The Hakodate Marathon: a Great Reason for a Canadian to Visit Southern Hokkaido

Last Spring we visited my wife’s 94 Year Old Grandmother in Hakodate.  Impressed by the beautiful scenery inclusive of Hakodate Mountain and its famous Million Dollar Night View, the Water Front, interesting shops and fresh seafood we promised to return.  My wife and her relatives in Hakodate decided that it would be especially worthwhile if I entered into the Hakodate Half Marathon.  The Window for entries opens and closes full with 3000 runners in less than a week.  We applied on line on the first possible day and were fortunate to be accepted.
My wife’s Uncle kindly picked up the Race Entry Package before meeting us at Hakodate Airport on the Saturday before the Race. (Hakodate is only a 90 minute flight from the Haneda International Airport in Tokyo.)  This gesture was appreciated as flights booked quickly and we only managed a 17:00 arrival.  The package included a nice program listing all 3000 runners, race numbers with timing chip, and a rain jacket with the Marathon Logo.  (I wore this to the race but morning temperatures were warm enough to warrant short sleeves & we didn’t witness anyone else wearing the give-away the morning of the race. (As if I didn’t already stand out.)

It wasn’t difficult to pick me out of the crowd lining up at Hakodate Stadium. Few runners at the Hakodate Event weighed near my 98 Kilograms nor did they exceed 185 cm in height.  Most Japanese Runners observed the Local Race Rules. (It seemed strange to me that no one else listened to their iPod during the run.) My Wife informed me after the 2 hour stride by the Sea that listening to recording devices was prohibited. 
They also disallowed any other costume than standard running gear.  (We were gratified to witness one A Class Runner dressed in a black cocktail dress and Marilyn Monroe Wig.)  Humor is not lost on everyone at the Hakodate Marathon. 
Most Race Volunteers were helpful, friendlyand water stations were large and strategically located throughout the race.  A nice finishing certificate was offered immediately upon return of the Race Time Chip.  The Hokkaido Newspaper also published race results right down to the final finisher. 

We peppered our short stay in Hakodate with two nice Restaurant Experiences.  The first, a Spanish Tapas Restaurant called the Casa de Norte.  The food was Excellent and service Suspect.  We tried to order dishes made from local seafood and found items made with squid & octopus especially tasty. 

The second venue was a traditional Sukiyaki House with 100 Years of history.  The Asari began as a Beef Distribution Company and evolved into one of the best Sukiyaki Restaurants in Hokkaido.  We were especially pleased to find a 2002 Beringer Knights Valley (Alluvium) on the Menu at a reasonable price. It complimented the Marbled Kyushu Grown Beef perfectly. 

 The Establishment remains a Family Business and traditional customs continue to be observed.  We were seated at a low table placed on tatami mats and the Sukiyaki was prepared in front of us.  I’m not fond of this seating arrangement even without the pre-exhaust from a 22 Kilometer Run.  The beef was great.  The Experience was Painful.

The La Vista Hotel located in Hakodate Bay was a perfect choice for a short weekend stay.  Their Inclusive Breakfast is a full assortment of local seafood served in Buffet Fashion.  Salmon, corn on the cob, fresh potatoes and other fish are cooked over coals and served hot.  Sashima prepared from local catches is offered with rice and proper Japanese Condiments. It was the main choice of most guests we observed in the Buffet Line Up. Common Western Style Breakfast items were also offered. 

The 13th Floor Spa with open air baths and massage services was worth the Hotels’ Price of Admission. In Late Evening it was especially enjoyable to relax in the individual sized tubs and take in the lighted view of Hakodate.  The La Vista is designed to service Japanese Guests.   Travelers without some Japanese Language capability should be intrepid and patient should they elect to stay for a night or two.  We encourage you to try the La Vista and the City of Hakodate on for size.

(Inside Hotel  La Vista Hakodate Bay

Asari (Sukiyaki) http://r.tabelog.com/hokkaido/A0105/A010501/1003362/ (Access Japanese only)


Les Cristallines (Cuisine Francaise) in Omote Sando: A Can’t Miss for an Impressive Lunch

One of the best value options for Fine Dining is the Lunch Set offered by most Restaurants in Tokyo.  The Les Cristallines located within a ten minute walk from Omote Sando Station defines the opportunity for friends to enjoy Exceptional Cuisine Francaise,  Professional Service and a Cozy Atmosphere.    

Our Set Lunch included a delicious plate of hor d'oeuvres made up of Duck Pate, Salmon Mousse,  Quiche Lorraine, Potato Salad, Carrot Salad and Olives.  This was followed by a lightly spiced Pumpkin Soup served chilled .  

Les Cristallines offers several options for a Main Course and three choices dominated our Groups selection.  This included a sautéed “Suzuki” (Sea Bass) served on a bed of mashed potatoes and enhanced with an “American” Sauce.  Two other popular choices were the Australian Beef Steak and a Sausage prepared and served in a fine Pastry.

   Everything was presented carefully and served in an impressively timely fashion.  Chocolate Dessert Fans will leave Les Critallines satisfied.  The Choux a la Crème Patissiere au Chocolat will knock your socks off.  The entire set inclusive of consumer tax rounded out under 2000 Yen.
The Wine Selection was more than adequate and Maitre D’Hotel Bauer Jean-Luc suggested affordable options that worked nicely with our choices from the Menu. 

His personal interest in maximizing our lunch experience was most appreciated.  (He encouraged me to focus more on my Suzuki and less on Dialog “to enjoy the Main Course Selection while it was Hot”.)  A nice selection of cheese served with Raison Toast is not normally available at lunch but Jean-Luc made this happen upon our request.

We hope that most groups visiting Les Cristallines enjoy it as much as Steven Quaiver  & his 6 “Old Boys”.  You can reserve a table in the semi-private room at the rear of the Restaurant . We can attest that it is suitable for a lengthy lunch peppered with conversation and loud Camaraderie. 

Les Cristallines              http://r.gnavi.co.jp/p241300/map/ (access – Japanese only)


Nirvana Restaurant: a Very Nice Surprise for Lunch near Yokosuka Chuo Station

We love dining at Indian Restaurants as a Family but few are standouts worthy of recommendation.  This changed today.  We reserved a table & visited the Nirvana Indian Nepali Restaurant across from the Seiyu Department Store near Yokosuka Chuo Station. 

It’s your Classic, No Thrill, Family Owned Ethnic Restaurant that every diner likes to discover & record in their personal book of “go to places”.  Prices were very reasonable even in consideration of the high powered yen.  The Nirvana “C Lunch” Set is inclusive of soft drinks or tea, two curries, Nan, Tandori Chicken, rice, samosa, coleslaw salad & a Yogurt Fruit Dessert ( 1150 Yen).   A small draft “lunch” beer is 250 Yen & a larger pint sells for 350 Yen.

Our orders were taken and served in a timely and friendly manner.  The Tandori Chicken was especially good; juicy and properly spiced.  Curries can be specifically ordered mild to blast furnace chili hot levels and every order met expectations.  My in-laws lived and worked in Calcutta for five years and they expressed sincere appreciation for the “Healthy Curry” made with spinach, asparagus and Okinawan “Goya”or bitter melon.  The mutton/ eggplant curry was a favorite and the Special of the Day was a chicken/bamboo shoot combination that everyone enjoyed.

Nepal is the Home of the British Military Brigade of Gurkhas.  The famous Regiment known for bravery and their ever present heavy “Kukris” Knife.  One was gifted to the Owner of the Nirvana Restaurant by his cousin and is on display.  We were gratified that this Nepalese Family chose business and cultural education with their tasty cuisine over the rigors of the military.  Ironically, they serve hundreds of servicemen as the Nirvana has been no secret to Yokosuka Naval Base since opening three years ago.  Bollywood Fans will enjoy the movies played thru lunch and the Nepal Tourist Posters present all over the Restaurant are attractive if not informative.

Nirvana Indian Nepali Restaurant              http://www.nirvanafood.com/ (English)


Phuket Thailand: Two Excellent Restaurant Choices in the “Rock Fish” and “Da Maurizio Bar Ristorante”

A Local Phuket Real Estate Agent met in the Hotel Pool pointed us in the direction of two Great Restaurant Options.  Both had Excellent Food, Quality Service and Sensational Views. We were also encouraged  to arrive in time to enjoy the Gorgeous Sun Sets before the atmosphere changed to Evening Dining.  (We made reservations to insure premium table locations at both locations.)

The Rock Fish Restaurant is located at The Southern End of Kamala Beach, Phuket near the Marriott Vacation Club.                        

Cuisine served is best described as “Asian Fusion” and their kitchen matched some of the better Fusion Restaurants we’ve visited in Tokyo and California.    The Rock Fish has a marvelous view of the surrounding  Mountains and the Andaman Sea.  The Total Package is  an impressive Restaurant Concept.

Some of our favorites came from the “Starters” Menu including:

 -Scallops wrapped in proscuitto, warm asparagus salad with rose apple puree ,

-The Crisp Calamari with a tomato, cucumber & basil salad, roast garlic mayo

- The Roast Duck & crisp vegetable wrapped in rice paper, lime & soya sauce

Memorable Main Courses included:

- Tuna marinated with chili paste, Thai herb salad, white prawn, coconut juice & tzaziki sauce

-The 5 Spiced Pork Loin, local crackling, roast potatoes, garden vegetables 500 apple puree & chili plum dressing      

We were very pleased with the Ridge California Lytton Springs 2008 Blend of 74% zinfandel, 21% petite sirah, and 5% carignane.  The Rock Fish offered this Vintage as their August Wine Special at a reasonable price.

The Da Maurizio Bar Ristorante is located on Kalim Beach Road, Patong, Phuket.

 It is The Choice for Italian Food and Fine Dining in Phuket.  The Da Maurizio serves Classic Italian Food and most of the featured dishes are made from Chef Maurizio’s Family Recipes. (He brought his 83 Year Old Mother to Thailand to train the staff prior to the Restaurants opening.)  Watching the Sun Down from our Table was one of our trips highlights.  We recommend watching the sun slowly sink over the horizon from the bar as an option to dinner.

The Da Maurizio has an impressive Wine Cellar.  The menu includes a comprehensive selection of Italian, Chile, Australia and American Wines.  We tried the  Organic Splash Cabernet from Yarra Valley, Australia.  We found it balanced and it complimented the courses ordered.

At Da Maurizio you can not make a mistake by selecting Fresh Seafood from the Daily Options.  This was complimented very well by fresh pasta dishes that are the Restaurant’s Trade Mark.  Some of our favorites were:

-Pesce al Cartoccio (Grouper cooked in Parchment)

-Vermicelli con Zucchine e Gamberi  (Vermicelli with Zucchini and Shrimp)

-Phuket Lobster with Pasta Primavera (Pasta with Spring Vegetables)

-For Dessert the Tiramisu served in a Tall Wine Glass

Be sure to ask for a copy of the Maurizio’s Familiy Recipe Book.  We were given a Souvenir Copy and will make good use of it.

The Rock Fish Restaurant   http://www.rockfishrestaurant.com/rest.html
The Da Maurizio Bar Ristorante http://www.baanrimpa.com/italian-restaurant/