It's the end of the year again, and it's time for my to fly back home to visit my family in Thailand. However, this time is different because on the way to Thailand from San Francisco, I decided to stop over in Japan for 7 days, so I'll be posting more about my trip in Japan and in Thailand here. My itinerary looks something like this:
- Dec 19th -- Leave San Francisco
- Dec 20th -- Arrive at Tokyo Narita Airport
- Dec 27th -- Leave Narita and arrive in Bangkok
- Jan 11th 2015 -- Leave Bangkok to San Francisco
We'll get started by talking about my flight to Tokyo Narita. I originally bought a round trip ticket from SFO-NRT-BKK in Business class from All Nippon Airways (ANA) since they are in Star Alliance and I can collect miles for my next trip. However, I also had some American Express credit card points (so called "Membership Rewards" points) that I can transfer to ANA to request an upgrade for my flight from Business class to First class. It takes 40,000 points for a segment from San Francisco to Narita. I decided to take a chance so I transferred the points from American Express to ANA, and request an upgrade. I requested the upgrade on September 24th and had been on the waitlist. My upgrade was cleared just on November 30th. This is my first time on any first class flight and I've been very excited about this flight!
My departure from San Francisco started by getting to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). My flight departs at about 11 AM, so a friend of mine ("Huey") picked me up at around 8 AM. Once we checked in, Huey and I went to get some breakfast at La Salsa, a Mexican restaurant near the airport. We decided to go get breakfast outside of the airport even though I can eat in the lounge because ANA as a Star Alliance member mostly uses United lounge in North America. United lounge doesn't really have a good reputation on good food, so we decided to make sure that I'm at least have a good breakfast before I leave.
After I came back from breakfast, I headed to United International First Class Lounge. I was amazed by the design of the lounge which is very oriental, but I guess that matches the spirit of San Francisco. Another thing that surprised me was that there was food! I've used United Business Class Lounge at SFO before and there was virtually no edible food, but the First Class lounge does seem to have quite a bit of food; however, I didn't eat them so I couldn't tell you the quality of the food in the lounge.
After the lounge, I walked over to the gate for boarding. However, due to some technical issues (I learned later that it was the audio issue of the entertainment system), the flight was delayed for almost an hour. I went to stand in line as a First Class passenger. This is my first time and I'm so excited about it. The ground staff was very nice and tried to explain the situation, but about 30 mins later, we got to board the aircraft.
My seat was 2K and it was a window seat (Yay!). When I sat down, there was already a Rimowa amenity kit put next to the screen and there was also an immigration form for Japan set right at my seat as well. After I sat down, I started taking pictures of the cabin including my seats, so here they are.
The flight attendant asked me immediately if I would like to change into the pajama. I told her I would, so she took me to the front lavatory which is pretty big, and she was waiting outside for me to finish changing. After I changed, I was presented with a welcome drink (the choice was a champagne or orange juice). I didn't ask the FA what champagne it was, but I chose to get a glass of champagne anyway.
The chief purser and the purser of the flight then came over and introduced themselves to me and gave me the menu for the flight.
The menu was in a nice cloth folder. The cool thing about ANA is that they posted both their food and drink menus online, so you can download and see what is available ahead of time. So if you're interested in seeing the full menu, you can download them from here:
I started my meal with a glass of Krug, one of the most prestige champagne in the world. With the glass of Krug, the amuse bouche was served. My amuse bouche includes: Cheese pepper bar, prosciutto and melon, vegetable à la grecque, and smoked salmon and scallop tartar in a tart cup.
After the mouse bouche, I selected to have the Japanese menu set (of course, we're flying a Japanese airline!), but I also asked them if I could have the caviar course from the Western menu, and they gladly oblige. The Japanese menu on ANA First class follows the Japanese Kaiseki cuisine style which means that it comprises of many small dishes that made up the whole whole meal.
I love the way ANA sets up the table for the food service. They are very particular about the way things face the passenger, so as you can see here, everything is aligned beautifully on a Japanese wooden tray which is covered with a slide prevention substance (I'm not so sure what it is, but it seems like the tray here will stick to the container better than any other tray I've seen).
Since I asked for the caviar course to be served first, I also got a pair of knife and fork, and a caviar spoon in addition to a pair of Japanese chopsticks.
My first course has arrived. The menu stated that the caviar course is supposed to be a soup with caviar, but what I got instead was some sort of a paté with crab and cavair on top. It was absolutely delicious! I wouldn't mind asking for a second of this plate!
Now we start the Japanese food course with "Sakizuke" -- a starter course, and "Zenzai" -- a selection of morsels. The Sakizuke (the small plate on top) is quick-seared scallop with sea urchin and bonito-vinegared sauce. The Zenzai includes:
- Braised abalone
- Marinated herring roe in bonito-flavored soy sauce Simmered prawn in soy-based sauce
- Grilled vegetables rolled with beef
- Simmered kombu kelp roll in soy-based sauce Sweetened egg and fishcake roll
- Simmered black bean in syrup
They are both absolutely delicious! To be honest, I'm not a big fan of sea urchin (uni), but the way they present and cook it with the scallop makes it creamy and it enhances the flavor of the scallop. The shrimp and all of the other seafood on the Zenzai plate is also very fresh. The shrimp was sweet; the abalone was chewy but soft; and the beef was tender. It was a very good start for a meal.
We then move on to the soup course, which is called "Owan" in Japanese. The soup course that I got was the clear soup with fishcake and crabmeat. The soup was hot and full of Dashi flavor, and the crabmeat and the vegetables were very fresh.
Now we have the sashimi course, "Otsukuri." The sashimi includes quick-seared sea bream ("madai" in Japanese) marinated in kombu kelp with caviar, and soy sauce-cured quick-seared tuna. They come with a non-traditional sauce which tastes like the sesame sauce in Shabu Shabu but lighter, more citrusy, and a little bit more salty. The fish was super fresh and the sauce with the fish was the perfect match!
After a couple of single plate dishes, this is the main focus of the meal. It includes "Takiawase" -- simmered treats, "Sunomono" -- delicacies dressed with vinegar, and "Shusai" -- main course. Here's what they are:
- Takiawase: Simmered whelk and sea urchin in soy-based sweet sauce
- Sunomono: Deep-fried soft shell crab marinated in piquant-vinegared sauce
- Shusai: Grilled trout Japanese sake lees taste
The rice is also steamed on board. ANA is very proud to present their Japanese rice and the rice today is a special Sasanishiki rice from Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture. They also includes assorted Japanese pickles, and miso soup which are essential to any Japanese meals.
I tasted everything and I couldn't tell you how much I love all of these dishes. The fish was cooked perfectly. The soft shell crab was fried without too much batter and it gave the meal the crunchy texture that you otherwise would not get, but since it's a deep fried dish, the citrusy sauce cut down the fat, and you won't feel the grease in your mouth at all!
Finally, I was presented with the Japanese dessert "Wagashi" -- classic Japanese sweet bites. Today the sweet is Toraya "Omokage" Yokan. This is smooth azuki beans in brown sugar. It's quite sweet for my taste but it goes very well with hot green tea, so that's definitely a recommended drink to go with this dessert.
Even after I finished the Japanese sweets, the flight attendant that looked after me was concerned that the Japanese sweet was very small and I would not be satisfy, so she asked if I would like to get a second dessert, and she recommended a warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Who am I to say no to a warm apple tart and ice cream?
After the meal, a hot towel, a petit four and a cup of tea (I picked Hojicha -- my favorite kind of tea) was served, and the flight attendant asked if I would like a turn down service. I told her that I would let her know when I'm ready to go to bed.
Since I ate quite a bit of food, I wasn't really ready to go to bed yet, and I'd been watching the Matrix, so I decided to finish up with the movie (which is about half an hour after the meal service is over), then I asked the flight attendant to make the bed for me.
The bed and the comforter are very comfortable indeed. They even have two types of pillow for me to choose from: the Japanese memory foam pillow, and a normal pillow. I found that I'm most comfortable wit having the memory foam at the bottom and the normal pillow on top. It was amazing!
I slept for a couple of hours, but since it's still really the day time in San Francisco, I woke up and started watching Masterchef on my laptop. The flight attendant came over and asked if I want to eat anything, so I ordered a bowl of IPPUDO rich-tasting miso “DAICHI” ramen. It was very very good. She also recommended me to try the First class-exclusive Mapple Juice CABERNET SAUVIGNON which is the actual juice of cabernet sauvignon with no alcohol. It was very good.
However, since the ramen didn't have a lot of meat, my lovely flight attendant recommended that I get the fish cakes to go with the ramen, and I obliged.
After my "second meal," I was served a petit four again, and this time I picked the white ginger pear tea from Tea forté to go with my small candies instead of the Japanese tea. They are perfect!
I was watching Masterchef on my laptop for a little longer, and now it's almost time to land. I decided to skip the actual second meal, and just go with ANA original chicken curry and steam rice which was served with Japanese pickles. It was absolutely delicious.
After I arrived in Narita, I took the "Airport Limousine Bus" to my hotel. For my first night, I stayed at the new Andaz at Tonaromon Hills in Tokyo. I'll talk about that next time!