First night in Kinosaki Onsen Town @ Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei

We finally made it to Kinosaki and checked into our hotel, Nishimuraya Hotel Shogetsutei. It's a larger place than our previous onsen experience at Arashiyama Benkei but were still able to get a very nice tatami mat room with a garden view.

Service was outstanding including a welcome snack with tea and a refreshing vinegar juice. Snacks included rice crackers, red bean cookie, a wafer with light cream inside, and a preserved plum candy.

For dinner that night, we were treated to a full kaiseki meal in our room. They even had a special children's kaiseki meal which included sashimi, tempura, Matsuba crab, Tajima beef, and a box of fresh made onigiri. They even had two desserts for her. I would have been perfectly happy with that line up!

The adult menu was much more extensive and left us completely stuffed. We had two separate menus to accommodate my very inconvenient crustacean allergy. While my wife had a good helping of crab, I was treated to extra dishes centered around Tajima beef. I even had my own teppanyaki plate for one of my courses! I hope tomorrow's dinner will be as varied - stay tuned!

Shinkansen to Kinosaki Onsen Town with ekiben from Ekibenya Matsuri

After just a night in Tokyo (we'll be back later), we are headed up to Kinosaki Onsen Town for the next couple of days. It's a pretty long train ride (almost 5 hours with transfers) so getting ekiben was required. Ekibenya Matsuri in Tokyo Station is a crazy place that has a huge selection. We always try to get something different each time, including ones with collectible containers for my daughter.

I opted for the unagi bento which was quite good (though would have been even better served hot). My wife is a huge squid fan and these stuffed squids (ikameshi) are a regional speciality of Hokkaido. Riding the Shinkansen just wouldn't be the same without ekiben!

First bite in Tokyo - Ramen @ Ippudo Roppongi

After an 11+ hour flight and a 1+ hour train ride from Narita, we were exhausted when we got to our hotel in Roppongi. We didn't want to think too much about what to eat so headed to nearby Ippudo Roppongi for a quick bowl of ramen before crashing. Our first bowl of ramen in Japan nearly three years ago was at Ippudo Ginza. Since then, Ippudo has setup shop in Berkeley and San Francisco so we are well acquainted with what they have to offer. 

I will say that there is a vast difference in the quality of Ippudo here versus the US. One major point is that the shops in Berkeley and San Francisco no longer offer soft boiled eggs (only hard boiled eggs or poached eggs). When I asked one of the waitresses in San Francisco, she told me it was due to the amount of time it took to get perfectly peeled soft boiled eggs for every bowl. Doesn't seem to be an issue for the shops in Japan! The other thing I noticed is that it's less expensive for a bowl of ramen in Japan versus the US. I got the Akamaru Special meal set which came with a good helping of gyozas for 1,500 Yen (about $13.50 USD). In the US, the Akamaru Special by itself is about $19 USD!

Delicious ramen with zero problems and for an affordable price. A great start to our trip.

Japan trip 2019 begins with a very good airline meal

We're off again to Japan for President's Week. Snagged a great deal on ANA leaving from Los Angeles and was eager to see how the flight would compare to our JAL flight last year. Both offer great service but I'll give the slight nod to ANA because of the better quality food. We had a great miso grilled mackerel to go along with perfectly cooked rice. Noodles in dashi broth was also a nice touch and quite tasty. More to come once we land!

Cinc Sentits Dinner

Our dinner after Santa Maria Del Mar was at Cinc Sentits, a Michelin starred restaurant which served an extraordinary tasting menu. This was the only restaurant we got reservations for prior to arriving in Spain and it did not disappoint. The meal itself lasted almost 4 hours so this is going to be a long post but it's well worth the read and the visuals. The decor was simple and modern but highly refined. The space was small but well laid out so that we never felt cramped. Even before a single dish was served, we knew we were in for a treat.

We started with an amuse bouche of maple syrup, cream, cava sabayon, and sea salt. This is a nod to chef-owner Jordi Artal who comes from Canada.

Next we had our tapas course which consisted of small bites of familiar tapas dishes. First was anchovy with quince paste, anchovy emulsion, and pickled pepper with a cheese cracker. Next, just shucked baby clams with salsa verde and marcona almonds. Then we had Iberian jamon de bellota on pan con tomate (the best jamon we had on the trip). We then had salt-baked potato with bonito tuna belly and topped with a carrot and green bean puree. This was followed by grilled vegetable flatbreads with olive oil "caviar". The last and most surprising dish were olives two ways. The top light green olive was actually olive puree suspended in a soft olive shell that burst in your mouth, filling it with the full flavor and essence of green olives. The darker green ones below it were manzanilla-arbequina olives with herbs. A great way to start the meal!

We moved on to more pre-entree bites. First was white asparagus with Iberian pancetta in a roasted almond emulsion. Delicate but hearty. After that we had a little sandwich called a molette made from shredded beef with smoked bone marrow and black trumpet picada sauce. This little sandwich stole the show for me. The bread was crispy but soft on the inside and the beef/marrow combination was an explosion of flavor. I could have probably eaten 20 of these.

Our first entree was mackerel with cucumber and jalapeno ice cream. It was topped with a cream, caramelized onion horchata. The cucumber and jalapeno ice cream were (as expected) very refreshing and spicy at the same time. The horchata also balanced out the fishiness of the mackerel. Next, we had huge pan seared scallops on top of a sun-choke and onion sauce. Then, a turbot clam beignet with lemon peel, brown butter salsify, and marsh samphire. Being seafood, these were light but full of flavor due to the excellent ingredient combinations.

With our seafood entrees behind us, we moved on to the meatier portion of the evening. We were treated to a nice hunk of foie gras that was perfectly cooked in a caramelized sugar shell and served with braised leeks and chives. As a mushroom and egg fan, I was delighted by the next dish of roasted and smoked hen of the woods mushrooms with a 63C cooked egg yolk. This was served with thyme-brown butter breadcrumbs and pickled onions. Though there was no meat, this dish tasted rich and full of umami flavor. Keeping with the fowl theme, we ended the meat entrees with duck served three ways. First with sautéed pears and red wine gel, then topped with crushed pistachios, and lastly a Peking style pancake with pear chutney. Each was a small bite which was just perfect for you to get the full taste without getting stuffed, which we were at this point!

Of course, dessert couldn't simply be a single dish. We were treated to three artistically crafted dishes. The first was strawberry frozen yogurt with basil and a black currant sauce. Subtle with just enough tartness to balance out the sweetness. Next was a playful plate of cherries. Like the olives before, these were cherry puree suspended in a soft cherry shell that contained the full concentrated flavor and tart cherries. This was balanced out by cherry "pit" ice cream, candied almonds, and crushed cookies. The final "temptations" were a plate of little bites. There were mini vanilla muffins, thyme meringue with orange and orange blossom macarons, and finally a deeply chocolate truffle with olive oil and salt. A sweet and lovely end to our meal.

Not pictured were the wines that were expertly paired with each dish. Though there was plenty to drink, the pacing of every dish never had us feeling heavily intoxicated. It goes without saying that the service was impeccable, but also thoughtful and quite casual. Even though it was an extremely refined setting, it never felt uptight. The staff was funny and extremely accommodating of us dining with a child at the table. They don't have a separate menu for children but where appropriate, made small changes to the dishes to make them more palatable for a younger person. Easily one of the best dining experiences I've ever had and when we return to Barcelona, we'll be coming back. They'll be moving into another location soon and we can't wait to see what they do in a larger venue.