Kaiseki Dinner (Below Par) @ Taisyoike Ryokan at Kamikochi on 14 &15Oct2013

1st kaiseki dinner at taisyoike   ryokan 14.10.2013

1st kaiseki dinner at taisyoike ryokan 14.10.2013

we made a last minute change to our itinerary, dropping unazuki (would have required a rushed scenic rail journey through the kuroge gorge) & realising that we didn’t need too many days at the alpine route, picked kamikochi (上高地) which was an excellent choice. 🙂

we wanted to catch the 1020am direct bus from matsumoto to kaimikochi to arrive at our taisyoike (大正池) ryokan bus stop (which was right outside the ryokan) at 12pmon 14.10.2013. hence we planned the journey to arrive at matsumoto in the late afternoon of 13.10.2013.

with that we managed to cover the entire easy 14km 4hr+ walk all the way to myojin-ike (明神池) pond & back to hotel in time for a nice bath & kaiseki dinner.

the ryokan service was EXCELLENT. first we booked directly with the ryokan at 14000yen pax for 2nights. but then my wife saw there was a 10% discount if we had made the booking via http://www.kamikochi.org/special-offers & quoting the website. i called the ryokan & they gave us the 10% discount anyway so it was 12600yen pax & 25200yen for 1 night.  will talk about the service again later. 🙂

we had the western room with attached bath & toilet so back to the usual ryokan routine. the yu 湯 (japanese for hot water ie onsen baths) was small c/w green-tateyama & most ryokans we had been previously (at hokkaido, tohoku, arashiyama, tateyama, hakone etc) but it was ok.

the kaiseki dinner though was a huge let-down, way below par!

kaiseki menu for 14.10.2013

kaiseki menu for 14.10.2013

though we could not read japanese, the menu had looked decent enough like most kaisekis we had. but ingredients & quality were just not there.

sashimi moriawase

sashimi moriawase

prawn,tofu, yam & roll

prawn,tofu, yam & roll

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iwana shioyaki

iwana shioyaki

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ham wrapped in leaves over hotpate

ham wrapped in leaves over hotpate

pan-fried hida beef

pan-fried beef

japanese grapes

japanese grapes

the sashimi were just average (those from supermarket were fresher & sweeter). the zensai was ok.the yam & sausage items were ok. the iwana shioyaki (岩鱼盐烧) was quite good i guess but not much our kind of food. the meatball with soup was ok. the duck again non-descript.  the ham on hot plate (they seemed to like to wrap meat in leaf over a heated plate) was much ado about nothing. the beef was quite poor really, not tasty & probably cooked at wrong temperature w/o proper browning & maillard reaction ring. at least the grapes were nice japanese grapes – sweet with a bit of wine flavour – & squeezed right out of the skin. 🙂

in all, a rather poor dinner, despite so many items. c/w many jap dining places in Singapore! nothing like the kaiseki we had come to know.

we were wondering what we might get the next day – & it was actually worse.

kaiseki dinner on 15.10.2013

kaiseki dinner on 15.10.2013

kaiseki menu for 15.10.2013

kaiseki menu for 15.10.2013

cured salmon & sayori

cured salmon & sayori

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vege nabe

vege & tofu nabe

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there was nothing to be said about the second night kaiseki dinner on 15.10.2013. only the cured salmon & sayori (flying fish) was good. the iwana 岩鱼was back this time in a miso paste grill. the beef was back this time a greater disaster –  never had beef with batter like pork, fish or lamb cutlet (of course there is beef wellington but that’s quite different a pastry & not a batter).

taisyoike ryokan @ kamikochi

taisyoike ryokan @ kamikochi

well, kamikochi is such a lovely place, walking aorund the lake enjoying the reflections at taisyoike pond, looking at the mist on the still active yakedate & hiking round the lake to kappa bridge & myojin-ike. the ryokan room & bath were ok & the service was excellent. they came to inform us during 15.10.2013 dinner about typhoon approaching tokyo on the day of our departure 16.10.2013 & likelihood that morning shinkansen originating from tokyo would be cancelled.  on the morning when we had to wait opposite the hotel to catch the bus coming from kamikochi terminal about 10 minutes away, they brought us 2 umbrellas and told us we could leave them on the bus stand when we boarded the bus. 🙂

so some gain some loss. however we still felt mostly loss as japan’s service is legendary & so is the ryokan room, bath & food, and for this trip, the good food we had were all from kyoto & matsumoto restaurants & not from the ryokans, except perhaps (ironically) the (non-ryokan) mingshuku senjusou. 🙂

c.h.e.f andy

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Ramen Toyama Black (富山ブラック) & Greentea Jelly @ Ramen Village L10 Kyoto Station on 9.10.2013

ramen - tomiyama black (富山ブラック) from menya iroha

ramen – toyama black (富山ブラック) from menya iroha

i don’t take ramen much in singapore. think they are very ex like S$14++. 🙂

during my recent tateyama alpine route trip, i had ramen at the ramen village (拉麺小路) at level 10 kyoto station on 9.10.2013, the day i arrived at kyoto. there were like 15 stallsto choose from & we shared a 800yen (S$9++) at toyama black (富山ブラック) stall by menya iroha.

ramen - tomiyama black (富山ブラック) from menya iroha

ramen – toyama black (富山ブラック) from menya iroha

seriously eating ramen

seriously eating ramen

tomiyama black (富山ブラック) ramen stall by menya iroha

toyama black (富山ブラック) ramen stall by menya iroha

ramen village (拉麺小路) at level 10 kyoto station

ramen village (拉麺小路) at level 10 kyoto station

the ramen & broth were excellent very tasty! & so was the chashu & the egg which was tasty even though the yolk was not runny (didn’t have to!). 🙂 still my personal favourite ramen was at hanamaruken ramen (花丸轩) at dotonbori osaka that served a 10″ softbone, i being the carnivore. 🙂

greentea jelly mochi dessert at L10 ramen village kyoto station

greentea jelly mochi dessert at L10 ramen village kyoto station

greentea jelly mochi dessert at L10 ramen village kyoto station

greentea jelly mochi dessert at L10 ramen village kyoto station

we also had the cheap version about 550yen greentea parfait (jelly & mochi) at a stall there. just for convenience. it was not really cheap as you could get the 900yen or 1000yen versions at kiyomizu or kawaramachi which had the soft brown mochi dusted with powder & macha tea.

c.h.e.f andy

Excellent Yakiniku @ Gyukaku at Matsumoto on 13Oct2013

kuroge wagyu

kuroge wagyu – 980yen

we modified our trip plans last minute, dropped unazuki & included kamikochi which my wife had always wanted to go, so switched our hotel bookings from omachi onsen to matsumoto on 13.10.2013, as there was a direct bus 1hr 50mins journey from matsumoto to arrive at kamikochi at 12pm the next day.

after traversing the alpine route, we took a 1 hr train from shinano omachi to matsumoto, and was very happy to be greeted with our forwarded luggage the moment i mentioned my name at check-in to matsumoto tourist hotel at 4pm. the legendary japanese luggage forwarding was well, legendary! 🙂

i was walking around the hotel for dinner place & found a name i knew – gyukakau, a yakiniku restaurant which i had tried the hollandv outlet once (ok but we prefer aburiya). in japan though i guess its different. we got very good wagyu beef at much lower prices!

wagyu karubi

wagyu karubi – 680yen

some thick cut beef

some thick cut beef – 590yen

thick belly ham

thick belly ham – 390yen

yakiniku

yakiniku

ishiyaki bibimbap

ishiyaki bibimbap – 690yen

seafood kimchi chigae

seafood kimchi chigae 490yen

the bill

the bill

the kuroge wagyu sirloin was excellent, marbled & tasty. but so was the wagyu karuni, very flavourful! (we made a second order but now looking at the bill, the second order might have been different & with too much garlic on it). the thick cut beef which was flamed or lightly smoked was quite tasty too, but inferior to the other 2. the thick cut belly bacon was ok but of course it was not to be c/w kurobuta.

they ran out of bibimen so we ordered bibimbap. it was ok but the seafood kimchi chigae was bad (i guess kimchi chigae must always be the belly pork version to give it the flavours & umami). for these last 2 items, aburiya‘s were much better! & my wife had her usual hakkaisan sake (八海山).

anyway the bill with taxes came to 5274yen = S$58++! 🙂 at aburiya the plate of kuroge wagyu alone would be like S$28!

this was 1 excellent dinner. of course it was no comparison with the one we had at moritaya at kyoto station but still a most enjoyable one. 🙂

c.h.e.f andy

Bad Food in Japan? @ Tateyama Murodou Sansou on 12Oct2013

dinner @ tateyama murodou sansou

dinner @ tateyama murodou sansou

recently a friend was relating his experience to izu several years back when it was hit by earthquake (i think it was 2009). they were rushing for the train & had bad food then. a few of us were surprised that one could have bad food in japan as even the cheap train station bentos & supermarket food were all pretty good.

well now i had my own experience of singularly bad food at tateyama murodou sansou (立山室堂山庄) – or google translate to mountain hut. the food was downright sucky. i guess it was to be expected as it was more like a “mountain hut”, and in fact a rather cosy place for serious trekkers c/w camping in the mountains, except that we paid 22000yen for 1 night with 2 meals for a room with no attached toilet & they gave you 1 face towel (no bath towel) for the onsen bath.

tempura

tempura

pickles

pickles

grilled salmon

grilled salmon

looking at the dinner items, i would not pay 1000yen for it & many 1000yen bentos would be better. in fact the same kitchen was open till 3pm & we had a very passable curry rice for 700yen (& the same with soba & gyudon ie beef on rice etc) which would be as good as the tempura, salmon & rice with pickles for dinner. compare this with the kaiseki dinner @ greenview-tateyama which cost 25000yen for 2pax with attached toilet & bath & 2 meals, and with a good size yu 湯 (japanese for hot water ie onsen baths). or with senjusou which costs 15800yen, equally basic but far better dinner & breakfast meals.

breakfast @ tateyama murodou sansou

breakfast @ tateyama murodou sansou

another grilled salmon

another grilled salmon

breakfast was an equally bad affair.

the place was ran by a team of youngsters like students, with only 1 older man in the kitchen & 1 at the front desk. it was efficiently run though and service was polite & competent. everything is relative, so i guess a hut is a luxury c/w camping in the mountains but it is also relative to price. to me the 2 meals should be charged at no more than 2000yen pax & the room maybe 8000yen so it should be more like 12000yen than 22000yen.  still this was 2450m, and not so many options available (we could not get the tateyama hotel at murodou station & raichoso would really be a bad choice some distance up the mountain route).

in the end it is all about matching needs. for those doing serious trekking and rather not camp out, there would be reason to take this option. in our case for the current trip, we needed no more than 2hrs to walk around the ponds route & overlooking the hell’s valley(& likewise 2hrs max for the boardwalks at midagahara), so we would be better off just passing through midagahara & murodou on a day trip. rather than staying at tateyama or midagahara or murodou, we would be better off staying at toyama & omachi onsen ryokans. if we should decide to do more serious trekking, we could then plan differently & perhaps we could still stay here but LESS the meals. i would much rather have a 700yen gyudon from their kitchen & a soba from murodou station. 🙂

c.h.e.f andy

Nice Dinner @ Senjusou (千寿庄) Minshuku (民宿) on 11Oct2013

dinner @ senjusou (千寿庄)

dinner @ senjusou (千寿庄)

despite planning our trip several months ahead, i could not get the dates we wanted at midagahara hotel & tateyama hotel (at murodou), so decided to stay at tateyama cablecar station location. i also could not get a second night at greenview-tateyama but managed to book senjusou (千寿庄) which was just few steps (like 20m) from the cablecar station. 🙂

sashimi moriawase

sashimi moriawase

nice tofu, yuba & rolled fish

nice tofu & rolled eel

grilled fish

grilled fish

ham hobayaki (cooked on hoba leaves with miso)

ham hobayaki (cooked on hoba leaves with miso)

ham hobayaki (cooked on hoba leaves with miso)

ham hobayaki (cooked on hoba leaves with miso)

edamame (枝豆), beans, bamboo shoots, yuzu

edamame (枝豆), beans, bamboo shoots, orange

senjusou charged 9500yen/night for 2pax w/0 meals & 15800yen with 2 meals, so it was 3150yen pax for dinner+breakfast (all w/o attached toilets). so i guess there was no expectation of any sorts of kaiseki dinner.

anyhow the homecooked meal actually turned out pretty well. the sashimi moriawase though basic with maguro, salmon & ika, actually tasted a lot sweeter than what we had the night before at greenview-tateyama. 🙂

i like fish a lot more than my wife so the dishes agreed with me more.  the rolled eel was tasty (japanese food tended to be a bit salty) & the tofu & japanese taupok were nice. the grilled fish was usual fare average but which i liked anyway. the ebi furai (fry) was crispy & fresh & good with the salad. seemed like they also like oyster gratin here.  just ok. the ham hobayaki not something i really appreciate.  hobayaki is like grilling over a hoba leaf (朴叶 magnolia leaf)  over clay pan under fire, usually with salty miso paste. for me only hobayaki  i like is hida beef (飞弹牛), anything else is just elaborate effort & average result.

there were some edamame (枝豆), beans, bamboo shoots, plus a small orange for dessert fruit & the usual gohan set (rice set with pickles). here we scooped our own rice from a rice cooker. japanese breakfast we had was basic, nothing much to write about.

as for the mingshuku, we got a front japanese tatami room on level 2 which was small but larger than several we saw at the back. we were also offered & took a look at a level 3 western room with 3 beds which looked more like a dorm.  looked like all rooms were w/o attached. the room had a powerful aircon which was important as it was still hot (about 29degC) at 3.30pm when we checked in.

we had both men & women common toilets at level 2, and it was very closeby as the mingshuku was tiny really. there were men & women yu 湯 (japanese for hot water ie onsen baths) which were tiny rooms more like a large bath tub. the changing room was like an ante-room before the bath where the access door slided open, so there was like zero privacy. service was basic but competent. we asked them in email if they could forward our luggage but they referred us to tateyama train station to do that so that was why we forwarded from greenview-tateyama. anyway all these to be expected for this tiny family-run place. 🙂

c.h.e.f andy

Average Kaiseki Dinner @ Greenview-Tateyama Ryokan on 10Oct2013

kaiseki dinner @ greenview-tateyama ryokan

kaiseki dinner @ greenview-tateyama ryokan

we stayed at almont hotel (hokke group) in kyoto to break journey, and arrived at greenview tateyama ryokan just few minutes walk from the tateyama train station (& cable car station).

was looking forward to kaiseki dinner having booked a menu with 2 wagyu items. as it turned out though this was still among the better dinners we had over the alpine route lodges, it was just very average & a far cry from the very good kaiseki we were accustomed to in japan.

wagyu beef & scallop

wagyu beef & scallop

sashimi moriawase

sashimi moriawase

chefquak7 chefquak3

we had grilled wagyu & scallops. i thought they were both quite ok (though we had far better in every ryokan we been to previously, especially in all the ryokans in tohoku, and also in hokkaido, takayama, arashiyama, hakone, kawaguchiko). the cold beef came with jelly – seemed like a fusion western treatment. just ok.

the sashimi moriawase included maguro, tai & a seaweed wrapped fish, which seemed to be a common dish in this region, as was the local apples. the sashimi though was not great & was in fact inferior to the far cheaper ryokan (or maybe mingshuku senjusou) which we stayed the following night.

ikura with radish strips & crabstick

ikura with radish strips & crabstick

prawn on mountain yam

prawn on mountain yam

chefquak8 chefquak9

soba & fish with miso

soba & fish with miso

fish with miso

fish with miso

gohan (rice) set with pickles

gohan (rice) set with pickles

nice fruits

nice fruits

the ikura was ok, non descript.  so was the prawn with mountain yam.  the oyster gratin with some yam was ok, quite good.  the soba again carbo we could do without. the fish with miso was ok. the rice & pickles which often included a miso paste in this region was ok. the dessert was quite nice – the persimon, and japan grapes (which flesh come out easily from the skin & are sweet & with kind of alcohol feel) were great & refreshing.

& here there was a decent good yu 湯 (japanese for hot water ie onsen baths), which was the other important ingredient for staying in a ryokan.

the service was very good. we had missed the birthday special as we booked late (past the promotion date) so they took a photo for us during dinner & gave us a print next day. good gesture & memory i supposed & the effort well appreciated of course. these days though all our phone cameras & photos & e-copies were quite fine. 🙂 also we had to forward our big luggage to matsumoto (japan’s efficient luggage forwarding was legendary & we were bringing only a backpack each up the mountains). the lady was very helpful & photocopied our matsumoto hotel booking & filled up the forwarding address form for us & let us checked before dispatching the luggage when we checked out the next day. so service-wise it was good, not better than those at many japanese ryokans we came to be accustomed to, but good nevertheless. 🙂

over the next few nights, we came to the conclusion that for good stay & kaiseki it would be better to break journey at unazuki, toyama & at omachi onsen, though the good ryokans would be more expensive (but 25000yen here for a room with attached bath & 2 mealsfor 2pax was not exactly cheap for the food we had relative to many other ryokans we had been to. the kaiseki here was really much below expectation).  the alpine route could be traversed in 1 day & unless one was doing serious trekking & mountain climbing there was no need to stay at tateyam, midagahara or morodou.

c.h.e.f andy

Wagyu Yakiniku & Sukiyaki Dinner @ Moritaya at Kyoto Station Isetan L11 on 9.10.2013

wagyu sukiyaki

wagyu sukiyaki

wagyu sukiyaki

wagyu sukiyaki

gozanbo at L15 granvia hotel at kyoto station has been our favourite place for wagyu lunch. this time on route to tateyama alpine route from kansai, we found another excellent wagyu restaurant – moritaya. 🙂

we decided to share a sukiyaki. there were 4 grades. we ordered the 3rd grade (2nd cheapest), a 200g portion at 6250yen (the usual 150g portion was 5000yen). we also ordered 2 portions of wagyu sirloin yakiniku at 2415yen per portion.

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

chefquak2 chefquak1

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

wagyu yakiniku

the yakiniku sirloin was excellent, very marbled & flavourful. purely on the meat taste & texture, it was much better than what we had at gozanbo for lunch. we loved it! 🙂 (i guess this cooking method common in ryokans also was not exactly the korean yakiniku style but i have not found out the name yet).

sukiyaki condiments

sukiyaki condiments

wagyu sukiyaki

wagyu sukiyaki

the sukiyaki was again superb. just on price comparison, it was much better than what our other favourite place, chinya at asakusa tokyo. there were 3 very large pieces of meat, the first piece much higher quality & marbling than the other 2 (they served the same way also in chinya).  it came with the usual jap glass noodles, tofu & leeks etc.

it was such an excellent dinner & we could not have enough. we stopped at kyoto & went back again on our return journey from kamikochi & ordered the same items.

(if i have to make a comparison, gozanbo is located within granvia hotel & a more expensive place. the courses have a slight fusion flavour with good western soup & cold dishes prepared by very good teppanyaki chefs, and came with dessert & coffee. but to get the same quality of beef one would pay quite a bit more).

subsequently, we had a very good yakiniku dinner at gyukaku at matsumoto on 13.10.2013 at <1/2 this price, but of course the quality of wagyu cut was no comparison.

c.h.e.f andy