Tokyo, Japan Dinner: Sushi Zanmai

While in Tokyo, we had to get our sushi on.  It turns out that one of the receptionists at the Vedema Santorini mentioned she lived in Tokyo for a bit. We asked for sushi restaurant recommendations, and she provided several excellent choices. We settled on Sushi Zanmai because it was supposed to be the best choice for fresh sushi in a casual atmosphere at a price point that wouldn’t break the bank. Plus, it’s a favorite of the locals, which is one of the strongest factors we consider when choosing a restaurant. Sushi Zanmai did not disappoint!

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When you enter this location of the restaurant (there are several locations), you pass a couple of fish tanks letting you know the sushi you are about to consume is fresh.  We even saw the guy next to us eat a fish that had been cut up, but that was still barely breathing and alive!  Wow!  Now, that’s what I call fresh.

We sat at the sushi bar which gave us a view to the skilled sushi chefs (the older men) and the up-and-coming trainees (the younger men who prepped and cut whole fish and stocked supplies for the chefs).

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We started our meal with a half bottle of cold saki.  I’m not a saki expert, so I cannot really comment on the unique flavors of the type we had.  I will say that Sushi Zanmai seemed to have a decent list of choices at multiple price points.

Tocqueville is not a fan of sushi, and I can only handle things that are not too fishy.  So we played it safe and stuck to tuna and salmon.  For the tuna, I ordered a “flight” of regular, medium fatty, and fatty.  Whoa, was the fatty tuna good!  If I remember correctly, the fatty tuna cost around $4USD per slice, the medium fatty around $3USD, and the regular maybe $1.5USD (and there was a discount for the “flight”).  Tocqueville ordered a mixed tempura plate, which had some veggies, a prawn, and a small fish (with tail).

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Most of all, we were well satisfied with the very reasonable cost of this dinner (especially considering we were in Tokyo), the freshness of the food, and the local-filled atmosphere.

Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong

Tocqueville here for an update on a fantastic dining experience in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is at the heart of the Cantonese cuisine culture which often varies from the rest of China.  In particular, Cantonese cuisine is famous for its Dim Sum.  Dim Sum are hot dumplings and rolls served in wood or bamboo steamed containers and usually enjoyed family style at lunch.

We just had 24 hours in Hong Kong and at dinner time had to ask the hotel where the best Dim Sum spot was.  They pointed me in the direction of Tim Ho Wan located in the Hong Kong rail station one stop over from our hotel.

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They close at 9PM, and I arrived around 8:15PM to see a packed out restaurant full of Chinese people and a long line up front to get in.  It was intimidating to say the least.

IMAG1365View of the entrance to Tim Ho Wan.

I mustered up my courage, excused myself past all the people waiting, and went up to the attendant to ask how entry worked.  Since I was just one she said I could be seated right away and I was put at a table in between two families munching on their Dim Sum.
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They handed me this menu which is obviously quoted in Hong Kong Dollars (1USD=7.75Hong Kong Dollar).  You mark your selections on the sheet and they take it to the kitchen to prep your goodies.

I went with Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, Deep Fried Baked Bun with BBQ pork, Deep Fried Meat Dumplings, and BBQ pork Rice rolls.
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View from my table.  The silver containers had a tea which was included with the meal for a 3Hong Kong Dollar Fee.
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The BBQ pork bun (left) and deep fried meat dumplings (right) were delicious.

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The BBQ pork rolls in rice noodles rocked my face off.
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The steamed shrimp dumplings for the win.
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Another view of my favorite dish, the BBQ Pork Buns.

For around USD10 I gorged myself on this delicious Dim Sum.  I was in and out in about 25 minutes, a quick and awesome meal at the Hong Kong train station.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vientnam Dinner: Huong Lai

For our first night in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam we tried out a restaurant around the corner from our hotel called Huong Lai. It was featured in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) food blog, and what’s interesting about this restaurant is that it provides culinary and hospitality training for disadvantaged people.

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Based on the WSJ blog review, we ordered the prawns in coconut milk with turmeric.  We also had a noodle dish with vegetables and pork and added a dish of chopped pork and eggplant to round things out.  The total cost of the meal was less than $20 USD.

Based on the very professional service, fresh and tasty food, and cozy atmosphere, I would highly recommend Huong Lai.

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St. Petersburg, Russia Dinner: Mindal (???????) Cafe

While in St. Petersburg, Russia we were joined by Tocqueville’s parents and several friends. Through Tocqueville’s mother’s connections (she is originally from Belarus), we were set up with a personal tour guide to expertly guide us through St. Petersburg’s historic sites. We also asked for a restaurant recommendation, perhaps for Georgian food.

Now, I have not previously tried Georgian food, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Oh…my…GAWD! Please, stop what you’re doing right now, and look up a Georgian restaurant in whatever city you’re located. If you’re fortunate enough to have an authentic choice, drop everything and GO.

Eight of us set off for a culinary treat at Mindal Cafe, where the chef / owner is Parisian trained, and steps out of the kitchen to meet and serve you her most special dishes.

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Because Tocqueville’s mother knows the language and cuisine much better than the seven others of us dining together, we let her do the ordering.  I’m  not entirely certain of all the dishes we so thankfully were able to sample, so I’ll let the pictures below do the talking (with some short narrative to highlight the most mouthwatering details).  There are also pictures of the menu (with English descriptions) located at the end of the post.

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Above is Khachapuri, the best cheese bread you’ve ever even imagined.  Tocqueville claims this is in the top three cheese dishes he has had in his life.

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Above are balls of spinach or eggplant mixed with various herbs and topped with a pomegranate seed.  There are also steamed carrots stuffed with an herbed mixture.  In the upper left is a lone eggplant slice stuffed with a soft cheese mixed with garlic and herbs and rolled.  These are cold appetizers, and oh so good.

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I can’t remember the name of the above, but it’s a pasta “sack” with a meatball and the most delicious broth inside.  The chef explained that you must grab the “sack” by the top, flip it over, bite into the pasta, and (if you’re good) sip the broth without letting any spill.  It was a challenge for us novices, but several at our table were able to successfully relish in this dish without letting any of the decadent juices spill.

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This is a dolma (stuffed grape leaf, bottom left) and a Turkish inspired kebab with red onion, cilantro, and other veggie condiments.

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Above are veggies with a Russian blini-like bread.

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I cannot express how delightful this meal from Mindal was, not just in terms of the company, but also for the restaurant atmosphere, talented chef / owner, and overall experience.