HOME > Chowhound > Japan >


Have to assume it is me, definitely missing something

Been in Japan for a month now in very varied locales. In all but Tokyo have been eating at homes or in lesser restaurants as unagi donburi. okonomiyaki, and noodle shops and have been very pleased. Intense food, served simply, very hot, and inexpensive. Who could ask for more. Then l came to Tokyo. Been here for a week or so and with another hound went to five Michelin starred restaurants over that period. l sit here scratching my head and feel like have been through Emperor`s new clothes. Is it my palate that is screwed up from too many years in USA and France? What l have been getting here is micromanaged food. Little bits of various things, always luke warm, other than the soups, that are plated really well, but are so subtle for me do not see the point. The price points are ludicrous but that is my governments fault not the restaurant, so should not be issue. Have done kaiseke types three times, a tempura star, and a super sushi, and have come away really crabby. Granted of the five, Hirosaku had every course menuwise spot on. They figured out exactly what l like and did it beautifully. Service was perfect, price was more than fair, food well cooked and presented, but afterwards felt would like to go for a burger or two to really eat. Sure it is me, rest of world cannot be wrong, but this weekend went for ramen with another hound and for 1000 yen, had a meal that l could easily eat once a week forever.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Understable ! In France, I also have had diners in some stars Michelin or Chateaux Hotel.
    In fact, for visitors, coming to Japan, I will say the local casual food will be at first as shabu-shabu, negima nabe, tempura - zaru soba teishoku, ramen, …
    The sushi, in Tokyo, are to be experienced. What was yours on the ‘super’ sushi ?

    1. I had a number of foreign guests, all devoted foodies, who had similar things to say about kaiseki. The very subtle flavours simply were not their thing; they found it bland. A lot of people who like good kaiseki enjoy the subtle flavours, the texture, the freshness of ingredients, the harmony with good quality sake etc, but it is totally understandable that it's not everybody's thing. You say that you enjoyed "intense" food on your travels in Japan. That suggests you may enjoy stronger flavours.

      Also, some food is meant to be served lukewarm as such temperature brings out the flavours best (don't know if that applies to the food you were referring to; maybe they served it lukewarm when it was meant to be hot, but with lots of food, the temperature matters a great deal and lukewarm does feature quite a bit).

      I hear you were meant to go to Ryugin. Is that right? Ryugin seems to vary in quality (I had some of the best ever kaiseki of my life there, and some quite average stuff), but as I went very recently chances are that the food is now very similar to what it was when I went. It was incredibly good kaiseki. They also do fantastic sake. So if you were underwhelmed by that experience, it may well be that kaiseki just isn't your thing. There is plenty of other great stuff in Tokyo to focus on though. For example, if you want a world class steak (I still have tears in my eyes when I recall that piece of meat), go to Dons de la Nature. It is positively pornographic.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Asomaniac

        It was the sake tasting, 6 of them, that was best part of experience at Ryugin. `supersushi` was Sawada, 34,000 yen later

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          Can you tell us more about Ryugin, food-wise? What did you have and what did you not like about it? I am very curious to see if they are experiencing another period of inconsistency or whether you were disappointed because the type of food just did not appeal to you.

          1. re: Asomaniac

            Read Barondestructo`s blog and you will read and see px of everything. Suspect it was me not the place.

      2. The old joke is that many people come home and eat a bowl ochazuke (and I suppose for you, it's hamburgers :D) after having a multi-course dinner at a fancy restaurant. So, I don't think it's you but the way how high-end dining can go in Japan.

        I generally go for okonomiyaki, soba, udon, donburi (the anago don I had in Miyazima was one of the best thing I've ever eaten and it set me back 1500 yen), grilled fish and other simple home cooking dishes, and if I can find seafood only based soup, ramen. I skip French and Italian as I don't see the point of it as I spend more time in France these days than in Japan and Italy isn't that hard to get to from Paris.

        If I am in the mood for something a bit more "refined," I prefer a kappo restaurant that only has counter seats and I rarely pay more than 10,000 per person including quite a bit of alcohol.

        Anyhow, a place I think you'd have liked in Nagano:


        In the fall/winter, they do mainly mushroom and game dishes. It's a slow food inn so they source most of their ingredients locally including salt and the owner collects honey in the mountains himself. What surprised me the most was how simple things like tea, rice, and miso soup tasted so much better because of the water quality; I think if I died and went to heaven, food and drinks would or at least should taste like that. Unless it's matsutake mushroom season, a night stay there costs 15,000 yen including dinner and breakfast. And trust me, you wouldn't have either inclination or room for hamburgers after dinner.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kikisakura


          This sounds amazing - I am going to try to book a w/e there in February. Thanks.

          1. re: Asomaniac


            I'd imagine that the winter scenery would be lovely but the whole village probably will be buried under the snow in February. I'm also guessing that the heating at the inn may not be sufficient as is the case for most old Japanese houses.

            Their high season is fall (as people flock there for the mushrooms and foliage) and reservation for weekend nights might be difficult as they only take two groups at a time but I prefer to stay during late spring/early summer as iwana is in season.

        2. I agree that Kaiseki is not something that is appreciate by everyone, just like abalone and shark fin of chinese food. I have seen from your profile that one of your favorite sushi restaurant is Sushi Yasuda in NYC. How does it compare to the meal you have at Sawada provided price is not an issue ? I guess most of the food you get from these two restaurants are served luke warm like as well.

          3 Replies
          1. re: skylineR33

            Sushi Yasuda is definitely not in the same league as Sawada...not even close!!!

            1. re: FourSeasons

              Yes Yasuda generally pleases me, but is a totally different experience. Yasuda is like sushi Daiwa with more time and comfort, very fresh fish not messed with.
              Virtually everything ate at Sawada had been smoked, aged, marinated, fumed, dipped, and when not, we were ordered, nicely though, to put on lemon juice or wasabi or whatever. Not implying bad, just not in my experience and for the present not in my pleasure zone.

              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                Sushi are sophisticate, not only raw fish ! Different sort, diferent season hot winter, cold winter,... This conclusion is just a shortcut, far from reality.

          2. Maybe a good idea if you name the 5 restaurants that you went and the reasons why the 4 that did not impress you at all.

            3 Replies
            1. re: FourSeasons

              Fukimachi, l never liked tempura and thought if l went to a top tier place l would give it a fair shot, l did go, l still do not like. La Bombance, owner very warm and welcoming, but food was interchangable with any of the other places, cod and monkfish sperm was served three times that night, no biggie but once would have been enough. Ginza La Tour, again perfect service, but no interaction with the client, huge lack of fun, very proper, too proper. Sawada and Hirosaku were mentioned already.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                Forgot Miravale, perhaps thattells something also

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  The last day before your flight, why not a back to basics as a very hot smoky ramen ? Slurp !!!!!

              2. DCM, I think Aso might be right - you did say 'intense', 'burger' and 'ramen' as the desirable alternatives. On the other hand, the food we had at Bombance WAS pretty ordinary outside a few of the bits.
                I think you should concentrate on some normal places for a couple weeks, then maybe go back for another try at the Japanese high end. I'm happy to introduce you!
                One anecdote - the first time I came to Japan (10 years ago. Ouch.), I got really tired of the subtle food and challenging ingredients. When I had an omelette after 2 weeks, and there was Tabasco on the table, I got so excited that I overdosed and got sick for a whole day.

                14 Replies
                1. re: jem589


                  Completely asgree on Bombance. Uncle Yabai, lost squirrel and myself quite enjoyed it, but it was not out of the ordinary.

                  I have a slightly similar experience to your omelette one - no overdose of tabasco, but still: when I was first in Japan as a highschool exchange student (18 years ago - double ouch), my parents visited me. An old business partner of my step dad's in Osaka treated us to the full monty: genuine geisha restaurant, the full kaiseki treatment while we were being entertained etc. Many of the dishes where a little too... traditional. When a big fish eye stared at my mother from her soup, she pretended she was not feeling too well, and sat out a lot of the rest of the meal. My step dad and I managed to eat something of everything, but with limited enthusiasm. After what would have been objectively a feast of top quality seasonal ingedients which - considering the geishas as well - would have cost our host the equivalent of thousands of dollars - we waved them goodbye and went around the corner for okonomiyaki. We ate like there was no tomorrow; my mother had practically tears in her eyes. I can still taste the 800 yen okonomiyaki, it was unbelievably good. I can't remember any of the food at the geisha place, except the fish eyes. (I was not a kaiseki fan then..) And the okonomiyaki joint was a loud and boisterous place, full of atmosphere and no formality, which was fantastic after the previous few hours.

                  1. re: Asomaniac

                    I think it's time for Mr CheeseMonger to visit a boisterous yet delicious izakaya, with tables full of shichimi and good old nama beer to soften the expectations.

                    Then again, some garlicky-spicy yakiniku in Akasaka or Shin-okubo could perk up the tastebuds.

                    Kaikaya's tuna 'ribs' are flavorful as well.

                    1. re: lost squirrel

                      Uoshin in Shibuya fits the bill. Don't remind me of garlicky yakiniku - I had it at around 3 o'clock this morning and can still taste the garlic.

                      1. re: Asomaniac

                        Went last night, good food and got toally blasted.

                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          Uoshin was good, but I think Kaikaya does it just a little better. Both are fish izakayas with similar set menus and prices.

                          Main problem at Uoshin was the buri. It was terikayki'd to death - far too dry. Otherwise it was quite good.

                          1. re: lost squirrel

                            Unlucky - perhaps the time of the week (v busy Friday). Normally it is v good (though I have never had teriyaki there so can't judge). Uoshin tends to be more Japanese than kaikaya, which is more focused on fusion, so I guess it also depends a bit on what you are after.

                            I like kaikaya, certainly enjoy the food - my slight problem with kaikaya (and the only reason I go there very rarely) is that (i) they have two fixed servings, and they do kick you out when you reach the end of the first one (as they are often fully booked); (ii) it gets extremely cramped on small, v uncomfortable chairs (esp. those not around the big table) and (iii) often you sit very close to very loud strangers, making it very hard to hear your own conversation. Can't fault kaikaya for the food though, definitely a great place for fish.

                            1. re: Asomaniac

                              Have to humbly disagree with both of you. I am not a fan of Kaikaya.....too fusion for me; don't think the seafood was that fresh either, they cover up with flavor that is friendly for Westerners. For seafood izakaya, I much prefer Nabura.

                              1. re: FourSeasons

                                "too fusion" is a matter of individual taste; I can see it is not for everyone, but I like it. makes a change. As to freshness, I think i may have got lucky generally, and the sashimi I had there was very good. Went about 4 times and it has been a long time, so no idea if things have changed, but I must say that the sashimi was always good. The grilled fish also was fresh, though i agree that the fried garlic would probably be capable of masking any mild freshness problems.

                                1. re: Asomaniac

                                  I went to Kaikaya 2 years ago, if I recall correctly. I don't think it is "a matter of individual taste"; 60-70% of the clients on that evening was Westerners. There is nothing wrong with that; it has its own market niche. But just not for my palate, that's all. Just like the above OP has no love for the Michelins in Tokyo.

                                  1. re: FourSeasons

                                    I agree with you - you are slightly misunderstanding me. I meant that it is a matter of individual taste in the sense that your individual taste means that you are not into fusion (i.e., it is not for your palate, just as you say), rather than there being anything wrong with fusion. This is in contrast to your other point about freshness, which is not down to individual or cultural taste/preference (don't think you will find people saying they prefer the flavour of sea food dishes that are meant to be fresh but are not).

                                    I include in "individual taste" the cultural tendency as well (we have discussed this in the context of Aso vs Aroma Fresca, and that is what you may be referring to). It is true that Kaikaya is Westerner-heavy - that is probably partially because the food has certain ingredients often used in the West, so the Westerners are more used to them - garlic, Mediterranean ingredients - but also the simple fact that is famously has an English langauge menu, and that many, many Westerners go to restaurants based on other Westerner's word of mouth recommendations. But whether or not you are Western or Asian, you will be disappointed if the ingredients are not fresh.

                                2. re: FourSeasons

                                  I like Kaikaya specifically for the reasons that you don't.
                                  It gets old after a few years to have the same old things at a fish izakaya:
                                  japanese salad
                                  grilled teriyaki style fish
                                  miso soup...

                                  Kaikaya is more fun for me because they use different seasonings and preparations. It's the same with Bistro 35 steps -- I value the changes in cooking techniques.
                                  I haven't tried Nabura yet but I'll look into it. I do like Japanese flavors - I just like getting some variety as well.

                                3. re: Asomaniac

                                  I agree with Kaikaya being a bit crowded, but we experienced the same thing at Uoshin - even worse. We were warned we'd be kicked out after 2hours and unfortunately were seated at the bar. I was constantly bumping into the gentleman on my right even though I was practically sitting in the Cheesemonger's lap!

                                  I sat at the bar in Kaikaya sometime last year and found it much more spacious although it's harder to get to the bathroom there with all the seats poking out into the walkways.

                        2. re: Asomaniac

                          La Bombance may not be out of ordinary but I thought value for money wise, it is an excellent deal.

                          1. re: FourSeasons

                            I agree, it is a good deal. But I had expected something slightly more adventurous and unusual from the write-ups I read of it before going.

                      2. What do you mean by the "rest of the world cannot be wrong?" Of the five million plus posts on Chowhound, pizza and bbq are discussed with more passion than any 'world class chef' could possibly muster.

                        And let me tell you, the dedication and years of recipe tinkering that went into that bowl of ramen is nothing short of heroic.

                        1. I've been reading this thread with great fascination and wondering if my husband and I might have a similar response to our planned kaiseki meal.

                          One thing that has suprised me about this thread has been the absence of any mention of a category of restaurants I've seen mentioned in some guide books: modern kaiseki. I've inferred that these are restaurants that emphasize texture, plating, and freshness. However, the flavors are bolder and the combinations include non-local ingredients. So far on this thread, I haven't seen anyone mention this group of restaurants as an alternative to the subtlety and occasional challenge of traditional kaiseki dishes.

                          I have more confidence in Chowhound experts than in the folks who write the mass media guide books so I'd like to ask a few questions. Does the modern kaiseki category even exist? If so, how would you describe the cuisine? Can you recommend some good examples of this category, especially in Ginza or place with easy access from Ginza?


                          24 Replies
                          1. re: Indy 67

                            I am no expert on this subject. Kaiseki is a generic term here to describe degustation menu arranged by the chefs. Others here may called it omakase. On Tabelog, the popular Japanese site for foodies, such cuisine is place under Ryori 料理 category.

                            As to your subject modern ones, yes, there are quite a few: La Bombance and Ryugin described above are considered innovative and hence modern. Ariona de Takazawa is another one. In Ginza, you can try Yonemura.

                            1. re: FourSeasons

                              Nothing to do with "omakase", which means "I leave it up to you". Kaiseki is a formal Japanese meal, emphasizing seasonal ingredients and preparations. It is quite regimented, and has certain dish types in a specific sequence, and the number and order is more or less fixed (with some variation, of course). The traditional kaiseki has the following dishes (more or less, depending on the season and the "grade"):
                              Sakizuke, Hassun, Mukozuke, Takiawase, Futamono, Yakimono, Su-zakana, Hiyashi-bachi, Naka-choko, Shiizakana, Gohan, Ko no mono, Tome-wan, and Mizumono.

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                I meant to say sometimes the term "omakase" here on chowhound (especially on the American boards) meant it that way though it is not the correct definition.

                                1. re: FourSeasons

                                  The use of "omakase" in that way is just daft.

                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                    It's not used on American boards as a term for kaiseki, but it is often misused as euphemism for an "interactive" dining experience--> http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/546523 .

                              2. re: FourSeasons

                                I'm not sure that I would call Aronia de Takazawa modern kaiseki as it doesn't really follow the structure of kaiseki unlike Ryugin for example. I'd characterize his style as somewhat closer to modern French. Still an outstanding restaurant though, I had the finest meal of my life there.

                                1. re: sg_foodie

                                  Ryugin definitely qualifies as kaiseki, and lately not so "modern". The menu certainly follows the classical kaiseki sequence, and the dishes are innovative and have flourishes but at the core are pretty traditional.

                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                    The term Kaiseki in the present days means the same, it used to be different signification : one as a high-level cuisine and the other one as a full stomach one. The origin is before Japanese traditional tea to appease the stomach (not fulfill), and was on the other side the great banquet Kaiseki with the songs, eating and drinking. In the influence of the samurai or bushi, the Kaiseki took place as a meal to enjoy. Modern kaiseki is as kaiseki simplicity texture, ingredients, colors, knife work, … and with the diversity. There is been a confusion of the modern Kaiseki as an all vegetarian food, referred as shojin ryori who was a monastery culinary and who inspired the roots of Japanese culinary. Modern kaiseki is for example the classic sashimi plate revisited with vegetables…

                                    1. re: Ninisix


                                      I'm guilty of being someone whose early concept of kaiseki was that of an all-vegetarian meal.

                                      At my local restaurants, I eat sashimi in vast preference to sushi because the rice is so poorly prepared. The temperature isn't correct and, if there's any vinegar or wasabi on the rice, I certainly don't taste it. I'm truly looking forward to great sashimi and nigiri sushi in Japan.

                                    2. re: Uncle Yabai

                                      I have Ryugin on my list, but I'm concerned about the price. The notes I have state a range of 15,750 JPY to 26,250 JPY. Since Tokyo will be the first stop in a one-month trip, the lowest price level has more appeal than the highest price level. How much would a person sacrifice in terms of innovation or choice of ingredients by selecting the lowest price meal?

                                      And once I'm on the subject of price... What sort of prices will I be looking at for Yonemura or Koju? Thanks!

                                      1. re: Indy 67

                                        Ryugin only offers one menu at Y23,100 now.

                                        1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                          There two weeks ago, with sake tasting and fluffy tea at end, check for two was ¥68,000 .

                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger


                                            Are you still in Tokyo? The more I think about it, the more I really enjoyed my meal at Hatsu Tsubomi. Maybe not earth-shattering, but the dried red bream was sublime. Two of us got out of there stuffed for 6,300 (ordered a la carte) and it's a very elegant place.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              Yup, here til middle of January, stilltrying ramen and generally loving them.

                                      2. re: Uncle Yabai

                                        I meant that Aronia de Takazawa would not be classified as kaiseki in my eyes, whereas Ryugin would.

                                    3. re: FourSeasons

                                      Ginza Koju is under consideration as a traditional kaiseki restaurant. How does Yonemura compare to Koju in terms of cuisine, price, and comfort-level for non-Japanese speakers?

                                      (If it helps, my husband and I are in our mid-sixties and have traveled all over the world. We usually travel independently. If we travel with a small group, we always add independent travel at the beginning and end of the journey. We'll venture out for a couple of meals on our own even on nights when a meal is offered by the group arrangements. We definitely aren't "sit in a cafe" tourists who like to people watch. We'd rather walk and absorb the feeling of different neighborhoods. By the end of the day, we're usually too tired to travel distances to dine at the ultimate, ultimate, ultimate example of each type of restaurant, but we sure know and like good food. I have a higher tolerance for odd parts than does my husband, but I'd definitely draw the line at fish eyes.

                                      1. re: Indy 67

                                        Indy 67,

                                        Have you been reading Joseph's blog? I think it's a great reference guide to higher-end dining in Tokyo. Here is the entry from the day he went to Ryugin and Yonemura:


                                        As for finding a kaiseki restaurant in and or around Ginza won't exactly be affordable. If you are committed to having a kaisei experience in Japan, you might want to opt for lunch instead of dinner. I like kaiseki and I think it's something to be experienced in Japan so I'm not trying to discourage anyone but it isn't the most accessible aspect of Japanese cuisine to most foreign visitors.

                                        I don't know if modern kaiseki is a true solution if one's concern is the subtly of flavors associated with kaiseki cuisine as the chefs still would be cooking to the Japanese clients' palate that associates subtly with refinement (both of cooking and eating end). I say look at pictures on Joseph and others' blog and see what interests you and your husband the most.

                                        1. re: kikisakura

                                          As the guy who got Baron Destructo to try Yonemura, I feel compelled to point out that the lunch is good value (Y6k vs. Y14k, I think), but it's not really kaiseki - e.g. cold pasta is always one of the courses. Koju has a lot of English on the web site, and courses at Y13/20/25k.

                                          I don't usually like places enough to flog them like this, but I think Onodera in Kagurazaka is a great way to have casual kaiseki for about Y7000 at dinner. No English menu, but no choice of menu either! Great, hidden place, which is what Kagurzaka is known for.

                                          1. re: kikisakura

                                            At some point in the recent past, I came across Joseph Mallozzi's blog, but I think I got distracted and never read it. Thanks for reminding me about the blog.

                                            Yonemura and Ryogin in one day! That's some pretty serious eating and spending. Looking at the photos from Yonemura, I'm salivating.
                                            It's not as if my husband and I are chile heads. I definitely want to give kaiseki a try. Now, I need to integrate our touring plans with our eating plans.

                                            1. re: Indy 67

                                              " That's some pretty serious eating and spending."

                                              Yep. Although, in hindsight, I think booking both lunches and dinners was a mistake. Wonderful meals all around but I stopped being hungry about a week into my trip. Still, I persevered, did all 29 restaurants and, on my return home, discovered I'd actually lost 3 lbs and shaved 1% off my total body fat. No idea.

                                              Jem589 - Thanks for the Yonemura tip. I loved the spacious counter seating and, of course, the meal. I'd be interested to see what dinner is like.

                                              Indy67 - My recent attempts to put links up to specific blog entries in my blog have been deleted by the mods, so I'd just like to suggest that if you go back to the late November to early December 2008 entries in the archive, you'll find pics and thoughts on about a dozen more high-end Tokyo restaurants including L'Osier, Hamadaya, Chateau Joel Robuchon, and more.

                                              1. re: BaronDestructo

                                                I know it was hard work for you to squeeze in two meals a day and I personally wouldn't even try to attempt it as I certainly would have put on a pound a day (sadly, this is neither an hypothesis nor a hyperbole).

                                                Though I was thoroughly entertained by all of the entries and looked forward to new posts everyday, Hirosaku stood out as being just the kind of place I prefer - an intimate little spot where you can sit at the counter and interact with the chef, watch, ask questions, and learn. And it seemed like each dish was prepared with love and care.

                                                jem589, I looked up Onodera and it does sound wonderful. I presume that you meant kaiseki as in 会席 as opposed to 懐石 as their menu follows the format of 会席料理 to the letter:


                                                I'm looking at the picture of individual dishes and starting to daydream...That is really a good deal at 6800 yen plus 10% service charge.

                                                With one exception, which happens to be breakfast in early July at one of the tea houses in Hyotei, the best way for me to eat kaitei as in 懐石 is to buy a lunch box during the cherry blossom season, sit under a tree for a picnic. Nothing quite makes me feel happier to be in Japan.

                                                1. re: BaronDestructo

                                                  My research project yesterday was to read through your day-by-day entries. You write beautifully (which I now realize is to be expected given your real life-activities) and your photographs were divine eye candy. Many thanks.

                                                  Faro captivated me the most among your non-Japanese restaurants. After a decade of yearly trips to Italy, my husband and I decided we weren't making significant progress in our travel wish list even taking two major trips a year. We scaled back to making a trip to Italy every other year. This is our off-year so I reacted to the sight of your glorious photos from Faro like a siren call.

                                                  As appealing as Faro seems, what is your favorite Italian restaurant in Tokyo? If you've got a close call between two, which one is closer to Ginza (or easier to get to from Ginza)?

                                                  Incidentally, I think my husband and I will follow Stefan's example and eat casual food at mid-day.

                                                  1. re: Indy 67

                                                    Thanks, Indy. You're very kind.

                                                    Favorite Italian? Hmmmm. Well, let me start off by saying I didn't have a bad meal, Italian or otherwise, while I was in town. Still, there were certain outings I enjoyed more than others. All told, I visited four Italian restos: Aroma Fresca, Faro, Il Ghiotone, and Ristorante Aso. Given the opportunity to return one - and only one - it probably would be Faro, for dinner this time. I simply loved the room and was wowed by more dishes (that foie gras with chestnut chutney comes to mind).

                                                    Bonus for you: Faro is located in the Shiseido Building - in Ginza. If you do go, report back.