Food

Tokyo Eats

Friends are often asking for food recs while in Tokyo. I can’t believe I’ve never made a decent list before. I should preface we only scratched the surface of the food scene in Tokyo. This is not a best-of list, nor is it comprehensive. I honestly had to go through my Facebook posts and photos to recall all the good ones. My feeble brain may have left out some really great contenders!

Chains

Don’t dismiss chains in Japan. Each restaurant takes pride in being consistent and living up to its parent-company name. You’ll always get good food and impeccable service. Here are just a few we frequented over the years.

Nabezo – 鍋ぞう

Great hot pot chain. Opt for the kimchi broth, you won’t regret it. For about $30/person, you get all the good shabu shabu meat, veggies and noodles you can handle.


Yamachan’s – 世界の山ちゃん

Peppery wings and a fresh-squeeze citrus Chūhai are the perfect bar complements. But if you’re like us, you’ll order 50 wings and make it a meal.

Yamachans


Isomaru Suisan (磯丸水産 渋谷道玄坂店)

This seafood izakaya has a lot of great grillable seafood options, but the miso crab (green paste in crab shell in photo below) is a very distinctive experience you can’t leave Japan without trying. Super buttery and flavorful.


Coco Ichibanya

While I’m not a huge fan of Japanese curry, everyone else adores this place. It’s a quick meal that’ll get you through your afternoon trek across all the districts.

Coco


Pepper Lunch

Steak on a piping hot skillet that you cook your way. That garlic sauce you pour over the dish really brings this over the top. So good for a cheap meal.


Kushi Jin (権八すみやき家串陣)

Hands down, the best habanero wings in the Eastern hemisphere. And Clint is obsessed with the mentaiko potatoes. They have tons of great izakaya (pub food/tapas) offerings. Thankfully, the main dinner menu has photos. As for the yakitori, you’ll just have to do your best to Google-image translate. And no, you didn’t do it wrong, it says, “chicken butt,” and it’s darn delicious!


Roppongi

Gatten Sushi

〒106-0032 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Roppongi, 6 Chome−1−3 六門
Below the Outback Steakhouse, tucked in corner.

If you’re like me and can’t bring yourself to eat raw fish, well, expect to be judged in Japan, but also check out this sushi place. There are rolls! And nigiri for the intrepid diners.


Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu (権八 西麻布) – Kill Bill Restaurant

Japan, 〒106-0031 Tokyo, 港区西麻布1 丁目13−11

Everyone knows Kill Bill, and if you’re going here, you’re probably looking for that epic experience. While you won’t get any legendary fights, you will get fantastic food and a festive atmosphere. The tables are arranged in a way where you’re very close with your neighbors in all directions, but you still have your “space.” Try the wagyu and foie gras skewers – melts in your mouth.


XEX ATAGO GREEN HILLS (ゼックス愛宕グリーンヒルズ ) 

Japan, 〒105-6290 Tokyo, 港区Atago, 2 Chome−5−1 MORIタワー

XEX epitomizes fine dining on multiple levels: the food, of course, but also the service and the view. This one has it all.


Roti Roppongi (ロティ 六本木) – Brunch

Japan, 〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato, 六本木6−6−9 ピラミデビル1F

Got a hankering for some western breakfast? More specifically, eggs benedict? Roti Roppongi is a great brunch (or lunch) spot. Look at that perfectly poached egg.

Roti Roppongi


Akihabara

Tori King Ramen

Japan 〒101-0021 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Sotokanda, 1 Chome−3−4

While there are millions of ramen options in Tokyo, this one specializes in chicken ramen. It’s so hard to find, but patience will pay off.

 

 


Harajuku

Kebab Box

1 Chome-8-8 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan

Cheap and good! And there are many kebab options around Tokyo, but this one has a sauce that knocks it out of the park.

Wolfgang Puck Express

Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae, 1−17−1 義富ビル

If you’re in the mood for more Western food, this is a great stop on your way around Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori. I swear that chicken gravy is made of unicorn tears and children’s souls.


Shinjuku

Sushi-Zanmai (すしざんまい 東新宿店)

Address: Japan, 〒169-0072 Tokyo, 新宿区Okubo, 1 Chome−1−13, ベルバウム

This is where everyone goes for real sushi. Otoro and sea urchin’s your jam? This is the place.

Sushizanmai


Fussa

Toraneko

ピースフル福生1 3-, 2 Chome Kamidaira, Fussa, Tokyo 197-0012, Japan

Must have items: jerk shrimp and nasigoreng (Indonesian fried rice). It could easily be a contender for my last meal.

Toraneko


Amiyakitei あみやき亭 福生店

Yakiniku so perfect, it makes kids cry. Took my nieces here and they can’t stop dreaming about it. You can get A4 level wagyu at a decent cost.

Amiyakitei


Ishikawa Brewery

You go for the brewery experience, but you keep coming back for the misplaced and delicious Italian food. Our favorites were the prosciutto and arugula pizza and seafood pasta. As for the beverages, try the cherry blossom sake, if it’s available, the pale ale and Munich dark beers.

The brewery has two restaurants, you’ll want to keep walking til you get to Fussa no Birugoya.


Desserts

Cozy Corner

This bakery chain has a great staple of pastries, but every season brings a new, delightful taste. My favorites include: strawberry shortcake and tiramisu layered crepes. You can find these at pretty much every train station and shopping center.

Hawaiian Pancake Factory

You thought pancakes were just for breakfast. In Japan, they’re for elaborate dessert feasts.

HI Pancake Factory


ARTNIA Square Enix Cafe

For you bonafide nerds out there, you have to go here only to say that you’ve been to a Square Enix Cafe.


Others

Kamayan’s Tachikawa

Filipino food in Japan? Unheard of. But very delicious.

Kamayan's Tachikawa


Ukai Toriyama

This place is not for the frugal. You’ll spend a pretty penny, but the sensory memories are forever. Your dining area is actually a private thatched teahouse. The whole thing is a formal, Japanese affair. You’ll get service commensurate to the check.

Per Kobi-san, the ayu is a must-try!

 

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Maui Wowee

One of my best friends’ wedding gave us the perfect excuse to see Hawaii for the first time. Since she’d been there several times before, it was the ideal spot for them to tie the knot. Beautiful wedding aside, we also got to experience the quintessential tourist and food spots.

Road to Hana

Would a trip to Maui ever be complete without this experience? I researched the stops, consulted with friends and selected what I thought were the best options for us. There’s so much to see, and so little time! We had to choose a few key stops to maximize our exposure.

But first, breakfast! On the way was Paia Bay Coffee. They rate high on Yelp, and for good reason. Though the options are limited, the quality of the food and atmosphere amply made up for it. Tables were hardly empty for long. The ladies who ran the place were especially friendly – which always heightens a restaurant experience for us. We enjoyed a lovely and casual meal, picked up some fun postcards and went on our merry way.

People aren’t lying when they tell you there are so many distractions along the way. The adorable town of Paia alone could easily keep you for a couple of hours. Tons of quaint shops and restaurants. There, you’ll also find Paia Fish Market Restaurant. Our friends are obsessed with their fish sticks. I know, fish sticks. But they really were good! If Gorton’s is your staple, you may want to rethink trying this. It will change your life.

I asked Clint to find a beautiful cliff for a photo with our Jeep rental. He spotted one, and we commenced to be very touristy. At least I was. Turns out, it was the parking lot for Mama’s Fish House! If their parking lot was already this scenic, what were we in for with reservations the following day?

The tricky part about Road to Hana is the lack of visible signs. You have to rely on your pre-planned itinerary and coordinate the mile markers. But a mile is pretty darn long! How do you know where along the mile it is? You don’t. You just have to see if there are other cars parked along the road that could be it. Not to mention, there’s pretty much no reception so Google Maps is out. But it’s supposed to be an adventure, right?

And for this reason, we didn’t get to our first real stop until Keane Peninsula. And to be honest, we thought we were stopping at the banana bread shops at the Halfway to Hana Stand. Ha! It all worked out beautifully. We witnessed a beautiful shoreline of lava rocks and relentlessly crashing waves. And thank goodness, right outside was a snack stand that sold one of the best banana breads I’ve ever tasted. Even better, it was still hot!

We tried a couple of other spots, but kept missing them! It was aggravating and hilarious at the same time. How is it this difficult for us? All the blogs warned me about driving back in the dark, so I suggested we just try to make our final stop and get back in a timely manner. So we skipped everything else and went straight for the Waimoku Falls & Pipiwai Trail. (Btw, free passes into National Parks for military. Score!) It’s a mile hike to reach the Bamboo Forest and then another mile to the falls. The bamboos were mesmerizing! At some points, it was just us two and these thoughts entered my head: 1) I wish we had planned ahead to dress up as ninjas and jump out at people; 2) This would be the perfect spot to film a horror flick. The waterfall wasn’t crazy impressive, but at least the locals had warned us the rainfall was minimal the past few months. Oh well. It was still a fun day overall!

We wrapped up the day with a couple of friends at Three’s Bar & Grill. Late happy hour was wonderful; but the absolute best menu item was the Red Curry Clams & Mussels. Still dreaming about this.


Mama’s Fish House

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That’s right, this restaurant deserves its own section. From the minute you walk in, it’s a five-star tropical paradise. The kind of five-star where there are two check-ins and a wait at the bar; and a tropical paradise where every angle was a perfect photo op.

The menu and its prices are definitely commensurate with its five-star status. Our meals were delicious, but the star of the show was the Black Pearl Chocolate Mousse. It’s the dessert of the gods, I know it. Liliko’i chocolate mousse sitting in a pastry seashell. Everything’s edible, and we definitely licked the plate clean.

And if you’re curious, here’s everything else we ate there:

  • started with an asparagus bisque amuse bouche – Clint’s favorite
  • I had the mahimahi stuffed with deep sea red crab and baked in a macadamia nut crust – really fresh!
  • Clint had the bouillabaisse – mahimahi, Kona kampachi, Kauai prawns, scallop and clams simmered in a saffron broth, with traditional garlic rouille – super fresh seafood, but not a spectacular dish.
  • We also ordered a guava cheesecake to go, because… gluttons.

And then we took a million photos outside the beachfront property.


A Haleakalā Sunrise

The pinnacle (get it?) moment out of the entire trip (other than my friend’s magical wedding, that is) was going up Haleakalā. We woke up at 2 a.m. and rode with friends to the summit. It was freezing! Even though we’d be warned, nothing prepares you for that wind – especially coming from the tropical climate at the base.

Even at the midway point, Clint could already see tons of stars out the window. And as soon as we got to the top, we looked up and there it was: the Milky Way. My dreams had come true. It was breathtaking. Millions of stars beamed down on us and I beamed at them in a trance. But alas, iPhones cannot capture such monolithic beauty. Thanks to professional photographers, though, you can get a preview of what you’ll see when you go. Check out out Andreas Habermehl’s photo here!

The sunrise was equally stunning. And a wonderful respite from the bitter cold, if only slightly.


Nakalele Blowhole & Star Noodle

We spent the rest of the day with friends getting breakfast from Gazebo (a 1.5-hour wait), driving the charming Lahaina coastline and exploring the Nakalele Blowhole. The blowhole wasn’t active, but we got some great photos of the iconic heart-shaped rock. The trek down was very hairy and the sun blasting on your skin doesn’t help. Definitely bring better protection than we did if you go.

After racing back up the hill, we were ready to eat again. Friends and the internet told us we couldn’t miss Star Noodle, so off we went. And it was amazing! (How many times can I say, “amazing?” in this post, you think?) The garlic noodles are everything people say. But every other dish was equally tasty. The Thai nuoc cham wings were so flavorful. The tempura shrimp was made with colossal prawns, and they really were colossal! They also tasted like lobster meat.

And because we’re ridiculous, we went back another time. Yum!


The Wedding

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Ah, the wedding. Everything about the entire affair was perfectly coordinated. From the copious amounts of delicious meals (a luau and a rehearsal dinner) to the releasing of butterflies after the ceremony, the gorgeous bride really spoiled her guests. Everyone cried at the wedding, which pretty much means they did an amazing job.

I’m so happy for the newlyweds, and just immensely grateful they let us share that special week with them.


The Mill House & Baldwin Beach

You thought it was over! We had another day, and spent it with food. Of course.

We started at the Mill House with a couple of friends. What a delightful plantation! We had reservations for the restaurant, but didn’t realize it sat on a tropical plantation – a complex that also houses an expansive gift shop and picturesque walkways. We didn’t have enough time to explore everything, but certainly recommend blocking out a few hours for future visitors. I also want to note that we got some of the best deals on jams and butters here. Definitely worth a look!

We then had to race over to meet up other friends to check out Baldwin beach. Can you believe it? An entire trip to Hawaii, and it was our first time at a beach! Baldwin doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of beachfront shops or foods. But it’s really meant to be an open-park that just happens to have a beautiful beach attached. The waters are really as blue as the photos!


Phew! I’m sure we still have a lot to see; but according to my iPhone, we covered a decent amount. 🙂

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Okinawa

We spent a beautiful weekend in Okinawa, an island south of Japan. Had we known, we would’ve been here earlier and back many times. On a sunny day, the waters along the coast were emerald blue. The drive from our resort in Manza Beach to the Churaumi Aquarium was a treat in itself.

Renting a car was a great idea because everything was 45 mins to an hour away from each other. Also, tolls weren’t so bad! We’re used to paying $20 here just to get to Tokyo, but it ranged from $3-6 there for about the same distance.

We stayed at the ANA InterContinental Manza Beach Resort, and it was a magnificent spot! Surrounding the resort were the clearest waters and luscious green flora. The beach was clean and offers an aquatic playground for kids (and some adults). We even ventured for a night stroll one evening since the grounds were well lit. We did run into an area where we suspect bats were hanging about, but they didn’t bother us. (It was more like Clint was trying to bother them.)

The aquarium is pretty standard for the most part, except for their famous gentle giants: the whale sharks. It was pretty mesmerizing to watch them swim back and forth amongst sharks, rays and tons of other fish. Best of all, Emerald Beach is right outside. So once you’re done admiring ocean biota, go for a quick dip.

Now we get to the good stuff: the food! We tried really hard to stick with local offerings, but ended up enjoying mostly foreign food. Pizza in the Sky was a must for the view. The pizza was good mostly because we waited over an hour to get a table. I even managed to sneak in a nap in the car. We also found a cajun chicken joint called Warren’s Place. By all appearance, it’s truly “hole-in-the-wall;” but judging by their popularity on social media and how quickly they book up, they’re well on their way to becoming something much bigger. The chicken was delightfully tasty. The infused flavors grab on to your every tastebud. Warren wasn’t kidding when he talked about his passion for every single dish. We loved it so much, we canceled existing reservations to a teppanyaki restaurant and went back the next night. This time, we tried the sizzling steaks and a smoked duck caesar salad. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m currently trying to find this duck so I can make my own. Yum yum yum!

 

Tanabata Matsuri in Fussa

It’s our last Tanabata Festival in our beloved town of Fussa. We had to leave with a big bang! We prepared our yukatas and enlisted friends to do the same. It was so much fun to immerse into the spirit of the “Star Festival.” Originally, the celebration commemorates the annual meeting of a pair of star-crossed lovers. But for us, it’s a chance to revel in the local foods and enjoy some traditional performances.

It was hot, but the snow cones made it bearable. This year, crazy fries (long fries drizzled with your choice of cheeses, mentaiko or chocolate syrup) were a big hit. The guys were wild for the steak yakitori. They’d get a couple, walk three steps and return for five more.

But my absolute favorite thing was watching the kids in their tiny human yukatas enjoying the games and cotton candy. They were so cute!

Singapore + Bali (Part 1/3)

Note: This is a super late post! I’ve been gathering my thoughts and photos.

With Clint’s return came the holiday we both desperately needed. He deserved an oasis to contrast the desert he just came from; and I deserved a break from the Tokyo winter. We’d been planning our trip to Singapore and Bali for a few months, and the wait was worth it.

Singapore Days 1-4

Our HOP out of Yokota came a couple of days earlier than expected, so we had more time than initially planned. But we weren’t complaining! Singapore is immaculately clean and architecturally developed. We could tell the port city has a lot of pride in its image. It’s also clear they’re heavily invested in tourism considering the abundance of taxis and outrageous costs of everything.

We hit the ground running the first afternoon – well, more like leisurely walking. It was so nice to let go of restrictive curfews and pressure to sleep at an early hour. We walked all along the Clarke Quay river walk searching for food. There’s an ample selection – one more expensive than the next. We were well aware of how expensive Singapore can be, but were still sticker shocked nonetheless. Upon seeing a Hooters, the savory flavor of their famous wings lured me in. I know, you’re thinking, “You went to Singapore and ate Hooters?” Well, yes. I hadn’t had access to it in over two and a half years. The craving was too strong. Our bill came out to be much higher than it would’ve back in the States, but the wings were delicious. I can’t say the same for the special items on their menu.

We spent the rest of the evening just soaking in the quiet weekday nightlife along the quay. Then Clint had a spontaneous idea to walk towards the Marina Bay Sands hotel. “You’re crazy. It’s miles away,” I said. “It’s not like we have to go to bed early,” he retorted. This was true. And so we ventured on our way. It was actually a two-mi walk; and it was lovely. We walked across many beautiful buildings, clubs and food stalls. It gave us a chance to see the city in a way we wouldn’t have in a car.

The next day, Clint was feeling extra energetic, so he wanted to walk from our hotel to the Gardens by the Bay. It ended up being an eight-hour walk with all the detours! Kallang Road has an overwhelming number of restaurants and shops. What started as a quick errand for sunglasses escalated into a two-hour shopping diversion.

Before the Gardens is the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum – naturally, we had to stop in. There was a photography exhibit covering various political movements around the world. It was simultaneously somber and inspiring. Since the museum is attached to The Shoppes, we had to do some window shopping. And inside the mall is the casino. Clint couldn’t not try his luck – so in we went.

After all that time, we finally made it to the Gardens. It was a scene straight out of Avatar – both extraterrestrial and organic. Just mesmerizing! Clint somehow talked me into going up to the Skyway – a bridge 72 feet high! He tried convincing me it would help me get over my fear of heights. Nope. Despite almost dying of fear, it was a lovely place.

We finished off the night with seafood from the nearby food stalls. What a day!

Our last full day turned out to be a wet one. We went out in search of some Vietnamese food and Starbucks. We ended up at MRS PHO, a charming restaurant on Beach Rd. The bun bo hue was exactly what I was looking for, but the marketing was what really sold me. With cheeky phrases like, “School of pholosophy” and “You never phoget your first,” I was enamored. I wish we could’ve taken the posters home as memorabilia.

We also checked out Funan Digitalife Mall, Singapore’s tech haven. Anything electronics item you need can be found here. Clint was sold the minute the saleslady pitched him the “multi-functional charger.” While in the taxi, I saw a cathedral and had to check it out. It turned out to be The Church Of Our Lady Of Lourdes. I don’t know why, but it took me back to when I was a kid at our church in Houston, TX. It had sentimental meaning, even though I’d never been there before. I suppose cathedrals just have that effect on me.

That evening, we met up with my cousin from Vietnam. Serendipitously, she was there on business. We got some Chinese food, rummaged through the fruit market stands and went for drinks at Clark Quay. It was the most wonderful surprise to see her there. I can’t wait ’til she visits me in Japan!

Beef Flat Noodles

One of my favorite takeout dishes back in Texas is the delightfully simple beef flat noodles. I had it at least once a week in college (I miss you, Hoa Hoa!) and probably twice as much after. To me, it was the Chinese restaurant staple. So when I came to Korea, and now Japan, I figured every Chinese restaurant would have it. Well I was wrong. Apparently, it’s an “American Chinese” thing. I don’t know if that’s true; but either way, I wasn’t getting any.

It’s taken me a couple of years, but I was finally brave enough to try it today. I must say, I’m much more confident in my cooking skills lately. I followed an easy recipe online and got some Kobe beef so I wouldn’t have to play guessing games on whether the beef would come out too chewy or not. The entire process took an hour to prep and cook, but below is my final product. It was pretty tasty! Not late-night, guilty-pleasure Hoa Hoa tasty, but my tummy is pretty pleased.

 

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Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio

Ah. To be Vietnamese. What a culinary delight! Growing up in our (mostly) conventional household meant weekend feasts with family and friends. From the 50-pound crawfish boils to my mom’s fragrant pho, it was always a tradition of extravagance. Frankly, she didn’t know how to cook for a small group.

One of my favorite dishes of hers is bun thit nuong cha gio (grilled pork and egg rolls with vermicelli noodles). It’s such a simple amalgamation of ingredients, but the result is such a complex flavor. Or perhaps it’s the fish sauce. At any rate, I had a craving for it badly. So here’s my result.

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Salmon Caesar Salad

This past weekend, I had a chance to lunch at Anniversaire in Harajuku. I opted for a delicious tandoori chicken caesar salad and finished every bite. It made me reminiscent of BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse’s salmon caesar salad. I had to make my own. Pan seared salmon over a healthy bed of caesar salad, sprinkled with pine nuts, almond slices and parmesan. Results below. Current plate status: empty.

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Pesto Cream Pasta

Wow! Super simple recipe with a complex flavor. Basil doesn’t come easily around these parts; so when I saw fresh basil plants at the Commissary, I snatched them up! I made the traditional pesto, and added some cream and cheese (I couldn’t get a hold of pecorino, but parmesan worked nicely). I’ve been favoring spaghetti noodles over fettuccine lately, so I cooked that al dente. Added some shrimp to the sauce, and poured generously over the noodles. A dash of greens and more grated parmesan brought the whole dish together. I’m in carb heaven!

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Roppongi: Midtown

When we first got to Yokota, we were instructed to steer clear of Roppongi. This area has such a bad rep, and I’m not sure why. Albeit our accommodations at the illustrious Hardy Barracks and its glamorous view of the cemetery wasn’t ideal, the accessibility amply makes up for it. We were always about a 10-minute walk from anything remotely interesting. And there were a lot!

Our first goal was lunch. Since Clint had been craving kebab sandwiches, I found Doner Kebab near the Roppongi Station. Its colossal size sated our appetites and prepared us for our expedition the rest of the day.

I wasn’t prepared in my research prior to the trip, but I knew I wanted to visit the Suntory Museum of Art. What we discovered was a designer’s delight! Midtown is modern, chic and epitomizes so much of Japan. Upon our entry point, we were greeted by the refreshingly green Hinokicho Park. I officially bid winter adieu, and fully embraced the viridescent scene! People were picnicking on the lawns, children ran around gleefully, paramours met for an afternoon rendezvous – all while a flute rendition of Zelda played in the background. I was particularly impressed by the modernly designed swings and slides. Leave it to Japan to juxtapose nature and contemporary design so perfectly.

The pathways finally led us into the shopping center, which Clint aptly describes: “This place smells expensive.” But one doesn’t have to spend money to enjoy the nice shops and sleek interiors. We finally reached our destination, and enjoyed the exhibition, “The Scientific Eye and Visual Wonders in Edo.” It was an interesting experience, and we got to see antique microscopes and telescopes among Edo’s historical works of art.

After all the cultural absorption, a nap was in order – followed by a well-deserved dinner. Our first choice, Ostrea Oyster Bar & Restaurant, was fully booked. Silly us for dismissing the idea of making reservations. We wandered around until we stumbled upon Gatten Sushi. Best stumble ever! I’m no sushi connoisseur by any means – I won’t even eat raw fish. But I can tell fresh seafood when I taste it, and this restaurant serves up such appetizing plates. Our chef, Miyamoto-san, was a joy to dine with. He was austere, and yet kept it playful in his own subtle ways. I took his photo and asked for a smile. His response, “Smile? No smile. Too busy.” This made me smile. Our friend tells us the bluefin tuna is the best he’s ever had. Clint really liked the seared wagyu and crunch roll. I loved the fried octopus and miso-marinated sablefish. I now truly feel spoiled when it comes to fresh fish. Clint was lured into the “Roll Challenge,” where he had to roll dice for a chance to either win a free/half-priced Highball or double size double price! Let’s just say the results of playing thrice left him well inebriated and the restaurant made its money fairly.

We want to return for the night view in the Mado Lounge of the Sky Deck. What a beautiful area!