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My Dining in Tokyo & Kyoto

I just returned from 2 weeks of fantastic dining in Japan. Thanks to SkylineR33, RobbS, Yukari, and Wandering Foodie—plus some hints from the Michelin Guide—I went to some really top-notch restaurants, as well as many lesser known, but very good ones.

I just saw exilekiss's photos and review on Ryugin and I think that it pretty much conveys how absolutely wonderful that place is. (Good job exilekiss!!) On my scale of 1 - 10, it got a 10. My only other 10 experience was Fukamachi Tempura. Yes, I know there's no way to compare a haute cuisine restaurant with a tempura one. But, among tempura restaurants, Fukamachi is superb.

Here are some others I experienced, in order of excellence:
Fukudaya and Kikunoi (both 9)
Ten Ichi Tempura (8)
Kushikura Yakitori and L'Osier (both 7)
Kinmata (5)
Joel Robuchon (3)
Hamadaya & Yotaro Tempura (both 2)
Koju (1)

I wouldn't go back to those with a 5 and under.

I have reviewed these all in detail on my website, but thought you might be interested in this summary

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  1. I guess we have really different taste bud; my experience in Koju was excellent, and in terms of freshness and handling of its natural ingredients and the tastiness of the food, I rank it even ahead of Ryugin. Don't get me wrong, I love Ryugin too, in terms of presentation and innovation, Ryugin excels but simply lag behind Koju in the other 2 criterias. If you love Ryugin, you may want to try Ariona De Takazawa on your next trip to Tokyo. Both young chefs are just amazing. You can read a brief review on a past thread:

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507444

    1. Hey ponocat,

      Thanks for your summary and reviews. :) Glad you liked Ryugin as well. :)

      Wow, for Joel Robuchon, a 3 out of 10?! I've never been to any of his restaurants so this is surprising, but I just read your review of it, and based on that, I totally empathize with you (it sounded like your experience was horrible).

      Do you have the Address or URL of the Fukumachi Tempura that blew you away? :)

      Doumo!

      3 Replies
      1. re: exilekiss

        Fukamachi doesn't have a website. The place is always booked solid, so I guess that the owner feels no need to advertise it. (You did mean web address and not the physical address, right?)

          1. re: E Eto

            Doumo E Eto! (^_^)

            I'll have to try this place out on my next visit.

        1. Hi ponocat,

          I guess Michelin guide does not live up to your expectation, your lowest three are all 3 stars restaurants, wow !

          Sad to hear your experience with Koju. Same with FourSeasons, I had a great meal there...hope the 3 stars does not make things out of control for them.

          Also, I read the reviews in your website, they are very informative, thank you. Looks like you do not enjoy Kyo-Yamato, it got no stars beside it... oh well.

          2 Replies
          1. re: skylineR33

            skylineR33, I am under the weather from a cold I picked up in Japan, so I haven't finished all my reviews yet. Hopefully, I can do Kyo-Yamato today. Also, I want to put up some pictures of Koju, if I can, because I'd like to show how unbelievably charred the eel was.

            As for the Michelin Guide—I really found it very useful. It, and the chowhounders' comments—were the only way I had to identify where to start in my quest for a good dining experience. I found that some of their reviews dovetailed with my impressions, but just not all of them.

            1. re: ponocat

              Regarding Kyo-Yamato, I rate it as being just a small notch below Fukudaya (say, an 8 on a 1-10 scale). I have posted photos at my website, if you are interested. The food is very traditional fare and the setting is nothing short of outstanding. I know it is expensive, but I am glad that I experienced it. If you have the money to spend, put this one on your list.

          2. we too had a very disappointing experience in koju, just last week. service was great, but the food was very simple and run of the mill. we had much better meals in kyoto and in the iwaso ryokan on miyajima. we've eaten in 3-star michelins in europe and this came nowhere close.

            5 Replies
            1. re: alexidarling

              I suppose the 3-star restaurants you have eaten in Europe serves French or other Euorpean food. Maybe you think it makes sense to compare French cuisine to traditional Japanese cuisine, but it is like a joke to me when I see people comparing two completely different cuisines.

              1. re: skylineR33

                Koju seems to get either "love it" or "hate it" response on this Board. So far, I have read 5 reviews: 3 of which spoke very highly but the other 2 really dislike it. There is no neutral or moderate vote either way.

                I just read ponocat's review of Koju and noted the first 2 paragraphs on the poor state of the decor has already turned her off even before the meal began. Just wonder if this is the disappointing factor for those foodies who are more comfortable to the elegance decor that are common in Michelin-rated European places. Indeed, even though rated Michelin 3 stars, Koju only received one out of the maximum 5 for comfort level.

                I disagree too that the food was very simple. Perhaps it look "simple", but you are supposed to appreciate the sublime taste coming from the freshest natural seasonal ingredient that he used.

                1. re: FourSeasons

                  Perhaps I should clarify - the food was simple and the ingredients were just average. I had much better fish, both raw and otherwise, at several other places in Tokyo and Kyoto, and I had far better eel in Kumamoto. Sukiyaki was very average.
                  And I could care less about the decor; in fact I liked its simplicity. In terms of comparing it to European cuisine, the other Michelin-starred restaurants I've eaten at used flawless ingredients in much more creative and effective ways.

                  1. re: alexidarling

                    In this case, it is either we have complete different taste bud, or the tasting menu in May is way below its standard. Noted that both ponocot and your experience are in in May while the 3 favorable reviews (including mine) happened much earlier.

                    BTW, I did not have eel and sukiyaki in Koju.

                    1. re: alexidarling

                      Probably it is different taste bud. Just check TabeLog, there are 2 Japanese rated for Koju in May and all got perfect rating in food.

                      alexidarling, if you are looking for creativity, you pick the wrong restaurant. It does not mean it has no creativity, but anyone who have done a little research on Koju knows it is not a restaurant focus on this aspect. Probably you want to go to restaurant like the french Quintessens to make comparison to the 3 stars restaurants you have visited in Europe, it is much more appropriate.

                      "Flawless ingredients in 3 stars European cuisine", umm...I have been having Iran Beluga caviar, Perigord black truffle and foie gras...
                      Regarding ingradients at Koju, they are using high quality kuroge wagyu, high quality tuna "hon maguro", eel is wild eel, etc ... I would not say it is flawless, but it is definitely above average.

              2. also, ponocat, can you post your url -i'd be interested in reading your reviews. thanks!

                2 Replies
                1. re: alexidarling

                  alexidarling, I think the rules of this site say we can't list our own url's in messages, just in our profiles. So, if you click on my "ponocat" at the bottom of a message, it will take you to my profile. My url is listed there.

                  skylineR33, I think that some Japanese cuisine restaurants display the creativity that is also found in french cuisine. Kikunoi, which is really quite purely Japanese, manages it quite well. Fukudaya does too. Even though the ingredients and techniques are very different in the cuisines, it is fun—a true joy—to compare them and relish the best of both.

                  Also, it is wonderful that someone finds Koju good, or even great. Diversity is good and I am glad that there are people who enjoy what Koju has to offer, even though it is not to my taste or pleasure. (I will have my eel uncharred, please!)

                  1. re: ponocat

                    Yes, it is good to look at differences in different restaurants serving different cuisine, to relish the best of both, but it is inappropriate to say which is the better than the others, especially if one does not undestand it, don`t judge based on one`s lack of knowledge on a cuisine, or one`s personal preference.