Midnight At The Onsen – Miss Eydie Rocks The Ryokan


Miss Eydie at the Ryokan

Miss Eydie at the Ryokan

I’d been coming to Japan and performing regularly since 1980, and had never, ever been outside the big cities. In my eternal quest for hot water and fantastic cuisine, I somehow never was able to realize the particular dream of organizing a trip to a Japanese mountain hot spring and staying in a traditional ryokan, or Japanese inn. These ryokan seem to be imbued with the spirit and culture of Japan, a culture that to me, has so many levels of sophistication and so much that is admirable. My first few trips to Japan were filled with all kinds of explorations of the varied types of cuisine available : sushi of course,including the kaiten-zushi conveyor belt, yakitori, soba-yas and udon houses, curry and ramen, eel restaurants,shabu-shabu, tempura, okonomiyaki, kushi-age, Japanese pub food, and the great street food in different cities, like the octopus balls (tako-yaki) made in Osaka stalls. There was one cuisine though, that I was thoroughly intrigued with from the start, and that was kaiseki. It seemed,from my readings, to be the most exalted, the most spiritual,and the most wildly expensive of all the Japanese cuisines. What I already knew about it, is that it is a seasonal cuisine,in accordance with nature and what is fresh. In a way, it is the precursor to the whole “local food/sustainable agriculture” movement that is so wildly popular now.(another example of everything old is new again.) My only experiences were when our promoter’s son, finally weary of my constant entreaties to try kaiseki cuisine, took me for a lunch in Tokyo. Once or twice in Kyoto, I also had the pleasure of a kaiseki tofu lunch. These experiences pale in comparison to what happened at Tobira Resort and Spa Myojinkan.

The Rabbi, in his ancient and inifinite wisdom, found this hidden treasure,built in 1930, nestled in the hills above Matsumoto City, a 2 1/2 hour train ride from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. We were met in Matsumoto by a gentleman in an old fashioned coachman’s outfit,complete with flowing cape and soft fedora. ( “To the Castle…to see Dr. Frankenstein -fly like the wind and mountain roads be damned!”) Comfortably settled into our seats and excitement slowly mounting, we started the 40 minute climb up the mountain, following a river as it wound up the valley from the city. We passed farms where the inn grows its own organic fruits and vegetables, before entering forests of silver birch, oak,cedar and chestnut. We would see these snow blanketed forests from every pool and from every room we entered at the ryokan.

Tobira= the door




Finally we arrive…and are greeted with elegant hospitality as we wait in the lobby for the key to our traditional Japanese bedroom.We will walk on tatami mats, sleep on futons and wear yukata and haori. 

We will not see our shoes again till we leave the inn. Good riddance, I say. And, as an added bonus,we will also be naked for most of the visit, as we sit and poach ourselves in the hot water. Can life get any better?


Yes….yes it can.The Rabbi and I are led to our private tatami room by our own Girl Friday, Miss Natsuki Taguchi, who meets us at the elevator armed with her very own Japanese/English electronic translator device. Full of questions, always, we start by asking how the name for this cuisine came to be. Natsuki-san explains that the meaning comes from the story that Buddhist priests,in accordance with their tradition, used to keep a hot stone (seki) in their pockets,(kai) close to their chests in order to make their fasting more bearable. “More likely it caused severe second degree burns,” I think quietly. Anyway, Miss Taguchi continues to tell us that original kaiseki cuisine was associated with the tea ceremony and was born in Kyoto more than 500 years ago. At this time, cold sake appears in its own frosty bowl of crushed ice, garnished with fresh flowers. Following closely on its heels, is the first dish of the meal,appearing like the opening pitch of the World Series. Our breath is appropriately taken away at the appearance of a delicately leaf patterned bowl .Within its confines, is a small block of homemade warm peanut tofu, topped with thin slivers of bright yellow, citrusy yuzu peel. By its side, on a red lacquered tray, is a small dish of Japanese baby string beans in a tahini-like sauce, crowned by a small branch of plum blossoms. I know this is just the beginning to the parade of courses. We take a icy sip of cold rice wine from our sake boxes of hinoki wood, say “Kanpai,”….and dig in.

Warm Peanut tofu w/strips of yuzu

The courses then arrive in perfect succession-the timing is perfectly attuned to our pace of first gazing admirably at our dish- the beauty and color of the pottery, the lacquered trays, the aromas of tiny blossoms, the silky texture of a raw fish slice. Then, we search for meaning in the different dishes…it’s clear that the chef is sending a message. Taste is important certainly, but not the most important thing…there are other resonances.



The second course is described to us as “a dish for the New Year’s Day” It is a stunning plate of various items artfully laid out. There is a single piece of Kyoto-style sushi made of kasuge, or sea-bream. Also on the plate…herring roe, kelp, carrots, some squid and a forked toothpick with a ginko nut and a sweet bean.

Dish For A New Year's Day

Next up, a beautiful small plate of mucilaginous, grated tororo, or mountain yam,with shiso leaf and braised radish followed by a clear soup with bamboo shoots and wakame seaweed floating topside. By the time the next course arrives and the next serving of sake, we are well on the way to feeling only the deepest admiration for the attention to detail in every aspect of the hospitality accorded us. It’s a staggering concept for the Western mind to grasp. Everything is designed in accordance with nature…every hot pool in the ryokan has a view of the mountains and the icy streams, every menu is thought out as to what expresses the particular season, every experience is elaborately choreographed and delicately nuanced. We sit in wonder as the next course appears before us. There is sashimi contrasted with wild vegetables,there is raw salmon wrapped in cooked lettuce, there are coiled fiddlehead ferns which taste vaguely like asparagus,but more bitter. Our Japanese ladies giggle in delight when I speak the English name for these ferns, explaining how they look like the tops of violins….and there are tiny shiso flowers which perfume our mouths with a basil spiciness.

Salmon wrapped in lettuce,fiddlehead ferns,wild leek,shiso flowers

Salmon wrapped in lettuce,fiddlehead ferns,wild leek,shiso flowers

There is no music playing at dinner, just the symphony in our mouths… Just conversation, translations, eating and drinking. The experience reminded me of a quote from the writer Saki (H.H. Munro),where he has one of his characters, Clovis, expound upon “the tragedy of music at mealtimes.” I’ve been in plenty of places where the music just does not complement anything going on food-wise and in fact is tremendously distracting. In the better restaurants Miss Eydie has had occasion to frequent, I’ve found that the better the restaurant, the less distraction there is from the food…the more bare the walls, the more subtle the colors,and the less sound distraction. I’ve actually been known to rip speakers out of the walls at restaurants. (well….once)

Now the courses are coming fast and furious. A beautiful earthenware pot discloses a white round of cooked radish floating in broth, and crowning it, a meaty portion of braised mackerel .The garnishes are a bit of winter leek and a shishito pepper. Following that, a gently sauteed sea bream perches atop pieces of taro root.

Cooked Radish/Braised Mackerel

Cooked Radish/Braised Mackerel

What happened next was heaven for a carnivore like me….the mackerel being just a foreshadowing of Japanese beef braised for 6 hrs and served in its own juices with a sprinkling of parsley on top. ..melt in your mouth, buttery, beefy ambrosia in a bowl.”Fingerlickin’ good,” as we used to say in south Brooklyn.

Each course comes to us as a poem….harmonious elements reflecting the season, each course a culinary echo of the other, rhyming with divine simplicity and guided by the singular aesthetic vision of the chef. By the time the third carafe of ice cold sake arrives, I am composing my own haiku in my mind, urged on by the spirit body of Basho…something like:

“Clinging to a shred of sobriety

We try to find our futon”


After the beef, there is what is called the “breath” course. This seems to be the palate cleanser part of the program that you find in traditional French tasting menus- your champagne sorbet, if you will. Tonight, for this winter menu, it is grated yam with onions- a real eye opener for the taste buds. After this refresher, the courses start again. A winter soup arrives containing a wheat dumpling, turnip, chestnut, carrot, spinach and some spicy marigold greens. The broth is milky, with bits of fresh ,local eggs suspended in it. Closely following on the heels of this, comes a beautiful dish of cold river fish and seasonal pickled vegetables…including some interesting local plants that we have to ask the name of. “Butterbur”, a member of the daisy family, produces blooms in late winter and has enormous leaves. We also don’t recognize “honewort leaf,” but it’s fun to use the all purpose phrase “Kore wa nan des ka? (What is this?) and have our lady scramble through her Japanese/English electronic translator.

Wheat dumpling,turnip, chestnut,marigold greens in broth

Wheat dumpling,turnip, chestnut,marigold greens in broth

Miso soup w/preserved tofu/Rice w/gobo and hijiki

Miso soup w/preserved tofu/Rice w/gobo and hijiki


Next up, miso soup with preserved tofu. Naguchi-san tells us that this particular dried tofu has always been used in winter cooking especially by older people who couldn’t make fresh tofu during the cold months. The end of the meal approaches with the final bowl of rice with burdock root and hijiki seaweed. It’s been a good couple of hours and the leisurely, perfect progression of the meal has been a joy, a cultural education, and a sensual, aesthetic wonder. We will discover that during our stay at the ryokan, we will never see the same piece of pottery twice. I start to wonder what the pantry looks like and how they safely store all this gorgeous tableware and stemware.

        The final course is a sweet stunner- a homemade black sesame ice cream with fresh strawberries. There are also pieces of macerated pear and fig studded within this simple,elegant dessert. 

Black Sesame Ice cream w/ StrawberriesBlack Sesame Ice cream w/ Strawberries


Miraculously, we are not stuffed. We sip our green tea and remark on this curious fact. My thoughts are that it has to do with the pacing of the courses, the size of the portions and the awareness with which we ate our meal.

Now that’s food for thought.

We’re off to the baths….more to come.


Standing Bath-Infinity Pool

Standing Bath-Infinity Pool

Tobira Myojinkan

Tobira Myojinkan


Vicenza -The City of Palladio


Andrea Palladio- the great architect

Andrea Palladio- the great architect

Miss Eydie can hardly believe her good luck…we are performing in the town of Costabissara, Italy, but have been deposited in a hotel in the town of Vicenza, which is nearby.Vicenza is best known for being the home of one of Italy’s greatest architects,Andrea Palladio and people come from all over the world to view his villas,churches and other buildings. In May of 2006, my group,consisting of Alan Pasqua, Darek Oles and Steve Hass, performed at the magnificent Teatro Olimpico here in Vicenza. We shared the bill with my dear friends Fred Hersch  and Norma Winstone. This theatre was one of Andrea Palladio’s last commissions as an architect and I believe some of the stage sets were designed after his death. These elaborate stage sets of street scenes are set in back of a raked stage and perspective- wise, give the audience the uncanny feeling they are in another time and watching an outdoor performance. The ceiling is painted a sky blue and suggests an open sky.I knew I wanted to visit this place again ,esp. the garden surrounding the theatre with its stone statues of muses and gods of music.


           But first…lunch. After my 60 Euro plate of tagliatelle with white truffles in Milan, (worth every lira by the way) Miss Eydie was running low on per diem. A simple lunch was in order and I walked into town at the beginning of the afternoon. It’s a wonderful challenge to find a place to eat in a strange town by “vibe.” Sometimes you can tell by the graphics the restaurant uses for its signs, also the type of decor is a clue..and of course the menu is a dead giveaway. Wandering around the winding, cobblestoned streets of the old town, I finally found what I was looking for – an unassuming trattoria called “Tira Tardi” on a side street near the Basilica. The menu showed some raw fish dishes and a nice selection of pastas. There are no customers in the joint,there is rap music playing from the kitchen,the lone waiter is warm and friendly and the place is very elegant and tasteful, so I seat myself. Suddenly, like magic, everything changes once it clear I am there to eat.

The waiter’s ties his tie in a tight Windsor knot.

The Sinatra goes on the CD player.

The candle is lit.

I order a plain green salad.

A cart is wheeled over with a huge bowl of fresh.local greens. I think “O my God..its gonna be like a tableside Caesar in Vegas.” Frank starts the opening lines of “The Tender Trap.” 

“Signora,do you want freshly ground sea salt,pepper, olio d’oliva, balsamico? I assent to everything. A simple green salad has become a shared ceremony. The waiter adds each ingredient, and then as tenderly as one might handle a child ( if the child were leaves of radicchio from Treviso), he gently tosses and mixes the salad. It’s placed in front of me with great aplomb…and I taste. It is simply delicious.

All the pesce crudo dishes sound fantastic, but my next move is to order some pasta. In the interests of both health and yumminess, I notice a wheat spaghetti on the menu and order it. It comes with a huge fresh, whole scallop on top, another huge scampi and loads of fresh tomato and (be still my heart) fresh porcini. Gone…in like 2 seconds.


Spaghettini Kamut w/ Scampi, Scallop, Tomato & Porcini

Spaghettini Kamut w/ Scampi, Scallop, Tomato & Porcini



       I make an executive decision to opt out of dessert and coffee so I can sit and dream in a cafe overlooking the buildings of Palladio. Any attempt at moderation or abstention is thwarted.if you say, “no dessert please,” they bring out a plate with 4 or 5 diamond slices of house made chocolates: flavors like pepperoncino, pure vanilla, liquirizia.

     If you say,”just a check please,” or anything resembling “il conto per favore,” there appears a glass of local grappa in addition to the bill.

      You can’t win :-)

I do move on to the cafe and after my macchiato in the shadow of the 2 columns designed by Palladio, I head to the best gelato place in Vicenza,where I have a ginger gelato….cold, creamy and yet with a small bit of tingle and heat from the ginger. There are some wonderful flavors there: cioccolata con lavande e rosmarino, lampone (fresh raspberry) fior de latte, zabaglione with egg and Marsala


The Best Gelato In Town

The Best Gelato In Town

Savoring my gelato I stroll all over this lovely town, ending up at the Teatro Olimpico. Sitting in the garden, surrounded by stone muses, I feel grateful for my life as a singer and inspired by the classic expressions of line and space I have seen on my walk through Vicenza. It makes me think about tonight’s performance and how those lines,proportions and spaces can be used in song.


Statue in the Olimpico Gardens

Statue in the Olimpico Gardens

I honor you O Muse

Till next time…on to Scandinavia


It’s Martini Time Somewhere,

Miss Eydie Gourmet






Spaghettini Kamut w/ Scampi, Scallop, Tomato & Porcini

Miss Eydie Visits The Land Of Naked Marble Boys

“The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber and after 2000 years of argument and discussion, their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated and have answered simply…. EAT US AND PRAISE THE LORD.” Alexandre Dumas

Milano – I knew I only had a relatively short time in Italy in which to sample the bounty of the season, which to me, means pumpkin, chestnuts, fresh game, wild mushrooms, Tuscan kale, chicory, beets, pears, winter squashs, and the glittering diamond in the crown of Autumn…Tartufo Bianco D’Alba. This truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean fungi of the genus “tuber,” and yes, this elusive tuber needs to be sniffed out by pigs and dogs trained for the purpose..Then at last, after being cleaned, polished and sliced paper thin by a special truffle slicer, it can be savored  by singers everywhere.

Truffle Set

Truffle Set


            Arriving in MIlano in the early afternoon, I immediately made a reservation at a small trattoria which was recommended to me by the woman who interviewed me about the upcoming Italian Transfer concerts. Al Materel  specializes in local Milanese cuisine, a cozy eatery with a warm atmosphere. Two of my traveling compadres were in attendance and we were rarin’ to go. Opening the evening’s show was a 2004 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano,one of oldest and most well-known of Italian wines.It’s primary grape varietal is Sangiovese and it’s from the hilly region around Siena, which would technically make it from Tuscany…..but we were in no mood to stay catholic to the concept of Lombardian singularity. The rest of the meal was a true Milan fest. Il Dottore ordered the Veal Milanese, a dish often butchered in lesser establishments in the US. In a way, this is the Italian version of a good wienerschnitzel -some high quality veal, pounded thin-then I believe the controversy begins…do you dip in flour first and then the egg batter,then the crumbs…or should it be the other way around?? Any way you slice it, this veal was sublime, just served with a wedge of fresh lemon.


Our third companion ordered Osso Buco ,a braised veal shank complete with the marrow,and  the traditional accompaniment of risotto Milanese. It was on Miss Eydie’s very first trip to Milan, where she found herself by a stroke of good fortune at a restaurant called Gualtiero Marchesi, where I had the most extravagant risotto imaginable. The saffron colored creamy rice was topped with a square of edible gold.I had never seen anything so over the top in my life as of that point. The only other thing I remember about that dinner was that at the conclusion, as a gift, we were given a bottle of a lurid colored house – made liquer, which I wrapped inside my luggage….and where it promptly exploded on the next flight, staining most of my clothes, indelibly.

       But getting back to my original and pure purpose… i awaited my order of fresh tagliatelle with a giddy joy. (or was it the wine…the jet lag?) Speaking of white truffles, again it was Alexandre Dumas who said, “They can, on certain occasions make women more tender and men more lovable.” Hell, yeah.

       Finally the moment arrives…and the penetrating, faintly garlicky perfume precedes the dish being placed before me. The pasta is curled up over itself, swathed in a delicate coat of butter and cheese and over the top of the dish, a generous covering of paper-thin slices of the prized truffle. In a culinary swoon, I take the first bite. The pasta “bites back.”  The creaminess provides a background color for the earthy, forward flavor of the truffles. I admire their marbled interior with it’s fragile ivory veins. When I’m home, my little bit of luxury involves a small pour of white truffle oil over pasta, vegetables, risotto-but this is my yearly splurge for the real thing-the exalted fungus. Authenticity is what makes something fully and genuinely what it is -whether a person, a style of music or a cuisine. Something is authentic because it can draw on its original authority to make it unquestionably what it is…no fakes, no imitation. I feel that with every bite.




First Entry… Napa


The last hurrah of the summer: the final gigs. I’ve been excited for months that we are performing at the Napa County Fair, in the heart of the California wine country and a food nerd’s paradise. The gig itself turns out to be less than delightful, not because of the audience certainly, but because of the promoter’s less-than-exemplary hospitality. I don’t know this at the time of course, but this is why I am leaving a day early to ma ke sure I get my dose of what this beautiful part of California can offer to The Insatiable Singer.

Of course, my alarm doesn’t go off, and I get that dreaded phone call, “The car is downstairs.” Luckily years of practice have prepared me for this very moment where I gather up my things while I am still unconscious, unplug the appliances, take out the garbage, change the phone messages, splash water on my face, and fly out through the door to the airport.

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