Monday, July 31, 2006

Lost in Tokyo.

I arrived in Tokyo on Sunday after a relatively comfortable and semi-empty 13-hour flight. I'm holed up on the 11th floor of a hotel located in one of the or 6 mini-cities that make up Tokyo proper called Ikebukuro. It's mellow here in the somewhat suburban northwest section of this sprawling city and there's a university nearby, which means lots of cheap eats, a good English bookstore and the ubiquitous Irish bar or two, at least according to the guidebooks. I'm pleased to be somewhere I can slowly acclimate. The main attraction is that Ikebukuro is only 7 stops away via two subways from the printing plant where I will be spending my days press checking Visionaire 49. The hotel is fine -- it has kind of a generic Sheraton vibe with several restaurants, a swimming pool and helpful English-speaking staff. My smallish room for the next two weeks was thoughtfully positioned at the very end of the hall, and is decorated in an odd but somewhat comforting 80s fashion with a great southern view of the rest of the city.

My first day in Asia was overwhelming. Nothing strips you down like being unable to understand anything in order to process your new surroundings. Going to dinner was an experience in itself, as being forced to use signals to indicate what you want to eat leaves you with few choices, and absolutely no idea how to get the check. Its good I eat almost anything and am familiar with most Japanese food names (at least if they are printed in English...kanji characters, forget about it). I figure I can eat sushi everyday until I figure out what I want next.

Thank god English is the second most common language here with all signs for the subway, buses, major streets etc also given in English. And most fortunately, the Japanese people are patient with my questions and cluelessness. My sporadic escorts (Visionaire's distibutor in Asia and the various gentlemen of Toppan Printing, several of whom have lived in NYC and worked at the same Toppan office I worked at back in 1997) have done much to smooth my way. Their unspoken kindnesses are continually surprising, including a gift today of Time Out's Tokyo guide from one of the guys who can't even speak to me. If I were in America, I might think that I was being snickered at behind my back for my constant confusion. That may be the case, but I don't catch even a of whiff of patronization and instead only see attempts to make me comfortable. I do catch stares from people on the street -- although it's not hostile -- perhaps only curiousity about a 6-foot tall white girl wandering around like a deer in headlights, picking up packages of cookies and snacks in the 7-11 staring at them like she's on acid trying to figure out what's inside. Invisible I'm not.

As much as I would like to communicate, the only Japanese I can consistently remember beyond the names of sushi is "Domo Arigato". And that's because of Styx. I wonder what "Mr. Roboto" means in Japanese.

The jetleg is slamming me tonight, so proper exploration of Ikebukuro (and the rest of Tokyo) will have to begin on another day.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Irene and Carmine's

140 Beekman Street
A couple weeks back, a few friends and I went to see Chatham County Line and Dave Alvin at South Street Seaport after work on a Friday night. As cheesy and stripmall-esque as the Seaport is (HINT: Uno's has a public bathroom), there's also this amazing old-timey flavor because, after all, it was once a working port and the heart of the original city. The stench of the Fulton Fish Market has yet to fade with its move to the Bronx, the cobblestones still exist, the first forts are standing and George Washington once had some beers with his troops before crossing the Delaware in this area. Plus, it is located right on the water. [See: definition of "seaport"]

After bailing out on a rather lame Dave Alvin show, who somehow has become semi-jambandy with his recent record (hope that passes soon coz he's generally great), we needed something to eat. Someone proposed going to Carmine's, a red sauce joint known for its seafood.

The place is tiny, with people jammed elbow to elbow at crappy old wooden tables in a paneled room, half taken up the bar. It shows its 100 year-old age in every crevasse and dent. The food was mediocre and filling at best, but our waitress was utterly brilliant. A 60-ish year old silver-haired women named Irene in a bedazzled black shirt, she offered the comment about our choices (eggplant parm; calamari) "Well, I sure wouldn't have ordered that". And when asked for a wine recommendation by Kristen "I guess if you can't eat good, you might as well drink good." As we had more drinks, and ribbed her more, she pronounced platitudes on Italian men, New Yorkers, tourists and about 10 other subjects. Classic old school New York at its finest. And f-ing hilarious.

Carmine's. Don't go for the food, but the atmosphere cannot be beat.

Friday, July 14, 2006

North Fork Roundup

My first abbreviated summer at Shelter Island in several years has come to a close but why let the hard-wrung food findings go to waste?? Herewith some tips for worthwhile stops while driving out to the East End via the road less traveled. I still haven't sorted out the wineries but Paumanok, Lenz and Woelffer are generally safe bets. I've also had some terrible Long Island wines that made me skittish, but here's to hoping that with a little more time and more mature vines, they will only get better.

Starting from the last exit on the LIE and working my way out to Greenport, the highlights are as follows...Many of these places are found on the "North Road" aka Sound Avenue/County Road 48/the quick way out.

Athens Gyro & Grill 33 East Main St., Riverhead 631.727.1301 Really good greek diner in downtown old Riverhead.
Briermere's Pies 4414 Sound Avenue, Riverhead 631.722.3931 Solid pies and preserves from a family-run farm. Remember, pie for breakfast is never wrong.
Modern Snack Bar 628 Main Rd., Aquebogue, 631.722.3655
Home cookin', including all your favorite fried seafood platters in a retro diner setting with charmingly bored staff.
Harbes Family Farm Route 48, Mattituck 631.298.0800
Freshly picked berries (or u-pick-em) plus a great selection of cut flowers (gladioli, cosmos, sunflowers)
Village Cheese Shop, 105 Love Lane, Mattituck 631.298.8556
Friendly little cheese shop with lots of gay snacks to serve along side any kind of cheese board you might dream up.
Seafood Barge 62980 Main Road, Southold 631.765.3010
Best sushi I've had on the North Fork, but not sure there's much competition for that title. Hoping that its location in the Port of Egypt Marina means some of the fish comes out of the local waters.
Sang Lee 25180 County Rd 48 Peconic 631.734.7001
Best organic baby greens of all kinds on the planet and boxes of heirloom tomatoes in season that will make you weep at their beauty. Good selections of herbs and perennials. Downside: Six pieces of produce will set you back 20 bucks.
Rotisserie & Smokehouse of Southold 46520 County Road 48 866.253.8559 Carryout rotisserie birds, including Long Island DUCK! Order ahead for a whole duck. Decent sides include mac-n-cheese, greens and cornbread.

And one to skip:
Lobster Roll Restaurant Northside 3225 Sound Ave., Riverhead
While it's sister restaurant, the famous and much-painted LUNCH found between Montauk and Amagansett at least has the raw-bar-on-the-rolling-dunes vibe going for it, this one is only overpriced and mediocre.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lulu Eightball

I love these comics by Emily Flake, printed weekly in Baltimore's City Paper. Check her out.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Eatin' Out - Sushi Yasuda

204 E. 43rd Street
Best sushi I've had in a coon's age. My dear pal Cranky Dave Kaplan was kind enough to take me to dinner here and the freshness and variety of fish served was unparalleled. The sushi is simply prepared, thinly sliced over perfectly cooked rice and very little wasabi. No 'fancy' rolls with 18 ingredients are found on the menu here. It's all about fish quality. The chef ships in fish from around the world for a constantly changing selection that may include 4 or 5 kinds of toro (fatty tuna), several types of hamachi (yellow tail), unagi (eel) from Chile, or suprisingly tasty mackrel from Spain.

The final bite of our meal was uni (sea urchin), and is the piece de resistance to beat, with a creamy, sweet and briny taste all in one. Totally mind-blowing.

It took about a month planning to get a reservation, but well worth it. Best partaken of on someone else's dime.