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yet another "review my restaurant choice" post

Hey gang, I used chowhounds for my Hong Kong trip, and thanks to the advice of Charles Yu, 4seasons, HKtraveler and others, had an amazing culinary journey. So now I'm trying out the Japan board to see if they can make this trip as memorable as my HK one.

I'll be in Japan to see the sakura blossoms during early April, and so I'll be in Tokyo for 4 days/4 nights and then Osaka/Kyoto/Nara for around 3 days and 3 nights. I plan on doing the tsujiki breakfast thing for one of the days. I'd rather not be too strict on my lunch plans because I'm not sure when I'll wake up and I plan to be very busy on non food related events too, but from what I gather the good casual lunch spots in Tokyo are

Ichiran Ramen

Any "can't miss" spots that I missed? For dinner I'm definitely going to be more strict in my plans, and for the 4 nights in Tokyo I think I've decided on (assuming I can get reservations)

1: Ryugin
2: Jiro (in Roppongi since apparently the Ginza one is impossible to get into)
3. Kyubei
4. Ristorante Aso (open to discussion but Asomaniac's review sounded real convincing)

Once in the Osaka region I figure it will be more of a ask around and try to find somewhere that has a lot of locals things, as long as I have a dinner at Kikunoi one of the nights.

So how does that sound for a Japanese food/sight seeing trip? Any type of japanese food or restaurant that is aggregiously missing from my list? Thanks in advance!

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  1. Thanks for posting your list. Makes it easier to help you out. Overall, pretty good collection of places, but a few problems.

    Yakitori and izakaya dining are really night time activities. Fuku, the yakitori place, does not open until 5:30pm. Most yakitori shops, all the good ones at least, are like this. Tengu is a chain of izakaya that I've recommended in the past for groups. I think some branches are open for lunch, but I wouldn't recommend them since they are really about drinking and trying many small dishes. Kaikaya is open for lunch according to their website. I've never been anytime, but I suspect they have more of a lunch set menu versus their very appetizing dinner options. It seems to have a "gourmet" izakaya slant to it, so dinner is probably better. For ramen, I love Ichiran, but it's another chain and they're talking about expanding overseas. You might want to look into some of the more obscure, better, shops that I've reviewed:


    Other lunch options to consider are the Tenya chain for quick tempura, tonkatsu, or even better, the sub-genre called "youshoku"- http://www.chowhound.com/topics/372884 . You might want to consider swapping Kaikaya for a dinner spot and doing Jiro for lunch.

    I would swap Ristorante Aso with a Japanese regional dinner- maybe Kyushu or Okinawan.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      Hey Silverjay, thanks for the speedy reply. What good restaurants can you recommend that specializes in Kyushu or Okinawa cuisine?

      1. re: deckoff8

        Here are two very good Kyushu places I've been to that I really liked:

        Tamoiyanse in Shibuya http://www.bento.com/rev/1765.html
        Kurobutaya in Ebisu http://www.bento.com/rev/2230.html

        Here are some Okinawan places I picked out for you. The top one is a place I used to go all the time. The other two are highly rated on Japanese websites. Sorry, no English information, but you'd get a real thrill by checking them out. The one in Shimokitazawa looks really promising and it's in a great, interesting neighborhood. Actually, almost across the street from it is a Nagoya style restaurant if you're really intrepid.

        Okinawan in Ebisu http://www.bento.com/rev/2421.html
        Unai in Shimokitazawa http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/rstdtl/130...
        Little Okinawa in Shimbashi http://www.asku.com/RV/110R/?_item_id...

      2. re: Silverjay

        I'll second Silverjay's recommendations - izakaya (including yakitori shops) are for evenings, and when and if they're open for lunch they tend to have fairly simple offerings. If you want to go for interesting Japanese at lunch, it might be best to stick with specialty cuisines like tempura and tonkatsu. And sushi, which is fresher at lunchtime. And maybe do your fancy French/Italian choices at lunchtime too, when prices tend to be more reasonable.

      3. It definitely looks like a great list. I also love Ichiran ramen, remember to get the half-boiled egg, it is a side order.

        Some suggestions,
        1. Ryugin and Jiro are both in Roppongi. Since you only have 4 days in Tokyo, I am not sure if it is a better idea to spend the time exploring other district than spending 2 nights (or 1 night + 1 afternoon) in the same district. Plus restaurants in Japan are sometimes not easy to locate with it's address system, you may end up wasting more time than you think.

        2. Go to a restaurant for some exclusive top grade Japanese beef (like real Kobe beef or Matsusaka beef since it is hard to get outside Japan). May not be for everyone, but something to consider.

        3 Replies
        1. re: skylineR33

          Hmmm, i was going to get the expensive ryugin tasting menu which I heard come with some matsuzaka beef. But I suppose I could look into a specific Matsuzaka beef place. I got it in HK and I thought it was amazing. Any recommendations?

          1. re: deckoff8

            The beef at ryugin should not be matsuzaka as it is not too fat .....

            Have not tried Matsuzaka beef in Japan, but try the Kobe beef tenderloin at Sazanka Teppenyaki (one michelin star), it melts in my mouth without excessive of fat. They fried the fat from the beef to brownish colour and use it for fried rice which is so tasty !


            1. re: deckoff8

              On the tasting menu you're referring to at Ryugin, the chef serves Miyagi beef, if memory serves correctly, exactly for the reason skyline mentioned- its relatively fatty. The Miyagi beef is unbelievably flavorful; I think he cooked it sous vide... after 14 courses, I could be wrong though. What an amazing experience, having a meal there.

          2. Some of the best western food I ever had was in Tokyo of all places!!! A few dishes even beat out some of the best France and Italy had to offer. So please don't count western food out! It'll also provide a welcoming palete change from consecutive days of Japanese food. I'll be in Tokyo next weekend and will be trying out a number of Michelin star 'western' restaurants arranged by my foodie friend. Will report back on any stand-outs, including, hopefully the 3* Quintessence!

            8 Replies
            1. re: Charles Yu

              Hi Charles, I am really looking forward to see the first review of Quintessence in English !! (as I do not aware of any). Wish you have a great eating trip in Tokyo.

              1. re: skylineR33

                Well, the Michelin Guide reviewed it in English of course, although it reads like it's been translated from Japanese.

                I'll also be looking forward to Charles's reviews.

                1. re: skylineR33

                  Hello skylineR33 and Robb S,
                  Bad news!! I've just received an e-mail from my foodie friend who told me that he had tried contacting Quitessence by phone for six consecutive days, after they re-opened from holiday, but without success! Looks like they don't bother to pick up their phone! Anyways, as a last resort, he went to pay them a visit in person yesterday. Guess what?! They told him they don't except reservations in person, only by phone!!! What a joke!! Anyhow, my friend was told that they were fully booked for the next two months!! So, may be better luck next year!! Meanwhile, I'll try to walk by and take a look at their entrance! Ha!! In its place my friend has chosen another starred French restaurant.( from a list of 48!!! ) Hope its good?!

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  Charles, which one is your favorite Italian in Tokyo? I wanted to go to Aroma Fresca, which is 1* and gets almost perfect ratings on several Japanese review (word of mouth) sites, but you need to book 3 months in advance!

                  1. re: kuidaore

                    Same here! We have no luck securing reservations at either Aroma-Fresca or Ristorante Aso. Have to settle for Piatto Suzuki and Ristorante Honda instead.

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      We booked Trattoria della Lanterna Magica, about the same rating as Piatto Suzuki on Tabelog, but costs less since it's in Meguro and not on Michelin ;-)

                      1. re: kuidaore

                        Great! We can exchange notes and see how accurate Tabelog's rating is?!
                        Good Luck!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          I was interested in this Sicilian restaurant.

                          The chef is from Sicily and caters to the Italian Embassy. He buys even salt from Sicily. Local Italians patronize the restaurant. However, the reviews on all Japanese sites aren't that good and neither is this reviewer's. http://www.potatomato.com/seat/archiv...

                3. Sammy's Ebisu Place is a great, Chowhound-y stop in Osaka, with three floors of street stalls in a food-focused mini-theme park. http://www.examiner.com/a-1036082~Osa...

                  And here are several Nara suggestions convenient to the tourist attractions: http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/nara....
                  Nara's specialties are chagayu (rice flavored with green tea and seasonal vegetables) and a type of pickle called Nara-zuke.

                  1. Everyone already mentioned the good bits about Izakayas being night time places, but I'll third that as well.

                    Since Fuku, Kaikaya and Tengu are all night time spots, you could search out a tonkatsu restaurant, a soba/udon shop, or Japanese burger chain instead.

                    As for Tengu, I tried it last night with some visitors and although they had a great time I found myself wishing I'd gone to Doma Doma or Watami or one of the other chains. I feel like they have more expansive menus and a tough higher quality food. Tengu's saving grace was the house beer, Tengu Beiru yummy.

                    1. Hi deckoff8: I will be in Tokyo in early April too. On my list is Kaikaya, and possibly, Fuku as well, so we may bump into each other there!!!

                      I am familiar with Seryna, Ryugin, Jiro, Kyubei. Unlike what you think, Seryna is not a casual lunch spot. It is open for lunch, but being a top notch shabu shabu house that specialize on kobe beef, it is "the" place for Japanese corporate entertaining their clients. So just warning: it is expensive lunch spot for shabu shabu. If you insist on kobe beef, it is about 10k per person with just a few slices that only makes you half full. Ryugin is excellent. It seem that there have been a few young chefs coming out in Tokyo with totally new creative delicious stuff, and Ryugin is probably the most well known now. On this trip, I will try another one known as Aronia de Takazawa . I made the reservation 2 weeks ago for a dinner spot in early April but they were already full booked and I end up with just a lunch spot. I have tried both Jiro and Kyubei and personally prefer Jiro even though Kyubei seems to be the more popular one. They are both open for lunch. On this coming trip, I am hoping to try Sushi Mizutani instead, a spinoff from the original Jiro.

                      I have to say that you will miss many types of Japanese food on your list but that is the same problem every time I go to Tokyo. There are just too many great restaurants that one has to miss over a short stay.

                      You have selected Kaikaya as the seafood spot. I have never been to kaikaya myself but from the menu that I reviewed, it is more of a young fusion type of Japanese seafood, rather than the traditional style. On my last few trips, I have always enjoyed Nabura Roppongi for its traditional style seafood. I wrote a review before: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/464703 . But on this trip, I am considering Kojyu or Banreki, as have been recommended by previous threads.

                      Some of my personal favorites that you will also miss from the list: yakiniku, fugu, kaiseki, oden, Japanese oysters, nabe, unagi. I have in the past recommended a few that you can read here:

                      While Fuku is only opened at night, HKTraveler has recently recommended Isehiro at Ginza for yakitori that opened for lunch. I am considering this for one lunch spot too as HKTraveler has always recommended good stuff.

                      In the past, I have always avoided western food in Tokyo, but on this trip, I may just try one Italian that has heavy Japanese influence and ingredient. Like you, I am also intrigued by Asomaniac's recommendation of Aso. I am also interested in another one called Ristorante Siciliano Masshu , so if anyone can make a comparison on both of them, will appreciate if you let me know.

                      So which restaurants in Hong Kong did you try that were amazing?

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: FourSeasons

                        Thanks fourseasons, and everyone else for the recommendations. It seems a general theme is that I should drop jiro and/or Kyubei for lunch so that I can try some of the dinner only spots. Will I miss much by dropping these to lunch or will I be able to get the same dinner time experience anyways?

                        Also, the Hong Kong restaurants I did were Tang Court and Fuxing for dim sum, and Lung King Heen and Harakan for dinner. I did Harakan because my cousins wanted Japanese food, but they wound up not going. Doh~ But it was a great meal regardless. Next time I'll definitely have to try to make it to Lung King Heen for dim sum though.

                        1. re: deckoff8

                          I had a wondeful omakase dinner at Ginza Kyubei and my friend suggest to me dinner is better than lunch at Kyubei, but I am not sure about that...

                          1. re: deckoff8

                            Yes, I have been to Jiro a few times, both for lunch and dinner and I really think I enjoy the dinner much better than the lunch even though the chef insisted that the quality is the same and only the quantity is less in omakase order. I only went to Kyubei once for lunch, but I thought I enjoyed it much less than the dinner I had in Jiro on the same week (so the comparison is easy).

                            1. re: deckoff8

                              A friend who is going to Tokyo next week told me today that it is tough to get a slot in Kyubei. He ended up with a lunch spot even though his preference is dinner. So if you want to dine there, whether lunch or dinner, I suggest you should book ahead first.

                              1. re: FourSeasons

                                well, reservations have been made for kyubei, ryugin, and jiro dinner. I'm pretty excited. Thanks for everyone's recommendations and I'll be sure to check out many of the things suggested for lunch. For my first dinner I think I'll just go to Fuku and get some "local" experience, it's always good to mix in the fine dining with the regular dining.

                                One question, do I even need a reservation for Fuku? I called to make one then felt silly that I was making a reservation one month in advance for a place that might not even need reservations. I should be okay just calling in that day when they open right?

                                1. re: deckoff8

                                  Congradulations deckoff8 in securing your reservations!! Question - Howcome it seems so easy to secure a place at 'Japanese' Michelin star establishments but so hard in Western ones? So far, even with a friend who reside in Tokyo, I have no luck with my choice of Sant Pau, Ristorante Aso and Quintessence!

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    Yes, I don't understand why the headline news says Japan economy is slowing down because unlike what you think, it is not easy to get reservation even in Japanese establishment too. I am also not able to get reservation for Ristorante ASO on the evening I request because they said there is an offical function going on. And this is for early April. For Kojyu, I asked for 2 time slots and got rejected before being inform there is only one slot available on the 4 evenings I stay in Tokyo. So it is either take it or leave it. As to Aronia de Takazawa, I could not even get a dinner slot at all.

                                    1. re: FourSeasons

                                      for Aso even for lunch they didn't have it on the weekend I was there. I had to book it for friday. Seeing your response it seems I got lucky at getting all my Japanese places at the time I wanted. Maybe the fact I am eating alone has something to do with it?

                                      Seems I won't have time for Nabura or Koju this time, but it's always nice to have something to look foward to for the next trip.

                                      1. re: deckoff8

                                        It may be excessive to make a reservation for Fuku a month in advance, but a week in advance might be cutting it close. It depends on the day/time obviously. I believe they're closed Wednesdays.

                                        I'd make the reservation, better safe than sorry. It's a place that fills up fast.

                                        1. re: lost squirrel

                                          i agree. i usually book at least a week in advance for fuku, especially for thursday and friday, but the last time i was there there were quite a few tables open. it is closed on wednesday, but open on sunday nights which is convenient. i hope you love it, please report back. definitely get all of the mushrooms if you are a mushroom fan. they are seriously heavenly.

                                        2. re: deckoff8

                                          Hi deckoff8: Just a thought, unless you are a sushi fanatic, why don't you just try either Kyubei or Jiro, and try another one that specialize on cooked seafood? It will be easy for you to dine alone in Koju, with its Michelin status and only set menu for individuals. It is more difficult to dine alone in Nabura and Kaikaya with their ala carte menu, and especially Nabura without English menu thus not tourists friendly.

                            2. Hey deckoff8 (and everyone),

                              Is it easy to make reservations at these restaurants in English? (sorry for the newb question.)

                              I was planning on hitting up some of the same restaurants being talked about in here, and wanted to know if it's possible / easy / worth it to call from the U.S. and get it done in English over the phone?

                              Thanks for any help!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: exilekiss

                                It depends on the restaurant. I would think it is not a problem for western cuisine but a BIG problem for Japanese restaurants especially those that do not cater to tourists.

                                I suggest you ask the hotel concierge to help with the reservation. That is what I normally do.