any sushi. Then, the sushi chef (above, left) started cautiously asking me questions in English …
SUSHI CHEF: “Why are you here? Holiday? Business?”
ME: “Oh, I’m here for business”
HIM: “Oh. How long you here?”
ME: “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
HIM (seeming sad): “Oooh”
ME (feeling bad that he seems to feel bad): “Oh, but I’ll be back here.”
At which point, all three sushi chefs behind the bar all say – in English – at the same time, “REALLY?”
Wow, I’m pretty sure I’ve never had that kind of interest level about my returning to the same restaurant after only one visit!
So I regrouped, paid my bill, thanked everyone and left the restaurant. As I was walking down the street away from the restaurant, I heard a commotion behind so I turned around … only to find at least four service staff there (including my English speaking sushi chef above), in the middle of the street, smiling and waving Goodbye.
Unreal. I can easily say that I’ve never experienced THAT level of hospitality before. So, I guess it’s safe to say I’m smitten with the Japanese culture and with Japanese cuisine at the moment. While some of it is still quite foreign, and I’m sure I haven’t developed a true appreciation yet, the level of service and hospitality is second to none. This marks the beginning of a huge new Japanese cuisine chapter for sure … stay tuned.