Sushi Daiwa (Tokyo, Japan)

Raisin Bread and I woke up at 3:30 am one morning to make the journey to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. Alas, despite arriving at 4:45 am, we were too late to gain entrance into that morning’s tuna auction.

Not matter, we would enjoy an unbelievable sushi breakfast instead. During my research, I picked out three different sushi spots in case one or two had extremely long waits. It was my understanding that the food that each restaurant serves is virtually the same. We walked quickly towards the row of restaurants and discovered Sushi Dai‘s line to be about two hours long. On the other hand, there was just one couple waiting at Sushi Daiwa, so we immediately settled into our places in this line. We still had about 45 minutes to kill since Sushi Daiwa does not open until 5:30 am. That gave us a chance to observe some of the goings on of the market.

Tsukiji Market is a real working fish market that has not quite found the balance between serving as a tourist destination and as a place of business. Near misses between tourists and racing trucks are a regular occurrence, which is why there are plans to move Tsukiji to a new location in the future.

One funny thing about waiting in line in front of Sushi Daiwa was that other foreigners would come up to us and ask why people were standing in line for Sushi Dai. Clearly, they did not do any research and without question, they would decide to join the line for Sushi Dai. It made me laugh a lot. Silly wabbits.

5:30 finally rolled around and we were seated elbow to elbow around a tiny sushi bar. Sushi is served by set menu, but one can order additional pieces at the end. Our chef was responsible for us and the couple in front of us. He placed our sushi pieces before us faster than we could consume them the previous piece. All told, the entire meal took probably 20 minutes at most. There wasn’t much time to savor our food, but the sushi was so delicious that we didn’t mind.

Chutoro (medium fatty tuna)
This singular piece of tuna is probably the best piece of tuna I have ever had in my life. To die for.

Ika (squid)
I rarely order squid. I find the texture to be off-putting. This piece was no different.

Odori Ebi (live shrimp)
I bit the inside of my mouth while eating my last piece of sushi, so I was a little out of it for the next couple of pieces. I didn’t notice the shrimp still moving, but Raisin Bread did!

Kanpachi (amberjack)
Amberjack became one of my go to fish during our trip to Japan. So yummy.

Uni (sea urchin)

Miso Soup with Fish

Otoro (fatty tuna)

Tamago (egg)

Tuna and Ikura (salmon roe) Cut Rolls

Eel

Shrimp head
This was an interesting part of our meal. I must say that I very much enjoyed the shrimp head and was intrigued by how they used up most of the shrimp.

Katsuo (bonito)
This piece was not part of the set menu and was the finale to our meal at Sushi Daiwa. Look at that color.

After breakfast, we walked around the outer market area, which sells restaurant supplies and vegetables. We tried to see if we could sneak into the inner wholesale fish market, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. There was security turning all of the foreigners away.

Tsukiji Market is a fascinating place, and there is nothing like eating the freshest sushi of your life at 5:30 in the morning.

Sushi Daiwa
5-2-1 Tsukiji
Chuo, Tokyo
Japan

Nagi Ramen (Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan)

If you have been paying attention, you know that I love noodles of all shapes and sizes. Eating ridiculous amounts of noodles was a definite “to do” during my trip to Japan. One evening, we set out on a long, soggy walk to Nagi Ramen in Golden Gai. By the time we arrived, my jeans and shoes were soaked through, so a piping hot bowl of ramen seemed appropriate.

Golden Gai is a small area of Shinjuku that is made up of hide-and-seek alleys that are lined with over 200 bars, clubs and restaurants. Each one is a tiny closet-sized establishment. Nagi is no different. It is a minuscule space, located on the second floor.

The place is so tiny that we had to stand in the stairwell to wait. We finally made it to the vending machine where we placed our orders and paid for our meals before we were seated at a counter with no more than 12 seats. 

Nagi is known for using dried sardines in its broth. I ordered the “Special Ramen,” which is their most popular dish. My bowl of ramen came with nori, bamboo shoots, scallions, a soft-boiled egg and huge slices of pork. The broth was so deep and rich, but it was the firm, springy noodles that made me the happiest! Yum!

After enjoying our ramen, we headed back through Golden Gai in the rain.

Nagi Ramen
1-1-10 Kabukicho
Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture
160-0021 Japan

Monkey Park Iwatayama (Kyoto, Japan)

High above the Arashiyama district of Kyoto lies a mountaintop which is home to a little band of monkeys – Japanese macaque monkeys, to be exact.

It was late morning, so I figured a leisurely hike would be fitting before we grabbed some lunch. We found the entrance to the Monkey Park and paid our admission. 
The entrance happened to be across from a shrine! 
And so we began our hike up to see the monkeys. Only, the easy 10 to 15 minute hike that had been sold to me turned out to be grossly underestimated. We, first, started up a set of stairs, which seemed easy enough. 
We came upon a list of warnings about the monkeys, but alas, we had not reached the monkeys!
In total, the hike took roughly 30 minutes. In addition to the stairs, we climbed up a steep set of switchbacks before reaching the top of the mountain. It was sunny and hot, but it was worth it. Not only were there monkeys galore, but we had a wonderful view of the city. 
  
These two cannot get enough cuddles. 
At the top, there is also a building within the monkey park, from where you can feed the monkeys. Humans are inside the cage and monkeys are outside. We did not stay in there long and did not feed the monkeys either. 
A beautiful cherry blossom tree also made the trek worthwhile. 
Animal lovers, like me, will find the Monkey Park a fun and unique thing to do while in Japan.

Monkey Park Iwatayama
8 Genrokuyamacho
Nishiyo-ku
Kyoto 616-0022
Japan

@ Home Cafe (Tokyo, Japan)

On a Saturday afternoon, Raisin Bread and I went to the Akihabara district of Tokyo to do something uniquely Japanese – visit a maid cafe. We were expecting this experience to be completely unlike anything we have ever done and we were not disappointed in the least.
Maid cafes are a relatively new concept. Generally, the waitresses at these cafes dress in maid costumes and serve their master/mistress (the customer) as if they were at their home. Yes, I know it sounds weird. We chose @ Home Cafe because it is the only place that I had read a lot about.  
If you don’t have a maid cafe in mind though, you will see plenty of maids standing on the street, handing out flyers and trying to lure customers…I mean masters…in to their cafes. 

I was surprised to find only two other people in line at the time we arrived. Here, one of the maids is yelling at me because I am taking a picture. Oops. I did not the see the no camera sign that you can clearly see in the photo.

The maids’ costumes consist of a dress, petticoat, pinafore, stockings or high socks and a hair accessory. Each maid may add their own flair including plush backpacks and stuffed animals hanging from their bags or clothing.

@ Home Cafe charges an entrance fee of ¥600. I also read that the food here is pretty horrible so we decided to get the dessert set for ¥1600, which includes a drink, dessert and a photo with a maid.

As we figured out, you aren’t allowed to take any photos inside, except of your food. The clientele was mostly made up of individual males, but there were also a few tables of couples and pairs of females. Our hostess maid led us to our seats, gave us menus and then proceeded to stand there and ask us to order. I did not like this ordering method and wished I had a few minutes to decide on what to have. 
The hostess maid also brought a magnet board showing pictures of all the maids who were working at that time for us to choose who we would like to take our picture with. That was a slightly awkward thing to do as well.
Raisin Bread ordered the Magic Sketch hot green tea latte for his drink. When our server brought his drink over, she asked what animal he wanted to be drawn on his drink and he chose a cat. I was quite impressed by the results! 

I went with a boring but quite tasty pot of earl grey tea. Before we could enjoy our drinks though, we had to cast a love spell on them. Our server taught us the love spell, which we repeated. Our drinks were then ready to be consumed!
While we waited for our desserts, we had a chance to observe the goings on. One older gentleman was seated next to Raisin Bread, and he was playing a dice game with a maid. We were seated in front of a stage where patrons were taking their photos with the maids, and we were eventually brought up for our turn. 
I based my dessert ordering decision on whichever was the most colorful. The Fruit Cocktail Mini Parfait seemed to fit the bill. It was awful tasting though. Yikes. It consisted of canned fruit cocktail, a scoop of strawberry ice cream, marshmallow sticks, a white chocolate heart and loads of whipped cream. 

Raisin Bread picked the Cutie Bunny Cheesecake. From the amount of cake left on his plate, this one was not a hit either. 

Before we left, the maid who took our pictures with came back with our snapshot, which came in a handy dandy paper frame.

There was a basket of props on the stage that we could pick from to add a little character to our photos. They looked a little worse for wear, but I still grabbed the cat ears. When we were taking our picture, the maid would suggest hand gestures to do. I don’t think I’m doing mine correctly and I’m also not sure what it means.
The maid also decorated the polaroids with the date, place and some words that I can’t read.

Raisin Bread chose the bunny ears and the heart sign.

When we got our bill, we were given a loyalty card. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the maid that we would most likely never get the chance to come back though. I saw a fellow walk in later who had a black card. He must be a regular!
Our visit to @ Home Cafe was a lot of fun and slightly strange at the same time. It is definitely a unique experience that I highly recommend. Just don’t go for the food!

@ Home Cafe
Don Quijote Akihabara
5th Floor
4-3-3 Sotokanda 
Chiyoda Tokyo 101-0021
Japan

Central Michel Richard (Washington, DC)

A few weeks ago, Raisin Bread’s mother and stepfather came to visit us during the week. We headed downtown to enjoy dinner at Central Michel Richard, a restaurant that I have been wanting to try for quite some time.
I read that the restaurant space can be quite noisy, but the hostess was kind enough to seat us in the very back of the restaurant in the private dining space so we were not forced to deal with the noise.
To start, Raisin Bread and I shared the roasted beets, arugula and warm goat cheese salad. I am addicted to these salads, but I was a little worried about the fried goat cheese. It was only flash fried in a panko crust so it was not greasy at all. 
The table also shared an order of gougeres (cheese puffs). These are so addictive. They are light and airy. I could have eaten the whole basket myself if I didn’t want to save room for my entree and dessert. 
For my entree, I chose the lobster burger, served with confit tomato, Central mayonnaise, potato tuiles and French fries. I wish I had chosen differently. The flavor was not satisfying and the texture was slightly rubbery.
I also regret my choice of dessert. I chose Michel’s Napoleon. Of the four desserts we ordered, this one was by far the worst. The puff pastry looked and tasted burnt. The rest of the dessert was boring overall.
Raisin Bread ordered the dessert special. It consisted of almond pastry, pistachio and strawberries. The strawberries were perfect and went so well with the other components. I loved it.
Next up was the profiteroles. This dish was so decadent. This certainly is not your run of the mill cream puff. Instead, it consisted of a scoop of vanilla ice cream covered in tiny pastry puffs and finished off with chocolate sauce. Drool.
The final dessert was the creme brulee. This was also a play on the traditional creme brulee in that it was not served in a ramekin but stood on its own on the plate. It was accompanied with fresh berries and dollops of fruit sauce. While not my favorite creme brulee, it was rich and custardy.
This visit was not as perfect as I would have hoped it would be. My entree and dessert left much to be desired.

Date of visit: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Sunday Afternoon in Yoyogi Park (Tokyo, Japan)

We found ourselves in Tokyo on a beautiful spring Sunday, so we planned to buy some food items and have a nice, relaxing afternoon picnic in Yoyogi Park

Our apartment was located near a 24 hour grocery store with a huge prepared food section. Raisin Bread and I picked a strange assortment of yummy food, including chicken, chips, potato salad, salad with tuna sashimi, inarizushionigiri, mochi, watermelon and strawberries, to enjoy outdoors. Unfortunately, we did not have a tarp or picnic blanket, so we found ourselves sitting on plastic bags and our coats!

As I mentioned before, there do not seem to be any open container laws in Japan, so I picked up a can of cherry blossom themed beer. It tasted like a regular light Japanese beer.

There were tons of other people who had the same idea on how to spend the afternoon.  

It made for great people watching. This group had guitars, a pink-haired friend and light sabers. Not sure what was going on there!

After we finished our food, we took some time to walk around the park a bit. We didn’t get very far because the park is enormous!

I read that visiting Yoyogi Park on a Sunday would allow you to see cosplayers, but I did not see any at all. What we did see was:
A dance group practicing their routine
A small drum circle
An insane number of dogs wearing clothes

The standard poodle with the most amazing haircut in the world

The famous Yoyogi Park greasers / rockabillies

Picnicking in Yoyogi Park is a great way to do an activity that all of the locals do, while catching a glimpse of Japanese culture. It was also a perfect way to take a break from the sightseeing and just enjoy the moment! 

Imahan (Tokyo, Japan)

Trip planning often is not planning what to do but what to eat. Having a meal of sukiyaki was a definite “must-do” while we were in Japan. I remember having sukiyaki once before when I was young and it being an amazing food experience. But since sukiyaki is a hard dish to find in the U.S. due to the raw egg situation, I never really had it again.

We headed to Imahan in Takashimaya Times Square for dinner. After about a 15 minute wait, we were seated. Imahan had options for three different price levels of beef as well as set options. I decided on the lowest level beef for sukiyaki. Raisin Bread went in the other direction and got the mid-level beef shabu shabu set.

His dinner started off with some small dishes of salmon pate, baby squid and salad. You can see little hints of cherry blossom season in these dishes.

Next up was the sashimi course. 

For his third course, Raisin Bread received a fish stew, garnished with pickled cherry blossom.

Finally, it was time for the beef! Our waitress did the first preparation for us and then left us to cook our own food. 

The food was all beautifully presented and flavorful. The only complaint I have is that the portion of beef was so small. Raisin Bread only got four slices of beef and I only got three slices. 

I was obsessed with the pickled vegetables throughout our trip. Raisin Bread doesn’t eat them, so lucky for me, I always got to eat twice as many pickles. Yum!

My pot of sukiyaki, which, in addition to beef, had noodles, scallions, mushrooms, tofu, chrysanthemum leaves, carrot and fish cake (I think). The sauce for sukiyaki is usually composed of soy sauce, sugar and mirin. 

After cooking, the beef is dipped in a bowl of raw egg before being eaten. Raisin Bread couldn’t believe that I was eating this. He definitely thought I was going to get sick. I did not! The sukiyaki was so delicious, and the sauce was so fragrant.

For dessert, Raisin Bread got green tea ice cream. I love Japanese desserts for their slight sweetness. Not at all like American sweets, where you feel like your teeth are going to fall out.

I’m so glad I had the chance to have sukiyaki in Japan. I will be craving it for a long time to come. Maybe I will try making it myself one of these days!

Imahan 
Takashimaya Times Square Building, 14F
5-24-2 Sendagaya Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

For the Love of the Kids Holiday Hustle Series 2013 (Race Recap)

UPDATE (May 5, 2014): I received my three remaining medals in the mail today. Last week, I received an email from the Hole In the Wall Gang Camp, notifying us that they would be taking over the fulfillment of the medals and run shirts from the original organizer, who is still coping with family health issues. Additionally, they would be taking over the coordination of any future virtual race events. I’m not going to go into a commentary about this whole situation. I am just happy to have received what I worked and paid for.

Last May I signed up for a series of virtual races for a number of reasons: 1) I wanted to keep my training up during the DC winter, 2) I was slightly obsessed with race medals last year, and 3) I wanted to see what virtual racing was like.

I picked the For the Love of the Kids virtual races because their bling is ridiculously adorable. In addition, the money from the virtual races are donated to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a nonprofit center serving children and families coping with serious illnesses.

The Holiday Hustle series consists of three events: the All Hallows’ Eve Romp, Gobbler Gallop and the New Years’ Resolution Run. Each event has a 5K, half marathon or double down option. I registered for the double downs! The runs must be completed on certain dates and time submissions must be made by a certain deadline.

You might be wondering why I have waited so long to write this, and you will be able to find the answer later on in this post.

A few days before each race, I received a package in the mail with a race shirt in tech fabric and race bib. The shirts were cute, but alas, did not fit me.

I did both runs on the treadmill with times of 35:17 for the 5K and 3:02:49 for the half marathon. I was amazed to find that I could complete a half marathon on the treadmill without losing my mind. I have Law and Order re-runs to thank for that! 
A few weeks after submitting my times, I got these adorable medals in the mail. They are so cute!
Next up was the Gobble Gallup. I did the half marathon first with a time of 2:47:34 and the 5K while we were in Savannah, with a time of 31:21. 

 

Two more awesome medals to add to my collection!




Finally, I reached the end of the Holiday Hustle Series with the New Years Resolution Run. I made times of 32:42 for the 5K and 2:49:00 for the half marathon. 


Unfortunately, I never received my medals for these two races. They look amazing though, don’t they?

                 
I also never received my medal for completing the Holiday Hustle Series. I’m not the only one this happened to.
At the beginning of March, I received the following email:
Dear Runners,

I hope this message finds you well and making it out there to train despite the cold. I am pleased to share that 2013 was a banner year for our virtual run program, “For the Love of the Kids”. Together we raised more than $13,200 for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp – the designated beneficiary of our runs.

I wish to extend my sincere apologies for being out of touch over the last several months. My family has been coping with  health issues, but I’m happy to report that everyone is now on the mend.

Word reached me that certain participants have yet to receive their medals. There were a number of complications with mailing certain items via USPS that I should have communicated more clearly to the group. If you have not yet received your finish medal please email me and I will resend. Everyone did such an inspiring job with their virtual runs and I’m truly saddened that some of our devoted runners did not receive their medals.

I am also saddened if these mishaps have reflected poorly on our charity beneficiary – The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. While we are an entirely separate organization, I am inspired by their campers and programs, which is why I wanted to raise funds to support the Camp’s mission.

We will be hosting 2 additional runs later in the year, and once everyone is happy and healthy again, we will announce the details.

Thank you for your understanding and for all that you’ve done to support this great cause.

Happy Running,
Amy

I responded as requested and still have never received the three medals I am owed. I really hope that the race director’s family is recovering from their health issues, but I am not the only participant who did not receive what they paid for. It is quite ridiculous that we never received any communications until two months later, not to mention that it still hasn’t been resolved. I feel like we deserve better for contributing our hard earned money to their organization.
Needless to say, I will not be participating in any future races put on by this organization. I also do not expect to ever see the medals that I am owed.