Thanks to numerous delays on our flight, we arrived to our hotel in Osaka around midnight. That didn’t leave too many options for food. I should have taken into account the long train ride from the airport. It was close to an hour on the express. Still it would have been late and I was starving. So where else to go but to Dotonbori, a food and nightlife spot I love.
By this time, shops were closing and people were staggering the streets finding something to quell their buzz. That came in the form of takoyaki which we lined up for. It’s always an refreshing being the sober ones now and then. But don’t get me wrong, if we arrived earlier, we would be the ones having trouble ordering and ignoring the signs saying seating was closed inside. Ah, looking in the mirror can be quite revealing.
After getting something in our stomachs we searched for a sit down and eat sort of place.
Around the corner we found a local late night sushi shop. It was pretty busy but we secured our seats at the bar. In fact, I think those were the only seats. No plates or fancy hosts. This was a local cigarette smoke filled shop people go to for continued libations. It was a block away from the main streets of Dotonbori and thankfully, they had an English menu. Though we did do some point and order from their case of fish. I still need to get the names of some of the fish. It was fun nonetheless. The atmosphere was lively. Everyone had some level on inebriation in them. And it wasn’t long until I got my beer. What can I say, I’m on vacation!
2-7-16 Higashishinsaibashi Chuo-ku
Verdict: You must visit Dotonbori, you’ll have plenty of good food available. The sushi place I’d pass on, unless nothing else is open.
New Year’s Eve, a time when normal people prepare to bring in the new year. Some get dressed up to the nines, breaking out their top hat and head out to drink. Others stay home and live vicariously through the television. And then there’s me, spending as much time possible in Ramen Alley. Visiting all the noodle pushers to see the latest fix. What’s in this bowl? How about that one? Oh you get both king crab and scallops? I need to change my pants. If I could eat here all day I would, but the shops start opening up around 11am. I know this because even if the place looked open, we were instantly ushered out when we walked in. Damn it, we had to actually wait for lunch time. I wanted my crack bad. Well, after wasting time for a couple hours, we came back with one goal, eat the hell out of this alley. I’ll post pictures of the places here because the Japanese pinyin signs are tiny and hard to find.
Verdict: The winner of all the ramen shops on this trip.
This place was crowded yesterday, and even as we waited for it to open, there was a line forming for it. In Asia, lines are good. This place was no exception. The owner showcased his popular ramen, which did not disappoint one bit. When I was done I was ready to slip into a food coma. My buddy held off eating because we were headed back here in a couple hours. What? Don’t you worry, I’ll eat again. And I did, the place across the way.
Verdict: Not too shabby, but even if the line at the ramen places, I’ll try a different shop.
So as my buddy caught up on Teshikaga, which he certified was a great place, I was over here. It was full before and by the time I showed up, there were a few seats available. Given that I haven’t truly had Hokkaido ramen. You know, the butter and corn stuff. I went with their Hokkaido special, because with a name like that, I can’t go wrong. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that. But the place was good. Things were fried up in the wok and served fresh in my bowl. Still trying to get used to that flash fry thing they have going on. Good, but how do I explain this to the folks back home. I guess a video will have to do.
At this point it we were full. What to do but to celebrate the new year. Back to Rad Brothers. Sure it was a bit expat’ish. But I didn’t want to feel out of place or sit at a bar where we couldn’t talk to anyone. Glad we went back, because I learned something new there. For the New Year’s celebration, they had a barrel of sake. A barrel that they’ll ladle to patrons when the clock hits midnight. Yeah, you let the bartender pour it down your face as a celebratory right of passage. How else would you have it? That was quite a bit of sake. As the night weaned away and my unconscious nudging me to get something other than alcohol in my stomach, it was off to find more ramen. No bueno for Ramen Alley. Shops had closed up early. Actually, it seemed like everything was closed. Was it because it was now officially new year’s day or was 1am closing time. I’ll never know.
There was hope though. We saw a shop on the corner that was open and I saw ramen.
<sorry, no photo of the place. blame my drunkenness>
Verdict: Not recommended.
Yeah, this was a late night place catering us drunk fools. So quality wasn’t the main goal. It was food fast and food salty for you to chug more water. Sober up and get the hell out. We did just that. I don’t remember how my friend got takoyaki, but he did. Fuzzy memories are failing me. Man, I need to cut back on drinking. I’ll save that for the new year. Happy two thousand f#$king fourteen.
After our wonderful lunch it was off to Sapporo, the second destination of my trip. It was a bit of a mystery how we got there since there was a mix up on our bus ride. Our pick up was at an adjacent hotel and when a driver came in around the time we were expecting pick-up (there were several buses that came and went), the driver said he wasn’t there for us. This was troubling given the schedule. The 4pm shuttle, our shuttle, was the last one for the day. We talked to the clerk who called the bus line and within a minute of departure, we were on the bus that was supposedly not our bus. Go figure. And even more surprising, we were the first to be let off. Wonder if they made an exception for us.
Anyways, we checked into the Sapporo Excel Hotel Tokyu. A good hotel, but no One Niseko Resort Towers. Still, it was big enough for two beds and a sitting area in front of the TV. I won’t complain about that since most hotels in Japan were much smaller. Who cares anyways, we weren’t staying in.
It was off to this so-called Ramen Alley. A mythical sounding place where bowls of delightful noodles sing songs of beauty to lure you into its trap. Bam! An eternity of slurping one endless ramen noodle until the end of time. Muhahaha. Wait. This may be heaven to some of us. And actually, this place sorta was, especially for the ramen affectionado. There are two alleys and we only found the newer one. It had about ten ramen shops all peddling their own version of this meal. We didn’t do any research before hand so we went with the one with the best pictures and a place that wasn’t empty. We ended up at Toraya Shokudo toward the middle of the alley. It’s small like the other shops, seating about six people at a time. And when we ordered, the chef did something I wasn’t used to, he fired up the wok. I must not know how ramen was made, but I always thought everything was boiled. Silly me. What I’ll learn later was that this brings out the individual tastes. Something that will turn me into a junky. More about that later.
Somewhere in Ramen Alley
Verdict: Most likely will skip next time around.
After our meal, we went for some drinks at Rad Brothers. An expat bar which didn’t resemble expat bars in other major cities. There were far fewer foreigners than we expected. In fact, our presence doubled the number of foreigners there. Yay? Well, we ended up meeting some really cool locals who gave us the 411 on places to go and eat. This is how I gauge “getting to know a city” and that’s through it’s people. Hurrah!
Before leaving Niseko, there was one place I wanted to try out and eventually write about. And yeah, this place was a No Reservations kind of place. That didn’t matter though, I’ve read so much about the place that it warranted a visit. And as fate would have it, it was up the street, right next to Karabina, the place we went to the other night.
Rakuichi sat in the back of a set of three cabins. Not that they were actually cabin cabins. They were all restaurants. Who knew one of these restaurants housed such traditional excellence in creating soba. Yeah, buckwheat noodles. That very stuff that’s abundant in Japanese restaurants. However, you haven’t had soba the way it’s done here. It’s not the fact that the chef meticulously rolls out, cuts, and cooks each batch for you at the time of the order. No, he found a perfect mix. So perfect that he doesn’t mind showing you how it’s prepared, because I believe, the secret was in, you guessed it, the ingredients itself. Once cooked, it’s thin, yet somehow firm. It’s not the staple soba you may have had. No, this was what you didn’t know you were missing out on. Oh chef Tsutsuru Rai, you have officially ruined soba for me back in the states.
431 Niseko Nisekotyo
Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun Hokkaido 048-1511, Japan
Verdict: Yes, if you love soba. Get yourself here.
Oh and we went for an early lunch around 11am and they luckily had two seats available. Seems everyone else had the same idea of going early. They don’t take lunch reservations, but the menu was limited to soba and tempura.
What I forgot to put into these posts are the trips to the onsen. Our hotel was equipped with one and we even went to the one in the Vail hotel. And that’s because I wanted to go every day after boarding. Twice wasn’t so bad right? Good enough to keep the pain and aching away in order to get in three full days on the mountain.
It was storming once again so the top was once again off limits. However, there was no need to. We kept to the off limit areas, which for any Niseko veteran equals untracked powder. Sure, there’s a chance you can get stuck, but just plan appropriately and survey the area while you’re on the lift. Only then will you get the true reward. If not, stay on the trails and play in the trees along the routes. You’ll get some amount of gratification with the constant snowfall. Plus, it means less people in our areas. Woot!
Now on to the eating.
170-165, Aza Yamada, Kutchan
Hokkaido Prefecture 044-0081, Japan
Verdict: Yes. Go here.
This was a small restaurant in Hirafu. It gets packed but we were eating late and it was only the two of us. We decided not to eat with the larger group since they ate early and we were coming from Annupuri. The place looks to be run by a husband and wife team, with the husband being an expat. So English was not a problem here. These people know about quality and cater to it. Prices are a little on the high side. Though that didn’t stop us from getting a full meal. Dishes were big enough to keep us in check. I almost ordered one too many dishes. Damn you squid ink paella. Can’t you be a smaller dish! In any case, this was a good find for a small place that makes simply great fresh food.
Man, did I ever mention I love it here.