Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

PCasa GT Punta del Este, La Huella

It’s the last quarter of the year so I think I’d better write about my best meal in 2015.  Parador La Huella sits on windswept Brava beach of the little town of Jose Ignacio in Punta del Este, Uruguay.  Punta del Este is the Saint Tropez of South America.  It’s where the bronzed and the beautiful get together during the southern hemisphere’s December summer.  Jose Ignacio is thankfully a bit further from the action than Punta’s main party beaches.  Here it’s mostly families hanging out and people just relaxing on the sand.

La Huella (currently number 15 on the 2015 Latin Americas 50 Best Restaurants) is a shabby chic bleached wood shack with a large deck that sits right on Brava beaching Jose Ignacio with a view of the lighthouse.  During the peak summer season, from mid-December to mid-January, the place is packed from noon till late.  The food is deceptively simple but unbelievably good.  Meat and seafood cooked on the large wood-fired grill, some sushi and sashimi, a few salads and pastas, a decent wine list, cool cocktails, great music and a super friendly crew who look like they’re having fun while they work.

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In the five days we were in Punta, we spent two at La Huella and established a routine.  We would drive to Jose Ignacio right after breakfast, book our table for lunch, lug our stuff to the beach and lie on the sand until around 1:00 then go to La Huella and have a leisurely lunch on the wooden deck before heading back home.   As you can see from the photos – we had grilled seafood, salads, a seafood pasta, fried calamari, baked mussels, flaky empanadas and the infamous volcan de dulce de leche – a molten dulce de leche cake that is a hit with the caramel-loving South Americans.

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Why was it my best meal of 2015?  Because the food was simple, delicious and not overpriced. Because the place was unpretentious and the service was speedy yet friendly.  Because sitting by the sea and eating al fresco is one of life’s pleasures.  But most of all, because those lazy days were spent with my husband and children, sitting around a table, having a meal together and just enjoying life.  I’m counting the days till our December holiday in Punta.

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Parador La Huella

Brava Beach José Ignacio – Uruguay

Telephone: +598 4486 2279

Email: info@paradorlahuella.com

PCasa GT Punta del Este, Les Delices

Can it already be August?  Here’s a flashback Friday post from our Christmas holiday in Punta del Este.

Breakfasts usually involve coffee and the medialunas con dulce de leche (the local version of croissants, slightly sweet and served with a caramel spread) and Les Delices in the town center of Punta del Este (or Punta, as everyone calls it), has been the go to spot for years especially for Argentines on holiday looking for their medialuna fix.

We did the same and had breakfast there bright and early before heading to the beach.  We did the works – fresh orange juice, coffee, toast, scrambled eggs and a bunch of medialunas.  While we ever there, there was a steady stream of patrons buying their breakfast pastries and a few locals quietly enjoying their coffee.

Aside from their large selection of pastries and cakes, they also serve a full lunch and dinner menu and do a good business in takeaway boxes of assorted mini pastries and cookies for afternoon tea.

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Les Delices

29 Las Gaviotas, 20100 Punta del Este, Uruguay
Phone: +598 4244 3640

PCasa GT Tokyo, Yakniku Jumbo

On our last evening in Tokyo, we ventured out to Shirokane in the southern end of Minato for an early dinner at Yakiniku Jumbo.  This yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant only serves A5 Black Wagyu which is the highest quality of Japanese beef.  The place is simply decorated with wooden booths and tables with a built-in grill in the center.  Reservations are recommended as the place fills up quickly as soon as they open at 5:00 p.m. and tables are allocated every two hours so we were gently ushered out at 6:30 so they could reset for the next batch of diners.

Different cuts are available on the menu from traditional cuts like short-plate kalbi and the loin to higher-priced prime cuts like shoulder and rib-eye plus sirloin which is only served in extra thin sukiyaki slices and served with a raw egg dip.  There’s also a large selection of offal: beef tongue, intestine and stomach as well as pork womb (not really sure what that is) along with the more usual pork cheek and pork loin.  Specialties include Korean-style beef tartare and raw beef heart sashimi.  A few salads, kimchi and some vegetables (pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, mushroom, onion, carrot and shishito pepper) to be cooked on the grill is all there is for vegetarians.  Aside from steamed rice in small (individual), to medium or large (family-size) portions, they have two special rice dishes cooked in hot stone bowl: the traditional bibimbap topped with vegetables and a raw egg or the unusual Wagyu garlic rice version which is topped with a mound hand-chopped raw Wagyu beef and raw garlic which is mixed into the hot rice and continues to cook in the super hot stone bowl sort of like an instant extra-delicious premium fried rice.  Desserts are limited to Hokkaido soft-serve milk flavored ice cream or sherbet.

We  ordered both beef and pork, a green salad of lettuce in a sesame soy dressing, assorted vegetables and both the bibimbap and the Wagyu garlic rice.  The meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender with the marbled fat making every mouthful a pleasure.  The kids enjoyed it as well as we did and we ended up ordering more meat as the first plates went by way quicker than we expected.  Our server was a friendly California-raised Japanese surfer dude, making it the only meal we had in Tokyo where we could communicate easily with the person assigned to our table.  After a fantastic meal, we skipped dessert and instead took a short walk along the pedestrian street of the quiet residential area of Shirokane before heading back to the hotel.  Out of all our meals in Japan, yakiniku was the one that appealed to the whole family even if they only served one type of food: meat on the grill.  My Argentine husband got his meat fix and the kids and I all enjoyed the simple dinner of quality grilled meat and rice.  Looks like they have a partner restaurant in Singapore Yakiniku Yazawa which we are now eager to try for our Sunday family dinner out.

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Yakiniku Jumbo

Dai-ichi Azabu Bldg. 1F, 3-1-1 Shirokane, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel. 03-5795-4129

Open daily 5:00 p.m. to midnight (Closed 31 December to 2 January)

PCasa GT Tokyo, Ginza Bairin

Ginza Bairin is one of Japan’s most well-known tonkatsu specialty restaurants with five branches in Japan and almost a dozen overseas locations in Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore,Manila and even in Hawaii.  When we showed the taxi driver the address for the Ginza branch, he smiled and said “Oh, you’ll be having good tonkatsu tonight.”.

Ginza Bairin does one thing only and that is tonkatsu –  Kurobuta (Berkshire pig) plus prawn cutlet and extra-large prawns coated in panko and deep-fried to perfection.  The menu consists of tonkatsu sets that come with unlimited steamed rice, cabbage salad, pickled vegetables and miso soup.  The place is like a Japanese diner with a long wooden counter running the length of the restaurant plus a few small tables at the back.  Tables are set with just chopsticks, the laminated menu and a small tray of homemade tonkatsu sauce in sweet and spicy versions, extra spicy Japanese mustard and chili flakes.

Ginza Bairin opens all-day every day (except for new year’s day) from 11:30 a.m. till just 8:45 p.m. so you need to get there early for dinner.  The restaurant facade is unobtrusive with no English sign and is located just off Ginza’s main drag.  If not for the ubiquitous window display of plastic tonkatsu food variations right by the entrance, we would have missed it.  It showcases tonkatsu sandwiches (crispy deep-fried pork cutlet sandwiched on soft white crustless bread) to curry katsu (tonkatsu covered in a gravy like Japanese curry sauce) along with the other versions of tonkatsu meals.

We all chose the tonkatsu set -crisp and not oily panko-coated kurobuta pork loin plus a side order of prawn katsu to share. The only thing we didn’t realize was that the restaurant only takes cash so after dinner, my husband and son rushed  off to a nearby ATM while my daughter and I waited for them to get back.  (My daughter didn’t mind the wait as she had her first encounter with a pink dialing pay phone and I had to explain to her how it worked).  Dinner was a hit as the kids love tonkatsu and even if that was the only thing Ginza Bairin served, they do such  good job that we enjoyed it thoroughly.  Our taxi driver was absolutely right.

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Ginza Bairin

7-8-1, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 104-0061
Daily 11:30 am till 8:45 pm (except January 1st)
Cash payment only
Contact: t.ohyabu@ginzabairin.co.jp

PCasa GT Tokyo, Bareburger

I know, I know – we’re in Tokyo so why are we eating hamburgers?  Well, like I mentioned in the previous post, Japanese restaurants have a tendency to serve one thing and one thing only and after several days where everyone had to agree to one-dish meals, I started googling burgers in Tokyo and found Bareburger Ginza which had just opened the day before (31 March 2016) at the brand-spanking new Tokyo Plaza Ginza department store which was conveniently located a few minutes walk from our hotel in Shiodome.

Bareburger Organic opened its first outlet in 2009 in Astoria, Queens and now has 28 locations mostly in New York but with a few scattered in Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Ohio, Washington DC.  Its’ first overseas franchise was in Tokyo with Dubai and Frankfurt opening soon.   Voted by Zagat as New York’s best burger and Michelin-recommended for four years in a row (2011-2014), Bareburger has a lot to live up for since they use only free-range, pasture-grazed, humanely raised and antibiotic, gluten and hormone-free beef and chicken.  Even the beverages are organic and the french fries are cooked in non-GMO Canola oil.

The menu has Bare “burgers and wiches”, from¥1380/US$13 for the Buttermilk Buffalo Chicken Sandwich to ¥2980/US$28 for the Tomorrow Burger – a limited Tokyo special of Ozaki (Wagyu) beef tenderloin burger .  For vegetarians, there’s The Shroom, a wild mushroom patty with alfalfa and balsamic mayo wrapped in kale.  There are also Greens (salads) and Bare shares which have side or share portions of french fries, sweet fries (sweet potato), onion rings and buttermilk chicken bites plus a couple of sliders.  They have a kid’s menu called Cubby Fare (¥880/ US$8.50) – a choice of Panda (buttermilk chicken bites and buttermilk ranch dip) or a Grizzly (burger with Egmont cheese on a brioche) served with fries, dessert and organic juices (orange and apple) or organic milk.  They also have house-made natural soda, lemonade, iced tea and creamy milkshakes and a large selection on organic wines and spirits, organic craft beers and cocktails.  Desserts are ice cream sundaes: either the banana foster or the choco-peanut butter.

On both visits, once for dinner and another to indulge the C’s Grizzly craving, we enjoyed the food and the atmosphere plus the super friendly service and English-speaking (a challenge in Japan) staff.  We enjoyed the Buck Wild – burger with pimento, fried egg, crispy onions, dill pickles on a brioche bun) and the Supreme – burger with Egmont cheese, country bacon, green-leaf, chopped fried, special sauce on a birch bun topped with house-made onion rings.  We shared the fries and rings combo and the buttermilk chicken bites with classic lemonades and a creamy chocolate milkshake served in tall ice-cold aluminum cup.  The experience was all-American and guilt-free because of the organic and non-GMO ingredients they use making it one of our best meals in Tokyo.  Wonder when they’ll open one in Singapore?  Soon, I hope.

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Bareburger

Tokyo Plaza Ginza 10-B (10th floor), 5-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo 104-0061

Telephone: +81 3 3572 5315

Open daily, 11:00AM to 11:00PM (Last Order 10:00PM)

PCasa GT Tokyo, Shabuzen

One of the best things about dining in Japan is that restaurants are so specialized that they serve only one type of food which is done perfectly.  One of the worst things about dining in Japan is that restaurants are so specialized that they serve only one type of food and so everyone has to agree to eat the same thing.  On one of our first evenings in Tokyo, we decided to do just that at a traditional shabu-shabu restaurant.  It took a while to convince our youngest, C, to commit to just shabu-shabu and not have tempura or tonkatsu (her favorite Japanese food).

There are two Shabusen restaurants at the Ginza Core building – one on B2 and another on the 2nd floor.  Both serve the same shabu-shabu except that upstairs, there are operate tables where diners can sit together and share the shbau-shabu per table, while the basement outlet has three u-shaped counters where each seat has it’s own shabu-shabu pot so it’s good for those dining alone or those who’d rather not share their dinner.

We went to the one in the basement and sat alongside each other in the middle counter.  Each place setting had a pot right in front of the seat.  The menu is limited with sets including beef, pork, a combination of beef and pork, Wagyu beef, or special pork from Hokkaido.  They also serve sukiyaki which is similar to shabu-shabu except that the meat, vegetables and noodles are already cooked in a sweeter and saltier broth which then takes the fun out of the full-on shabu-shabu cooking experience.

Two servers are in-charge of around 20 diners per counter.  They do everything from pouring tea and serving drinks to setting the plates of thinly-sliced meat with a side portion of vegetables (Chinese cabbage, mushrooms,  tofu and some bean thread noodles) and two sauces: goma and ponzu.  They also check that the broth isn’t bubbling over or that the sauce bottles are still full of ponzu or goma.

We started out with a cold egg custard topped with mayonnaise, cucumber and asparagus.  Soon after, the meat was served and it’s D.I.Y. cooking from there.  The very thin slices of meat are dipped quickly in the light kombu-based broth then fished it out and dipped again in either the citrusy soy-sauce ponzu or  the creamier sesame-mayonnaise goma alternating between slices of meat and vegetable and mouthfuls of steamed rice.  You can personalize your dipping sauces by adding what you like from the trays set on the counter: spring onions, garlic and chili oil.    They say that the name shabu-shabu comes from the swishing sound of the meat stirred into the bubbling broth. Once you’ve finished the meat and vegetables, the servers come around and add noodles to the now flavorful bubbling broth and serve you a small bowl of ramen to finish of your meal.  Simple, satisfying and light.  Just remember that if you have big appetite, you might have to order an extra portion of meat (like my son did).

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Shabusen Ginza

〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 5 Chome−8−20 (Ginza Core Building)
Phone:+81 3 3571 1717 (B2) or  +81 3 3572 3806 (2F)
Open daily,  11:30AM–2:30PM and 5:30–10PM

PCasa GT Tokyo, Sights

Tokyo is my second favorite city after Paris and it’s because the Japanese are the most similar to the French in their love of gastronomy and beauty, from the beautifully presented food in individual dishes or lacquered bento boxes to the intricately-wrapped packages in the boutiques and food shops.  When I was at Le Cordon Bleu, it was always my Japanese classmates who perfected the pastry pratique as they were naturals at recreating the glazing and decoration on the gateaux et patisserie.  Their attention to detail is present in their day-to-day lives and this is seen everywhere in Japan.

I had been to Tokyo for the first time in 2014 and explored the city on foot with my friend Rumi.  This time around, we chose to spend a week over the easter holidays with the kids to experience Tokyo during Sakura season (cherry blossom time).  Spring in Tokyo is usually rainy but mild and it was a nice change of weather from tropical Singapore.

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We walked all over the city from  Ginza for shopping and eating to admiring the architecture and window displays in Omotesando Hills.  We went to Midtown and walked around the beautiful green oasis of Hinokicho park where we saw our first cherry blossoms then headed over to nearby bustling Roppongi.  We also visited the peaceful Shinto shrine  Meiji Jingu located in the middle of a 100,000 tree forest near Harajuku and Omotesando.

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We also explored the basement food halls of department stores Matsuya and Mitsukoshi in Ginza which had an amazing selection of both local and imported food for takeaway.  Despite having spent a week in Tokyo, I still felt that we had only scratched the surface on what the city had to offer in gastronomic treats which just means that I’ll be gong back sooner rather than later.

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Meiji Jingu
1-1 Yoyogi-Kamizono-cho,
Shibuya-ku,
Tokyo 151-8857

*Open daily from sunrise to sunset (opening and closing times change depending on the season)

Ginza

Harajuku & Omotesando

Roppongi