Tonkatsu in Tokyo – Maisen & Katsukura | The Indulgent Travel Guide to Japan, Part 3
February 2, 2016 by Jen Balisi
Welcome to Part 3 of The Indulgent Travel Guide to Japan, which highlights my 2 week trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, & Osaka in October 2015. In this part, I’m focusing on tonkatsu, which is Japanese panko-breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. It’s typically served with shredded cabbage and a thick, tangy tonkatsu sauce that’s similar to Worcestershire sauce. There are 2 popular chains serving the dish across Japan: Maisen and Katsukura. Here I’ll give my rundown of both, as well as recommended sights near each of the restaurants.
Want more Japan tips? Check out Part 1: Ramen and Part 2: Udon & Soba.
Tonkatsu Maisen is a chain of tonkatsu restaurants, serving up the dreamiest, juicy, crispy and flaky deep fried pork cutlets that’s ruined all future tonkatsu for me. While they offer standard pork as well as other options like shrimp in the deep fried form, what you have to get is their Kurobuta pork, better known as Berkshire pork in the Western world. It’s basically the Kobe beef of pork, with a superior quality and intensely flavorful meat due to the marbling throughout the meat. When you take a cut of meat that’s already so good and then deep fry it in panko bread crumbs to perfection, it doesn’t get much better. It comes with a sweet and tangy Tonkatsu sauce as well as unlimited rice and cabbage (pro-tip: pour the sauce on the cabbage to keep your meat crispy) and some sides.
I highly recommend going to their Aoyama location near Harujuku, which has a spacious upstairs traditional tatami dining room where you sit on the floor with your shoes off. You’ll also be walking distance to the Harajuku neighborhood, famous for the Harajuku girls of years past, lots of great shopping, and Takashita Dori.
Udon and Soba at Omen and Honke Owariya | The Indulgent Travel Guide to Japan, Part 2
January 13, 2016 by Jen Balisi
This is part 2 in my Indulgent Travel Guide to Japan, which highlights my 2 week trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, & Osaka in October 2015. In part 1, I gave a recap of all the different kinds of ramen we ate during our travels. This time around, I’ll be focusing on Japan’s other noodles: udon and soba.
One of the top things to do in Kyoto is the Philosopher’s Walk, a 1.7 mile tree-lined path along a river that is dotted with temples and shrines along the way, including the Silver Pavilion as the main attraction at the end. If you manage to work up an appetite from the walk, then you should make sure to satisfy it with delicious udon at Omen. Located a couple of blocks from the Silver Pavilion, Omen serves delicious bowls of warm, comforting udon in a 2 floored restaurant, with the option to sit on the floor in their first floor traditional tatami dining room or go upstairs for standard western seating. The udon noodles are handmade and come separate from the broth, with a variety of toppings on the side to mix into the broth to your liking. Just mix, dip, slurp, and enjoy. The tuna avocado appetizer and tempura are also recommended.
UDON/SOBA IN SHIMBASHI JR STATION
I need to be frank – I have no idea what the name of this restaurant is in English and can’t find it’s exact location on any map, but I do have a photo of the entrance. If you happen to find yourself traveling through the Shimbashi JR train station for whatever reason (perhaps to get to Odaiba, more on that soon), you should definitely make a stop at the udon/soba restaurant situated to the south of the main JR entrance where you show your rail pass if you need a quick bite. Our hotel was a couple of blocks away, so this was our main train station we used, and the vending machine-run udon/soba restaurant offered soul-satisfying, solid, and dirt cheap udon and soba (we only had the udon, but you could select which type of noodles you wanted in your soup). The katsudon set, which offered a bowl of udon and small bowl of pork katsu cooked with egg over rice was only around $5.50 and was one of the better meals of the trip, comparable to Udon West in NYC. The best touch? A box of tissues next to the tray return for all those post-soup sniffly noses.
Shimbashi station connects to the the popular Odaiba area of Tokyo. We didn’t make it there ourselves, but we were bummed to have missed out on the giant Gundam Statue located in Diver City in Odaiba. You can take the Yurikamome train from Shimbashi station across the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, which offers views of Tokyo harbor.
We only got soba once during our entire trip, mostly because it’s just so difficult to resist all the amazing ramen. If you’re going to get soba, then do it right and get it from Honke Owariya – Kyoto’s oldest restaurant where they’ve been making incredible soba dished for over 500 years. Everything was delicious – I recommend any of the soba dishes that have yuzu in them, as the bowl we ordered had such a delicious, vibrant broth thanks to the added citrus flavor of yuzu. But the must-order here is the Hourai Soba, pictured above, which gets you a stack of cold soba noodles, a small container broth, and 8 different toppings from shrimp tempura to wasabi to seaweed, so you can mix and match to create different flavor combinations with each set of noodles. They also had a really great tempura appetizer that came with deep-fried soba noodles – genius.
Next up in this Japan series is a rundown of the 2 most popular chains for tonkatsu aka Japanese panko breaded & fried pork cutlets. Stay tuned!
Where to Eat Ramen in Tokyo, Kyoto, & Osaka | The Indulgent Travel Guide to Japan, Part 1
December 28, 2015 by Jen Balisi
Let me just be outright in saying that I absolutely loved Japan. I take a big trip every October to celebrate my birthday (and more recently, my anniversary with the BF), which makes for a great excuse to really splurge and experience as much as possible in a given location. This year, we spent 2 weeks in Japan exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, with day trips to smaller cities along the way. And while we saw a ton of beautiful places and experienced many uniquely Japanese things (I’m looking at you, Robot Restaurant), our trip was unsurprisingly guided by the goal of eating as much amazing ramen, sushi, katsu, curry, takoyaki, matcha-flavored sweets, and other Japanese food as possible. So I’ve constructed this guide around my favorite places to eat and drink while I was there, from Michelin-starred restaurants to hole-in-the-wall spots to street food to 6 person bars, along with recommendations on non-food related activities and sights nearby.
We went to a ton of places, so I’m constructing this guide into separate parts because I could probably write an entire post just on my birthday meal with Jiro’s son. I wanted to kick things off with the kind of food we ate the most during our trip: RAMEN. I did a final count, and Mike and I ate a combined total of 16 bowls of ramen during our 2 week trip in Japan – basically more than bowl a day. But can you blame us? In a country filled with so much amazing ramen and so many different styles, we couldn’t resist trying as many as possible. (UPDATE: Since originally posting this, I went back to Japan with friends in September 2016 and have noted which shops we loved even on the second visit!)
For the majority of these recommendations, I’ve included my photos via Instagram. The great thing about this is you can click on the timestamp to be taken to the photo on Instagram, from which point you can click through to see both the geotagged location and other photos from that place very easily 🙂 Where possible, I tried to include a Tripadvisor link, but I found in traveling around Japan that it wasn’t too difficult to just search by name in Google Maps or Foursquare, and then ask strangers to guide you once you’re in the general area (thanks Google Translate!)
TOKYO ABURA SOBA
Cheesy Pesto Chicken Crescent Wreath with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
December 21, 2015 by Jen Balisi
Maybe it’s because I grew up making those Pilsbury break-and-bake holiday cookies, or maybe it’s just because I love carbs – whatever the reason, I always find myself reaching for Pilsbury’s buttery doughs when the holidays roll around. In recent years, I’ve upgraded from cookies to Crescent wreaths, which encase your desired fillings in flaky pastry and look totally impressive, despite actually being quite easy. I’ve made a crescent roll wreath to repurpose my Thanksgiving leftovers for the past 3 years, but decided that this year, it only made sense to make one for the holiday that actually uses wreaths. So to get ready for Christmas, I came up with the idea for this Cheesy Pesto Chicken Crescent Roll Wreath that uses a homemade pesto sauce to provide a green color as well as flavor. It also throws in dots of red from roasted cherry tomatoes that pair with Parmesan, mozzarella cheese, and grilled chicken for a delicious filling.
Freebie Alert: Macaron Day NYC 2015 this Friday, March 20
March 17, 2015 by Jen Balisi
It’s no secret that I love Macaron Day, but who in their right mind WOULDN’T love a day that features great bakeries across NYC offering 100% FREE macarons? That glorious day of the year is back on Friday, March 20, 2015, so mark your calendars and find a way to get yourself to one of the participating bakeries from 10AM-5PM for 1 free macaron while supplies last. The event is organized by François Payard Bakery – I’m lucky to have a location near my office, as well as a Macaron Cafe meaning double free macaron goodness.
As described by the event’s website, a macaron is “a classic French cookie. The soft, crunchy, delicate shell is made from almond flour, sugar and egg whites, sandwiching a smooth layer of creamy ganache. ” I personally love the lightness of a macaron, and as someone who isn’t the biggest sweet tooth, macarons provide the perfect little amount of sweetness that make for a great cap on a meal or as a small afternoon treat.
Best of all, participating locations are donating a portion of proceeds made on macarons purchased on Macaron Day 2015 to City Harvest. One of the charities I regularly donate to, City Harvest takes leftover food from restaurants and uses it to feed NYC’s homeless.
Check out Macaron Day 2015′s participating locations here for your free macaron and support a great cause as well.
Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo
March 3, 2015 by Jen Balisi
Chicken adobo is my all-time favorite comfort food. I have fond childhood memories of being in my room and perking up when the savory, pungent yet delicious smell of my mom making chicken adobo made its way from the kitchen to my nose. This happened on a weekly basis in my Filipino home, that it became instinct to immediately run downstairs to the kitchen in hopes that my mom was done simmering the chicken in the unique blend of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar that makes chicken adobo so delicious. The best part came after the meal was over though, after I’d already stuffed myself with chicken adobo over fluffy white rice, because I knew that the leftovers the next day would taste EVEN BETTER after the flavors had more time to meld in the fridge. Now that I’m officially an adult though, I no longer rely on trips back to my parents’ house to satisfy my regular cravings for Filipino chicken adobo. Instead I’ve done the ultimate “adult” thing and have taken advantage of my Crockpot to make this Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo which I now want to share with you.
I’ve found that investing in a slow cooker is one of the biggest steps in becoming a full fledged grown up. It involves preparation and planning ahead, and it means that you are now leading a life which requires 1) meals to be scheduled and 2) every task to be as easy and time-efficient as possible. While breaking out the Crockpot makes cooking easier in general, I like to think that this Chicken Adobo is one of the absolute easiest slow cooker recipes, which is why it fits so perfectly in my adult life. Unlike other slow cooker recipes which require you to brown or even marinate meat or cut up vegetables before it goes into the slow cooker, this chicken adobo is as easy as dumping everything in and setting the timer until you have your end product of fall-off-the-bone chicken adobo. Yes, you technically need to crush some garlic, but if you really want to go for convenience, crushed garlic is totally available for purchase. And remember what I said about chicken adobo tasting better as it sits? That means you can make a ton of it in your slow cooker and pack it away for meals to come (it freezes great!).
Where to Eat for NYC Restaurant Week – Updated for Winter 2016
February 22, 2015 by Jen Balisi
I’ve written about NYC Restaurant Week plenty of times in the past, but it’s now been almost 5 years (!) since I wrote my first guide to the almost month-long annual event. While much of it still holds true (go for the $$$$’s!), I figured it was worth an update since 1) the pre-fixe dinner is now $38 instead of $35, 2) many of the restaurants are sadly no longer, but 3) there’s a bunch of new, great restaurants available! I’ve rounded up my top picks based on their Restaurant Week offerings, so make your reservations before tables get snatched up. Even if you don’t plan to dine on any pre-fixe menus, if you have an Amex card, you should be sure to register your card as you can still qualify for a $5 statement credit at each meal (up to 4 times!) even if you order a la carte.
This list is by no means all inclusive, so there are certainly other worthwhile restaurants that are part of NYC Restaurant Week. Whatever you do, just don’t do Dos Caminos. You’re better than that 🙂
ABC Kitchen & ABC Cocina
Because Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Union Square mainstay and neighboring Latin American outpost are both new to the NYC Restaurant Week list for 2016 and offering solid options including a ricotta and egg raviolo, a gorgeous beet salad, and “gooey spicy ham and cheese fritters.” Yes, please.
ABC Kitchen: View Menu | Make a Reservation
ABC Cocina: View Menu | Make a Reservation
Because Michael White makes the best pasta in the city period, and Ai Fiori is always a solid option for Restaurant Week.
View Menu | Make a Reservation
Because Andrew Carmellini also makes some of the best pasta in the city, and his Bowery pasta spot is serving up a number of options that are sure to satisfy in these frigid temps.
View Menu | Make a Reservation
Mexican Street Corn Lime Chicken Tacos
January 29, 2015 by Jen Balisi
Mexican street corn is one of my favorite things to eat. Take grilled corn, slather mayo and/or Mexican crema, cotija cheese, and chili powder, and squirt some lime to produce one of the most addictive food items created, so much so that I lovingly call it crack corn. It’s referred to as elotes when the corn is still on the cob, and as esquites when its off the cob, like the esquites with avocado I posted a recipe for a while back. For lunch though, I decided to up the protein and turn one of my favorite sides into a complete meal by making these Mexican Street Corn Lime Chicken Tacos. By doing a quick marinade of the chicken in lime juice and chili powder, and serving this chicken grilled along with grilled corn, some guacamole for an avocado-superfood injection, and cotija or feta cheese, you have a taco that mimics the flavors of your favorite elotes in a handheld tortilla.
Superbowl Sausage Kale and Ricotta Football Pizza
January 28, 2015 by Jen Balisi
Spicy Italian sausage, kale, and ricotta are 3 of my favorite ingredients to combine. I’ve prepared them in various iterations, from pasta to breakfast pizza, but when the football season started I had a lightbulb moment: football field pizza! With a little extra effort, your standard rectangular pizza gets transformed into this Sausage Kale and Ricotta football pizza with a crispy kale field, ricotta yard lines, and a spicy Italian sausage football at the center, though you could substitute for the sweet variety if that’s your jam. It’s a recipe for a successful Superbowl Sunday and let’s face it – it’s just pretty to look at (aka made for Instagram).