Sayonara Tokyo

Last time: ramen bars, Western breakfast, unadon, yakitori.
This time: to the mountains! 7-11 breakfast, yakiniku, soup-in-a-can, teppanyaki, homeward bound.
After three days in Tokyo, it was time to explore a bit more of Japan.  Another hideously early start to catch the 06:24 Tokyo – Nagano shinkansen.  I was unusually chirpy so dashed off to the 7-11 under the hotel to grab some breakfast for the train.
7-11 in Japan seems quite different to 7-11 in America, and to any Spar/Alldays-style UK equivalents in that it sells food that you’d actually quite happily eat.  This was my breakfast haul:

In fact, I bought more than this…..another couple of rice balls, one teriyaki flavour, one with salmon in the middle.  But this was a pretty good start to the day: omelette slices, a satay-ish noodle pot, and a green tea noodle pot, and another rice ball (well, rice triangle).  And this was for two of us, before you comment on my massive breakfast appetite…..although, we all know I do love a hearty start to the day.
After 100 minutes on the bullet train, we got a bus to Hakuba, and then were picked up by our lodge to get us up to Happo-one and TO THE SNOW!!!
It’s not a snowboarding blog so I won’t bore you with the details, but we had an ace time.  And experienced apres, Japan-style:

Vending machine beer. Awesome dude!

What was indeed awesome was the restaurant attached to our lodgings.  Resort Lodge Windy runs its own restaurant, Wagyu Kobeya specialising in Wagyu beef.  And oh my word, was it special.  We had a yakiniku dinner, which is cooking your own meat and a token smattering of vegetables on a hot stone grill in the middle of the table.  And the beef was just amazing: tender, with beautifully marbled, buttery fat, and a deep, rich flavour.

150g prime Wagyu sirloin
High speed chopstick action 
Marbling close-up
Garlic, ginger and mystery tasty sauce for dipping
The ubiquitous and always-welcome miso
Side order of gyoza for DDD? Yes please.
The gyoza were really lovely, light and crisp and tasty. 
Our jaunt to Happo-one was all too short, and Sunday afternoon found us Tokyo-bound.  Having somewhat pigged out at the breakfast buffet (come on, chicken and vegetable dumplings for breakfast?  Who can resist?  Not me) I passed on a bento lunch for the train.  And then I saw this in the vending machine, so had to try it!
Soup in a can.  Hot soup in a can!  And it was really good!
And I knew we had a big dinner coming up when we got home, and wanted to save myself for that.  And I’m glad I did.  What a dinner.
As a amazing treat, we were taken to Yebisu, the teppanyaki restaurant at the top of the Westin Hotel in Tokyo.  The pictures kind of do the talking here.  It was amazing.
Squid amuse
Matt’s menu’s starter
Preparing the lobster
Beautifully presented lobster
The Meat
As she cooked it, she chopped it up into bite-size morsels
Rice finished off on the beef fat….mmm, beef fat….
Miso, fried garlic rice, pickles
Dessert, served in the lounge.  Can’t for the life of me remember what flavour it was though…

The grading of Japanese beef seems a complex issue, with all sorts of explanations on the web, from academic grading scales, to quite general articles.  I think it’s safe to summarise that A5 is the best of the best with the highest ratio of marbled fat to beef, pink meat (which is held in higher regard that dark meat favoured in the UK) and very white fat.  
Matt and I ordered one A5 grade beef menu, and one A4grade-with-lobster menu, and shared.  We blind tasted the A5 and A4 to see if we could tell the difference, and we got it wrong, as did Clarence and Dan who also tried to guess just from taste.  We all (I think) preferred the lower grade beef, pretty much because it tasted more beefy, less fatty.  Although tastier fat I have never eaten.
After our amazing blow out dinner, it felt kind of wrong to eat anything else.  But when has that ever stopped me for long?  The next day was home-time, and another early start to catch the limo bus to the airport.  I got there far too early (but got to travel with Matt, so it was worth it…) and having waved him off to his flight to NYC, I had a bit of a nap until my flight opened.  And when I woke up, I was hungry!  Pork katsu curry was on my list of food to tick off, and I tracked some down in the airport eating mall.  
Considering most of the Japanese food I’d eaten before visiting Japan came courtesy of lunches from the Japanese Canteen near my office, and that my favoured hangover cure is their katsu curry, it seemed right that this was my last meal in Tokyo.  And it didn’t disappoint: light, crispy panko crumbs round a juicy pork steak, with the inimitable Japanese curry sauce and rice.
Tonkatsu kare raisu
As an aside, maybe I’m biased (in a bad way) but almost every convenience/takeaway/fast food restaurant in Japan was a million times better than the equivalent in the UK.  Okay, so you wouldn’t eat tonkatsu every day, but it was prepared with what certainly looked liked care and attention, right down to laying the tray out prettily.  And this was an airport takeaway stand, in the same position you’d find Maccy D’s, Costa or Starbucks in the UK.  In the shopping malls there was an outstanding variety, and from what I tasted, high quality choice of food on offer which I haven’t seen outside Selfridges (and that’s hardly normal).  Sure, there’s a huge question mark over the sustainability of many foods the Japanese love to eat and sell; I had a couple of crises of conscience when faced with some parts of my dinner, toro and eel being two of them, but there seems to be a higher regard in general for the quality and presentation of food, whether it’s a 3 quid bowl of noodles or £100 teppanyaki dinner.
Anyway, rounding off my food adventure in Japan was my final meal before I hit the UK: my bento dinner on the plane.  Again, I’d happily eat this on terra firma, and I don’t think I can say that about anything I’ve eaten outside Upper (ahh, Upper….will I ever see you again?).  Admittedly, this was in Premium Economy, but still, not bad for plane food.  It even came with a fulsome description:
Shoka-do style bento box
Noodle dish: green tea soba noodles with Japanese leek, wasabi and soba sauce
Braised dish: fried bean curd ball with carrot, radish, green beans and ginan sauce
Grilled dish: grilled salmon with sansho pepper sauce, grilled chicken yakitori skwer and egg cake
Japanese accompaniments: white miso soup, steamed rice with yukan powder and pickled radish and shibazuke.
Bento, plane-style.

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