Sunday, January 31, 2016

The 1 hour long queue for Tempura Donburi (Tokyo)- 金子半之助

Tempura donburi is often abbreviated as Tendon. I only learnt that recently in late 2015. Anyway, the beauty of this tendon is that it only costs 1000 Yen (approximately USD $8). It is much satisfying experience for me, and better to the wallet.

Location and website can be found here

The Restaurant Exterior

We went there on Monday 7-8pm thinking that it's going to be less crowded as it was on weekday. Apparently, it made no difference as there was 4 lines by the time we arrived.  Two people that past us in a hurry managed to beat us in few seconds. Below is the image with 3 lines. At the bottom left of this picture, there was a hot tea dispenser for the patrons.

After a long 1 hour wait, we finally got a table on the 2nd floor. There were 2 options. Michelle opted for regular size while I got the upsize (about 100 Yen more). When the food arrived, they looked the same. I thought I was cheated. After eating halfway, I then realized that my bowl had deeper depth for more rice. So yes, don't get the upsize thinking that you will get more tempura. It's just more rice.

So what was on the plate? One crispy eel, two shrimps, one crispy nori seaweed (it's really crispy), a couple of octopus or small scallops (can't tell) and one half boiled egg with fried exterior. Rice was drenched with sauce, probably yuzu. You can see the yuzu skin in the picture below.

Half eaten half boiled fried egg. The white round thing on the right is either octopus or scallop.

Final verdict? A must try. For a 1000 Yen, this is a no-brainer. Yes, you have to wait but it's worth the time. Looking for a variety of deep fried crispy tempuras? Come here and leave satisfied without a torn wallet.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The morning rush for Sushi Dai (Tokyo)

It was 2.40 am. It was time to wake up and get ready for the food rush. There was no metro train or bus running yet at this hour so you either have to take a cab, walk or rent a bike. We decided to do our morning exercise by jogging to the Tsukiji fish market.

Yup, you read it right. It's just like the black friday for a sushi. Sushi Dai is located in the Tsukiji fish market and is a popular sushi restaurant. It probably has about 10-15 seats so crazy queue is a norm. They only served sushi till 2pm, based on our visit in December 2015, the queue was stopped by 10 am, that means the last person has to wait for 4 hours. 

The first time we came here in 2012, we came at 6am (with train) and waited only for 1.5 hours. Based on my friend's advise who came here few months ago, we decided to up the game and come here before 4am instead.

By the time we arrived at 3.45am, there were already 30 people ahead of us. I would guess that the first person probably came around 2am. More people joined the queue. Between 3.45 to 4am, 15 people joined the queue after us. There's no other queue for other shops, except for Sushi Dai. 

For 10+1 omakase, it costs about 3800 yen. Very good price for omakase.

The first seating

The queue around the corner

All of these people queued up for Sushi Dai

Around 4.30am, someone from the Sushi Dai came out to start getting order and pass out hot tea.  By then, people from the queue started to migrate to Sushi Daiwa and other venues to avoid the long wait.

It was around 6.15am when we finally seated down. That's a total waiting time of 2.50 hours. If you come single, chances of early seating is more likely.

For the start, we got a seafood miso soup and tamago. Hot soup is always a welcome given that we had to endure the cold wait. The soup is very rich in flavor and the tamago is sweet and tender.

Fatty Tuna- It wasn't as fatty as what I had before

Sea bream


Uni - Yes, it's moist and creamy but still have some fishy smell.

Horse Mackarel

Clam. The chef smacked it first before placing it on the table and you can see it move. Sign of freshness.

Spanish Mackarel



Tuna Roll

Sea Eel

We can choose the last piece from the menu and we all opted for the Shirako. It was a weird experience the first time I had it 3 years ago as it was creamy and warm. If you don't know what this is, it is sperm sacs of cod fish. 

This time, it was not as warm as last time, and I had better experience. Less disgusted as well.

Yellow tail- additional item off the omakase set.

This is the queue by the time we got out of Sushi Dai, around 7am.

Overall impression, meal is not bad, but not as impressive as my first time. If you don't mind the wait, then go for it. Meal is decently priced for the quality it can offers. Best to come as early as you can to avoid the queue.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tempura Kondo: 2-Michelin-starred Tempura restaurant (Tokyo)

One of the foods to try in Japan is their tempura and my friend selected Tempura Kondo. She made the reservation months earlier. Finding the place is a challenge as it is located in a white building which looked like an office building. Furthermore, the restaurant name is in Japanese.

Anyway, the restaurant is divided in 2-sections. Head chef Kondo is in-charge of the section near the entrance, and we got his assistant. The guy (in picture below) looked very serious and hardly talked. Both of the people worked like assembly line, someone prepped the food and the other fried the food. Sesame oil was used in great quantity and periodically changed, probably 3-5 times for our meals.Yup, a lot of oil was thrown away.

Several vegetables were chosen for the tempura. If you want to order the sweet potato (ala-carte only), you have to requested for it 30-40 minutes in advance.

If I recalled correctly, there were 3-4 tempura options. One was the 11,000 Yen meal set and the other was 14,000 meal set. We chose one each for full experience. On hindsight, it was better to select for the cheaper set. I will explain why below.

For the 14k set, you received a couple of extra stuffs. Most of them were not exactly 'tempura'. Items shown below were presented according to the food sequence served. I didn't get full descriptions from the chef or the waitress, so I am describing below based on my best understanding.

First of the 14k set was a mixture of escargot, monkfish liver, yam and fish. It was ok, nothing special.

2nd set of the 14k set is a tofu dish. It was kinda lukewarm when I ate it. It was so-so too.

Tiger shrimp heads were served in both sets. These shrimps were still alive or drunk when the heads were extracted. It was a nice crispy appetizers.

Next was a set of asparagus, followed by eggplant. From here onwards, I noticed that the batter was very thin and flaky. I am not sure what made this tempura shop to stand out and received 2 Michelin stars, but I don't find the same satisfaction as what I could get from the tendon place that I ate the night before (and for 1/10 of the price). Yes, the thin batter kept the ingredients flavor intact, but I was longing for more...


White fish tempura was not bad. Flavor was kinda subtle but it's more enjoyable than the earlier bunch. I believed I ate all of it, including the tail.

I think this was another set from the 14K set. Some kind of veg but couldn't remember what.

Lotus root. One of the best dishes of the night. Can't get wrong with it.

Next was uni wrapped in shiso leaf. The preparation was a little different here. After wrapping the uni in the leaf, the chef lowered the leaf in the fry using his hand for about 5 seconds to ensure that the uni was still intact before letting it go. No hesitation near the frying oil.

Final product.

It was one of the memorable dishes of the night, but based on uni alone, I preferred the one that I got from the Tsukiji fish market.

The shiitake mushroom was another set from the 14K set. It is one of my favorites and you should try it if you opted for the 11k set.

Onion tempura. So-so.

Sea eel tempura. One of the highlights as well.

Tiger prawn. Tender and still juicy tempura.

For the last option, you can select one of the 3 rice dishes. This one below was the shrimp karaage with seafood soup.

Another option is the shrimp ochazuke where you dipped the tea in the rice bowl.

We also tried the sweet potato from our friend. It was moist and sweet but it was a little too much to eat one for yourself. It is best shared with someone or you might not be able to finish it up.

Lastly, a fruit plate was served. Didn't remember to take picture as I wasn't expecting much. Boy I was wrong. It was one of life changing fruits as the orange was very sweet and it felt like I'm eating jelly. There's not much of pith so all bites were enjoyable.

So, would I recommend this to anyone? Not really. Some dishes were a hit, but I won't come back again. Personally, I like to eat a crispy and sinful tempura dishes. Based on that factor alone, I didn't felt satisfied on this meal. Best that you tried this tendon place日本橋天丼 金子半之助 instead.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dominique Ansel Kitchen and the $20 egg sandwich

Dominique Ansel kitchen recently offered the egg melt sandwich for 3 days only - Saturday16th to Monday 18th. Not only was it for limited time, it was only offered till it is sold out for the day. I'm not sure if this is a marketing campaign to entice people, but the notion of 'limited edition' made us curious. Since I'm nearby anyway, I decided to drop by to check if it's worth the hype. Hate to say, but I braved cold for a freaking $20 sandwich. I wasn't informed of that price, so I was a little shocked. More details below.

Anyway, the queue wasn't as bad today. I was expecting longer queue given it's a public holiday and that it was the last day of the egg melt sandwich.

Chef Dominique himself was present in the kitchen. I wasn't sure it was him at first till I saw his name on the jacket. By the time, I brought my camera, he went up. This is the shot that I took. He was talking with Chef Wylie Dufresne, whom he collaborated for wd-Ansel Egg Melt. It was labeled as the "ultimate riff on a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich" by WSJ.

I think he's watching me

That's Chef Wylie Dufresne.

Long story short, the 'egg melt' was sold out when I arrived. The 'sold out' sign was placed in the entrance. I was told that it might be available one hour later. I decided to go ahead and order the DKA and the eggclipse because of I had good first impression previously.

While waiting, I was told that I can order the egg melt. I accepted the offer right away and I was pretty surprised when the cashier rang up $20 for it. I thought it was a mistake, but it wasn't.

Fast forward, I got the egg melt sandwich and it was small. I had to look up online to see why it cost that much and I saw that one of the ingredients was black truffle. However, I didn't see any of it. I asked the cashier and I was first told that the truffle should be underneath the egg. I took a knife and flipped around in front of him but saw no truffle.

After checking with his colleague, he told me that under the new presentation format, the truffle was now chopped and mixed with the egg. I didn't taste any truffle though and asked if he can sprinkle additional truffle on the sandwich. Another person came to the conversation (I assumed she was the manager) and explained that there's no more truffle as they were all mixed in with the egg. I accepted the explanation and started to walked away when she asked if I wanted to try something else. I hesitated a little and then accepted an offer for a chocolate cookie. Seeing that it's pretty cheap ($3.50), I don't think it do me justice for the $20 I paid for the sandwich. I asked if I can change for the S'more. She hesitated a little, but she said yes.

So how does the dishes fare?

For some reason, egg-clipse didn't shine this time. There's much taste to it the first time I tried and I thought I tasted truffle (or truffle oil). It tasted exotic before. Now, it was just ok. Not sure is it because I didn't eat it right away this time.

Squid Ink Brioche, Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Béchamel, and Two Confit Egg Yolks

DKA still tasted good. Can't go wrong with DKA so far.


Ultimate s'more is too sweet. Had to drink tea after each bite to clear my throat.  Chocolate shards was a nice touch. I preferred the ice cream s'more instead of this cause the ice cream helped to balance it.

Homemade Speculoos Cookies, All-Honey Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate Cabin Fever Whiskey Ganache, Maldon Sea Salt Milk Chocolate Shards.

Last but not least, the egg melt sandwich. $20 is a ridiculous price to pay for this and 2 piece of hash browns.  I can't tasted the truffle anywhere (it's supposed to be on the egg and the hash brown). I am not sure why they decided to mix the truffle bits. It would be much better presentation and better flavor profile to keep the truffle as a whole, which was how they advertised it. Anyway, since I got the s'more for free. I put this matter to rest.

The wd-Ansel Egg Melt 
Smoked English muffin layered with soft scrambled eggs, a confit egg yolk, Dufresne’s homemade cheese, bacon, maple flakes, and some black truffles. 

Overall, I was a little disappointed with dominique ansel today. Maybe cause I expected too much, but anyway, kudos to the excellent customer service. I don't feel as bad as I would have been.