Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kyourakutei, Tokyo

You've heard my spiel before about Tokyo and Michelin stars.  Nearly 300 Michelin stars in the city.  On past visits, I made it a point to rack up as many as I could, but on my visit in 2017, I was all about more unique, authentic experiences.  I dined at 7-Eleven, Lawson, and FamilyMart, yes, the convenience stores.  I went to a tiny place for monja, where we were the only non-Japanese, and our meal was less than $10 a head.  Same thing with visiting a local takoyaki chain Gindaco.

But of course I wanted *some* Michelin star dining, right?  My research lead me to learn about Kyourakutei, one of 8 Michelin stared soba restaurants in 2016 (although my visit was in 2017, when they lost the star, but were still recommended as a Bib Gourmand).  I haven't ever loved soba, but I wanted to learn if that was just because I hadn't had good soba before.  I also was initially lead to Kyourakutei when researching tempura, something I do love, and they are also known for.
The stars: Tempura, Soba, and Yuba.
So, to Kyourakutei we went.  A chance to finally have good soba, highly recommended tempura, and almost-Michelin stars?  Yes!

Sadly, I didn't love the food, but it was an incredible experience.

And yes, we were the only English speakers there.

The Setting

Storefront.
Our visit was actually wrought with some failure.

The first time we tried to visit was a Saturday, a day they are indeed open.  We eagerly showed up right at opening to get a seat.  But ... we couldn't find the place.  Now, if you have tried to understand the address system in Tokyo, this likely sounds familiar, and not a real cause for alarm.

But we tried and tried, and couldn't find anywhere that looked like the photos at the right address.  We tried asking, using Google translate, and showing our screen to other shop keepers.  They all kept telling us they weren't it.  We were confused.

I tried calling the restaurant.  The phone rang and rang.

It was then that I learned that the Japanese take their national holidays very seriously.  It was Autumnal Equinox Day.  This is a real thing.  So, they were closed.

Doh.

Undeterred, we returned a few days later, on a Wed, our last night in Tokyo.

This time we found it easily.  The signs and entire storefront had been covered up before!
Millstone.
One of the features of the restaurant is the in-house millstone, where they mill the grains sourced from the owner's home area, every single day.  You can see it right in the front window, and it is in action throughout the day.

The noodles are then made fresh daily, and hand cut.

The soba is a serious specialty here.
Weighing Noodles.
The noodles are then weighed to order, each and every time, cooked one order at a time, to order.

(Side note: check out the knife block!).
Counter Seating.
The interior is small, with mostly one large counter, and then a handful (I think 3?) tables for 4.

My first move, 2 months before my visit, was to try to make a reservation, through my hotel concierge.   But Kyourakutei takes only 3 reservations per day, for pairs only.  And they were booked for the entire month I was there, 2 months out.  Doh!

So we arrived right at 5pm opening, and were able to easily get a seat.

The hostess offered us a table, but I declined, asking for the counter.  I knew this is where we would want to be, as I had done some research, and knew everything would be prepared to order in front of us.
The Kitchen.
And indeed it was.  The kitchen area was small, with 3 stations.

Directly in front of us was a counter, with tiny tempura area beside it.  Cold apps were also prepared here, by one chef.

Behind that was a cooktop, where sometimes pots were boiling away.  But this was not the noodle station, that was separate, on the side.

Cooking & Grilling Area.
The cooktop also turned into a grill, whenever a grilled appetizer was ordered.  Again, everything done, one at a time, to order.
Tempura Station.
The tempura station is the area that fascinated me.

There was a box of fresh vegetables, and a tank of live fish.

The tempura chef plucked items from the box, whole veggies, and sliced off bits to order to fry.  He removed live fish from the tanks.

It doesn't get fresher than this! I loved watching this chef in action.

The Food

We were provided an English menu, but I'm convinced it contained only a fraction of the items from the Japanese menu, as we saw many things being prepared that were not on our menu.
Cold Noodles.
The first two pages of the menu were cold noodles, soba or udon, topped with different things, like grated radish, grated yam, soft boiled eggs, mushrooms, or even tempura.

I had read that the cold noodles were the way to go (unless it was winter), and as it was a hot day, that seemed right.

So, cold noodles it was.  Since we were sharing, we opted for the large size.
Hot Noodles. 
Hot noodles were the next two pages, similar options, plus some soup ones.
Appetizers.
Appetizers were the final two pages, a few chilled items, fried items, simmered items, and tempura sets (or a la carte).

We opted to try the three things I most wanted to try: cold soba, yuba, and tempura, by getting the large chilled soba topped with yuba, and a appetizer of tempura.

For tempura, we selected the Kisetsu Tempura "Seasonal Seafoods and Vegetables", for ¥2400.  It came with 2 seafoods, 3 vegetables, each in a pair so we both had a piece.  A decent value.  The other tempura choice was tiger shrimp, conger eel, and vegetables, same price, but we went for the seasonal one, since, seasonal is better right?
Condiments.
I'll admit that I had planned to do more research before our visit, and, uh, I ran out of time.

And thus, I was a bit stumped when things started showing up in front of us.

First, the condiments, set out on every table/place setting.

The sea salt in the bowl I knew to expect, as, legit tempura is meant to just be dipped in salt.  In the box next to that was togarashi.  I wasn't entirely sure when you were supposed to use it, but, its one of my favorite seasoning mixes, so that was fine.  And then, the taller box, seemed to be soy sauce?
Accompaniments.
After we ordered, two small little round dishes were provided, a triangle dish of chopped green onion, a pot of another brown liquid, and, a cup.

Now we were confused.

Ok, a little round dish for each of us to eat off of?  We looked around, but didn't see anyone else with these.  It seemed like a reasonable assumption.

I knew the chopped green onion would go with the soba.  The sauce?  We think it was vinegar.  Was it for the tempura? The soba?  Not sure.

And then ... the cup.  That was confusing, and, got more confusing as we went.  I'll get to that soon.
Seasonal Seafood Tempura: Sweetfish.
Our first piece of tempura came up, served directly to us from the chef who had just fried it moments before, one of the seafood selections of the day: sweetfish.

I'll admit, I was intimidated by this one.  Whole little fishes.  But look, they were plated so nicely!

I consider myself fairly food-brave at this point, but, eating a whole fish was a bit much for me.  Head.  Eyes. Tail.  Oh my.

As you can see, the batter was very very light.  This was not oily in any way.

This was an experience, that is for sure.  The texture inside of it was unlike anything I've ever had. It was like ... little tiny balls?  Kinda mushy inside, but crispy outside.  And the tail and bones, uh, gave some crunch.

I can't say I enjoyed this piece, but, it was an experience.
Vegetable Tempura.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the next set came, all vegetables.

The vegetable tempura was served all at once, a half a slice of zucchini for each of us, a piece of okra and a chunk of corn.

Here too, the batter was so very light, and it was not oily.  So different from "tempura" I've had in the US.

I started with the okra, and nearly burnt off my tongue.  I knew it had been plucked from the hot oil moments before, but, I still wasn't prepared for just how hot and fresh it was.  Yikes!  It was fine, not slimy, but not particularly something I like.  My companion, who previously did not like okra, said he liked it for once.

Next I went for the zucchini, also hot and fresh, nice and moist, but, not a veggie I really care for.  My least favorite.

I saved the best for last.  A chunk of corn, individual kernels still attached.  The chef literally just sliced chunks off the cob in front of us before frying.  Incredible.

I loved the corn, it was super crunchy, great pops as each kernel burst.  My favorite bite of the meal.
Seasonal Seafood Tempura: Pike Eel.
The final piece was pike eel.  It had a bit more batter, but still not much, and again, not oily.  It was incredibly moist inside, and, for eel, good enough.

For most of the tempura, I did just use a little salt, which greatly enhanced things, but I did try dipping it in a little of the soy and vinegar too.  I think that is what our little dishes were for?

Overall though, I wasn't a big fan of the tempura.  I'm not sure why, or what I wanted different.  Maybe different seafood, different vegetables? 
Yiyashi Yuba. ¥1100 + ¥200 (large).
"Chilled noodles with tofu skin." 

And then, it was time for noodles.  A giant bowl of soba, chilled.  It came topped with sheets of yuba (per our selection), and a little grated wasabi.

It was here that I realized we had no idea what we were doing.  My research had been months ago, when I planned the trip.  I thought I recalled something about making a dipping sauce, and dunking your noodles into it?  Maybe that is what our cup was?  But we only had one cup, and we were clearly sharing.

But then, we were brought what looked like a tea pot, even though we didn't order tea.  Neither of us touched it at first, since we didn't want caffeine, and assumed it was tea.  Did they think one of us ordered tea?

Yeah, we were confused.  We tried the noodles.  They were ... very plain.  There was nothing on them.  We knew we were missing a step.  Again, we looked around, but no one else was in our phase of the meal.  We did verify that we had correctly used the little dishes for our tempura though.

So I kinda gestured at the chef, and mimicked pouring sauce into the bowl, looking for confirmation that we weren't supposed to do that.  He definitely said no to that, and pointed at the cup.

Ok, we were on the right track.  Make a dipping sauce in the cup, dunk the noodles.  But this was very hard to do with two people and one cup.  Finally, we asked the server for a second cup, and things made more sense.

But I still didn't like the soba.  It was just ... cold noodles.  With a slightly hearty flavor I guess.  I added soy sauce, vinegar, spices, wasabi, green onion to my sauce.  Still, meh.  Not my thing.

I moved on to the yuba.  I love yuba.  I was super excited for fresh yuba.  But ... it turns out, I'm spoiled in San Francisco, as we have Hodo Soy right across the bay, where I've gone for a factory tour before, and been eating yuba from for years.  I think their yuba was fresher than this.

The yuba was sadly unremarkable.  I think the rave reviews likely stem from people who aren't as familiar with it.  It was fresh enough I guess, and the addition of soy milk poured over enhanced the "soyness" of it and added a touch more creaminess, but, it just wasn't special.

And now, let's get back to the aforementioned pot.  Once I grew bored of the noodles, I decided to try to figure it out.  But I wasn't sure how, where was I supposed to pour it.  My cup was full of sauce, and that seemed ... right?  So I poured my sauce into my dining companion's cup (I know, so wrong), and poured a cup of the liquid from the pot.

It looked like ... dirty pasta water. And it tasted like it too.  It turns out, that is exactly what it was, called sobayu, the water from cooking your soba.  A quick moment of looking this up online told me what to do: I was supposed to add it to my leftover sauce at the end of the meal, and drink it like warm soup.  Aha!

So, I took back some sauce, added it to the soba water, and tried it.  It was really good!  Almost like miso soup.  I ended up making a second cup, with fresh sauces.

Overall, an experience of soba unlike anything I've had before.  I think we did it all correctly in the end.  But, I just didn't care for it. 
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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tempura Yamanoue, Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Store, Tokyo

Tonight's story is a sad tale.

It begins with me picking a tempura restaurant I really, really wanted to try in Tokyo (Michelin-stared Kyourakutei), 3 of us venturing all the way there (it was quite out of the way from our hotel), and finding it ... closed.  On a Saturday night.  (Don't worry, I went back a few days later, stay tuned for that).

I frantically consulted my list of back-ups, but there was no where, of any cuisine type, anywhere near where we were.  The best I could come up with was a tiny outpost of another tempura place on my list, Tempura Yamanoue, about 30 minutes away (walking to subway, subway ride, another walk).  Not ideal at all, but, we were determined.

Tempura Yamanoue's main location is at the Hilltop Hotel, but they also have locations in Ginza and Roppongi.  These are all pricey locations, with dinner offerings that are set menus, starting at 13,000 yen for a vegetarian selection and up to 20,000yen for the "Chef's Menu".  Not quite what we had in mind for the night, and not places we'd be able to get in without a reservation anyway.

But I knew they had a location inside the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi food court that is more casual ("food court" doesn't quite explain this, if you haven't been to a Japanese mall food area before, I don't know how to better describe it, but, it is numerous stalls, offering up all sorts of specialty and gourmet items, more like Eataly than a mall food court as we know it).

We arrived at the mall, and were totally lost.  There were multiple food courts, spread out over multiple buildings.  And the giant food court in the basement that we stumbled upon was ... well, giant.

It also, as we quickly found out, was closing soon.  Everything closed at 7:30pm (and we knew that Japanese punctuality meant on. the. dot!), with many places taking last orders by 7pm.  It was 6:55pm.  We had to frantically find it.

And, we did, actually.

Tempura Yamanoue had a takeout window, but also, a tiny side area with seating, directly in front of a chef.  It had exactly 3 seats total at a counter, and, there were 3 of us!  This area also had one table for two.  What a tiny place.  We were welcomed in with open arms, and menus, at 6:58pm.
Great Seats!
Our chef cooked for us right on the other side of the counter.

He spoke no English, but, he did watch our reactions, and was interested in our experience.  Our server also spoke no English, but both she, and the final staff member who hovered on the side watching us, were amused by us the entire time.  It was quite clear that they are not used to non-Japanese speakers (although they did have an English menu).

The food was prepared very quickly, and served quite fresh.  Unfortunately, I didn't like it.
Menu.
Since this outpost is a casual place, designed for the shopper to just grab a quick bite, the menu is small.  Basically ten-don (tempura over rice).  And that is it.  You could opt for slightly different tempura sets (veggie, kakiage, mixed seafood, prawns & veggies), or the single tempura meal, but that is it.
Teishoku: Grated Diakon Radish, Rice, Pickled Vegetables, Miso Soup, Salt, Dipping Sauce.
I opted for the Teishoku set (not entirely knowing what I was doing, much confusion with ordering to be honest), as did one other diner.

We were brought platter containing (from left to right):

  • Grated daikon radish
  • Rice
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Miso soup
  • Salt
  • Dipping sauce

Along with chopsticks and of course a wet towel.

The rice, daikon, and pickles were pretty standard, although not particularly good.  I kinda think my flights had better pickles.  The dipping sauce seemed to be a light soy sauce.

The miso soup was extremely salty, lukewarm, and contained tiny little clams (in their shells).  This turned into a comedic event, which at least made the night fun?

I decided I wanted to try a clam.  But I couldn't figure out how.  They were incredibly small, and I couldn't manage to just pick a clam out with my chopsticks.  I tried to hold one with my chopsticks and somehow suck out a clam, but, alas, no that didn't work either.  Finally, I got a great idea: I'd put the clam shell in my mouth, and just suck it out!  Great!  It worked!  But ... uh, then I had a little tiny clam shell in my mouth.  I knew I wasn't supposed to spit it out.  Or swallow it.  I panicked.

I tried to ask my dining companions what to do.  "I have a wittle bitty clam shell in my mouth", I tried to discretely say to them.  "Halp!"  They mostly just laughed at me and didn't offer any suggestions.  The staff very quickly picked up on what was going on, and tried so hard not to laugh at me, but totally failed.  One women was in the corner, behind a curtain, just giggling.  The other kept covering her mouth to hide her giggle.  I'm glad I amused everyone?
Vegetable Tempura. Y3240.
My main order, since I somehow turned it into a set, came as the tempura on a platter, rather than ten-don like the rest of the menu.  One of my group did order regular ten-don, and his came over rice, with a sauce drizzled over it, and miso soup on the side.

I was really craving vegetables at the time, so I opted for the vegetable version, expecting fun Japanese vegetables like lotus root, daikon, Japanese sweet potato, and maybe some tempura corn.

The tempura came all at once, rather than piece by piece as it was cooked, as would be common at the nicer places.  Strike one.

It was also incredibly heavy, and very, very, very oily.  I realize I was ordering fried battered food, but, I had tempura every day for lunch at my office, and it was not oily like this.  I expected that super fresh tempura would be even lighter, even less oily (which, I discovered when I went somewhere else a few nights later, can be true), but here, it wasn't.  I tasted too much oil.

My set contained 7 kinds of veggies: 2 asparagus, 1 eggplant, 1 pumpkin, 1 string of beans, 2 lotus, and 1 giant mushroom.

The lotus was the only one I liked, crunchy, almost refreshing under all the oily batter.

Everything else just couldn't stand up to the oil and batter.  I guess the bean one (second to right) was interesting in that I hadn't really seen that form before, it was some kind of beans attached somehow in a row ... but not quite in a pod.  They did taste like soybeans, but, I don't think were.

The mushroom was my least favorite, which shocked me, since I love mushrooms, particularly more "exotic" ones, but it was incredibly chewy, to the point that I really had trouble getting through it.

Let's just say, I didn't like anything, and dipping it in the sauce, or the salt, didn't help.  But I had the chef right there watching me, and the other two staff hovering around, so, I had to smile and eat it.

We quickly paid and left, and I tried to rush back into the rest of the food court to get something else, but, alas, it was 7:30pm by then, and, well, closing time.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Lawson Station, Tokyo

As you know from my review of 7-Eleven in Tokyo, convenience stores are a very different thing there.  As in, people actually *like* to go to them for food.

Lawson Station is one of the big three chains in Tokyo (alongside 7-Eleven and Family Mart).  It is notable in that Anthony Bourdain strongly endorses the egg sandwiches and fried chicken, thus, we sought it out.

Hot Items

Lawson sells a number of fried chicken products, plus warm buns near the registers.

None of these are things I'd normally get, but, I had heard great things about the chicken from Lawson, so I passed that info on to my chicken eating friends, and they went to seek it out.  I tried a few bites of each.

The chicken product they were most interested in was the nuggets, available in regular, red (spicy), and cheese.  It didn't seem like there were any dipping sauces available.
Regular.
The regular nuggets were very plain and boring, sans sauce.  Did we just miss this, or was there really no sauce?

The texture of the inside of the nuggets was certainly not identifying as chicken in any way.  It was very strange, and I did not like it.  I do not think this was quality product.
Cheese.
The cheese ones were really, really strange.

The nuggets themselves were the same, it was just the coating that was different.  Cheesy breading.  This was not a good flavor.

None of us liked any of these.

Sandwiches

I'm the last person to seek out a sandwich, and particularly not one from a convinience store, but again, I had heard great things about the egg sandwiches at Lawson.  Anthony Bourdain swears by them.
Egg Salad: 4 Ways.
When I got to the sandwich shelf, I realized I wasn't sure which type of egg sandwich was supposed to be amazing.

Luckily for me, they had one with 4 different types of egg sandwiches, all in one pack.  There were lots of other multi-packs, e.g. I could have gone for egg salad with a ham and cheese and a pork culet piece too, but, egg was the focus on this mission.

The four versions were: egg salad, hard boiled, omelet, egg salad with ... onion?

The classic egg salad was very good egg salad, chunks of egg white, creamy yolks with mayo.  Very creamy, tons of mayo (kewpie?), quite flavorful.  I liked it, my second favorite.

The hard boiled egg I didn't care for at all.  It was, literally, just slices of cooked egg between bread. Dry and boring, my least favorite.

The omelet one was ... interesting.  I love Japanese egg omelet (tomago) at sushi restaurants, but this was not that.  It was kinda soft, not sweet.  Didn't really like this, my second to last pick, but a bit novel.

The final one I still don't really know what it was.  There was a thin layer of crispy stuff that was red.  And then the egg salad, which wasn't like the first one, as it had no chunks of white, but rather was all chopped up into a smoother salad.  It was creamy and flavorful though, and went great against the crunchy stuff.  We thought there might be onion in there too?

The bread for all of these was actually good.  Soft, thin, white bread.  It wasn't stale, it wasn't hard.  It went well with the creamy fillings.

Overall, yes, these were just pre-made fairly low end sandwiches on white bread, but, I did like the two salad versions.  But I wouldn't want more, this was fun to try ... once.

Salads

Since I liked the salads in pouches from 7-Eleven, I was excited to try more from Lawson (also, I wanted some vegetables!).

The pouches at Lawson were labeled in English, which helped considerably.  I picked a bunch to try, and eagerly dug in.

Sadly, I didn't like any.  They just didn't have nearly as much flavor as the 7-Eleven versions.
Japanese-Style Salad.
First up, "Japanese-Style Salad."

We weren't really sure what this was, but it looked like it would have lots of assorted beans, veggies, and seaweed?  I hoped for a yummy dressing too.
Japanese-Style Salad: Inside.
And ... yeah, just a bunch of assorted beans, little cubes of carrot, and some corn.  The seaweed was fine, but there just wasn't any flavor to this.  

No one liked this, or even wanted a second bite.
Simmered Dried Radish.
Yeah, what?  I didn't know what this would be either ... dried radish?  I got it out of curiosity.
Simmered Dried Radish: Inside.
It didn't quite look like the picture.

The strips of what I guess were radish were soggy and slimy.  As were the veggies in the mix.  There wasn't any real flavor to any of it.

Another one that no one liked.
Simmered Hijiki Seaweed.
And finally, seaweed, since I love it.  I hoped it would be marinated.

I was particularly drawn in by the crunchy lotus on the picture.
Simmered Hijiki Seaweed: Inside.
Where was my lotus!

I found one chunk, it was reasonably crisp.

The seaweed wasn't particularly flavorful, again, no yummy marinade.  

And another one that no one really liked.  I guess my favorite, but even this went unfinished.
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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Executive Lounge, Prince Gallery, Tokyo

As I mentioned last week in my review of Oasis Garden at the Prince Gallery Hotel in Tokyo, I recently stayed at the Prince Gallery during my trip to Tokyo.  It was a great property (ridiculously modern, incredible staff, etc, etc).  As a Platinum guest, I had access to the Executive Lounge, open all day, with breakfast, tea time, and evening canapes and drinks.

I mostly had breakfast down in the full restaurant (because, um, it had some really great options!), and I mostly wasn't around to enjoy tea time or evening snacks because I was either at work or out to dinner, but, I did pop through a few times to check it out.  The offerings were generous, and really high quality.

Setting

The lounge is located on the 34th floor (2 floors up from my room, 2 floors down from the lobby).  Like the rest of the hotel, it has incredible views, and huge windows to take advantage of it.

It is open from 7am - 10pm, with breakfast from 7am-10am, cocktail time from 5pm-10pm, and tea time in-between.

The space was always pleasant.  Comfortable seating, attentive staff who were not overbearing, and no rules like being forbidden from walking out with a drink.
Seating.
Seating came in the form of regular dining tables (with comfortable padded chairs) or lower cocktail tables with more relaxed chairs.

Breakfast Buffet

The breakfast buffet in the lounge is actually fairly extensive for a lounge of its size, with continental selections, hot items, made-to-order eggs, pastries, and more.  The selection at the buffet down in the Oasis Garden restaurant was better, and I had the choice to do either, so, I usually opted for that.

Continental

The continental offerings were mostly a subset of the more extensive buffet at the restaurant.
Couscous and vegetables. Prosciutto. Smoked Salmon. Mortadella.  Paprika Riona.
This was basically the same as downstairs, with the addition of prosciutto.
Fruit, Yogurt.
The fruit lineup was impressive for the buffet size, particularly the dragonfruit!  This section also had both low-fat and plain yogurt, and two "yogurt sauces" (apple and berry), just like downstairs.
Bircher Muesli (cocoa).
The one item that was featured here that I didn't see in the restaurant buffet was the bircher muesli (cocoa flavored).

I tried it, but it wasn't really bircher muesli.  It was basically just yogurt with the cocoa muesli mixed in.  Soggy, tart, not very good.
Dried Fruit, Cheese.
There was only two types of cheese in the lounge, boursin and comte, and 4 types of dried fruit (raisins, apricot, dates).

This platter looked a bit sad and empty on most visits.
Cereal, Milks.
There was 4 types of cereal in the lounge instead of the 5 downstairs (corn flakes, brown rice flakes, all-bran, etc), and again, a slew of milks (5 different types - soy, rice, oat included).  They really care about milk selection.
Salad.
Rather than a salad bar like in the restaurant, there were just two types of pre-made salads on offer, no additional toppings, and three dressings: non-oil yuzu soy sauce, french, and roasted sesame.

Hot Items

Again, the hot items were mostly a subset of the plentiful selections in the restaurant, and again, I was impressed by how many they fit in the small space.  They did have different pancakes.

And kudos for serving in thick cast iron pots, they really helped keep things hot, and of course, looked far classier than standard chafing dishes.
Hot Veggies.
First up, hot veggies:

Grilled tomato, roasted Japanese potato, fried potato (front).
Roasted mushrooms, broccoli, corn (back).
Grilled Rice Balls.
One morning this section also had grilled rice balls, which I never saw in the restaurant.

They were decent, sticky rice with a bit of seasoning, although they didn't seem particularly grilled.
Hot Meats.
The hot meat lineup was bacon, crispy bacon, pork sausage, chicken sausage, fish of the day.

Yes, they even managed to fit in both types of bacon and both types of sausage into the hot meats section.
Condiments: Ketchup, Mustard.
Same condiments to go with the meats.  Again, such cute serving vessels.
Pancakes and Toppings.
The lounge had regular thin pan cooked pancakes, unlike the thicker style down in the restaurant.  To go with them, whipped cream and caramel agave, just like downstairs.
Pancake and Porridge Toppings.
Porridge toppings were a smaller selection than downstairs: hijiki sour plum taste, dried sardines with pepper, salted kelp, soybean paste in butterbur sprout, and leaf wasabi paste.  I again loved all these salty flavorful things.
Soup Stracciatella.
Each day both locations offer a soup of the day.

This looked to be egg soup?  Another day had minestrone.

Bakery

The baked goods lineup was a smaller selection of the same items as downstairs.
Bread, Jam, Butter.
Bread to slice, assorted jams, pats of butter.
Pastries.
A slew of pastries: Apricot Danish, Fruit Danish, Orange Danish, croissant (top). Rice Four Roll, Brioche, Chocolate Pretzel, Puti Baguette (bottom).
Egg Station.
The egg station was clearly marked on the side (unlike some places that offer this and you never know!), with options for fried, poached, scrambled eggs, omelets with your choice of mix-ins, and of course, the "Chef's Egg" that I had in the restaurant.

Afternoon Tea

I saw that the lounge serves treats all afternoon (11am-5pm, basically, as soon as they tear down breakfast and before they set up for evening canapes), but assumed it would be like most hotels - some fruit, granola bars, and token leftover pastries from breakfast.

I couldn't be more wrong.

The afternoon tea lineup was incredible. Absolutely incredible.  I'm sad I was only able to visit one day (although, uh, I went twice.  Three cheers for the all-day hours!)
Incredible lineup.
They had pastries, puddings, Japanese sweets, and more.

I was blown away by both the selection, and the quality.  Many steps up from breakfast.
Pastries: Kouign-Amann, Almond Croissants, Chocolate Pretzel.
The pastries were not leftovers from breakfast (besides the chocolate pretzel, which I didn't care for).

And they were much higher quality than the breakfast items.
Pate de Fruit, Canele.
Next up, a light choice, 3 flavors of pate de fruit.  I really liked the fruity berry ones.  Crazy sweet, soooo much sugar, but, I liked them.

Mini canele were cute, with gold leaf, but not actually good.  They were a bit spongy and mochi like, which was just ... odd.
Milk Chocolate Bar.
This looked identical to something I had in the evening that was labelled coconut bar.  I didn't try this one, but perhaps it had chocolate cream filling rather than the coconut cream the coconut one had?  Probably the same wafers and chocolate coating.
Cookies.
I didn't try the boring looking cookies, labelled, simply, "cookies".
Cookies: Salt Caramel Macaroons, Marshmallow Chocolate Brownies, Passionfruit & Lemon Macaroons.
I didn't try the macaroons either, as I don't really care for macaroons, and, I was provided with macaroons every night at turn down service (and they were always fine, different flavors daily, but still, macaroons).
Puddings: Panna Cotta with Grape Jelly, Creme Brulee Pumpkin, Japanese Sweets.
The pastries were fantastic, but, things got more exciting in the cold well.  Because there was this.

You know how much I love puddings, and panna cotta and creme brulee in particular.

I tried all of these.
Cakes: Rose Cake, Eclair Salt Lemon, Opera Cake.
The next cold well held a beautiful layer cake with rose, cream, and strawberries, a deep dark chocolate opera cake, and eclairs (uh, "salt lemon" flavor).

The eclair flavor changed daily, I also saw raspberry and vanilla.
Platter: Round One.
My first visit was at 11am, before I left the hotel for the afternoon.  I had a huge breakfast at the buffet earlier than morning, but ... so many things looked good, I had to try a bunch.

As you can see, I went for my top two pastry choices, a few little sweets, and my top pudding choice.

I liked nearly everything.

The kouign-ammn was more like a kouign-amann slice, fully caramelized on both sides.

It was fantastic.  The breakfast pastries may not have been great, but, this was perfect.  Buttery, flaky, perfectly caramelized, oh so sweet.  Why on earth did they not offer these at breakfast?

The almond croissant was also a slice, rather than full item, stuffed with almond paste, topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.  It was ok, flakier better pastry than breakfast pastries, but, not nearly as good as the kouign-amann.  Then again, few things ever are.

The chocolate brownie was very dense, very fudgy, studded with nuts, quite good.  Marshmallow on top was fluffy and gooey.  For a brownie, pretty good.
Pumpkin Creme Brulee.
I obviously had to try the creme brulee.

It was great, actually almost like a flan, as it had a sweet sauce on top rather than a brulee layer.  If it was labelled pumpkin flan, I'd say it was amazing, as a brulee, well, not quite.

But it was a thick custard pudding, well set, nice creamy consistency, good pumpkin flavor.  Topped with a little whipped cream, pumpkin seeds, and a piece of dried pumpkin (which they had as chips in the evening snack buffet too).

I really enjoyed it, and found the size perfect: enough to really get more than a few bites, but small enough that I could try the other things too.  My favorite item.

I returned several other times, and always enjoyed this.
Japanese Sweets.
I don't know what these were exactly, as they were labelled simply, "Japanese Sweets".

The one on the left seemed to be red bean, good size bits, soft, not too sweet, but I'm not sure what was in the center.   Lotus paste? I never figured it out.
Red Bean Mochi?
The middle one also seemed to include red bean, in the filling, in a soft mochi-like wrapper.  It was ok, not particularly good nor bad, just soft mochi, standard sweet red bean filling.
Platter: Round Two.
I returned to the hotel at 4:30pm, and stopped by the lounge on my way back to my room, hoping they'd still have the sweets out before canape time.

And ... they did!

So, uh, another round happened.

The kouign amann were less amazing this time around, less caramelized, I guess, older.

The rose cake wasn't remarkable.  Just layers of white cake, cream, and unripe strawberries.

And the mini eclair.  I didn't like it - the choux pastry wasn't very light, and it was filled with intense lemon cream (and I'm not into lemon desserts).
Panna Cotta with Grape Jelly.
This time I went for the panna cotta rather than creme brulee.

It was ... fascinating.

The top half was the grape jelly, more like a grape soup.  Watery, not gelatinous.  But very grapey, very sweet.  I think I liked it.

The panna cotta was below that, but very lost in the grape jelly.  I barely tasted it.  I also had a grape in the mix somewhere.

Overall, interesting, but not nearly as good as the pumpkin brulee.
Another Platter!
I did make it back one more time.

I went right for my favorites, the kouign-amann, the pumpkin pudding, the pate de fruit.  The pumpkin pudding was again quite tasty, the pate de fruit crazy sweet, and the koign-amann good but not amazing.
Japanese Sweet.
The final item was another Japanese sweet.

This had the same soft mochi wrapper as the red bean filled one, but it was filled with ... something.  A bit chalky, sweet, no idea what it actually was.

On top, candied soy beans.  Interesting at least.

Evening Drinks & Canapes

At 5pm, the lounge shifts into evening mode.  Canapes are served from 5-7pm, but drinks and snacks are served until 10pm.  Some of the most generous hours I've ever seen from a hotel lounge.

Pre-Dinner Canapes

Nightly Lineup.
The canape selection is all chilled items, but I really enjoyed some of it.  Not nearly as extensive as somewhere like the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney, but far more exciting than just some cheese slices, little sandwiches, or more common lineups.
Dried Tomato / Ripe Olives / Green Olives.
I didn't try the olives, but the "dried tomatoes" were actually juicy, flavorful, sundried tomatoes in an oil sauce.
Cheese: Camembert, blue, boursin pepper.
A few cheeses, much like breakfast.  No crackers to go with.
Pastries: Kougin-Amann, Almond Croissant, Chocolate Pretzels.
The pastries from afternoon tea stayed out.
Snacks: Mixed Nuts, Squid Peanuts, Shrimp Chips, Pumpkin Chips, Wasabi Beans, Beef Jerky.
The snacks are kept out alongside the drinks into the late night, so I skipped them on my canape visit, but had them most other nights as I returned back to the hotel.
Lotus Root Kinpira.
I loved this!

Braised lotus root and some veggies, I think burdock, carrots, peppers, all thinly sliced, and in a sweet sesame sauce.

Crispy veggies, flavorful sauce, my second favorite dish.
Caprese of Tofu.
This was interesting.

Rather than mozzarella cheese, it was a caprese made from tofu.

The tofu wasn't a style I had seen more, soft and crumbly at the same time.  Little cherry tomatoes and basil completed it.

It needed a bit more ... something, like balsamic drizzle?  Kinda boring flavorwise, but a unique spin on caprese.
Frivolite Salmon.
I also really liked this.

A thin slice of salmon, wrapped around a salmon mouse, with a little roe on top, garnished with micro basil.

The smoked salmon flavors were great, it was creamy, and overall, just a wonderful tasty bite.  I had a bunch of these.
Seafood Terrine Scallop.
This was ... kinda ok.

In the middle was cooked scallop, with two types of terrine on either side.  The white one was very rich and creamy, the pink one a bit fishy, and a bit like cat food smells.

But I loved the creamy yellow sauce on top.  Third favorite.
Roasted Beef.
I didn't try the slices of roast beef, served with cornichon slices and olives.
Agrodolce of Duck & Autumn Eggplant balsamic flavor.
I skipped the duck bits, but I grabbed some eggplant.  It had a nice smoky quality to it, but overall, this was a very oily dish.

I think with some bread, this, or the tofu caprese could make nice toppings.
Drinks.
And of course, drinks.  A decent selection, self serve.

Late Night

From 5-7pm, the lounge serves canapes, but on my first few nights, I never got back to hotel early enough to try them.
Late Night Drinks & Snacks.
But the lounge stays open until 10pm, with drinks and little snacks, and you know me and snacks!  I needed to try them.

All drinks/snacks are self-serve.
Shrimp Chips, Bitter Gourd Chips, Wasabi Beans, Beef Jerky.
The shrimp chips were rice cracker disks, that didn't seem too bad at first, but had a horrible aftertaste.  Did not like.

The bitter gourd chips I was excited for, since I love veggie chips of all kinds, but these had a strange flavor.  Moving on.

The beef jerky was really, really chewy.  As in, I couldn't get through it!  Another fail.

But the wasabi beans ... those I loved.  Crunchy.  Great wasabi flavor, good burst of flavor, but not too strong.  Far better than wasabi peas.  My favorite, night after night.
Pumpkin Chips.
The next night, the bitter gourd chips were replaced with pumpkin chips.  I was again delighted.  I love veggie chips!

But these were super crunchy, and again, I just didn't care for them.
Rice Cracker, Mixed Nuts.
The rice crackers were pretty boring, just rice cracker sticks.

The mixed nuts were a great selection though.  Mostly peanuts (salted roasted peanuts, skin-on spanish peanuts, sweet honey roasted peanuts), but also a few token large corn nuts and some kind of crunchy coated dried fruit, I think raisins.  The later were a tease, as they looked like coated peanuts, and given the other items I expected peanuts, but alas, chewy fruit!
Wasabi Beans, Squid Peanuts.
The next night some squid peanuts joined the mix.

They were great, crunchy shells, peanut inside.  I didn't really taste squid, but I was happy to snack on them.
Sesame Cookies.
The first night had sesame cookies, the second, plain cookies.  I didn't try either, as I don't really like cookies, and these certainly didn't look good.
Coconuts Bar.
This was pretty good, layers of wafer cookie and coconut cream, enrobed in milk chocolate.  Very large size pieces though, I wished they were a bit smaller.
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