Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Fighters Food Tour of Sapporo

Hokkaido is actually well-known for its excellent and affordable food. Before I came here, my students and friends told me things like "Oh, you HAVE to go try the sashimi, and crab, and potatoes, and corn, and jingisukan (barbecued lamb), and the fresh fish, and Ramen Alley, and blah blah blah blah..."

So what have I been eating since I got here? Ballpark food, and Fighters-related food. I justify it to myself by thinking that, well, since I don't have a Japanese palate, it's actually fairly likely I wouldn't appreciate the food for what it is. Plus, I don't really know which places are the best ones to go to. AND, hey, I came to Sapporo to be the World's Biggest Hokkaidork Fighters Fan, and I must say, I am doing quite a good job of it so far.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing this entry is because tonight I went to the "Fighters Official Restaurant" in the Sapporo Ario mall, and it SUCKED. And like any internet geek, my reaction is "Oh, this place sucks! And I just wasted my evening there! What can I do about this? I'm going to... I'm going to WRITE ABOUT IT ON MY BLOG!!"

So, anyway, this entry is about some of the food I've been eating the last few days, and places I've gone to.

Hillman's Hangout
Rating: Made Of Awesome

This place is in the Susukino area of Sapporo. The only downside to it is that it's a little hard to find if you're not familiar with Sapporo, especially since Google Maps completely BARFS on Sapporo addresses -- unlike most of Japan, Sapporo is actually laid out on a really strict grid, which I get the impression helps you once you know it, but completely messes with your head if you don't. Sort of like Seattle!

Anyway, it's on the third floor of the Norbesa building. Norbesa is this building with a gigantic ferris wheel sticking out of it, and it's a block or two from the normal Susukino station. I recommend looking at Norbesa's map to find it -- the map on the HH site is actually pretty bad. I spent a good 45 minutes trying to find the place, especially since I went to Hosui Susukino station instead (which also has a nearby McDonald's). Oops.

But once you get there, especially if you get there during a Fighters game, it is made of pure awesome!

I'd say that the stuff there is maybe 50% Hillman-centric and 50% Fighters-centric. Each booth table has pictures of Hillman with his family and friends, and there's a display case with stuff of his from the various teams he worked with. But all over the place are posters of current and former Fighters players -- including Seggy, and Ogasawara. And in the back is a foosball table area! (Hillman put a foosball table in the Fighters clubhouse at one point as a way to loosen people up.) There's no such thing as a table where you cannot see a TV showing the Fighters game -- whether you're up front by the big TV or watching the others displayed around the room.

Also, the food choices are AWESOME and full of Fighters and Hillman references. They have the entire menu on the website, but among the sorts of things you can get are "Trey's Enchilada", the "Hillman's Family Weekend BBQ Ribs", or "Lil' Brianna's Kids Plate", or "TJ's Bacon Cheeseburger", or "Marie's Special Recipe Chocolate Brownie Sundae". And for baseball references there's the "Naoto Sausage Plate", the "BB Combo", and "Mack's Parfait". The last one was the funniest one to me -- it's named after Fighters shortstop Makoto "Mack" Kaneko, whose uniform number is #8, and the parfait costs... Y888.

There's also a pretty wide drink menu, including anything from local Sapporo beers to things like Guinness. I got a Sapporo Classic and it was pretty good. For food I ordered the TJ Bacon Cheeseburger -- I probably should have had Mexican food, oh well. But the burger was perfect.

And the experience was perfect too -- the Fighters game was on TV, and the place wasn't crowded per se, but there were people banging tambourines and a bunch of us occasionally started singing along to the cheer music. And the Fighters won, and every time they made a good play or got a hit, the entire place erupted in applause and shouts. The staff were all into the game too (one waitress was even doing Inaba's cheer with us) but not so much that they were unable to keep bringing beers to people who needed them.

And after the game I went around and took pictures of EVERYTHING there. I asked first and the waitress was like "Please go ahead! Take your time, take pictures of whatever you want, enjoy!" So I did. And I talked to random people and they were all really nice and funny and in a good mood due to the Fighters winning and all. I got one of the waitresses to take my picture in front of one of the displays, and after I paid and was leaving, and apologized for being such a dork, the waitress was like "Oh, no problem, you seem like a really big Fighters fan and very happy," and she said "hold on a second," and dug around for something behind the counter, and came up with a HILLMAN'S HANGOUT COASTER SIGNED BY TREY HILLMAN and gave it to me! Seriously, it's like the people working there pretty much embodied all of the niceness of Hillman into this awesome little sports bar in Susukino, and it was just a totally happy experience for me.

Entering the restaurant from Norbesa 3F.

Wide view of the restaurant during the Fighters game -- you can see the booths and the big screen.

Some of the Hillman-related stuff they had there.

The bar. With Guinness.

Sapporo Dome Food
Rating: Made Of Interesting

To be fair, the first day I had KFC at the park.

Then today, I had this:

The amazing Atsunori Inaba... bento box.

I would tell you what was in it, but I'm not entirely sure. Basically there's a noodle bowl with some stuff in it, and then a rice bowl with corn and a bunch of fried things, and a little square of nori with "Inaba #41" printed on it. Also, you get a special "Bento Card" with the box. SO cute!

It wasn't bad. I'm not sure which one I'll try tomorrow.

Edited in, May 6th:

So, this is the one I ended up getting the next day:

Fighters No. 1 Bento!

It's also super-cute. It came with a scorecard in the top of the box to make it a souvenir, as well as a lyric sheet for Go! Go! Fighters. The food was a wide variety -- the top left is some fried stuff, including something I think was crab claw, and the top right is shumai and some fish'n'onions, and some beans, and a bit of warabi mochi, and the bottom right had some kind of burger patty and veggies, and the lower left was pickled stuff. The middle is rice, sausage, and a little fried egg piece SHAPED LIKE HOKKAIDO. I didn't even notice that at first, heh.

I think this bento was better than the Inaba bento, anyway, and they both cost the same, 1000 yen. I'm bad at judging this stuff though because I get the feeling there are some bento items that are totally lost on me that other people love, though.

Fighters Gourmet - Official Fighters Restaurant
Rating: Made of Kanemura's Socks

This is the place that inspired me to write this damn entry.

So, I figured I had two choices tonight for where to go -- try to hunt down that Ramen Alley, or go check out the Fighters Official Restaurant, which I'd heard about from my crazy Chunichi friend Anthony who went on a tour of all the stadiums in Japan last year. I figured I wasn't going to get to go there tomorrow, so this was my last shot.

However, there were a few big obstacles:
1) it was COLD outside -- seriously, it was 24 degrees C when I went into the Sapporo Dome this morning/afternoon and something like 12 degrees C when we all came out. I do have my winter coat with me, but still.
2) it's something like a mile from my hotel and
2a) it was 8:15 by the time I was able to ponder this and
2b) they take last food order at 9pm

So I ended up taking a taxi over there. Taxicabs in Sapporo are amazingly plentiful -- moreso than anywhere in Tokyo, you can ALWAYS find a cab here. But they COST the same as Tokyo. Grr. But they're kind of like these magical teleportation devices -- if you don't know how to get to, say, the Ario Sapporo mall, you just get in a cab and say "Hey, I'm going to Ario", and then the cab driver takes you there! It's magic! Expensive magic, but magic!

(Honestly, I think I figured out where the mall was, but their maps and access page is fairly incomprehensible. It seemed like if I just walked east from Sapporo station I'd hit it eventually -- I knew I saw it from the JR tracks when arriving in town -- but that seemed like a not great plan when it's cold out and you have a time deadline.)

I actually live fairly close to an Ario mall in Kawaguchi and like it quite a lot, but I don't usually eat the mall food because they're mostly generic Japanese family restaurants. And so it shouldn't have surprised me that the Official Fighters Restaurant is basically a Generic Japanese Family Restaurant With Some Fighters Stuff In It.

No, seriously. The menu was COMPLETELY generic and mostly consisted of Japanese burger meals -- which does not mean burgers like Americans think of it, with bread around it and a side of fries or onion rings, but what Japanese people usually call "hamburger steak"... which is basically a hamburger, on a platter, with sauce on top of it, and some sort of veggie side. I got a plate that had sausage and burger and potato salad, and it was... generic. I mean, not bad, but nothing particularly fantastic, either. I could get this same platter pretty much anywhere.

And that's what bugged me -- they could have bothered to at least have some Hokkaido-specific stuff, if they weren't going to have some American-specific, or baseball-specific, or ANYTHING to set them apart. But there weren't even like, baseball-named dishes or anything. It made me sad.

ALSO, the staff were downright rude to me. I walked up to the restaurant entrance around 8:40 -- long before closing -- and the guy at the counter was dealing with someone paying the bill. Okay, that's fine, but... some other staff guy came up, saw me, ignored me, and asked the cashier a question, and walked off. A waitress also walked by, looked at me standing there, and also ignored me. And then the counter guy started dealing with ANOTHER customer -- without even so much as a nod or a "please wait a moment" to me. Finally, after I had been standing there for like 5 minutes, he looked at me -- didn't even say a Japanese equivalent of "can I help you?", but more of a look of "God, I hope she doesn't expect me to speak English."

What the hell?

I hadn't paid ten bucks to a taxi to come here for nothing, though, so I said (in Japanese) "Hey, is it too late to get a seat? Table for one, please."

The guy's like "Do you smoke?"

"No smoking seats, please," I replied.

And then he was going to seriously make me write my name on a paper and wait around when I could see that EIGHTY PERCENT OF THE RESTAURANT WAS EMPTY.

"Uhhh, if it's a problem, anywhere is fine, I don't care," I said.

Then the other dude came back, kinda said something to the first guy, then looked at me, and grabbed a menu, and said "Please follow me," and showed me to a table. I saw the screen, which was showing an awfully familiar-looking Fighters game, and said "Hey, is this today's game?" and he said "Yeah, it is," and I said "Oh, I was there! It was a great game!" and he just nodded and said "please take your time" and walked off.

(And I mean, I was still wearing a green shirt under my Morimoto #1 Fighters t-shirt, and my Hichori wristband. You'd think that'd at least get some sort of "oh, cool, Fighters fan" treatment, but I guess not. I mean, even when I stopped in Marui Imai today after the game still in Fighters gear, the cashier was like "did you go to the game? wasn't it interesting?" and I was like "yeah, did you see Yoh's home run?" "Yeah! Surprising, huh?")

After about 5 minutes of me reading the menu, a waitress finally came over and took my order. And then an inning or two later I actually got my food. Though that's not necessarily a bad thing since I got to see the replay of that crazy play today where Kaneko struck out -- or didn't -- it's unclear, he kinda swung at the third strike and threw his bat and the ball got away from the catcher and maybe it actually hit his bat now that I see the replay but who knows and either way he advanced to first and Oda scored on the play and it was bizarre.

After I finished eating I asked if I could take pictures of the restaurant and they were like "uhh... sure, go ahead, it's okay". So I did. And the staff kept staring at me in that "what is the crazy gaijin doing?" sort of way, so I didn't really take as many as I would have otherwise. Which is kind of a shame, because they actually did have a whole bunch of cool stuff there -- autographed baseballs, posters, old jerseys and bats from players (including some Shinjo and Yukio stuff, sigh), and even a bunch of photo books which you could look through. Oh, and about half the tables had glass plates in them with Fighters baseball cards underneath. Which was cool -- and me being me I was like "hey, I have this one... and this one.. and this one..."

But overall I felt pretty unhappy about the experience there. Heck, I went outside and asked a random passerby to take my picture by the restaurant sign, because I didn't feel comfortable asking any of the staff. Sheesh.

OH, and to add insult to injury, I got lost trying to get home -- I was going to walk to Naebo station and take a train, but I couldn't find the station, so eventually I gave up and found another taxi. So not only did I have a bad time at the restaurant but I ended up spending like $20 on taxis to get there and back.


View of the restaurant entrance from the mall.

What most of the restaurant looked like. There are a bunch of smaller rooms off to the side for parties, I guess.

The baseball card table.

Display case with various Fighters jerseys and bats.

Anyway, in my honest opinion:
Neither of these restaurants beat Yakiniku Erika (Hichori's parents' restaurant in Nippori) for pure awesomeness of Fightertude during eating dinner. But I have to admit that if I was in Sapporo and wanted to eat yummy food and watch an out-of-town Fighters game, I would not hesitate to go to Hillman's Hangout. Just seemed like a pretty good all-around place. BUT I would undoubtedly gain a ton of weight if I went there all the time, so it's just as well that it isn't in the same city as me.

But if you're in Sapporo and have only one evening and are trying to choose between the two of them? Go to the Hangout. The other one isn't going to be anything special. I'm not just saying this because Hillman told me to go there and he may read this someday. The only reason I can think of for going to the Gourmet is if you are touring the nearby Sapporo Beer Museum (which closed too early for me to get to) and have nothing better to do for dinner afterwards.

And above all, go to the Sapporo Dome! And sit in the outfield! And eat a Fighters bento! It's all amazing.

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