Manifestations and Menu du Jour

Menu Blackboards, about A4 size (8.5×11.5 inches), for setting on a table, or 2×3 feet for leaning up on the floor next to a chair, or as an a-frame next to the entry of the restaurant are the ubiquitous icons of French dining, as is the Menu du Jour which is chalk-written on them each morning. With a reputation for the best food France is obsessed with normalcy.

Photos courtesy of Tricia and Travels Through My Lens

A Menu du Jour has three courses: entree, main, and dessert. There may be a choice in each course of two or three items, but the menu is pretty well fixed. Many restaurants will have other menu offerings, but if you observe the locals they tend to order the Menu du Jour, or the Plat du Jour which is simply one of the mains. Why? Because the French are obsessed with normalcy, deviation can result in manifestations – or protest. The stability must not be threatened.

French food is most always done well regardless of the price. We have had quite good meals at obscure, mundane establishments. However there is always predictability. Fridays will have fish, though the country is officially secular according to the constitution, the centuries of Catholicism still are considered normal, even for the majority who never enter a church. The menu will have mostly meat mains, except for Friday, as the French are carnivores, some think fish counts as a vegetarian meal. For dessert you can almost bet there will be chocolate mousse, even if other more creative offerings share the blackboard.

There is good, even great, food to be found and it is worth the search. One such place was Chez Dumonet, an old resturant in Paris where we ate in December – yet even they had a prix fix menu – because the three courses are expected – normalcy.

Lunch is sacred, it is a long and slow affair, even in rural areas with a clientele of farm or construction workers; no sandwich in the cab of a pick-up truck here. Normalcy. There is even a law, though relaxed during COVID, forbidding eating lunch at your desk. Lunch is sacred, normalcy, don’t rock the boat.

Yet even a cursory glance at the history of France makes it clear that it has never been a stable country. For much of its history France was really just Paris, the rest of the country was run by dukes and such who ignored the king and spent their time fighting with each other while taxing their subjects. The famous French Revolution was not some break from tyranny resulting in a government by the people; just a short time later Napoleon was a dictatorial emperor. It was not until the 1900’s that the France we see today began to emerge, and even that was disrupted with occupation by neighboring Germany.

Today the French cling to stability, protecting established practices and institutions. When these are threatened by new laws or programs manifestations are soon to follow. Street closures are even posted on days when a protest is expected, and the Parisian response is “C’est France.”

Tricia took this photo of a protest when we were in Paris in January – Healthcare workers.

As I write, protests are happening in major cities, for the second week in a row, with another “General Strike” planned for Saturday, because the government wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The railways and Metro are shut down, a million people marched along the Champs-Élysées, some turned violent resulting in teargas and broken shop windows. Don’t mess with the normalcy of the earliest retirement of any industrial country.

Yet you can be sure that the restaurants not on the parade route have their blackboards set up, even protesters need a sense of normalcy and where better to find it than over a predictable meal and a glass of wine, ok maybe two glasses, but it is also true that over drinking at lunch is not a French thing. Normalcy.

Though France can be quite tolerant, there is also an undercurrent of selfishness. Shutting down the transportation system does make a statement to the government, but it totally disrupts the lives of millions.

Twice we have had to make major travel changes due to the railway strikes. And with our daughter coming to visit us next week we are concerned about another strike since they are taking the train from Paris Montparnasse, which seems to be protest central, to Flers in Normandy. If the train is shut down we will have no stability and even the best blackboard menu will not make it normal.

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Cruise Ship Food – a Bellcurve

Cruise ship overeating is legendary, even Rick Steves suggests using the stairs as much as possible to burn off the calories, but what is the food really like? In general, on land or on the sea, a restaurant’s food quality fits a perfect bell curve – the more people they try to serve and/or the more locations they operate, the more they approach the mediocrity-of-average, not bad, just not great.

Disclaimer: we have only been on two cruises, both operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, so my observations are limited to the two ships we were on. One ship was the Epic, a huge ship, the second cruise was on the Sun, which carries half as many people, there are however a lot of similarities between the two.

There are three categories of onboard dining experiences. Included in your basic cost are the buffets, and a couple of table-service restaurants. The third category is the a la carte restaurants. Each of these are quite different.

On Norwegian (NCL) The Garden Cafe, along with a couple of smaller buffets usually near the pool area, is standard. These are open from early in the morning until well into the evening, changing the offerings from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner. I think a majority of the folks onboard eat most of their meals here.

On the plus side is that there are a lot of choices, from grab-and-go, to prime rib. But the quality is always mediocre, and at breakfast a crowd of people, often pretty aggressive people, jam the place; no relaxed morning coffee and croissant here – though the croissants are quite good. For folks in a hurry, or those who tend to eat because it is required to live and quantity is more important than quality, these buffets are fine. Again, they are not bad, but as with most buffets, just not memorable.

On our most recent cruise aboard the Norwegian Sun there were two table service restaurants that were included with our basic booking: The Seven Seas and The Four Seasons. Both have the same menus which change every day. They are white tablecloth, there is a sommelier, and great servers – nothing fast-food about them at all.

These restaurants are quite a few notches above the Garden Cafe, being the food-motivated-travelers we are, this is where we ate most often. They are not open for lunch so if we were onboard our only choice was the Buffett. Tricia had some good soups: spinach, cauliflower. The entrees (appetizers for non-European readers) were quite nice, and the mains (entrees for non-European readers) were varied and done well. They definitely move the quality of food and dining experience to the right of average on the bell curve.

The third option is the a la carte places, we bought a package in advance that gave us two visits, you can buy packages with more visits, or you can just go and pay as in any restaurant. On both ships Le Bistro was the top restaurant, a bill there for two including wine would be about $150, similar to what we would experience in Seattle. On this ship there were a couple of steak houses, a Mexican cantina, teppanyaki, and sushi.

These restaurants do give a fine dining experience, though they will push your budget significantly above the initial cost of the cruise. The service is always well above average, and if you get there early you can usually score a table by a window to watch the water go by as you dine.

My desert at Le Bistro on the Norwegian Sun just a week ago, quite nice.

Here are photos Tricia took of some of the dishes we enjoyed. (Be sure to visit her blog for more photos)

We ate well, avoided the Garden Cafe when we could, which should come as no surprise to those who know me since I am not a fan of any buffet, on land or sea. On NCL you can have average meals, good meals, and really good meals, but you will pay for the really good ones. In the end I don’t think I would go on this type of cruise for the food. If food is one of your prime reasons to travel, as it is for Tricia and me, other options for travel are a better choice than cruising – though I have heard of gourmet cruises, hmmmm?

2017, make it simple, make it good

img_2219Au revoir 2016, I welcome 2017. While it would be tempting to reiterate the plethora of challenges forever attached to 2016, from personal challenges to a tumultuous election, I will strive to recall the positive and pleasant.

The 3 best memories of 2016

1. Sold our house and moved into townhouse

We recovered from the December flood, repaired the house and put it on the market. Thanks to a great agent, Kim Tornow, the whole transaction was a smooth success. Five months later than originally planned, which actually was a blessing as the market went up.

2. Vacation in Japan

I was ambivalent about going to Japan, but it only took a day to make me fall in love with the country and the people. Rebecca, our niece, was going to school there, and we wanted to visit our exchange student, Saori. We were unable to connect with Minori, our other Japanese daughter. It was just as good as a trip could be, I am ready to return anytime.

3. Sonoma and Crater Lake

What is there to say, how can you beat wine, good food, and hiking in a National Park.

The keyword for 2017 – Simplify. With all of the challenges and craziness of 2016 simple is a good word, but never mundane. So here are some desires and objectives for 2017.

My 3 Goals for 2017

1. Find pleasure in simple things

Reading a good book, going for walks, taking time to slow down. In a world that wears “busy” as a badge of success I want to strive to make “simple and slow” my hallmark. More time spent in contemplation and reading, walking and sketching.

 

2. Simple food – great taste

Food is of course always a priority. This year I want to cook simple dishes with amazing flavors. Jacques Pépin says that the best meals  use the best quality ingredients, prepare them simply, and savor the flavors. We plan to do more with local and seasonal foods. We continue to reduce meat and poultry.

Drink more tea. We have even canceled some wine clubs and are following the “Cheap Wine Curious” blog – good wines under $10.

3. Travel, simple regardless the length of the trip

Short weekend trips within driving distance of home. Here are some destinations we hope for in 2017:

  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Whistler, BC for snowshoeing
  • Scotland, England, France, Italy (OK, not a simple trip, but we do travel simple when we go)
  • National Parks in Utah
  • Hiking and snowshoeing around Washington

I am sure that 2017 has some surprises and challenges up its sleeve, and I am ready. If life and 2016 have taught me anything it is that you have to roll with it, or as I wrote in my book “Let it be Hot.” Rod McKuen said it well, some good advice for this year,  let’s make it a good one.

I’ve been going a long time now

along the way I’ve learned some things.

You have to make the good times yourself

take the little times and make them into big times

and save the times that are all right

for the ones that aren’t so good

On Crepes and Crepe Pans

Thin pancakes are ubiquitous around the world. The Mexican tortilla, the gold rush flapjack, and Indian nan are just three styles of bread requiring a simple batter and the convenience of a griddle over a fire. The French, naturally, turned the simple into the elegant – voila le crepe.

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Brittany is usually credited with being the home of the crepe, yet crepes are popular throughout France. Traditionally they are served on February 2nd, Candlemas, Virgin Mary’s Blessing Day. If you could catch the crepe in the frying pan with your right hand when it was flipped, while you were holding a gold coin in your left hand, you would have a wealthy and prosperous year. Of course these days, if you actually own real gold coins you must be doing quite well already, but it is a delightful tradition.

Crepe dough is a basic combination of eggs (2), flour (1 cup), milk (1¼ cup) , salt (¼ tsp). It should have the consistency of heavy cream, quite thin for a batter. (This is important) There are those who embellish it by using beer, and if making sweet crepes vanilla or sugar may be added. (I have eaten more savory crepes than sweet) I find that a wire whisk in a large bowl is faster and just as effective as the KitchenAid Mixer. Be sure to refrigerate for at least one hour for the best results. For those with lactose issues, unsweetened  soy milk works just fine, and I have used gluten free flour and all was well.

The real key to success, other than not having the batter too thick – I mention that again thanks to many disasters when it was too thick – is technique and the right crepe pan.  There are two pans in my kitchen dedicated to specific tasks, which I tend to be protective of, cringing when others want to use them. One is my egg pan, a cheap 8 inch, non-stick fry pan with rounded sides. In my days as a fry cook I learned to flip eggs, without breaking the yokes. I prefer that this pan is used for nothing but eggs.

My crepe pan is mine, no sharing, don’t even ask. It is new, replacing other nonstick pans, or a round cast iron griddle, all of which have produced admirable crepes over the years. But my new “de Buyer” from France is special. 6144prxibwl-_sl1500_

The de Buyer family has produced ironworks and cookware in France since 1810. In 2015 the de Buyer family sold its shares to Edify; thankfully they have continued the tradition of high quality that was established long ago.

My pan is from the deBuyer Mineral – B collection. The B is for beeswax which protects the finish of the pan until the pan is seasoned for use.  It is the 11.8 inch size, I like the largest diameter as you can make crepes of all sizes in it. De Buyer’s are iron pans, you treat them much as you would cast-iron, they need seasoning, and you never use detergent on them. They develop non-stick properties without chemicals. My first use was a success, limited only by a bit of user error in the cooking.

Cooking crepes takes practice, but that does not mean you should fear it. The first key is to have the batter thin (did I mention that already?). Most cook the crepes in a bit of butter, over a medium high heat, this is a quick process which throws many people off. My pan takes about ⅓ Cup of batter.

There are various techniques, find yours. Some say pour the batter at the top of the pan, which is tilted away from you, letting the batter run down, evening it out by tilting the pan to make it round. You have to work quick as the batter will begin to firm up immediately. Another is to pour the batter into the center of the pan in a circular motion, then spread it out by rotating the pan, letting it run to the edges; I have had better results with this than the edge-pouring method.

At the creperies on the streets in Paris, they spread the batter with a spatula. My new de Buyer came with a wooden spatula, so that is my next challenge, I am expecting great results.

The crepe should cook for less than a minute on the first side, then be flipped (gold coin optional) or turned to cook the other side. This is when you add the fillings – cheese, ham, mushrooms, the list is pretty much limitless. When it is brown, fold the crepe over , slide onto a plate, pour a glass of wine, enjoy.

Give crepes a try, they are a wonderful quick meal, fun to make, and a pleasure to eat. theWinesketcher wishes you Bon appetit.

Saturday morning tea, reflections on Sonoma – Part 1

Sonoma and Crater Lake, both beautiful, both potentially intoxicating, one in a not-so-good way the other most desirably good. We try to take one trip a year, yet we have not been there for three years so we enthusiastically anticipated this trip. First off – Sonoma and food.

We visit Sonoma for great food and exploring wineries, seldom are we disappointed, this trip was one of theimg_2463 best. We discovered that some things are changing in the Napa-Sonoma world. In the past we gravitated toward the less presumptuous Sonoma, and less expensive. Well, Sonoma has become more like Napa, and Napa has become a bit less stuffy

Thursday night we started the gastronomical part of our trip at John Ash & Company, part of the
Vintners Inn at Windsor. A new place and definitely on our list of places to revisit.

Friday lunch we headed for Brix, near Yountville. Plein aire dining with a view of the gardens has always been a must on our trips of the past; not sure about the future though. The food was good, but not as stellar as in the past. My flatbread was soggy. The roasted, thin red peppers were so good, they could have been my meal. The service that makes you feel tended to but comfortable was right on. A good meal.

So why the uncertainty about the future? We noticed it in the food, good but not as great as in the past. We learned that there was a new manager. Making conversation with one of the servers I asked how long she had worked there. She said she came over with the new manager, from a restaurant we were not familiar with (she seemed slightly put off that we did not recognize it, apparently it has prestige). She explained that the new manager brought some of his old staff in so they could raise the standard of the restaurant up. When I said I liked Brix better than Thomas Kellar’s  famous French Laundry or Bouchon it was clear she did not agree. So I am concerned that Brix is changing, sad for us, but we pretty much agreed that on our next trip we might just skip it.

img_2462We had reservations for dinner Saturday at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA, another fixture for us on our trips to Sonoma. Nothing but good things to say. I had the Spicy Crusted Liberty Duck, duck is right up there with flatbreads in my food addiction collection. It came with roasted peach, duck confit ravioli, and Swiss chard. I find my limitations as a food writer surface when I have an extraordinary meal, I focus more on the experience and it all becomes a kaleidoscope of flavors, all good but my vocabulary is just too limited, and metaphors elude me. “Deliciousness” is the pop term, but it sounds goofy to me, Tony Bourdain and others use the term “food porn” but that offends me. So just think of wonderful tastes, a bit of spice, but not chili or Thai, crispy crust, and perfectly pink meat. I smile just trying to write about it.

Sunday we tried a new place, Brava Tapas, in Healdsburg. We love anything with small-plates, and of course the Spanish invented the premier small-plate, tapas. In Barcelona, one of our favorites was tomato bread, it is so simple that it has evaded reproduction in our own kitchen, just toasted bread rubbed and topped with tomato; of course we started with that. We paired the bread with roasted potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. While we ate we watched a chef prepare Paella over an open fire, in a paella that was about six feet in diameter, great entertainment.

I finished off with Spanish Sardines, another Barcelona memory. Do not even think of the canned sardines available in the stores, check the photo.

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Completing the food part of the Sonoma leg of our trip were a few picnics, procured at the Oakville Market, the oldest continuing operating grocery store in California, opened 1881. It is an iconic place in Healdsburg. We ate well, and shock of shocks, did not gain any weight.

Quick trip to Rattlesnake Hills – the best plans are not planned

A winery dinner seemed like a good excuse to get away for the weekend, reservations made, a few things packed, and we were off.

Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House in Yakima was our first stop. There is a sign as you enter Yakima on I-82 that calls Yakima “the Palm Springs of Washington”, well most of us that know the city find that humorous – really? Yet Yakima has made a concerted effort over the last 10 years or so to improve its image and overcome its reputation as a major drug port of entry. The transformation is working, it really is a different city today, Cowiche Canyon is proof.cck-cowiche-canyon-kitchen=exterior-yakima-best-restaurant

The decor is contemporary, rustic, industrial. The staff are welcoming, friendly and professional –  it is clear that customer service is a priority. The menu fits the rustic decor, local as much as possible, grilled entrees, and creative offerings – perfect.

We started with a grilled artichoke, easily the best artichoke I have ever had. It was sliced in half, the “hairy parts” scooped out, then grilled with flaked sea salt. It was so good that I tried to do it the same way at home Sunday, came out pretty close, will keep working on it.

I had the steak frites with black peppercorn sauce, Tricia had an amazing omelet. The wine list is just right, not overwhelming, but with enough variety to satisfy, some local wines along with some from further afield. This was the perfect start for our weekend.

Our dinner was not until 6.00pm, so we had time to hit a winery or two. I had tried to visit Dineen Family Winery a year or so ago but it was not open, this time it was. Good wine, we bought 4 bottles, and I must get back to do a sketch or two in the future. Jenny, the tasting room manager invited me to do some artwork for their tasting room next spring, so I know I will be back.

The reason for the trip was a winery dinner at VanArnam Vineyards. I have been a fan of their reds and their Viognier for some time, so we were looking forward to a good meal in a nice setting. I make it a point to not embellish my disappointments at restaurants and events, so I will only say that I was hoping for something more than just an average paella, served with a salad of greens with a vinaigrette dressing. I know the weather forecast caused them to change the venue, sadly that produced poor acoustics which rendered the music superfluous. Allison VanArnam really does work to make everyone feel welcome, I am sure she had some disappointments as well. The highlight of the evening was the sunset, words won’t work, check the photo.IMG_2451

Sunday morning we stopped at Roslyn, remember the show Twin Peaks, we drank tea while wandering through the farmers market – another place on our growing list of must return places.

Again I am reminded that the best parts of most of our trips are the unexpected and unplanned. Plan enough to get you where you are going, then throw the script away and just see what is around the next corner, it just might be great.

Our final days in Tokyo, Japan

We arrived back at our Tokyo hotel, the Hotel Niwa, mid-afternoon on Thursday. Settled in then headed out to revisit the Kagurazaka area and find dinner.

Friday morning we got out of town and IMG_2416headed toward Mt Fugi. There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo, but we like getting out of town, and we hoped to see Mt. Fugi. Thanks the the public transportation feature of Google Maps (I know there is a blog about that in the future) we planned our Metro and rail journey without a hitch.

Our destination was Kawaguchiko Station, and Kawaguchiko lake. Google maps lays out the trains and stations, estimates the time, and at the bottom tells you the price. The price is important because if you buy your ticket from a vending machine you need to know what amount the ticket needs to be, it’s all there in Google Maps.

I was hoping for a quiet mountain village, but not to be, Kawaguchiko must be the destination for half of the tour busses in Japan, and it is the staging point for groups hiking on Fuji. And since the lake sits downhill from the train station you can’t see Fugi from the lake. We ate lunch at an Indian resturant, we were the only people there, all the other places were crowded; curry is always a good choice so we ate well.

The train we took down the mountain was such a treat, a fully restored vintage train, with a wooden interior, freindly staff, and hopefully views of the mountain. Fuji, like Mt Denali in Alaska, has a reputation for hiding from visitors behind clouds; a reputation it lived up to when we were there, none of those pristine vistas one sees in guide books. Yet it was a memorable trip, and we did get a glimps of the mountain.IMG_2380

Saturday and Sunday we spent with Saori, doing some shopping, eating and visiting the Tokyo National Museum. I had to find Obi belts to go with the Kimonos that I bought in Kyoto.

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Monday night, Saori and Dijiro drove us to the Tokyo waterfront, a huge mall. We ate then wandered along the park taking in the Rainbow Bridge and the city lights of Tokyo. There are three Statues of Liberty from France in the world: New York City, Paris, and one that was given to Tokyo by the French.

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Our last night in Japan

Tuesday we flew home, it is good to be back, but a piece of my heart stayed with Saori and her beautiful country; I am sure we will return

 

Reflections on Kyoto

 We are on the Shinkansen train back to Tokyo, a day early. Motivated a bit by the slightly, only slightly, cooler temperatures in Tokyo. Yet for me, as much as Kyoto was a wondrous place, I like Tokyo.
We arrived in Kyoto on Monday, hot and humid. Desiring a true Kyoto experience we went to the Man in the Moon British pub. They did have Kilkenny Ale, but the Cesar salad was more like a Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing. My fish and chips was far too fishy, not the sort of Cod flavor expected, but it was a good reminder that culture is geographic, so one must not be judgmental. The bartender and waitress were so kind, when we left they walked us to the door and said good by.

Tuesday was raining, serious rain. Like true Seattleites we were undaunted, yet we did take umbrellas, it was wet. We walked along the Philosopher’s Path, a pleasant walkway along a canal, our only companions the fish we watch din shallow water. Amazing how rain thins out the crowds.

The desire to find someplace dry, and the need for tea, coincided with us finding a tiny cafe. I had my morning matcha, a habit I am sure will continue, and we shared a breakfast set of hard cooked egg, toast, salad, and a sauce that was heavy in butter but not sure what else. The place was decorated almost British with classical music, and the most delightful couple attending to us.

We walked on through the rain, we ended up at the Silver Temple, Ginkakau-ji, words just don’t work. We got drenched, but loved every minute. I am reminded at the effort that people have used over the centuries to build beautiful monuments to the things they worship. It also makes me sad that in the current mindset so many Christians worship in converted warehouses, does not the God of creation deserve better?

Wednesday we ate at Le Flure, yes a French place again. We have eaten a ton of Japanese food, so don’t accuse us of seeking complacency, yet we do love French. This was one of the best meals ever, really. The service was impeccable, the view on the 15th floor, and the food, hard to beat. Highlights, cold artichoke soup, an egg crème appetizer, caramel ice-cream. 

I had steak, now for all of you American Cowboy folks, this was not like anything you have tried. First of all the size,  check the photo, it was two servings, each of 1 ounce, no 16 ounce monstrosity here. Each piece was probably more fatty than the America pallet likes, but each tiny bite was heaven, the foie-gras was a perfect seasoning, I can only think of one steak ever that came close. (Read my blog on Brimmer & Heeltap)

The Golden temple was nice, the rest of the food was good, but Tuesday was the highlight for me in Kyoto. Now it is back to Tokyo. Oh, and on Wednesday, we went back to the Irish pub for an ale and wine, both the bartender and waitress remembered us, walked us to the door, and waved good-by. Have I already said how much I love it here?

Monday, off to Kyoto

We are off for 5 days in Kyoto, but first some memories of the last few days.

Wednesday morning Saori brought Komonos fou us to try, worn most often for special occasions and festivals. I think we look great. We spent the day shopping, mostly at Shimboco Station, the largest in Tokyo. It is hard to believe how big it is, and the size of the shopping mall, bigger than anything in Seattle – all of the big names in fashion are here. We ate lunch in one of the food courts, common in basements of train stations and malls.

After lunch we went to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Government building, there is an observation level, and a cafe. So views of cloudy Tokyo and iced tea for the heat.


The heat and the along was taking a toll, so we called it a day, tomorrow would be a grand adventure. Saori and Digaro were taking us to some limestone caves.

We drove for a couple of hours out of Tokyo, after Saori welcomed us in our room with a Matcha ceremony. Matcha is ground green tea, that is whipped to a froth and drank out of bowls, a new favorite for me. Pictures say it best for the caves.


It was so good to get out into the mountains, small village – certainly not a place many tourists are able to see.

Saturday we went to Odawara castle, a quick ride on the high speed Shinkansen bullet-train. Lunch of raw fish, well at least for me and Saori, Tricia had tempura.


Good trip, more to come

 

Tokyo, off to a grand start 

Thursday morning, Tokyo. We arrived Monday and our friend Saori welcomed us at the airport. We picked up our Japan Rail pass, smooth as it could be, found our Pocket WiFi, then headed for the Narita Express.
Narita Airport is almost 90 minutes from Tokyo, it was worth the ride, we saw our first rice paddies and a lot of the countryside. The weather matched the forecast, hot and humid, but really it did not bother us much at all. It took us only 20 hours from the time Uber picked us up at home until we arrived at the Hotel Niwa. We rode in a car, a bus, light rail, airplane, train, and subway. A quick change of clothes, brushed our teeth, then off to meet Saori’s parents for dinner.

We have looked forward to meeting them for some time, Saori has become such a part of our life since she lived with us seven years ago. They took us to a Japanese BBQ in the Tokyo Dome City Hotel, for you Mariners fans, Ichiro played there. We had the meal I had a been waiting for, thin sliced meats, vegetables, all self-cooked on your individual BBQ at the table. 

Tuesday, in typical brilliance, we picked the hottest, most humid day of the week to walk 20,000 Fitbit steps. The plan was to visit the Imperial Garden and Palace, but it was closed, so we walked to Ginza. Ginza is like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, lots of nice things, but even with the Yen as favorable as it is for us now, really expensive.

The Kaguruzaka neighborhood hosts the French embassy, we found a restaurant owned by a Frenchman, with French food. The menu was in Japanese and French, so we had little trouble, the service was great. I know, we are in Japan, but French food was just too enticing.

Wednesday was wonderful, spent the morning at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. They were built in 1629, and are one of only two Edo period Gardens in Tokyo. Edo was the original name for Tokyo, it was during this period in the 1600’s when Tokyo grew to become one of the largest cities in the world. 

There is a huge pond, with a series of canals. The 2nd Lord built a rice paddy so his royal born wife could learn of the struggles and hardship that the farmers endured.

For lunch we went back to the Tokyo Dome City Hotel, it is very upscale, with nice restaurants. This time we opted for the Tempura. We were attended to by 4 people, a server, and three tempura chefs. They brought six or seven courses, it was peaceful and quiet, and cool, the heat and humidity were in good form.

That night we met up with Rebeca, our niece. She has been here for almost a year attending Waseda University. We had a fabulous time touring her school, drinking peach iced tea at a student cafe, wandering through the gardens. She took us to a shrine and a temple on our way to Korean BBQ. (Kansas and Texas think they are the centers of BBQ, nope these folks beat them to it by centuries) I have been to Korean BBQ, but this one was so different, it was really casual, kind of an industrial retro decor, we sat on stools, while the staff cooked. You take the grilled meat, add a few condiments and it’s all wrapped in lettuce leaves, a Korean taco.

So far a wonderful time, we are learning to like this country, the people have been so accommodating, the crowds that we were warned about have never materialized, even in the heart of the city. It is a big city, but Barcelona on the Ramblas is more intense, Hong Kong is more crowded, we are looking forward today to more new experiences, Saori joins us again in a couple of hours and we are off.