Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yes, I'm an idiot!

You'd think I'd learn. Excuse me while I pick up a large piece of timber ... you'd think (whack!)... I'd (whack!) ... bloody-well (whack!) ... learn (whack!).

One of the problems we face living in Tokyo is that it is really hard to get a bad meal. No, I mean it - almost without exception, one can walk in off the street to almost any restaurant and get a decent meal. From almost any cuisine (see one example of bad food), at almost any time of day, and usually at a reasonable price.

That's not the case in many other parts of the world, at least many parts of the civilized world. And while I've always thought of Sydney as being delightfully uncivilized, I find myself amazed at my own stupidity and sheer lack of pleasant aforethought.

Any normal person would have found their way to the little restaurant next door for a quick blue swimmer crab omelet, or some fresh whiting. Not this goose - I wandered off into Chinatown thinking some fried rice or stir-fried vegetables would be nice after travelling for 24 hours from Michigan.

And then - oh the thought bring tears to my eyes and cramps to my stomach - I hear a cute little "irrashaimase" and thoughts of sour plums danced in my head. "Ah, Japanese, that'll hit the spot". I am ashamed to say I fell for this Edo-esque temptress. Appalling (is there any way to get another "paw" syllable in there?) nonsense served with all the aplomb of a Sumo wrestler by a crew that neither spoke Japanese or cooked it.

Udon that tasted like boiled haggis shreds (strange, the chef ... let me rephrase that, the cook ... didn't look Scottish), gyoza that had been fried into nuclear waste material, long-grain rice that didn't quite stick together, and the ultimate irony - kimchi. Kimchi is not Japanese, doesn't sound Japanese, and doesn't taste Japanese.

It's quite simply beyond me why this all happened. Maybe it's jet lag, maybe it's age, but it's definitely stupidity. Learn from my mistakes - ask the concierge, find a well-known restaurant nearby, and enjoy something local delivered fresh that morning!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lebanese Lethargy

So imagine you've booked a farewell function at a Lebanese restaurant near Daikanyama for 20 people. Not so difficult to think through, and surely not something to waste too many brain cells on, right?

Now let me say up front that I love good Lebanese food, and that I'm at my most pleasant at social gatherings. But our recent experience at a well-known place on Komazawa-dori was amongst the worst I've ever had the misfortune to suffer through. The food was poor - I could tell it was fresh dung because it was still warm - and the service worse.

The construction of the party plan menu was reminiscent of a Picasso painting - all the pieces were there but they bore no resemblance to life as we know it and require one to postulate dimensions outside of rational existence. Torn between culinary Cubism and Realism, the cook chose Minimalism so that all were left hungry after the mandatory 120 minutes. Now I know what Purgatory will be like: I will be in a restaurant, there will be the promise of good food, there will be plenty of good company, ... and I will find myself back in this tiresome and paper-mache slice of egotistical nonsense.

I'm thinking that small restaurants don't get bookings for 20 all that often in Tokyo, so the fact that drinks were not included in the price at first, then included, then un-included, and finally re-included convinced me that the venue is not really in the business of meeting let alone exceeding customers' expectations. In my mind, we needed one of those large kane bells you find at Japanese temples to attract the attention of the staff who were obviously bound up in one another's scintillating presence rather than worrying about the herds out in the dining area.

While the wait staff spoke Arabic and French, no-one had apparently thought to make sure there was an English speaker or - wait for it - a fluent Japanese speaker. Orders and requests seemed to vanish into a haze perhaps caused by the overwhelming odour of disinfectant that pervaded the establishment. I like "clean", and perhaps there was a sensible reason for the Pinetarsol but it really was discomforting and distressing.

A word on Lebanese wine - I am sure that there are some excellent chateau, but none of them were represented at this restaurant. Colored grape juice with a mild hint of alcohol, awful on the front and the back of the palate served in glasses that were probably made from bullet-proof fiberglass or kelvar.

Unless you're looking to court favor at a major Japanese/French auto maker, you could best serve your own interests and Tokyo gastronomy by avoiding this place. Then perhaps it will go bankrupt and painlessly vanish.