I was in Kanazawa, Kyoto and Kurashiki 3 weeks ago, and would like to recommend the Miyoshian in Kenrokuen (Kanazawa), if you're in the area, and Ryokan Kurashiki for traditional dining (hope the attached menu is legible). In Kyoto, I can't recommend either Minokochi Honten Takeshigero or Ashiya Steak Gero, regrettably. While the service was outstanding, having the chef cook bamboo shoots and beans for us seemed rather unimaginative even for traditional kaiseki. In the Ashiya, the cook waved a steak before us, saying it was Kobe, but not what cut. It tasted like an ordinary round, not even a filet. Absolutely no comparison to the unbelievable melt-in your-mouth Hidagyu we'd had in Takayama. I don't remember the name, but if you go down Honmachi dori from the Naka bridge, it's on your right just before Hirokoji dori. Lunch only (closos at 5).
The half hour wait looking at photos of Bill Clinton didn't do much for me, either. Call me picky.
Are you interested more in local specialties or just good Japanese food in general?
I live in Nagoya and find lots of excellent chow here. People tend to demand more for their money, so quality per yen is decent. Nagoya is known for being miso crazy and we use a darker, deeper miso than other regions. Flavors are a bit bolder and saltier than most other areas in Japan. Here are a few local specialties:
tebasaki-sweet and spicy chicken wings
miso nikomi udon-thick udon noodles cooked in a gravy-like miso soup with chicken, egg, scallion, fish cake, tofu
hitsumabushi-grilled eel and rice box
miso katsu-fried pork cutlet with sweet miso sauce, served with raw cabbage
ankake pasta-spicy, thickened (starch) tomato sauce on pasta with a variety of toppings (veggies, weiners, clams, mini hamburgers, omelettes, fried shrimp....)
Taiwan ramen-actually not from Taiwan, this is a Nagoya original, spicy, and at many locations, VERY spicy
kishimen-flat noodles in katsuo(bonito) broth (similar to udon but the soup has a much deeper, stronger flavor)
miso doteni-beef innards, daikon and konnyaku slow cooked in a rich miso sauce
There are also plenty of good places for standard fare, yakitori, izakaya, ramen, Japanese-Chinese, etc. If you actually decide to visit Nagoya, post again and I can give more details.
As for Hokkaido, it's the northern island and rather large. Sapporo is the main city and you can find excellent fish and seafood if you know where to go. Along with fishing, a lot of farming is done in Hokkaido so the vegetables are fresh and local. Mutton also seems to be a big thing there "jingis kahn" (mutton barbeque) is a major attraction.
Ishikawa and Niigata, both on the north side, seaside, have excellent fish and seafood and a lot of local sakes.
Not sure when you're planning on visiting, the season can drastically change what you see on your plate, especially in izakayas and sushi bars. Summertime is not the best time for fish, fall/winter rules.
I'll start the ball rolling with a suggestion for Kanazawa. There have been a few discussions already:
Fukuoka is also a great food city and a nice destination. Kyushu in general has some great local food.
re: Robb S
Robb S, thanks for the reply and the links. They are very, very helpful. I will put Kanazawa on my itineray. Also, am now researching Fukuoka.
One of the links contains a reply that says Kagoshima and Hokkaido are excellent food destinations? Have you been to either? If so, what did you think?
re: Robb S
I realise that I never did report back on Kanazawa (and nor did Silverjay, assuming he visited). I ended up doing a day trip from Nagoya so only got a tiny sense of the city and its food culture which nevertheless impressed sufficiently and I would like to go back for an extended visit and sampling.
It was a Sunday and Omi-cho market was only partially open but I thoroughly enjoyed my experience walking around. Kanazawa is famous for its crabs from the Sea of Japan and I was there at the height of crab season, there were some fine specimens on display, I wish that I could have bought one to take home and eat. There must be some wonderful crab specialists offering up multi-course crab menus. Interesting to contrast the market with say the retail part of Tsukiji - Omi-cho is more modern and designed, more ordered, less labyrinthine, seemingly less chaotic.
I had a late lunch at Yamasan sushi shop. Sushi moriawase was OK nothing special. But the crab sashimi I ordered afterwards was the real deal - sweet, succulent, delicious crab meat served in the shell with a wonderful black vinegar dipping sauce.
There was a very good sake shop in the market where I bought a couple of bottles - http://www.ohzawa.jp/ - I had a crib sheet with the names of some well-thought-of regional breweries . Also noticed a couple of ramen shops within the market complex, I always imagine that eateries in markets feeding primarily traders + stallholders must be good. And a confectionery shop on the street flanking the eastern perimeter of the market where I bought some random wagashi. Lots of confectionery shops dotted around all over the place.
On route back to the station I stopped at an izakaya that caught my eye. They couldn't have been nicer but the food wasn't great, with hindsight I should have picked somewhere within the station compound itself, there were lots of places and many of them were bustling early evening on a Sunday.
I would also certainly endorse Fukuoka and Kagoshima as very worthwhile eating cities. I was in Kagoshima last December and had outstanding (and outstandingly cheap ¥1000 IIRC) chirashi sushi at Shin Kou Shokudo in the wholesale fish market and outstanding black pork shabu shabu at Ajimori which is a famous shop listed in most of the guidebooks.