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Where to eat: A taste of Kyoto-style Okinawa in Tokyo

Fusion fare: Akasaka Tantei bucks the trend of Okinawan restaurants in Tokyo by adopting a kaiseki (high-end multicourse) approach.

Okinawan food is — for me at least — the food of summer. When the days are short and chill, I have little interest in the flavors of Japan’s southwestern isles. But when the heat and humidity build like a thunderhead, that is the time the cravings arise.

Knobbly jade-green gourds of piercing bitterness; juicy, rich cubes of fatty pork belly; fermented tofu, tangily redolent of blue cheese; crunchy seaweed clusters shaped like miniature bunches of grapes. These are tastes and textures that beckon me like an exotic overseas holiday.

There’s only one drawback. Most Okinawan restaurants in Tokyo are about as basic as a backpacking beach trip. They are tasty, colorful and fun, and above all affordable. But they can leave you feeling like you’re dining with sand between your toes.

In place of izakaya tavern ambience, sometimes I’m in the mood for something more sophisticated, for a business lunch perhaps, or a quiet evening à deux. That’s the way they do it at Akasaka Tantei.

There is nowhere else like it in the city. The inspiration is unmistakably Okinawan, as are the ingredients — but they are prepared and presented with the understated elegance of Kyoto and its elaborate kaiseki multicourse cuisine. It’s an intriguing cross-cultural melding, and one that by and large works wonderfully.

Intrigued but not convinced? Set aside a leisurely hour or more at midday and order the Tantei Gozen (¥4,500) “small kaiseki” lunch. More compact set meals (from ¥1,800) are also available for those with office schedules, but the extra outlay in time and budget gives a far better introduction to the way a kaiseki meal unfolds.

Once you are installed in your private room — all decorated with wood and coarse mud walls in rustic Okinawan style — the meal opens with a flourish. The first course will be a large black lacquered box in which a dozen or more appetizers are attractively arranged. These colorful tidbits from both sea and land are prepared in contrasting styles, some raw, others grilled, yet others deep-fried or simmered.

As always, the exact composition will change with the season, but one dish that features year-round is jimami-dōfu (peanut “tofu”). The small white sphere has the smooth texture of goma-dōfu, a standard appetizer in traditional Kyoto cuisine, but instead of sesame it has the unmistakable under-taste of creamed peanuts. This is one of the classic dishes of Okinawa, with a simple refreshing refinement.

You will also find a saucer of shima-mozuku, a delicate seaweed that grows profusely around the islands and is invariably served with a rice-vinegar dressing. There will also be small cuts of pork and grilled fish, and a cube ofdashimaki tamago omelet, lightly sweetened with cane sugar.

And without fail, you can expect to find morsels of tempura, crunchy rakkyō shallots and slices of gōya, the dark-green gourd that more than lives up to its standard English translation as “bitter melon.” These are all quintessential Okinawan dishes, but rarely are they prepared with this level of delicacy.

Once you have nibbled your way through this opening course, the lacquered box will be replaced by a bowl of clear soup. The fragrant dashi stock, prepared with plenty of prime konbu seaweed just as it would be in Kyoto, may hold fronds of shredded vegetables, such as daikon, runner beans and kabocha squash, evoking a submarine seascape in miniature.

In any other setting, a kaiseki meal featuring pork would be remarkable. Not in Okinawa, where — as the folk saying has it — every part of the pig is eaten except the oink. Ears and trotters are essential parts of the islanders’ traditional snout-to-curly-tail diet. But the main dish at Tantei is a more deluxe cut altogether.

There are few tastier preparations for pork belly than rafutī. The cubes of meat are slowly simmered until they are meltingly soft, while the fat is carefully skimmed off during the cooking process, resulting in cuts that are firm, rich, satisfying and not greasy on the palate.

Don’t be surprised if you find more of that gōya cooked in with your rice — the green gourd has a reputation for being especially good for you in the heat of summer — while the miso soup contains clouds of homemade tofu curds made in island style.

The meal closes with a more accessible flourish: a slice of cheesecake. Yet this too has a local accent. The layer of crumbled chinsuko cookies (a local shortbread) is topped with pureed ta-imo, a yam that is an island staple. It’s another cross-cultural touch, but prepared with finesse and a doff of the hat to tradition.

This is all a far cry from Okinawan home cooking, and the kind of honest straightforward izakaya street food I love to nibble on with shots of awamori, the high-octane island hooch. I like to think of it as kaiseki with island attitude — and just right for the heat of midsummer.

AKASAKA TANTEI
 Address
6-16-11 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
 Website View URL
 Phone 03-3584-6646
 Nearest Station Akasaka (Chiyoda Line), Nogizaka (Chiyoda Line), Roppongi (Oedo, Hibiya lines).
 Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (L.O.) and 6-9 p.m. (L.O.); closed Sun.
 What Works Okinawa flavors married with Kyoto finesse
 What Doesn’t Some of the rooms feel rather claustrophobic
 Smoking Smoking not permitted
 Price per head Lunch from ¥1,800; dinner courses from ¥10,500; major cards accepted; reservations recommended.
 Language Japanese menu; a little English spoken.

 

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Where to eat: 246 Common

Tokyo really needs more places like this. Taking advantage of a lull in the Aoyama construction cycle, the open-air 246 Common squeezes a bundle of delights into the space once occupied by the LaPlace complex, just off the main Omotesando crossing. The assembled food stalls, shacks and caravans sell an eclectic mix of drinks and vittles – from coffee and cocktails to artisanal bread, burgers, takoyaki and chiffon cake – which you can munch in the communal seating area. There’s also a small selection of shops housed in the more permanent-looking buildings tucked in the far corner of the site, offering shoes, spectacles and – of all the things – old-school tobacco pipes.

 

Details

Address 

3-13 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda lines), exit A4

Open Daily 11am-10pm

URL www.246common.jp

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Things to do: Shimbashi Koichi festival July 25th & 26th

Thu Jul 25 – Fri Jul 26, 2013 Shimbashi SL Square

The highlight of this festival is a yukata (light kimono) beauty contest, in which participants are judged on their ability to dress in said garment, withstand the pressure of a public interview, and ‘look good in a yukata’. The winner stands to walk away with ¥200,000 and a 4-night trip to Hawaii – a prize worth winning, when all’s said and done. The entry deadline is now closed, with the climax of the contest to be held on July 22 at 7pm.

At other points during the festival you can expect to see taiko troops, contortionists, local bands and traditional dances. The main reason to go to a Japanese festival, of course, is the food, and you’ll find the usual variety of things on sticks here in abundance. Stuff yourself silly.

Details

Open Jul 21-22

Time Midday-9pm

Venue Shimbashi SL Square

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Things to do this week in Tokyo Juli 1st- Juli 7th 2013

Handsome Boys and Good-Looking Men of Edo

Tuesday July 2nd- August 25th  Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art

Beautiful women are a common subject for ukiyo-e woodblock prints, but what about beautiful men? In fact, there’s a rich tradition of depicting dishy fellows in traditional Japanese art – and you can see plenty of examples during the Ota Memorial Museum of Art’s summer exhibition, from Edo-era dandies and kabuki actors to literary characters such as Hikaru Genji.

Details

Open July 2-August 25 Closed Mon (except Aug 15), July 16, 29-31

Time Tue-Sun 10.30am-5.30pm

Admission Adults ¥700, students ¥500

 

Venue Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art

Address 1-10-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Harajuku station (Yamanote line), Omotesando exit or Meiji-Jingumae station (Chiyoda line), exit 5.

All-You-Can-Eat KFC

Wed Jul 3 – Thu Jul 4, 2013 KFC and branches nationwide
How much KFC is too much KFC? You can find out on July 3 and 4, when the finger-lickin’ fast food empire celebrates its anniversary with an all-you-can-eat blitzkrieg. Head to 565 participating branches nationwide from 11am-7pm, order up three to fives pieces of chicken, a small portion of fries and a medium soft drink (combined price ¥1,200), and you’ll be entitled to carry on gorging on more of the same for the next 45 minutes – i.e. until your stomach bursts or you decide that you never, ever want to eat KFC again. Good times. Note that you’ll need to book in advance; reservations are being taken in-store until July 2.
 

Details

Open July 3-4

Time 11am-7pm

Admission ¥1,200 for 45 minutes (by reservation only)

 

Venue KFC and branches nationwide

Address 1-21 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Shibuya Station (Yamanote, Shonan-Shinjuku, Ginza, Hanzomon, Fukutoshin lines, etc.)

Hoop Lounge

Wed Jul 3, 2013 SuperDeluxe
Get in shape for beach season (or practice your moves for the upcomingsummer music festivals) at this free get-together at SuperDeluxe. The regular Hoop Lounge sessions offer a chance for newbies and hardened hula pros to have a communal hip-wiggle, with DJs, VJs and a few hoop performers on hand to keep things interesting.
 

Details

Open July 3

Time 7pm start

Admission Free (with drink order)

 

Venue SuperDeluxe

Address B1F, 3-1-25 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi station (Hibiya, Oedo lines), exit 1B.

Andreas Gursky

Wed Jul 3 – Mon Sep 16, 2013 The National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT)
Proud creator of the most expensive photograph ever sold, Germany’s Andreas Gursky helped put the colossal-scale ‘is it photography or is it painting?’ approach on the map. His first solo exhibition in Japan takes a career-spanning approach, with around 65 images running from the 1980s to the present day, and documenting subjects ranging from supermarkets (99 Cent, pictured) to North Korea’s Mass Games. And yes, they include that aforementioned record-breaker: Rhein II (1999), a print of which sold for US$4.3 million in 2011.
 

Details

Open July 3-September 16 Closed Tue

Time Wed-Mon 10am-6pm (Fri until 8pm)

Admission Adults ¥1,500, students ¥1,200, high school students ¥800

 

Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT)

Address 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Transport Nogizaka Station (Chiyoda line), Roppongi Station (Oedo, Hibiya lines)

Anxiety / Relief

Until Thu Jul 4, 2013 Hibiya Library & Museum
Alternative Finnish animation isn’t something that you get to see very often in Tokyo, so this show at Hibiya Library & Museum is worth savouring.Anxiety / Relief takes its title from Ami Lindholm’s year-long chronicle of the life of an animator, but the works on show range from Maria Björklund’s brief, hyperactive ‘Kihi-Kuhi’ (pictured) to Kaisa Penttilä’s ‘Rushed Through’, in which spectators have to run past a series of images to create the animation themselves.
 

Details

Open June 11-July 4 (closed June 17)

Time Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 10am-5pm

Admission Free

 

Venue Hibiya Library & Museum

Address 1-4 Hibiya-Koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Transport Uchisaiwaicho Station (Mita line), Kasumigaseki Station (Marunouchi, Hibiya, Chiyoda lines)

Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assembly

Wed Jul 3 – Sat Jul 6, 2013 Cotton Club
James Brown’s post-Maceo tenorist and the man behind JB’s ‘Cold Sweat’, Pee Wee Ellis hits Cotton Club with his current touring funk outfit, adding a burning energy to many of the stone cold classics from his vast repertoire – while also throwing in the odd jazz standard for good measure.
 

Details

Open July 3-6

Time July 3-5 – 1st show: Doors 5pm. Gig 6.30pm; 2nd show: Doors 8pm. Gig 9pm 
July 6 – 1st show: Doors 4pm. Gig 5pm; 2nd show: Doors 6.30pm. Gig 8pm

Admission General ¥8,400, reserved seats from ¥9,500

 

Venue Cotton Club

Address Tokyo Building Tokia 2F, 2-7-3, Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan

Transport Tokyo Station (JR Lines, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line : Marunouchi South Exit)

Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri (2013)

Fri Jul 5 – Wed Jul 10, 2013 Kappabashi-Hondori
 
Asakusa’s Kappabashi – the famed Mecca for Tokyo chefs looking to kit out their kitchens – is festooned with vibrantly coloured streamers and decorations during this annual summer festival. Though it runs from July 5 to 10, the best time to visit the Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri is at the weekend, when local business put out stalls and hold parades and street performances.
 

Details

Open July 5-10

Venue Kappabashi-Hondori

Raw Fish & Chips (Visionist/Puzzle)

Fri Jul 5, 2013 Fai
Grime isn’t dead: it was just locked in a basement, pumping iron and hallucinating feverishly. Briefly the hottest sound on the UK underground, the genre has been seeing a minor resurgence recently, buoyed both by veteran producers such as Terror Danjah (and Wiley, when he can be arsed) and relative newcomers including Visionist. Hailing from the sub-bass heartland of South London, this gifted MC-turned-producer harks back to the Eskibeat aesthetic pioneered by Wiley in the early 2000s: dark, stark, but also furiously inventive in its way with rhythm and texture. Expect a good battering when he guests at this party organised by the Diskotopia label and promoters Osiris, where he’s joined by Berlin-based futurist Puzzle, a member of the city’s hard-hitting Leisure System collective. Expat beat merchants Submerse and A Taut Line and homegrown UK garage aficionado Prettybwoy support.
 

Details

Open July 5

Time Doors 11pm

Admission ¥3,000 on the door; ¥2,500 with flyer

 

Venue Fai

Address B1F-B2F Hachihonkan Bldg, 5-10-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Omotesando Station (Chiyoda, Ginza, Hanzomon lines), exit B1

Iriya Asagao Matsuri (Morning Glory Festival) 2013

Sat Jul 6 – Mon Jul 8, 2013 In and around Iriya Kishimojin
t’s worth getting up early – as in crack-of-dawn early – for Japan’s largest morning glory festival, held on July 6-8 every year in and around Iriya Kishimojin temple. Around 400,000 people head to the event each year, perusing the 120 flower booths and hundred-odd festival stalls on display, though given that the event falls on a weekend this year you can probably expect it to be even more crowded than usual.
 

Details

Open July 6-8

Time From 5am

Venue In and around Iriya Kishimojin

French Paintings from the State Pushkin Museum

Sat Jul 6 – Mon Sep 16, 2013 Yokohama Museum of Art
The State Pushkin Museum is Moscow’s largest repository of European art, and you can see some of its finest treasures – including key works by Poussin, Degas and Cézanne – in this blockbuster show. Masterpieces of French Paintings from the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow(to give it its full title) was originally due to arrive in Japan in April 2011, but had its trip postponed following the March 11 disaster. Highlights include Renoir’s 1877 ‘Portrait of Jeanne Samary’ (pictured) and Ingres’ ‘Virgin with Chalice’ (1841).
 

Details

Open July 6-September 16 Closed Thu (except Aug 1, 15)

Time Fri-Wed 10am-6pm

Admission Adults ¥1,500, students ¥1,200, junior high school students ¥600

 

Venue Yokohama Museum of Art

Address 3-4-1 Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku, Kanagawa

Transport Minato Mirai station (Minato Mirai line), exit 5.

Yokai : Demons, Folklore Creatures and GeGeGe no Kitaro

Sat Jul 6 – Sun Sep 1, 2013 Mitsui Memorial Museum
Forget Halloween: mid-summer is the traditional season for ghosts and demons in Japan. This timely exhibition at the Mitsui Memorial Museum lures unwitting visitors into the world of Japanese yokai, with an array of spooky paintings, masks and figurines, a few of them dating back as far as the Kamakura period. Bringing things all the way up to the present, the show also features 25 original illustrations by Shigeru Mizuki, the horror-loving manga artist of GeGeGe no Kitaro fame.
 

Details

Open July 6-September 1 Closed Mon (except July 15, Aug 12), July 16

Time Tue-Sun 10am-5pm

Admission Adults ¥1,200, students ¥700

 

Venue Mitsui Memorial Museum

Address 7F Mitsui Main Building, 2-1-1 Nihombashi-Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Mitsukoshimae Station (Ginza, Hanzomon lines), exit A7

Monsters University

 Pixar’s back-to-school prequel doesn’t flunk the most important test
Monsters University

Director: Dan Scanlon
Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Tilly

A few weeks ago, a French maths teacher was suspended for showing his class of 11-year-olds the first Saw – were they learning about the mean? – and while that’s far from the typical curriculum, it’s close to a perfect gag for Pixar’s mock-ghoulish latest. You needn’t have seen 2001’s Monsters, Inc. to understand or enjoy this prequel; it’s enough to know that a decade before audiences first met one-eyed blob Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and turquoise gorilla ‘Sulley’ Sullivan (John Goodman), they were dewy hopefuls striding the corridors of higher learning. At ‘MU,’ apparently the Yale of scare schools, they first tussle as competing Big Monsters on Campus, then are forced into an unlikely partnership when Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, uncorking the Queen) targets them for expulsion.

Monsters University aces a two-part test – first, appealing to kids with gorgeous, hyperrealistic animation that teases out every pink hair on a beastly art student; then luring in parents with several knowing jokes about strumming your guitar on the quad or playing beer pong. Behind the gentleness lies a significant message of sticking up for honesty (cheating is a plot point), along with the value of studying hard. If the film lacks the heartbreaking quality of Pixar’s revolutionary best, there’s no demerit in playing it solid and safe for a change. Adult fans of horror will love the idea of a fearsome school of hard knocks, Hogwartsian for sure, but with its own under-the-bed growl.

Monsters University opens nationwide on July 6

New 10am Film Festival

Until Fri Mar 21, 2014 Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills Rakutenchi Cinemas Kinshicho, Tachikawa Cinema City, Toho Cinemas Fuchu

Toho’s popular 10am Film Festival – a season of morning movie screenings that allowed audiences to revisit classics from Belle de Jour to Back to the Future – looked set to bow out in 2013, yet another victim of the switchover from celluloid to digital. But fret not, cineastes: after some last-minute wrangling, the event will be continuing in a new, all-digital format. That’s not the only change, either – there are now four Tokyo-area cinemas taking part, with each film now getting an extended, two week run. The following list is for screenings at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills; see the official website for details of screenings at other participating cinemas (Japanese only):

April 6-19: The Last Adventure (Les aventuriers) (1967)
April 20-May 3: Roman Holiday (1953)
May 4-17: Pretty Woman (1990)
May 18-31: West Side Story (1961)
June 1-14: Rio Bravo (1959)
June 15-28: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
June 29-July 12: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
July 13-26: Ben Hur (1959)
July 27-August 9: Forrest Gump (1994)
August 10-23: Cinema Paradiso (1988)
August 24-September 6: Mary Poppins (1964)
September 7-20: Casablanca (1942)
September 21-October 4: Rocky (1976)
October 5-18: Enter the Dragon (1973)
October 19-November 1: The Godfather (1972)
November 2-15: The Godfather: Part II (1974)
November 16-29: The Day of the Jackal (1973)
November 30-December 13: The Towering Inferno (1974)
December 14-27: The Great Escape (1963)
December 28-January 10: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
January 11-24: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
January 25-February 7: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
February 8-21: Gone with the Wind (1939)
February 22-March 7: Chariots of Fire (1981)
March 8-21: Psycho (1960)

Natsume Soseki and Arts

Until Sun Jul 7, 2013 University Art Museum
The University Art Museum mounts a comprehensive tribute to Meiji-era novelist and art buff Natsume Soseki, collecting together works that featured in the author’s writings – including artists both foreign (Turner, Millais) and Japanese (Watanabe Kazan, Ito Jakuchu) – as well as friends and contemporaries like Asai Chu and Goyo Hashiguchi.
 

Details

Open May 14-July 7 Closed Mon

Time Tue-Sun 10am-5pm

Admission Adults ¥1,500, students ¥1,000

 

Venue University Art Museum

Address 12-8 Ueno Koen, Tokyo

Transport Ueno station (Yamanote line), park exit; (Ginza, Hibiya lines), Shinobazu exit.

Otodama Beach Party 2013 Vol 2

Sun Jul 7, 2013 Otodama Sea Studio
You know summer’s here when Zushi’s seaside gig venue kicks into action. Otodama Sea Studio holds its second Sunday dance party of the season on July 7, with a host of DJs who’ll be more than a little familiar to Tokyo clubbers, including Tomoyuki ‘Fantastic Plastic Machine’ Tanaka, Daishi Dance and Rocketman, plus live music from electronica star De De Mouse.
 

Details

Open July 7

Time Starts noon

Admission ¥4,000 on the door; ¥3,500 adv

 

Venue Otodama Sea Studio

Address 2-3 Shinjuku, Zushi, Kanagawa

Transport Shin-Zushi Station (Keikyu line) or Zushi Station (Yokosuka/Shonan-Shinjuku line)

 

 

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Where to eat: Nirvana New York for divine Indian food @ Roppongi midtown

The bland uniformity of your average Indian eatery menu is swiftly forgotten at Nirvana New York, the reincarnation of a well-regarded restaurant that started life in 1970 in Central Park South, Manhattan. Under the eye of Warren Wadud, the son of the original founder, Nirvana serves up Indian cuisine that’s as inspired as it is wallet-busting. With its chic design and brightly patterned furniture, the indoor dining room is appealing enough, but when the weather’s good it’s hard to resist the temptation of the outdoor terrace, which includes sofa seats that are ideal for lounging (if a little awkward for eating a proper meal from). Dinner courses start at ¥6,000, but the lunchtime buffet presents a more affordable alternative: ¥2,000 gets you a selection of curries, salads, hot and cold appetizers and desserts, with naan brought fresh to the table. Surprisingly, perhaps, the curries aren’t the highlight: we’re more enthused by the marinated and pickled vegetables – an explosion of unfamiliar tastes and textures – and the devilishly good garam masala potatoes. It’s enough to turn even the more abstemious diner into an unabashed glutton.

Details

Address 

1F Garden Terrace, Tokyo Midtown, 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi Station (Hibiya, Oedo lines), Nogizaka Station (Chiyoda line)

Telephone 03 5647 8305

Open Mon-Sat 11am-12midnight, Sun & hols 11am-11pm (lunch 11am-3.30pm, dinner from 5pm)

URL www.nirvana-newyork.jp

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