International Dining:
Small awakening

Japan's microbreweries offer alternatives to the Big Four's mass-produced beer. Joher Anjari reports on some local suds.

Few things taste better than a cold beer at the end of a long day. Thankfully, Tokyo never seems to run short of nama biru. But sometimes the old Suntory, Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo just doesn't cut it. We want something more, something that satisfies our taste buds as it softens our frayed edges. We want a microbrewed beer.

Eight years after the government eased regulations to allow alcoholic beverages to be brewed on a small scale—up to 60,000 liters per year—the Big Four continue to dominate the local lager market. But with more local companies spreading the gospel of microbrewed, aka craft, beer, changes are afoot. The city's best microbrew pub, Popeye, recently underwent a renovation upping its number of taps to 40, an amount almost unheard of in the entire country.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Brewing Company is planning to open its own brewery/restaurant, and the Japan Craft Beer Association is gearing up for its annual festival.

For beermeisters like Mike Kubeck of Tokyo Brewing Company, creators of Tokyo Ale No. 3, the ongoing taste tests and trials are well worth the effort. "The restaurant bars that carry [Tokyo Ale No. 3] understand what we are trying to do and recommend our beer personally without reservation," he says, noting that the market was not always so warm to the idea. "We are trying to give microbrewing some legitimacy."

Indeed, despite its popularity in the US and Europe, microbrewed beer is still a novelty in Japan, says Bryan Harrell, author of the local newsletter Brews News. "Since there is no tradition of homebrewing beer in Japan, which is the only industrialized nation in the world where homebrewing is illegal, the general public has practically no awareness of or much less taste for traditional styles of beer made by home brewers," he explains.

Inspiration has therefore come from across the ocean, where American beer enthusiasts have established an entire industry on handcrafted ales. "The whole microbrewery movement started in Northern California and the Northwest," explains David Chiddo, director of operations at T.Y. Harbor Brewery in Shinagawa, who has combined the rich flavors of microbrewed beer with an inventive American menu. "The style of ale we make is all Northwest style. We call [the restaurant] California style because the menu is basically eclectic California cuisine," he says.

T.Y. Harbor was Tokyo's first—and remains its only—true microbrewery restaurant, thanks in large to part to its Shinagawa bay side location, which allows for a large bar and outdoor dining area in addition to the open kitchen, indoor dining room, and large vats that have become the hallmark of microbrew bars from New York to Seattle. It's a formula that is nearly impossible to match in Tokyo's inner city, says Chiddo.

But further afield, people like Kubeck and John Schultz, founder of Minami Aizu Brewery in Fukushima Prefecture, are backing up Japan's microbrewery movement by making small batches of beer inspired by American brewing methods. "Our brewing concept is to offer a product unique on the Japanese market," explains Schultz, who was only the second American to be granted a brewing license in Japan, the first establishing what was to become Kirin. Minami Aizu's selection of brews includes the dark Maple Stout, which contains honey and maple syrup, and popular Buckwheat Brown Ale, made from the same wheat as soba noodles.

The industry may face continuing obstacles in the form of government regulation and taxation, but most agree that with growing acceptance, improving brewing methods, and a steadily growing clientele, Tokyo's microbrewed beer scene is finally coming into its own. As Kubeck notes, "Once you have tried decent microbrew, it is very difficult to go back."

 

Stop by one of the following brew pubs and you may find yourself forsaking the Big Four as well.

T.Y. Harbor Brewery
This bayside restaurant with in-house Tennozu Ale brewery serves inventive California cuisine in addition to a seasonal selection of microbrewed beers. The tasting set includes Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Wheat Ale and a Brewer's Choice.
Open 11:30am-2pm and 5:30-11pm (LO 10pm except Sun, 9pm). 2-1-3 Bond Street, Higashi Shinagawa, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5479-4555. Nearest stn: Tennozu Isle (Tokyo monorail).

Popeye
Recently refurbished, this "beer club" serves arguably the largest selection of Japanese microbrews on offer in the world. Beers are gathered from all over the country, in addition to Europe and North America. Tasting sets available.
Open 5-11:30pm (LO 10:30pm) Mon-Sat, closed Sun. 2-18-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku. Tel. 03-3633-2120. Nearest stn: Ryogoku.

Ryogoku Beer Station
A joint venture between Sapporo Beer and New Tokyo Restaurants, Ryogoku specializes in German-style lagers made in small batches. Go early and go often: the selection of ales is too long to list.

Open 11:30am-11pm Mon-Sat, 11:30am-10pm Sun, hols. 1-3-20 Yokoami, Sumida-ku. Tel: 03-3623-5252. Nearest stn: Ryogoku.

Scruffy Murphy's
This well-known, typically Irish bar sells Minami Aizu's True Blue as well as a wide range of bottled beers from all over the world. Live music most evenings.

Open 5pm-5am daily. 2F Sampo Sogo Bldg, 6-5-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3499-3145. Nearest stn: Harajuku.

Amusement
A fun, noisy, intimate bar, Amusement has Tokyo Ale No. 3 on tap and a wide selection of microbrewed beers from Europe.
Open 5pm-5am Mon-Sat, closed Sun. 2-9 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3464-7971. Nearest stn: Shibuya.

Kura Kura
This western Tokyo watering hole specializes in microbrews, but offers an all-you-can-drink deal allowing 90 minutes of free-flowing Ebisu. Kura Kura also serves bottled beers and a range of upscale cuisine.

Open 5-11:30pm Tue-Fri, 4-11:30pm Sat, Sun and hols, closed Mon. 2-20-19 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-5433-2323. Nearest stn: Shimokitazawa.

Billy Barew's Beer Bar
With four branches scattered throughout the city, this comprehensive suds company is the place to find Tokyo Ale No. 3 in addition to Belgian craft beers and more than 100 bottles from around the world. See www.bbj.ne.jp/bbbb for a complete listing.
Ebisu: Open 6pm-2am Mon-Thu, 6pm-4am Fri-Sat, 6pm-midnight Sun and hols. 2-1-11 Ebisu Minami, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5721-8480. Nearest stn: Ebisu.

You can also stay on top of the local microbrew scene with an email subscription to Brews News. Contact Bryan Harrell at harrell@gol.com to sign up.

The Japan Craft Beer Association will be holding the Great Japan Beer Festival May 18-19. See event listings for details.

Photo courtesy of T.Y. Harbor Brewery,
Courtesy of Tokyo Brewing Company

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Buyline
Shibuya’s Zenmall (29-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku; 03-3770-1641), known for offering large clothing for men, is holding a two-day Early Bird Pre-Summer Sale. The sale will take place on the mornings of April 12 (Sat) and 13 (Sun) for three hours (9am-noon) each day. During these times, nearly everything will be marked 20-80 percent off. Some of the bargains include suits with a spare pair of pants for \9,800 (sizes 3-8L), and summer casual jackets for \8,000 (3-6L). Imported designer suits by makers like Calvin Klein and Boss are also marked down to \39,000 and \59,000, respectively. Those who spend over \10,000 can take part in the Cash Grabbing Contest, where shoppers can dig into a box full of cash. Spend over \30,000 for two chances to grab, and \50,000 for three. Don't miss this rare opportunity, as it could be one of the few chances for those looking to buy large sizes in Japan, especially at affordable prices.

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601: Six Little Secrets
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600: Healthy Options
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599: Dive in
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598: Latin Flavors
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597: The Italian Job
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596: Brilliant bakeries
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595: Golden Grains
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594: Pietro Androsoni
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593: Ripe for a Comeback
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592: Down under and all over
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591: Cool foods
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590: Mastering the art
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589: French twist
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588: The heart of europe
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587: Nutty About Natto
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586: Smoke-Free Feasts, Part III
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585: Josef Budde
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584: The Earl Arrives
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583: Stand and Deliver
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582: Smoke-Free Feasts, Part II
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581: Yoshiaki Abe
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580: The Donburi Diary
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579: In Praise of Pinot
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578: Eat up, don’t light up
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577: Keeping it Real
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576: The Man from Lavazza
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575: Aarin Teich
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574: Demystifying the Market
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573: Open for Debate
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571: Tipple Trips
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570: Art in a Glass
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569: Mario Frittoli
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568: Get Saucy
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567: A Matter of Concentration
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566: Look Before You Slug
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565: Hot Topics
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564: Culinary Resolutions
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563: Losing Its Pop
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561-562: Seasonal sipping
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560: Comfort Food
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559: A bright Thamara
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558: Mac attack
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557: Warming trend
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556: Turkey Day delights
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555: Harvest festival
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554: Sugar and spice
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553: Tricks and treats
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552: Legends of the fall
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551: Master Glass
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550: Soy right
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549: Say cheese
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548: White knight
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547: Zest for life
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546: Drinking fountain
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545: Top shelf
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544: Style guide
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543: Tasting notes
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542: Behind closed doors
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541: A matter of taste
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540: Must-eat TV
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539: In the raw
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538: Spanish lessons
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537: Red, white and brew
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536: The nihonshu express
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535: In the market
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534: Branching out
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533: Think pink
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532: Taste of success
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531: Toast of the town
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530: Cha cha cha
529: Growth complex
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528: Workaholic
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527: Moveable Feasts
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526: Grains of truth
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525: Prost!
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524: Spices of life
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523: Que Syrah
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522: Shanghai surprise
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521: Spring fling
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520: Luck of the Irish
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519: Golden bowls
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518: The sweet stuff
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517: Down to earth
A charter member of Japan's environmental movement, Hideo Fujimura serves up organic goodness at his down-home izakaya. Bryan Harrell pays a visit.
516: By the numbers
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515: Star gazing
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514: Let them eat bread
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513: Bubbling over
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512: Frugal feasts
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511: Some like it hot
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509/10: Fresh meat
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508: Just desserts
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507: 'Tis the season
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506: Talking shop
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505: Haute chocolates
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504: Home on the grange
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503: Hot turkey
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502: Just for fungus
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501: Strange brews
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500: Masks and flasks
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499: Import experts
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498: Rise and shine
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497: Dining by design
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496: Sake and the city
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495: Mexican dream
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494: A winning pair
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493: Big appetites
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492: A cook's tour
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491: Triple crown
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490: Rebel with a saucepan
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489: A place in the sun
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488: California dreamin'
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487: Dean's list
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486: Join the club
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485: Through the roof
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484: Westward bound
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483: Independent spirit
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482: Hot flash
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481: Island hopping
Tama Miyake Lung navigates a sea of tropical dining spots in search of the endless summer.
480: Private eyes
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479: Iron supplement
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478: Chill factor
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477: Food for thought
Mohammad Yunos Hassani now wows Tokyo diners with Afghanistan cuisine. Carlo Niederberger reports.
476: Tapping the ivory
David Chester tells you where to sip and sup to the sounds of live piano music.
475: Top of the world
Haute drinking and dining is an elevator ride away. Carlo Niederberger reports.
474: Toque of the town
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473: Historical present
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472: Heavenly dining
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471: Flavor favors the brave
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470: Spring to your lips
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469: Homemade
Wow your dinner guests with recipes from the stars—that’s star chefs. Georgia Jacobs gets cooking.
468: Let’s meat
There may be nothing new under the sun, but in Tokyo there’s plenty doing between two buns. Steve Trautlein wolfs down the city’s best burgers.
467: On a Clare day
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466: Haute dining
The top two floors of Shinjuku's My City store have become a gourmet's delight. Chris Betros samples the cuisine.
465: Home and away
Already a success in the US, Mako Tanaka looks to bring his distinctive fusion cuisine back to Tokyo, he tells Steve Trautlein.
464: Pearl one
Shell out for the one you love this Valentine’s Day at the city’s top oyster bars. Add a bit of bubbly to the mix and you have a sure-fire aphrodisiac for a night of romance. Matt Wilce picks some piscine pearls.
463: Eat your heart out
Japan's brand of Valentine's Day is more about chocolates than hot dates
462: Wok around town
Matt Wilce celebrates the coming Year of the Ram with a taste of Chinese regional cuisine
461: Where the heart is
Ned Goodwin visits fellow oenophile Karla Pratt to discuss life, loss and love of wine at Tochigi's Coco Farm & Winery.
460: Soup's on
The mercury's falling and comfort food is calling. Before you get chilled to the bone, David Chester helps you find some solace for the soul.
459: Winter warmers
There's nothing like a steaming hot pot to keep out the seasonal chill. Stephen Cotterill comes to grips with chanko nabe, sumo-style.
457/8: Cream of the crop
Matt Wilce serves up the dining world's hottest debuts in 2002
456: Food's the fashion
Martin Webb shops then drops at these stylish in-store cafés
455: Bottle tops
Ned Goodwin seeks out the city's best and brightest sommeliers
453: True to life
Matt Wilce meets Don Foley, the man behind Ebisu café Good Honest Grub
452: Talking turkey
Carlo Niederberger gets ready to gobble it up on Thanksgiving Day
451: Steeped in tradition
Love it or hate it, steaming oden signals the start of winter in Japan
450: Thinking inside the box
Tama Miyake investigates the ubiquitous bento with help from culinary expert Elizabeth Andoh
449: What lies beneath
Resident wine expert Ned Goodwin delves into the depths of Tokyo's cellars
448: Devilish dining
Matt Wilce scares up some horribly different dishes for Halloween
447: Tour de France
The toast of Paris, chef Eric Frechon is no flash in the bain-marie
446: On a roll
Onigiri is being rediscovered as a culinary delight in its own right
445: Chow down
Tama Miyake makes tracks to Tsukishima, home to the shitamachi specialty known as monja
444: In the mix
Steve Trautlein goes on a not-so-fruitless search for Tokyo's best juice bars
443: Pop stars
Matt Wilce tastes the good life at Tokyo's toniest champagne bars
442: New York's finest
Tama Miyake takes a bite out of the Big Apple without stepping outside the Yamanote line
441: Gaga for gyoza
Tokyo's newest theme park for foodies
440: Into the fire
Few things say summer like a steak on the barbie in your own backyard
439: Kitchen confidential
Tokyo restaurants are branching out by teaching customers how to whip up their own creations
438: Mix and match
Top tips for pairing food and wine
437: Divine dining
436: Hot plates
435: Sundae school
434: Rare vintages
433: Oodles of noodles
432: Secret gardens
431: Eat your heart out
430: Bottle shop
429: The Italian job
428: The water table
427: For the love of the game
426: Life before Starbucks
425: Show time
424: Hot spot
423: Gift of gusto
422: Crossing the Rhine
421: Mamas' boy
420: Tales of tofu
419: Top of the food chain
418: Small awakening
417: Feeding unfrenzied
416: Sakura sweets
415: Modern master
414: Star turns
413: A sip of style
412: Digital bites
411: The loving spoonful
410: Fried & tested
409: California Drinking
408: Puff daddy
407: Let's do brunch
406: Spice world
404: Party poppers
403: Roll with it
402: Festive feasting
401: From bush to bottle
396: Gastronomic expolorations
395: Gourmet to go

394: Gourmet to go

391: Imperial Cuisine
390: Pizza pizzazz
389: Eat elite
388: Don't eat the scenery
387: Niku nashi
386: Shanghai Surprise
385: Uncorked
384: Cake walk
383: Gastronomic nomad
382: Short fuse
380: Eating eelectric
378: Through the grapevine
375: Culinary dancer
372: Roy raves
359: Love feast
354: Fugu Ryotei
351: Gateau de Noel
350: Seasonal specials

ISSUES 349-
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