The Return Of Kiichi-kun III
In our epic conclusion to the trio that is "The Return Of Kiichi-kun III," Ashely and I were finally able to venture into Tokyo and begin our exploration of all things Japan.
The first expedition found us wandering the back streets of Shibuya to head towards Harajuku. At first, we felt as if we were completely lost, attempting to utilize my phone maps (which for a USA phone in Japan, it doesn't quite work right). Eventually we found the shops getting cooler, the food stalls becoming far more interesting looking. We popped in and out of punk-clothing shops, a baby clothes store that featured graffiti-style printed clothes for toddlers, some thrift shops, then gradually made our way towards Kiddy Land; the king of all toy stores. I've hit Kiddy Land each time in Japan, collecting my Final Fantasy toys, but this time they had none! We stocked up on omiyage for our friends and family, then went for food.
This trip was mainly about food, so I'll be sure to summarize the choicest eats:
Harajuku Gyozalo was lunch; and man, lemme tell ya, gyoza is one of my favorite things on earth. Meat stored in little packets of carbohydrate-y goodness is always what I have a craving for. Needless to say, this legendary gyoza shack was amazing.
Shabuzen was dinner. We reunited with Koji from Roadrunner to sit back and chow down on all things meat. My okasan would always make sukiyaki at home, but I've never tried it in Japan; my goodness was this place good. Shabuzen was Ashley's favorite meal of the whole trip; this restaurant is the spot where Bill Murray and Scarlet J. had their fight in "Lost In Translation."
The following day found us traveling as a duo towards Asakusa to wander the shops and eat fresh senbei. A good friend of mine - Ken Sakurada - who owns Shin Sushi in Orlando (sushi as good as Japan basically) told me to meet up with his friend who works at Yoshikami, Azuma-san.
Yoshikami for me was one of the truly most unique things I've ever eaten. Yoshikami's food reflects the American soldier's description of the diner in Japan; it's basically the Japanese interpretation of what the American diner is, but utilizing a Japanese spin on it all. Omme-rice and pork cutlets were our lunch, along with some ice cream for desert, and for me it was a wonderfully unique experience. Omme-rice is something my okasan would always make for me for breakfast.
After our lunch, we grabbed the train to Ueno park and the Tokyo art museum. It was a Japanese cultural tour that inspired "Shogun," and this time around the limitless sea of inspiration I found within the museum will certainly be seen throughout many musical things I create next in Trivium and Mrityu. Spanning from ancient triptychs that could be new tattoos for me, to busts of ancient demons and goddesses who could be referenced in song, wandering the halls of the art museum in Tokyo was fuel to the creativity that I always long for.
Ashley had a step-tracker wrist band that she had on for the day, when we finally got back to our room after our day of sightseeing, it said we logged 10 miles!
I Love Meat was our dinner pick for the night: Yaki niku; always a crowd pleaser. We had multiple cuts of beef here, unfortunately we had no Japanese speaking friend with us, so it was a lot of pointing at images of cartoon cows to figure out the cuts of what we were eating.
Afterwords, we hit Ishinohana for a Pisco Sour and something fancy I can't recall the name of that Ash guzzled down. Ishonohana was a seriously fancy little joint for cocktails. The waiters were dressed in the prohibition-era style that is so popular in America; these guys sure had their craft down. Watching the bartenders here is watching artists at work.
Our final day saw tempura udon for breakfast, followed by a trek into Loft (for cute omiyage), Mandarake (to browse some anime comics), Blitz (for a metal T shirt or two), a panchinko arcade, then some photo booths that turn everyone into giant-eyed anime-girls. Yes - I did this as well. Lunch? More ramen and gyoza!!
For dinner, we found ourselves at an all chicken restaurant called Toriyoshi that we had with Koji-san. We had: Kirin, a thick chicken soup, a salad featuring chicken, a thick and rich oden with all parts of the chicken, yaki-tori chicken parts, oyaku-donburi, then even more chicken in the form of tempura. Holy chicken, Batman! It was a delicious final meal with our beloved pal Koji.
The morning of our flight, naturally - I wanted ramen again, but Ashley said she was “ramen-ed out”. My favorite breakfast is the Japanese breakfast (rice, salmon, miso soup, and tea), Ashley’s - the French breakfast (croque madame and cafe’ au lait). Lo and behold in all it’s combined splendor, we found the best of both worlds, we found a Japanese/French bakery. We had matcha croissants and scones; crossaints with cheese; a hotdog-stuffed pastry of some sort; and another cheesy roll. Ashley was a very happy Francophile.
Unfortunately for us, it was time to fly back home; Ashley was to get back to her job as Creative Director at a local creative agency, and it was time for me to get back on tour again in North America, melting the faces of countless metalheads around the USA and Canada.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Japan is the greatest place on Earth.
I Love New York City. Oh Yeah. New York City II. II.
I like The Breslin. A lot. The Breslin embodies and defines what I typically am on the hunt for in the US of A as far as gastro-adventures. My apologies if my terminology is a few years behind, but in my mind, The Breslin is New American. New American with a strong nod to the Gastro Pubs of England. New American to me will have the general familiarity of a dish one would recognize (pulling influence from some of the European greats of gastronomy), only with a twist. Typically, one can expect a feature and an emphasis on local ingredients, animals that were treated well and fed well. New American food ought to have that close attention to detail that you notice in your food and drinks. The vibe should be unpretentious, it should have fantastic eats that people can afford and don't have to get over-dressed for.
At The Breslin, they have a ridiculously great whole Pig Foot dish (it rules) and do whole beast roasts (you should probably have a couple friends willing to partake before ordering these tables of chow). Since we were just a duo tonight, we decided to go with something sensible.
My wife is not only a great cook, but a really talented cocktail-maker, she learns new ideas and inspirations from trying cocktails from the spots that do it right. The Breslin is certainly one of those places. Ashley went for the Beggar's Banquet: bourbon whiskey with maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, aromatic bitters, topped with ale. The Breslin makes a mean cocktail; whether you're talking pre and post prohibition-era styles, or their own interpretations (like cocktails involving some beer). I go for a tasty Spotted Pig bitter cask ale (I have yet to be to The Spotted Pig, but it is a culinary-goal of mine to dine there soon).
We start with Salt and Pepper Crisps (for the Americans who haven't been to the U.K.: crisps are chips, chips are fries), I go for the Chargrilled Lamb Burger with Feta, Cumin Mayo and Thrice-cooked Chips. Ashley goes for a Vinegar-ed Poussin with Grilled Onions and Romesco. The ground lamb, with onion and feta, and that cumin mayo brings Greece to mind, the simple preparation and outstanding ingredients allow taste to be at the forefront of the meal; the fries? Fantastic. The poussin is a game bird, somewhat like a chicken; it was outstandingly prepared.
Desert was the Dark Chocolate Tarte: toasted marshmallow ice cream, white chocolate ganache, biscuit. Dense dark cacao flavors in the tarte; flowing, soft marshmallow-y goodness in the ice cream; the ganache and light almost-salty flavored bits of biscuit brought it all together. Great presentation as well.
The following morning, we hit Stump Town Roasters for a great cup of coffee, and No. 7 Sub Shop for a breakfast sub. I went for the Kielbasa sub with scrambled eggs, sweet soy and pickled jalapenos. Eastern European-style sausage, an Asian flare with soy, and Latin/Mexican with the jalapenos… in a sub… with scrambled eggs Yeah - that thing was really freakin' good.
If you want to stay in a cool hotel, with clothing stores, bars, breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee and cocktails - that are all actually really all good, you should stay at the Ace.
Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Curitiba
Upon our return to the hotel, some of us walked to a mall that is parallel to our hotel for some waters and to check out a Brazilian mall. It reminded me of a cross between mall, flea market, and outdoor South American market. Tons of people walking about with the happy chatter of the Portuguese-language all about us; loud electronic stores and car salesman of some sort trying to sell us an odd-looking VW by the food-court. Oddly, people keep speaking Portuguese to Ashley. I think everyone thinks she's Brazilian. I know it seems crazy - but I think she does look a little like the blonde-haired, fashionable glasses-wearing Brazilians that maybe one doesn't see as much in comparison to who they'd typically imagine seeing when thinking of a Brazilian. Anywho - we hit a store called "Americanas" which is basically a small store modeled after a Wal-mart of sorts. It's set up like a Wal-mart, only completely condensed into a store the size of a small apartment. Nonsensical flying helicopter kits are setup across from chocolate bars, next to the underwear for boys and potato chips. We grab our waters and head out.
Dinner is a very short walk from the hotel, and alongside basically everyone but Nick (he was sleeping), we head into a local Churrascaria. This is what one imagines when thinking Brazil-chow, dudes in dress-shirts and vests with sword-skewers of delicious animal, carving it off onto your plate until you have heart-failure or have developed gout. All you can eat you say? This seems to be my kind of country.
There is a salad bar - and Paolo and I think that maybe it ain't such a bad idea to get some fruit and vegetables in to balance all that meat-feasting out. They had hearts of palm, broccoli, beans covered in farofa, potato and vegetable salads, ubiquitous black beans and rice, and lots more in the healthy-department. Before I even take my seat, a dude in full chefs-whites comes by with a drink cart with a bowl of limes and some bottles of cachaça (sugar cane rum) and I know exactly what he's here for. I raise my hand and say "yes please!"
It is well known that I am into a good cocktail. I have had my share of cocktails all over the world in speakeasies and cocktail bars and New American restaurants and all that (Brazilian) jazz. The caipirinha is Brazil's national drink. It consists of limes, sugar, and sugar cane rum. I've tried it in a couple spots around the world - never Brazil. The caipirinha I drank at this steakhouse whose name escaped me was - and I state this with no exaggeration - the best cocktail I've ever had. Ever. Flavor-wise, it lies somewhere in between a margarita, mojito, and aviation? With just three ingredients - a liquor, sweet, and an acid - it's about as simple as you get when speaking in terms of cocktails. Imagine the first time you had a lemonade as a kid on a hot summer day… it's like that.
I remember when I was really young, in the summer time, I was doing a project on the planets of the universe… working diligently away as a third or second-grader does, when my mom brings in a snack of sour cream and onion chips and fresh home-made lemonade. The salty snack washed down with sugary, lemony, icy beverage was a flavor that still sparks memory to this day. That's what that caipirinha was like. Drinking lemonade for the first time in your life on a hot day after working non-stop and eating something salty. Hopefully that makes sense.
Back to Brasilia and the steakhouse. Skewers of chicken wings, sausages, beef, ham, tongue, chicken hearts, spicy sausage, linguiça and special cuts basically keep coming by until you wave the dudes away. Everything is grilled simply - maintaining key emphasis on the flavor of the meat. Salt and grill-char open the introductory flavor of each cut, and every once in a while you get a piece of meat that stands out - the ham was otherworldly. Salty, porky, cured and grilled. The chicken hearts were for the Asians only at our table (Ken and I (Ken is Filipino)) and man were they good. The sugary, limey, icy, perfect caipirinhas couldn't have been a better match for the protein-feast; I put down around 4 or so by the end of dinner.
Besides the carnivorous flesh, there were farofa de ovo e cebolinha (scrambled eggs with farofa), fries, and a cheese-filled empanada of sorts. Trying Brazilian desert for the first time was something special too - a heavy emphasis on sugar was the key feature of the sweets. Sugary sweet was the flan and caramel/coconut pastey-pudding; tropical fruit terrines and mixtures and an açai pudding were also offered - all fantastic.
Meat coma. We all have a couple more caipirinhas and call it a night.
Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Curitiba
Having never set foot in South America previously, obviously I was eagerly anticipating things of the culinary-realm. I've said it before and I'll say it again - you learn more from a country from their food than from anything else they can offer. An added bonus of the trip to South America was that for some reason, Trivium had grown a massive following whilst never actually playing a single show in the territory. From all our band friends like David Draiman to John Petrucci, Lamb Of God to In Flames - they all pretty much said the same thing - "you are going to have the best time out there; with some of the most insane fans you've ever seen."
The flight to Brazil was actually a piece of cake. Trivium is used to the uber-painful 3-5 connections-flight in coach-in-the-back-of-the-plane-middle-seat kinda way, so the 2 flights over was a treat in comparison to the latter. We met our promoter Marcos in Atlanta before the flight to Brasilia, where I quickly and excitedly (probably annoyingly) filled him in of the fact that we need to be eating as much as possible of the traditionals when we hit the ground. His response was "South America is a meat culture… with lots and lots of meat." We all smiled and boarded the plane.
I suited up in the classic Heafy-flight-sleeping-kit-outfit (hood, scarf on mouth, eye mask, ear plugs, doctor-approved-sleeping-pill) and was out till arrival. The weather was staggeringly beautiful - a cool 70's or so, sun shining, breeze blowing; all our band and crew busy picking their jaws off the floors when they started seeing all the Brazilian women in the flesh. It was gonna be a good tour… I felt it in my bones (the guys felt it in theirs).
We grabbed our shuttles over to our hotel, grabbed some aiight free hotel breakfast and everyone went their separate ways until our first Brazilian meal (lunch) was to come beckoning. Some napped, some showered, some exercised - but when lunch time hit, Joey, Ashley, Paolo, Ken, Mark, Mat, Marcos, and I all headed to Feitiço Mineiro. Our soon to become best-pal-in-South-America shared with us that this restaurant serves food in the style of Sepultura's home-town. Metal.
There was indoor and outdoor seating with loads of business people and locals alike - no gringos here (I was adamant on strictly non-tourist spots). We opted to sit outside and were told everything is buffet-style, "eat as much as you like!" Shit yes. A massive skillet-table held several cast-iron skillets and pans and pots of sizzling meats and vegetables. The aroma of sizzling garlic and onions and pork and beans greeted our curious noses with a familiar scent, however just behind that initial scent were notes and hints of spices and recipes we knew we didn't know previously. The amount of cuts of cow and pork and offal displayed made my knees buckle; the cauldrons of soupy-beany-goodness I knew, would be a litte too good for my own good.
Deep fried bananas (not plantains) and pineapple slices and potatoes and yucca, rice with toasted seeds of garlic (I think), rice with beans, beans with meat and garlic, black beans, mashed potatoes (or was that yucca?), okra grilled lightly, okra grilled heavily. They had ground ground manioc flour known as farofa (something I literally just saw on Bourdain's No Reservation's Amazon episode (so, like a groupie - I was ready to put that stuff in my mouth)), linguiça sausage, soupy beans with tripe, pork-skin cracklins, Brazilian cheese-stuffed mini-bread rolls. They even had long, chopped collard greens that looked unlike any collard I'd ever seen. Oxtail stew, salads and fruits and vegetables unfamiliar. They even had the Brazilian paella: rice, beans, sausage, offal, meat, sausage, vegetables… basically I think everything from the skillet table tossed into the biggest goddamn paella-pan man has ever come to know.
Seated with most of the band and crew and Marcos, Marcos fills us in on what many of the dishes are; we offer up questions about all things South American and Brazilian, and chow down on some intensely wonderful, rustic Brazilian food. I wash down my meats and beans with a Bohemia beer, which I can only describe as tasting like a true Japanese beer (not that Canadian-brewed imitation Asahi and Kirin and Sapporo that you probably accidentally drink at a sushi restaurant thinking your drinking Japanese). I know that the world-wide perception of Brazilian cuisine is purely limited to the skewer-meat-style spots (as was my perception) - but with this restaurant, I was reminded of the comforting flavors of southern American food (southern USA, not South America) in things like collards and okra and beans and rice and potatoes… but with that Latin American spin in spices, ingredients, and utilization of all parts of the animal (which is a constant in true southern American food as well). A nod to the Portuguese culture was mixed ever-pleasantly with African cuisine as well. Stick-to-your-ribs, unpretentious, simple, grandma-style comfort food. Incredible.
Having zero room left in my stomach (most likely from my 3-4 plates of food in comparison to most everyone else at the tables' one), we call it quits and head to the hotel for a recharge and digestion before dinner.