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Mar 3, 2009 02:56 AM

reservations at Michelin (and ilk) places--any easier in this economy?

I've been reading about restaurants in other large cities (New York, Vancouver, etc.) going through hard times because of the current economy. Many top restaurants in NY, for example, are offering special menus at very reasonable prices, discounts off wine, etc. etc., and some restaurants are becoming much easier to get last-minute reservations.

Can the same be said for Tokyo restaurants? I'm thinking of places like Aronia de Takazawa, L'Osier, etc. etc. I can't imagine them offering cheaper menus, but is it any easier to get reservations at these places?

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  1. Anecdotal experience only, of course, but Ristorante Honda is 3 weeks advance for lunch on weekends, no change from a year ago. Mizutani for lunch needed two weeks advance reservation. And L'Osier, for a end of March lunch, had one table left (by the entrance) at only one time of the day. So, in my experience, no, although Japan is a funny market. Instead of a shift downwards, you'll see people walking away on "lesser" restaurants and concentrating their spend on the top end.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Uncle Yabai

      I am very much with Uncle Yabai on this. Aronia is still fully booked three months in advance. Japan is in more serious trouble than Europe and the US - the figures are literally absurd - but the head in the sand approach seems to be working for many people. If we ignore reality, maybe it is not happening. At least at the top end, nothing seems to have changed at all - no specials, no half empty top restaurants.

      1. re: Asomaniac

        If Japan is in so much trouble, why is the Yen so strong? I'm not doubting you, just worried that in 6 months time the currency may have collapsed, but that will be too late for me!

        1. re: davew666

          The yen/dollar rate has been more detached from reality over the last 20 years than the people still eating at the top-end restaurants....

          1. re: Uncle Yabai

            you should try dealing with the sterling rate then

      2. re: Uncle Yabai

        Well, finally went on my much awaited sortie to L'Osier for lunch. Had the cheapest lunch set, 6,800++, which "on paper" was starter+main+desert plus coffee, but in reality was an absolute three-star pigout of epic proportions (at least by my standards, not Mr. Creosote's!)

        Place was completely full, every table taken, but they probably only have one seating a day for lunch.

        There are three choices each for the starter+main+dessert, so I went for a smoked trout as starter and an asparagus terrine for main, for dessert I had a blancmange with coffee.

        To start with (and not visibly on the menu) was an amusebouche of mango, tuna tartare and avocado mousse that was quite excellent. Then the abovementioned starter and main course. The starter and main were good, at the edge of excellent, but not spectacularly memorable or unique. They do offer all the bread you can eat (10 kinds or so, very nice, served at room temperature) but for your own sanity, don't!

        Then the party begins. As the palate "cleanser" (from memory, probably will forget a couple of items), we had: a mango/yuzu sorbet/pudding "milk bottle" that was stupendous, home-made macarons, creme brulee (marvelous), a sweet "egg", and fruit rolls in a stick.

        Then the cheese plate (1,200 yen extra).

        Then, dessert. The blancmange was delicious, and my wife had something they called the "sakura burger", which is basically a sweet burger with cheese and cherry creations. Much much better than it sounds.

        Then, of course, coffee.

        And last, the petit fours. The petit fours is basically a huge cart with at least a couple dozen types of sweets, treats, indulgences, flavors, a three star candy cart... Knock yourself out. Of course, since I had my coffee and drank it quickly, they brought me another one to enjoy with the petit fours. So I'm not only full, I'm completely buzzed.

        The service, even by Tokyo standards, was truly outstanding, I would venture it is the best service I've ever had at a restaurant. Unobtrusive, immediate, warm, anticipating your every need. I got up to the restroom, and when I came back my napking was folded on top of a special plate at the table. Upon picking it up, the plate just swoosh! disappeared. During the interlude before dessert, I would take the fruit rolls, which were wrapped around a wooden stick, eat the roll, and then place the stick next to the plate. Within seconds, and without me noticing, the stick would just swoosh! disappear. My wife had still water and I had a bottle of sparkling. I finished my bottle of sparkling, and I thought to myself that I should have some of my wife's still. I didn't even think about it. Somebody popped out of nowhere, took my empty sparkling water glass and presented me with a glass of the still (god forbid they would use the same glass for sparkling or still!)

        The maitre'd was around all the time, explaining to us the meal and other tidbits, Bruno Menard came out of the kitchen to greet the diners, and at the end we were walked out all the way to the street by the maitre'd.

        Overall, I've had probably marginally better food at other 3*** establishments, but the entire package, including the quality and the prodigious amount of food, and the service, all for yen 6,800++, cannot be beat, even at places that specialize in power lunches (Le Bernardin in NY comes to mind. I have a very soft spot for Le Bernardin, food is probably a little better than L'Osier, but L'Osier has the place beat when it comes to the amount, the service, and above all value for money. I don't think you can get out of Le Bernardin for lunch for less than $100/pp.)

        1. re: Uncle Yabai

          Bruno Menard is sure a charming and friendly chef. He came to Singapore two months ago for a culinary demonstration and luncheon/dinner presentation. Meal was excellent though much simpler compared to Uncle Yabai's description. I definitely would want to try at L'Osier when I visit Tokyo!!!

          1. re: FourSeasons

            I don't think you can go wrong with L'Osier. The food would be interesting (due to the Japanese twist) even in Paris, and for the price (even at dinner instead of lunch), it's a very good deal considering the quality of the food, service, etc.

            I definitely have never come out hungry, though this is typical of many high-end French restaurants. Entrée + plat + dessert always ends up being much more once you add in bread, amuse, petit fours, etc.

            While not a 3*, I think Pierre Gagnaire also has a great (and incredibly filling) lunch, also a good value. Rather than one amuse, one entrée, etc. you get a whole bunch of different things, and the desserts there are usually better than ones I've had at other French restaurants in Tokyo.

            Quintessence also has a pretty incredible lunch, again, for a very reasonable value. I've never been disappointed there either.

            1. re: tjr

              I have tried Quintessence. Agree it is a pretty incredible lunch and value for money. But the Maitre'D does have a slight attitude problem!

              1. re: FourSeasons

                i duno which is the maitre D, but the guy( kondo, the most good looking guy there ) that served me was pretty friendly ... and no pressure..

                1. re: Lucil

                  had lunch at quintessence last week and there was definitely a little attitude from the staff. The only place this has happened to me in Japan. A fantastic lunch though and amazing value. regarding original question of the post, it certainly wasn't easy getting the reservation! Booked 6 weeks out and had almost no choice of time and day.

          2. re: Uncle Yabai

            Hi Uncle Yabai,

            Thanks for the great report back. :) I can't wait to try L'Osier the next time I'm in Tokyo. Doumo!

            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              I completely disagree. L'Osier is far superior to Le Bernardin.. I'm looking forward to my next Tokyo visit to return to L'Osier.

              1. re: amrx

                I guess you're right, then. From now on, I will use your deep insight when deciding what I like and what I don't.

          3. Thanks for the replies. I guess I'll actually have to plan my next trip to Tokyo. I was hoping for a spur-of-the-moment trip with spur-of-the-moment reservations to match.

            Shortly after I posted, I read an article in the NYTimes about how many Japanese consumers never returned to their bubble-period spending habits once the economy recovered after the "Lost Decade". I suppose many of those still spending at high-end restaurants are those who have already budgeted for it and conserve in other ways (or who are immune to the worries of "normal folk").

            FWIW, I work at a prestigious girls high school, and from what I can tell, most of the families of my students are most definitely not changing their spending habits. The exceptions are those whose families own their own businesses.

            3 Replies
            1. re: prasantrin

              By the way, prasantrin, did you go to Wellesley College? If so, I think Auntie Yabai knows you.

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                Is that the one in Connecticut? I didn't, but I have a cousin who did. Actually, a first cousin once removed (I think she graduated around 2000 or thereabouts). She has a different last name, though it's equally as long (one letter longer, I think).

                Back to restaurants, has anyone tried to reserve at Kahala in Osaka? When I get back to Japan I want to try to make reservations, but I'm not sure what the deal is. I'm hoping to get there before the Kansai Michelin guide comes out--from everything I've heard, it has a good chance of making the guide, and then it will be even more difficult to get reservations!

                1. re: prasantrin

                  No, that's Wesleyan, so I guess you aren't that person... Back to our usual scheduled programming!

            2. I asked one of the chefs at Tapas Molecular Bar about business, and he said they've definitely seen a decrease in the number of foreigners who dine there, but they've not seen a decrease in Japanese guests. Fortunately for them (and most high-end restaurants in Japan), they do not rely on the tourist trade to keep them in business.

              15 Replies
              1. re: prasantrin

                I always assumed that they lost money on every meal they served there.

                1. re: Robb S

                  It's possible, but the actual food quantities used appear to be quite small, with not-as-expensive chemicals making up the volume. I was surprised at how cheap the meal was, though. I read an article that quoted the original price at opening as Y8500! Most definitely a bargain at the time!

                  1. re: prasantrin

                    I was thinking more of the overhead - I know there are only two chefs out front, but there must be many more in the kitchen doing all the prep work (the people that the chefs are talking to through their headsets during the meal). All for a maximum of 14 customers per night.

                    I think it was only Y8500 the first time I went (and only six seats at the counter), and they must have been losing money then....

                    1. re: Robb S

                      You have a point about overhead. The behind-the-scenes kitchen staff costs is probably shared with the bar, but I can't imagine the bar serves a lot of food. I did see some people eating, but it was mostly sandwiches or little things.

                  2. re: Robb S

                    To Robb:

                    Why do you think they are losing money? Do you suspect the hotel is subsidizing the restaurant?

                  3. re: prasantrin

                    To prasantrin:

                    On my last trip to Tokyo just last month, all the six high end restaurants I went were all full with not one single foreigner/tourist/expatriate (except my party).

                    1. re: FourSeasons

                      Made a reservation for another lunch at L'Osier. First available date was July 30th. Recession, schmesession, indeed.

                      1. re: Uncle Yabai

                        Well, went there yet again. Food was even better than the last time. They have a summer gazpacho with cream and taramosalata that is truly out of this world. The mille-feuille dessert is also excellent.
                        Talking to the Maitre d' he said that their business is only slightly off, bookings are solid weeks in advance, with very few openings. He mentioned that Saturdays is their busiest day, they open reservations for three months ahead and the Saturday slots are gone in an hour. He also said that the restaurant was booked solid three months in advance for about 6 months after the Michelin guide was released. The hype has died down now, but the place remains doing strong business. And I'm not surprised.

                        This time I ordered a double espresso, and since I had finished before the petit fours cart, they brought me another single. I'm well and stoned with the coffee. No sleep for me tonight.

                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                          One more round at L'Osier, today. Belch! This time the entree (a duck and chicken pressed pate) and the main (Hakinton pork loin) were outstanding. So was the pre-dessert espresso jelly. The desserts were the soft spot on the food, but the service remains spectacular. I affirm this is the best service I've had in a restaurant in my life.

                          1. re: Uncle Yabai


                            L'Osier was always on my list, but I've never made it there, and now I won't have the chance!

                            Tomorrow lunch is with a friend for dim sum (don't ask), dinner is Aronia, and Friday lunch--my last meal in Japan--will be at Tempura Kondo!

                            I wish there were some way to work in L'Osier, but there's just no way.


                            1. re: prasantrin

                              I've always enjoyed your posts. You've probably seen my post on L'Osier somewhere above. I would rank L'Osier high on my list of restaurants definitely worth another visit but below several others. Where are you relocating?

                              1. re: amrx

                                Thanks! I'm moving back to Canada. Winnipeg, specifically, which is a fine dining wasteland so I need to get my fix in while I'm here. :-)

                                I was going to go to Ristorante Aso for my last lunch, but then I decided I'd rather have tempura since while there's just a tiny chance I'll get good Italian in Winnipeg, there's a next to impossible chance of getting tempura of the same ilk as Kondo. Plus I'll be ending my time in Japan with a Japanese meal instead Italian, which I think rounds out my time here nicely.

                                Was going to go to Tsukiji this morning, but was too tired to get up early enough. I'm meeting a grad school friend for an early lunch, so I didn't think I could handle sushi for breakfast (stomach-space-wise) if we didn't get to eat until 8 or 9.

                                Surprisingly, we haven't had much in terms of pastries during this trip. I think I overdid it in February, but we're buying stuff today to take home. If we can fit it in our carry-on luggage, that is. . . I'm thinking Yoku Moku assorted set, Henri LeRoux caramel tarts and caramels, and Grammercy New York Wall Nuts tarts. :-)

                                1. re: prasantrin

                                  Ah Bummer! Do you have to live in Winnipeg? Or can you move to Vancouver? It would be a small comfort as far as Japanese food and fine dining go.

                                  1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                    Well, "home" is in Winnipeg, but I can go anywhere I want, really. And I do like Winnipeg. It's easy to get around, it has a fabulous arts community, and at least it does cheap ethnic foods quite well. It mostly just lacks in the fine dining department.

                                    But as far as Michelin places go, I doubt there's anywhere in Canada that can match up to Japan. Even if they had a Michelin guide that covered all of Canada, they'd be hard pressed to find any more than a dozen (and I'm being very generous) restaurants to put in the book. :-)

                                    About reservations, this time around, I found it very easy to get reservations at Ristorante Aso. I e-mailed maybe a month before arriving, and had no problem getting the day or time I wanted (it was for lunch, though, not dinner). I ended up cancelling the reservation because I didn't want to make the trip out there just before leaving for the airport.

                                    But then I called Tempura Kondo just last week, and was able to secure a lunch reservation for Friday at noon. Very easy, it was.

                                    As for Aronia, I think part of the difficulty in getting reservations lies in the number of speaking engagements Chef Takazawa takes on. He travels quite a bit--Spain, the US, etc. doing food-related events, so not only is there a limit of how many tables are available per evening, but there are a limited number of evenings available, as well. I was finally able to secure a reservation there, but I think it was in part because I was a little shitsukoi about it. :-)

                                    1. re: prasantrin

                                      Cool about Winnipeg. Yeah, there is nothing in Canada that can match up to Japan as far as fine dining is concerned. But food wise, at least in Vancouver, you could eat fresh seafood not being landlocked and all. There's also lots of Ramen and Izakaya.

                  4. Tried to call Quintessence but the number keeps busy during resernation time again.. argg..

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: CPMK

                      Sorry, "reservation" ( -_-' )

                      Last time I tried and tried to call for reservation, kept busy all the time.. except off the reservation time.. Arggggg

                    2. Finally got into waiting list at Quin.

                      Aronia de Takazawa is available for two, Oct 2.
                      Be hurry!