Hound hits Tokyo/Fukuoka/Kurashiki/Kyoto Longish, jet-lagged rambling
Well, back from 12 days in Japan, with 2 14 yr. olds, and my spouse in tow.
Three of us are more, or less, doctrinaire non-eaters of mammals; friend Dylan is OK with mammals, and gamely tried many fishes and pieces of fishes, SOME of which he liked...
Roppongi's ultra-new belt sushi place in Roppongi-Hills mall (Pinotonku? I'll check spelling, as am still jet-lagged) extremely cool; we were seated in our own tatami booth (not actually a separate room) with a window at the wall of each end through which the "belt" choo-chooed, and through which you could peer up at the chefs for special requests. Wonderful sushi: three notes:
1. there are even more kinds of sushi in Japan served with mayonaise on them than the most garish gaijin-ified "Special Pittsburgh Dynomite Special Firecracker Spicy Roll" american sushi-maker might imagine;
2. natto (fermented soybean... limburger cheese?)is even stranger than I thought. Significant numbers of Japanese seem to like it and order it; we all thought it was really mind-bogglingly awful, though.
3. Roast beef sushi? With mayo?
When we reached a food selection impasse, we often ate Italian, everywhere but Kurashiki; mostly pretty good. Even Cappricciosa, a Tokyo/Kyoto Italian chain full of students and the like, served its purpose (they had REAL salads and pretty good pizza!)
We searched out Alpha Dog Jim's "Boruga" yakitori place in Shinjuku. While the food wasn't quite as "precise" or polished as place by the gate in Asakusa (name again later...)it was still a blast; the "scavenger hunt" aspect of the instructions added to the fun.
Ramen, ramen everywhere; all porky! Dylan snuck off with his uncle, an F-town resident, to indulge his mammal habit at the famous request-how-you-want-'em on the paper, can't see the waiter ramen place, reporting back excellence. "Ramen Stadium" CLOSED FOR REMODELLING! (at least that seemed to be what the sign implied) Still found good yakitori and sashimi.
Ryokans are not really set up for 14 year old American guys, at least not the ones with us. Me and Wifey liked umpty-dozen little bits of this and that artfully arranged with cotrasting colors, textures, temps. etc.on contrasing plates, in some cases even separated from each other on the tray by tiny folding screens, and the little sterno-fired hibachi-like thing to cook little split fishies on for breakfast; the guys were not so crazy about them. Didn't help that the local specialty is a vinegar-and-salt preserved little fish guy about 4 inches long, served broken or cut in two, with their little heads or little tails sticking out of your dish in a neat row. They sold gift-wrapped boxes of them to take to your neighbors and relatives in the "lobby" of the ryokan...
More mochi and related tea sweets than you could shake a stick at. Hundreds of shops of them. Little taco-like things; flowers, pink Martian looking spheres. Wonderfully varied presentation and textures; mostly, however, they taste exactly the same. good with tea, good with unsweetened coffee. The big dried persimmons were even better...
There are as many $3 and $4 cups of coffee in Japan as you've heard. They're not in the fancy pretentious places for guys with expense accounts, where a cuppa can set you back $10+. You can also get $1.20 coffee, if you want it, hot, from a can vending machine, about every 100 yards in the cities 24/7. But a $3 cup of REAALY GOOD FRESHLY MADE coffee, with CREAM, made FOR YOU, and brought to you, by someone who will really be solicitous and pleasant about it, is almost worth it, even with no refill. Ditto the "toast set", which is what you can get as an alternative to the full-on trad breakfast. THe bakery-coffee place for me was Canelle, upstairs (REALLY steep narrow stairs!) on Sanjo-Dori a few blocks downhill (West) from the Westin Miyako (and no smoking at all!)
GOOD yakitori place near Shijo-dori in mid-town; slightly newer with younger crowd (students/bohos, fewer salarymen) than "Boruga" but only slightly more pretentious.(FREE RANGE chicken, specifically noted kind of charcoal, etc.) They slapped a big bowl of raw cabbage with a shot of yaki sauce on the bar with our first serving of yakitori. Tsukune (ground chicken; sorta like yakitori kefta kebab) BETTER than Boruga! (I know, NAMES???!!!)
Musashi belt sushi, in mid-town only if you're hungry and not picky.
Famous eel place in Shijo Dori closed this TUES (our last day)instead of Thursday as per listing: WAAAA!; had to make do with less famous eels.....
more reportage after sleep. (Hey, it's 6:00 pm 3/2; I left Kyoto two hours ago Kyoto time, but I've been in LA for nearly five hours! TIME TRAVEL!!!)
Matsuno was indeed the AWOL Kyoto eelry.
The underwhelming kaiten-sushi place in Kyoto was "Musashi". While "Rough Guide" says "excellent", "Lonely Planet" says "Not the best sushi in the world, but cheap easy and fun", so I was warned...
The yakitori in Asakusa, Tokyo, (in the shadow, almost literally, of the Kaminari-mon) was (I believe) Kushisuke.
Still looking for the address/name card for the Kyoto yakitori (they were out of duck yakitori by the time we got there; anyone had THAT? sounds wild....)