Tuesday, October 30, 2007


If you haven't gotten enough of our trip, here are some more pictures. Please enjoy it with the captions . . . I'm trying to jump start my comedy career (this IT thing is not paying the bills).


Why "BlackBlack"? It's my favorite gum from Japan made by Lotte. I'd like to think of it as Wrigley Spearmint with a nice uppercut.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Final Helping

For those of you who can't stomach another picture or entry from this never-ending blog, I suggest you leave the table now before you get sick. Any takers?

For those who are hungry for a final helping, check out Ha's complete set of pictures:

Osaka Culinary Tour - Day 1:

Osaka Culinary Tour - Day 2:

Osaka Culinary Tour - Day 3:

Osaka Culinary Tour - Day 4:

Osaka Culinary Tour - Day 5:

Osaka Culinary Tour - Day 6:

Toyko Post-Tour Option:

It's been tons of fun sharing this experience with all of our friends and family. With our belts loosened and our hearts missing home, we're ready for this memorable trip to end. We look forward to seeing everyone soon. But please, don't feed us anymore!

Tokyo: The Trip Continues

After a two hour ride on the amazingly smooth and quiet bullet train, a smaller group of about 3o delegates from the Osaka Culinary Tour arrived in Tokyo. Immediately after stepping off the train into the Shinagawa train station, we were met with a flurry of activity, as immaculately dressed men and women swiftly went about their commute. With a population of roughly 12 million people, it was evident that we were no longer in Osaka. Osaka, too, was busy, but Tokyo takes it to a higher level.

Diane gathered our group around a color-coded subway and JR (Japan Railway) map posted on the wall and shouted over the crowded station that the JR loop would be our best mode of transportation while in Tokyo and wished us luck! We were on our own for the next 3 days, no longer under the protection of the chartered buses, tour guides, and professional translators that we came to depend on in Osaka. Actually, this is a part of international travel that I enjoy. We would be forced to communicate with the locals (in what ever way we can) and challenged make sense of an alien world.

For example, throughout Tokyo, the sidewalks are embedded with a 'yellow-brick' road. The path either had raised vertical bars or a collection of raised half circles. I was very curious about this yellow-brick road. What was it for? My parents made a guess that perhaps it covered a network of electrical wires. We later learned that this was a path designed to assist the blind. The vertical bars meant the blind can safely walk in a straight path. The collection of half circles were placed before driveways and intersections, serving as a stop sign. How ingenious!

Sorry, I digressed a bit there... Back to our arrival. Our hotel, the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, was conveniently located across the street. After checking in, ... Hmm... wait, let's change the format of this. Rather than do another hour by hour account, how about I just summarize some highlights from our visit to Tokyo? Ok, deal.

The Ginza District
The Ginza district is Tokyo's ritzy shopping and dining area. Here, you'll find name brands like Channel, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Harry Winston diamonds. Ann and I were surprised to discover that these elaborately priced named brands actually cost 2-3 times more in Japan than in the United States. For example, the same Louis Vuitton bag that sells for $1500 in the US costs $4500 in Japan! Wow. Now, I understand the shopping frenzy I witnessed in a past trip to Hawaii. I remember seeing groups of Japanese tourists walking around with bags and bags of designer named items. Now, I realize they were 'bargain' shopping in Hawaii! In the Ginza, you can also find less expensive shops (by less expensive, I mean $300 for a coat rather than $3,000) and landmarks such as the Sony building. At night, the Ginza is illuminated with bright lights, similar to New York's Time Square, but on a grander scale. The eight of us spent our first night walking around in the Ginza. We also stayed for dinner. Ann, mom, and I returned on our last day for some local boutique shopping. We did some serious damage!

Focused Groups
The eight of us broke out in smaller 'focus' groups on day two. Ann and I took Mom and Dad via subway to tour some local Japanese gardens. Actually, we dropped them off, and Dale and Bob picked them up later in the day after their chartered tour of Tokyo. T, Gary, and Bala went to Akihabara, the electronics discount Disneyland of Tokyo. Ann and I went shopping of course! After a full day of walking, all we had to show for our efforts were two pairs of very sore feet. We spent half our day in the Omote-Sando district. While we enjoyed a nice lunch at a French cafe here, the shops were quite expensive. We then headed to Shibuya. Here, we found two 8-story malls and countless neighboring boutiques catering to the young punk population of Tokyo. Hmmm... black-laced tutus, skinny jeans, and a spiked leather collar. Is that appropriate for work? Needless to say, our credit cards got a break for the day. Later on that night, we all met back at the hotel and enjoyed a delicious Chinese family style dinner. Our palates all welcome the change of cuisine.

The Imperial Gardens
One of the highlights of Tokyo had to be our visit to the Imperial Gardens, which surrounds the coveted residence of Japan's royal family. Here, we got lost in the tranquility of the gorgeously groomed Japanese landscape. Mom and dad were especially in awe of the numerous Black Pine bonsais that lined the gardens.

The Iron Chef
Hands down, the biggest treat for all of us was having a delicious pre-set, 4 course lunch at the gorgeous La Rochelle French restaurant. Being situated 32 stories up, the restaurant provided an amazing view of Tokyo. What made this restaurant extra special was that it belonged to the French Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai. We're a group of admitted FoodTV junkies (mom and dad included), that often stay up for the late-night re-runs of the original Iron Chef. Gary suggested that we try this restaurant and made the reservations a week before from Osaka. Thanks, Gary!

Our first course was an artful arrangement of appetizers that included delicacies filled with smoke salmon, scallops, duck, and pork. Ann had the non-meat option, which was a plate of sashimi and salad.

Next came the soup. It was a chicken-bouillon-based creamy soup made with a Japanese root vegetable that I cannot recall. Ann had the vegetarian version. It was delicious, especially with the never ending supply of hot baguettes.

For the main course, the women chose a white fish in a creamy sauce. It was accompanied with a lobster mousse. The men had a duo of lamb and chicken.

We opted out of the optional cheese course and went directly to dessert. To our delight (well Ann and mine in particular), an entire cart of desserts was presented, and we were encouraged to choose as many as we wished. Now, that's the way to eat dessert!

While the meal was great, the best part was yet to come. Shortly after we were seated, Gary spotted Iron Chef Sakai's head through the kitchen window. Ann first thought Gary was teasing her, until she shrieked in delight that it was undoubtedly the Iron Chef with his signature long hair. At the conclusion of our meal, we asked our waiter if we'd be able to meet Chef Sakai. Surely enough, he came out with a gigantic smile and greeted all of us in English. Ann was so excited, she blurted out "I love you, Iron Chef" in Japanese. It was hilarious! Dale scratched his head at the sight of his wife playing the role of a young teenaged groupie. He said, "Wait. She wasn't nearly as excited when she met Hilary Clinton." Chef Sakai made our trip quite memorable, especially by enthusiastically posing for group pictures. Your cuisine reigns supreme! Yes, we love you Iron Chef!

Appendix: Meet the Delegation

Industry Delegation:
Patricia Unterman - Owner, Hayes Street Grill and Writer, San Francisco Examiner
* Patty was the Culinary Ambassador for this anniversary trip. She was responsible for assembling the industry delegation, appointing the ambassador chefs, and was central in putting together our amazing culinary itinerary. You did an amazing job, Patty!

Bruce Hill - Honorary Ambassador Chef, Executive Chef/Partner, BIX Restaurant and Executive Chef/Owner, Picco Restuarant and Pizzeria
* Bruce traveled with a broken foot due to a recent motorcycle accident. However, that didn't seem to slow him down or damper his cheery spirit!

Scott Howard - Honorary Ambassador Chef, Executive Chef/Owner, Scott Howard Restaurant
Melissa Howard - Director of Operations at the Scott Howard Restaurant

David and Kimberley Brody - Investor, Scott Howard Restaurant
* We heard many rumors that Kimberley was the karaoke queen in Osaka.

John Chalik - Chair of Board, Chez Panisse Restaurant
Susan Chamberlain - Human Resources Consultant/Trainer; Dianne Keaton look-alike :)
* We'll always remember John and Susan for their inviting smiles. At the conclusion of our Osaka visit, husband and wife continued their visit in Japan to Hiroshima and then to Kyoto. We exchanged our information and vowed to share another meal in the Bay Area. Enjoy the rest of your stay, and we hope to see you soon! Bon appetit!

Cecilia Chiang - Author and food consultant; former chef/owner of Mandarin Restaurant in Ghiradelli Square and Beverly Hills; restaurant consultant to Betelnut Restaurant
* Celia lived in Japan for over a decade and speaks fluent Japanese before immigrating to the United States. She is known in the culinary world as the godmother of Chinese cuisine. Ceilia's son is co-owner of PF (Paul Flemming) Chiang Restaurants.

Darrell Corti - President, Corti Brothers Supermarket
* Darrell generously donated the dessert wines at our reception at the Mayor's Mansion. Ha loved it so much that Ann has promised to purchase her a couple of bottles when we return. Ann and Dale live just down the street from the Corti Brothers in Sacramento.

Alice Cravens and Greg Dunham - Owner and Designer of Modern Tea

Gregory Dunmore - Executive Chef, Ame Restaurant
Kelli Dunmore - Manager, A16 Restaurant

Kalibala Kironde - President, Preferred Meats
Peggy Kironde - Book keeper, Preferred Meats

Flicka McGurrin - Owner, Pier 23 Cafe

Alexander Ong - Chef/Partner, Betelnut Restaurant
* Dale and Ann shared a bowl of Ramen with Alex at the temple flea market. They intend to dine at Betelnut when we return.

Catherine Pantsios - Food Center Manager, Ketchum

Tim Savinar - Hayes Street Grill

Liz Shaw - Chef de Cuisine, A16 Restaurant

Chris Whaley - Chef, Picco Restaurant
* Chris accompanied Bruce Hill, who owns Picco Restaurant.

Thomas Worthington - Owner, Monterey Fish
Gretchen Worthington - Owner, GFW Design

Susan Yoshimine - Owner, Seto Restaurant

Jenna Zimmerman - Assistant Producer, The Food Network
* Jenna traveled with her mother, Jan Yanehiro, who works for Pacific Fusion TV. She has graciously invited us to New York for a behind the scenes tour of the Food Network. Jenna, if you ever need a new show with two Asian sisters with an appetite, we're available!

JCCCNC Staff Hosts:
Mark Chandler - Representing the City and County of San Francisco; Director of International Trade
* Mark is one of the most friendly and hospital person I've ever met. He worked really hard on making this trip memorable. Thanks Mark for your efforts and bright smile!

John Noguchi - Director of Convention Facilities, City and County of San Francisco

Allen Okamoto - Co-Chairperson, San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association
* He and his wife Pat shared several meals with us in Osaka before heading off to Tokyo.

Diane Matsuda - Co-Chairperson, San Francisco-Osaka Culinary Tour
* Diane has lived in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. She worked as an interpreter at several of the official functions on our trip. Everyone agreed that this trip could not have been possible without Diane's endless hard work. Thank you, Diane for making this the best trip ever!

Paul Osaki - Co-Chair Person, San Francisco-Osaka Culinary Tour
* Paul is hilarious! He is a self admitted 'smokie' and 'drinkie,' rather than a foodie. He loses weight every time he visits Japan. According to his buddy Dale, Paul travels with a suitcase of Twinkies!

Joy Iwasa - Executive Planning Committee Member
* Joy brought her father on this trip. She was the nurturing one, always making sure that our needs were met and our tummies were fed. Joy is one of the most giggly and 'joyous' person I've ever met.

Hideki Kawashima - Consul, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco

Donna Kotake - President of JCCCNC
* Donna kept all of us in check and made sure that we stayed on schedule. She also was one of the few staff members that accompanied us on the post-tour extension to Tokyo.

Takanori Okuda - Consul, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco

Teresa Ono - Director of Development, JCCCNC
* Teresa kept the party going by encouraging us to eat, drink, and sing karaoke. Teresa also accompanied us on the post-tour extension to Tokyo to assure that we all were granted re-entry into the states, even those of us who sang terribly!

Minna Tao - Board President, Project Open Hand
* Minna was the behind-the-scene support that made this trip run flawlessly.

Takahiro Tomie - Kintetsu International Travel Consultants
* Tomie made the travel arrangements, including hotel, transportation, and travel guides. Without Tomie, we would have been hopelessly lost!

Ted Yamasaki - VP, JCCCNC
* Ted also accompanied us on the post-tour extension to Tokyo. He and Brian made our bus trips a blast. They, like the rest of us, enjoy traveling to eat. Don't forget to try Michael Minna's!

Foodie Delegation:
The rest of our 75-member tour group was made up of the foodies. Many friendships were created over the countless meals and adventures that were shared. See everyone at the reunion!

Sayonara Means Good Bye...

Our culinary tour to Osaka has been an incredibly fulfilling trip, in multiple dimensions.

The most obvious, of course, has been our gastronomic fulfillment. We have tasted the values, culture and history of Japan with our palates. The beautifully prepared and packaged meals exemplify Japan's pride in its culture and the hospitality and care they put into serving their friends and family.

Discovering a new country with my sister, parents, boyfriend, brother-in-law, and extended family (Gary and B-o-b) has also been a treat. By helping each other chase the colored flags through the massive crowds, sharing bites of our street foods, braving the subways, and unintentionally playing charades with the locals as we tried to communicate has taught us new things about each other. For example, Gary climbed Mount Fuji in the dead of the night to catch the sunrise at its apex. (We'll that was the idea. Gary was actually approaching its peak when the sun made its appearance, but it was breathe-taking nonetheless.) B-o-b will continue his world tour with Antarctica being his next destination. B-o-b, can you bring me back a penguin, please? Ann, she's just wacky! When French Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai came out to greet our party after we had lunch at his restaurant La Rochelle, Ann bursted out of her seat and shrieked. Then, she blurted out, "I love you, Iron Chef!" in Japanese! My sister - a groupie? She's hilarious! And Dale... He's the most loving and coolest husband ever. Yes, he smiled and hugged her still after she confessed her love for another man. (This actually took place during our post-tour extension to Tokyo. More details on that to come.) After close to four years of being with T, you'd think I'd know all his little quirks, right? Nope. T has been an undercover vending machine junkie. Throughout Japan, you'll find vending machines on every corner, dispensing a variety of hot and cold beverages, all enticingly packaged, and luring him to try just about all of its offerings (at every machine). What about mom and dad... Hmmm... I learned that they too have an inner foodie that appreciates delicacies other than the pho and broken rice restaurants of Tully Road. Given the opportunity, mom and dad would happily travel the world hand in hand.

Finally, meeting new friends from the JCCCNC staff, industry delegation, and foodie delegation has made this trip extraordinary. While we may all work and live in the bay area, our paths would have never crossed had it not been for this trip. This vacation has truly exemplified what traveling is all about. And what better way is there to end our culinary tour in Osaka than to share one last meal!

Our last meal consisted of several courses that were served through out the evening. Many thank you speeches were made and gifts were presented to key members that made this trip a success. Diane Matsuda, in particular, was honored for her leading role within the culinary tour planning committee. Among her several gifts included a mile-long list of complimentary meals to all the restaurants that were involved with the tour, such as Scott Howard's, BIX, Picco, A19, Chez Pannisse, Betelnut, Hayes Street Grill, and others that I currently cannot recall.

In addition to the never-ending courses, beer, sake, and cognac flowed freely. Max, from the Japanese City Council became hilariously drunk. He made several slurred speeches and sang "I left my heart in San Francisco." I must also mention that Max poured T half a glass of cognac, who first politely refused. However, after being called a 'girly-boy' in Max's broken and drunken English, T had no choice but to drink up. Poor T became beet red and pretty sick later that night.

Thank you everyone for an amazing vacation. I truly hope that we'll one day soon share another meal. Cheers and bon appetite!