Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TOKYO: Shake Shack シェイクシャック

Address:  東京港区北青山2丁目1−15.  Located about an eight-minute walk from Aoyama-icchome Subway Station.
Map:  Scroll down below.
Open:  11 am to 10 pm.
Last year while visiting my sister in the Washington, D.C. area, I happened upon a crowded burger/hot dog joint that I had never heard of, but I was starving at the time and decided to give it a try.  The restaurant was called Shake Shack, and little did I know that it was a favored eatery along the east coast of America.
Picky as I am, I ordered a regular hamburger, fries, and a chocolate shake.

My life changed from that time on! 
(Overly exaggerated, but you get the point.)

The burger was amazingly delicious, so much so that I started feeling confused over which was the better burger, this savory Shack Burger or my beloved In-n-Out Burgers back home in Southern California.  
But it was the Shake Shack shake, that glorious, chocolaty cream of heaven on earth, that rocked my world!
Alas, that was the one and only time that I had the opportunity to enjoy this bit of scrumptiousness.

That is, until they opened the new Shake Shack in Kita-Aoyama on November 13th!

Last weekend, my wife and I went down to Tokyo for a quick getaway and made a visit to the Tokyo Shake Shack our top priority.  Apparently, numerous others had it on their To-Do lists as well, as we arrived at around noontime to a loooong line of people, so long that we were told that it would be a three-hour wait.
It was a gorgeous, autumn day and I didn't feel like wasting it standing in a line with a few hundred hungry humans, even if it was for a piece of hamburger heaven.
We asked the kind attendant holding the “end-of-the-line” sign when might be a better time to come and he informed us that at around 9 pm the line had been much shorter during their first week, so we decided to try again later that evening and instead spent the day exploring the fall leaves of Tokyo.

But our tummies couldn't hold out that long, and we returned at 7:30 pm to happily find a much shorter line.  We asked the new kind attendant how long the wait would be, and he notified us that it should only take an hour or less, which made us even happier.
I timed it and it took us exactly thirty minutes to get to the counter and place our order.  Considering the three-hour wait we could have endured, this didn't seem so bad.  I was so close, my mouth began to water.  
I decided upon a double ShackBurger sans cheese (980 yen), a regular order of crinkle cut fries (420 yen), and a regular size chocolate shake (650 yen).  
My wife went with a single ShackBurger (680 yen) and a small iced tea (230 yen).

I liked the little sumo guy!  I didn't like that I still had to wait 20  more minutes.

Well, my mouth watered, … dripped, … and dripped some more, and then started to dry up little by little as the wait for our meal became longer and longer.
Twenty-six minutes after placing our order is when the little beeper that we were given upon ordering began to beep.  In total it took fifty-six minutes from the point of getting in line to receiving our food. The kind attendant guy knew his stuff.
But as soon as I saw the burgers my mouth started salivating all over again as the tempting aroma of the beef wafted around me.
I tore off a small portion of the beef to test it; peppery, flavorful, juicy but not greasy.  
I took a few bites and found it oh-so-good!  BUT, … not exactly the way I remembered the burger in the U.S.  Something was just a touch off.   Perhaps it was that the beef wasn’t pippin’ hot.  It was warm, but it didn’t have that “fresh-off-the-grill” taste.  Still, it was one of the best burgers I’ve had in Japan.
Next I tried the crinkle cut fries.  They were crispy, as they should be.  Salty, as they should be.  But warm at best.  Not hot.   Which really depreciated its overall flavor. 

My wife shared my opinions over her burger and the fries, and she also commented that the wait for the food was very poor customer service, especially according to Japanese standards.
But the saving grace for me was the chocolate shake!
It was the best shake I’ve ever had in Japan or California!  
BUT, … not quite the same as what I remember from the Shake Shack in D.C.  Perhaps, I’ve been romanticizing my previous shake love affair and placing it on an unattainable altar, but still, this shake wasn’t the same as the other shake.  It was a very close second place.
That being said, this smooth, luscious, chocolate shake was terrific!  This was the reason I came, and I was satisfied!
My wife decided to order a ShackMeister Ale beer (830 yen/18 oz.) from a roaming waitress.  We noticed that a man sitting at the next table had also ordered something some time before us, as he called the same waitress over asking to change his order to take-out as he was in a hurry and no longer had time to wait.
My wife patiently waited, and waited, and waited.  After the sixteen-minute mark she said to me, “This isn’t right” and called the waitress over again to politely ask why it was taking so long for just a beer.  In less than a minute the waitress brought the beer over.  My civil-tongued spouse then explained in detail to the waitress about the sub-par temperature of the hamburger and fries, and the extrodinary un-Japanese customer service that caused the unnecessary wait.  
Apparently, the waitress conveyed this information to the manager, who humbly accosted me on my way to the restroom and apologized profusely.  As I returned to our table I found him on one knee apologizing to my wife.  He told us both the same thing; they have been overwhelmed by the amount of customers and that they haven’t worked out all the problems yet, but that it was his fault as manager and to please come back again and he would work hard to resolve those issues.  
He guided us out as we left the restaurant, and my wife whispered to me, “Now that was Japanese customer service.”  I said, “Yeah, but I would’ve preferred a discount coupon.”
I will definitely be back, in the late evening, to delight in a delectable dinner at the Shake Shake.   
I’m hoping that like other American franchises, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Cinnabons, etc., that the novelty will wear out and the lines will become shorter. 
I do highly recommend a visit, but you just might want to wait a while, or not mind the wait.