Thursday, August 14, 2014

Safe Travels in Japan - Komatuan and McDonalds


Jason here. After a day of sightseeing, we headed back to our hotel to drop souvenirs off and hit up a restaurant right nearby that specialized in Soba noodles.
The restaurant is Komatuan, and not only do they specialize in Soba noodles, they specialize in 100% buckwheat Soba noodles. Soba noodles, which are always made of buckwheat sometimes contain some portion of wheat as a binder. The higher the percentage of buckwheat, the more prized the noodles.

While there was no English menu, and no English speaking waiter, we eventually managed to put in our order. I opted for the traditional plain soba noodles, served cold. After we were served, I added my own packet of gluten free Tamari sauce. Tamari sauce tastes effectively the same as Soy sauce, and are in fact both made from soy. The primary difference, is Tamari is generally made with little to no wheat and more soy base.

Wow, these noodles are hard to describe and articulate why they tasted so good. Maybe it was from walking all day, but despite being plain the noodles themselves seemed bursting with flavor. It wasn’t a sweet, or spicy flavor just a really strong noodle flavor. If anyone knows how to describe a noodle, please let me know.

Kayleigh here. Essentially, the specialty of the restaurant was plain noodles, served cold, that you would dip into a little bowl of sauce and slurp up. I still don't really know how to slurp noodles properly- I hear that taking in some air at the same time improves the taste, but I thoroughly enjoyed them all the same. And the price was very reasonable, considering the upscale shopping district surrounding it. Go here for the food, stay and shop if you can justify $800 handbags!

(not posting a link for this one- they're everywhere!)

Jason here. Every now and again, I just craved some French fries. This is where McDonalds came in. No matter where we went, there was a McDonalds within walking distance. This made it great for a random snack, and a place to grab a seat and rest my feet. In Japan, most McDonalds are two floors and give you a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the street. The french fries have dedicated fryers, so you can always be sure they will be gluten free. Definitely safer than you would find in America.

Whenever we would be out and Kayleigh would stop and grab a non-gluten free snack, I would drag her to McDonalds and buy myself some fries. Sometimes it’s the little things in life, and sometime I just want some fries.

Kayleigh here. In a pinch, fries could be a lunch. It was actually pretty interesting to eat in and observe the little differences from an American McDonalds. Besides the easternized menu items, the restaurants had a coffee shop- like vibe to them, with students doing homework and friends sitting and socializing over soft drinks. Getting fries was a good excuse to pop into the quieter dining areas and regroup. You can only get lost so many times in a day before you need a break!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Safe Travels in Japan - Artnia and CoCo Ichibanya


Jason here. After getting lost for some time, and fierce wind storm beginning to pick up we finally found our destination, Artnia- the Square Enix Café.

This is café and store is right next to the Square Enix headquarters, located in Shinjuku. Everything about it pays homage to some Square Enix game or another. After perusing the store and checking out their really fantastic upscale room decorated to look like a crystal cavern, we decided to sit down and order some drinks.  

Of course the entire food and drink menu is themed. After looking over the ingredients and trying to decide if it would be safe, I ordered a Chocolate Ice Cream Parfait, complete with a solid chocolate buster sword sticking out of the top. 

While I seemed to feel fine the next day, I may have just gotten lucky. There was no allergen menu, and Kayleigh’s parfait contained corn flakes despite not being listed as one of the ingredients.

The parfait itself was delicious. Extremely chocolaty, which is exactly what I had been craving. There were multiple layers, each one revealing yet some other type of chocolate. After walking around all day, this really hit the spot.

Kayleigh here. While the food is a bit risky because of the frequently changed theme menu and unlisted components, the trip is still worth it for any nostalgic Square Enix fan. The drinks are equally creative and decorative, and should all be safe other than the beer cocktails. Not to sound nerdy, but Final Fantasy VII was what Jason used to ask me out on our first date, so it holds a special place in our hearts (even though the game has not stood the test of time!)

CoCo Ichibanya

(website is in Japanese only, but english menu is available online)

Jason here. As I mentioned in a previous post, Kayleigh spent some time before our Japan trip researching restaurants which would be gluten free. The second chain she discovered was Coco Ichibanya.
CoCo Ichibanya is a Japanese curry restaurant, and Kayleigh was eager to find out how Japanese curry tasted. I myself, was happy to eat at a restaurant that sported an English allergen menu, and takes extra special precautions.

The allergen menu unfortunately only has a single item, non-spiced curry. It comes with white rice, and you can add sausage and\or meatballs as a side for an additional charge. Of course I opted to get both sausage and meatballs.

To make sure the meal is completely allergen free, they actually bring you the curry freshly heated up still in its package. Be warned it is extremely hot, so be careful opening it. It was a bit chilly that evening, so the extra hot meal really rejuvenated me and helped me to enjoy the rest of the night. 

Kayleigh here. Unfortunately, as Jason said, the only gluten free curry available is the mild version, without the ability to select the spice level like the other curries. It is still a good representation of what sort of flavors and combinations that Japan considers a curry, so bring your own travel-sized hot sauce and heat things up to your liking.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria

Jason here. While we were visiting family in San Diego, we were brought to one of our host’s favorite pizza places, Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria.

As an appetizer, Kayleigh and I split a peaches, blackberries and prosciutto salad, which came topped with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and sherry vinaigrette. The blackberries, fresh greens, and prosciutto were delicious. I enjoyed the salty prosciutto mixing wonderfully with the black berries and vinaigrette. The hazelnuts and cheese added a bit of an earthy and, of course, nutty flavor to the whole salad. It’s a shame, but the peaches were really overwhelmed here and added very little to an otherwise great salad.

For our main course, Kayleigh and I split a “My Father’s” pizza with a gluten free crust substitution. While they do have the obligatory cross contamination disclaimer, I can confidently say I had no issues with my meal. We went with this particular pizza, as I wanted some form of meat and Kayleigh wanted to try something with fresh mozzarella. It turned out to be a great choice.

The mozzarella was placed on the pizza in large pieces, so biting into it offered not only a burst of mozzarella flavor, but also added some texture to the pizza. As a fan of extra cheese, I definitely enjoyed the liberal helpings of the large melted mozzarella pieces. The pepperoni came in extra-large pieces, which was also a nice surprise. While Kayleigh likes red onion, I’ve never been a fan of them on my pizza so these I could have done without. The fennel sausage on the other hand, was my favorite part. The bits of sausage were heavily seasoned with herbs which added to the overall pizza. As opposed to blending together, I could taste each ingredient in the pizza individually with each imparting its own distinct flavor.

Kayleigh here. This pizzeria was fairly small and quite busy when we arrived, but we were seated quickly and served just as fast. The pizzas were a beautiful example of fresh foods done right- a simple thin crust covered with an even distribution of ripe vegetables, barely melted cheese, and heavily seasoned meats. Each bite was a well-rounded combination of flavors and textures, complimenting each other so well that I enjoyed even the strong fennel flavor from the sausage because of how it enhanced the sweetness of the tomato sauce. When a restaurant can get me to actually enjoy the meat in a dish instead of resigning myself to it, I know I found a winner.

If you’re looking for a fun little pizzeria with a gluten free crust offering, then Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria may just be the right fit for you.