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Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Matsumoto preview - LONG

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snaporaz Mar 5, 2010 11:29 AM

The GF and I are off to Japan next month, and I thought I would share some the places I'm hoping to get to on this trip. I have many more that are potentially interesting (googlemap: http://tinyurl.com/ydkfu95) but this is the shortlist. Would love to hear comments and further suggestions.
Many thanks to Silverjay, Robb S and other Japan board CHers as well as to Harris Salat of japanesefoodreport.com, Paul at paulstravelpics.blogspot.com and Peko at kyotofoodie.com for endless amounts of information that has been invaluable in planning the trip.

* Kyoto (in no particular order):

- Ramen Karako
Looks like the way to go here is to have their signature yellow ramen. Apparently the fried chicken is excellent too, and they have banchan-style free appetizers.
http://www.japan-hopper.com/2006/12/1...

- Okariba
This wild game izakaya has been amply reviewed... basashi, bee larvae, bear... I'm there.
http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7143....

- Sojiki Nakahigashi
Not sure how to describe this... a high end kappo place featuring foraged wild vegetables? Anyway, it took the very kind folks from whom we're renting our apartment in Kyoto a family effort (husband, wife and mother-in-law all on their phones at 8:30 AM when the restaurant officially opened up their April calendar) to bag us a reservation. While they were at it, they thought they should try it too for their anniversary, so it wasn't all bad. Anyway, I've really been looking forward to eating here. We'll be going for lunch to keep it reasonable.
Here's where I first read about it:
http://www.japanesefoodreport.com/200...

- Yorozuya - negi udon
I'm not a huge udon fan, but this looks like a uniquely Kyoto experience.
http://kyotofoodie.com/negi-udon-shop...

- Izuju - sabazushi
Famous for its sabazushi, another well-travelled spot.
http://kyotofoodie.com/izuju-best-kyo...

- Katsukura
For my tonkatsu fix. I tried Yamanaka last time I was in Kyoto and did not love it. The Maisen neat Omotesando on the other hand was amazing - anything like that in Kyoto?

- Waraji-tei - obanzai
Went here last time I was in Kyoto and had a fun meal and a crazy adventure involving befriending a Japanese actor who had worked with Kurosawa (FWIW Shimizu Koji), him taking me and the GF to the home / temple of his childhood friend the buddhist priest / sculptor / carpenter and his wife, and having matcha in their modern tree-house tea-room while discussing life and art through an electronic translator... and I'm leaving out half of it. So in honor of one of my favorite japanese evenings of all time we'll be heading back here.
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/422738

- Shigetsu - shojin ryori or Hirokawa - anago
We'll be in Arashiyama for lunch one day, so it's either one of these two places. Unless people have better suggestions.

Shigetsu - http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7094....
Hirokawa (4.11 on tabelog) - http://r.tabelog.com/kyoto/A2604/A260...

* Osaka:

One lunch in Osaka as we're going to the aquarium and the museum. I asked about this recently and it seems like the best bet is to go to the Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho.
Might have to stop by Yoshino Sushi for some take-home oshi-zushi... though I must say it seems pretty expensive to me.

- Naniwa Kuishinbo Yokocho - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/680595

* Kanazawa:

Just one lunch and one dinner and breakfast the following day here so if it all works out it'll be...

- Komatsu yasuke - sushi - for lunch
4.45 on tabelog! http://r.tabelog.com/ishikawa/A1701/A...

- Housyou zushi - for dinner - many thanks to Silverjay for recommending this one.
http://www.housyouzushi.co.jp/

I know it's a lot of sushi for one day but how often am I in Kanazawa?

* Shirakawa-go:

Decided not to stay the night in a gassho-zukuri - I know that's a huge part of the draw but there are other determining factors that go beyond the scope of this discussion - so only lunch here.
Anyone have a suggestion aside from Shiraogi?
Review is half-way down the page: http://paulstravelpics.blogspot.com/2...

* Takayama:

- eating dinner one night at the ryokan where we're staying - really looking forward to this.
Ryori ryokan Hanaoka
http://paulstravelpics.blogspot.com/2...

- also curious about Sakana
http://iitokorone.blogspot.com/2008/0...

* Okuhida Onsen:

- another ryokan dinner, this time at Yarimikan. We'll be here for the springs but the food should be pretty great too.
http://www.yarimikan.com/index.htm

* Matsumoto:

- seems like basashi is the thing here - Mikawaya
http://paulstravelpics.blogspot.com/2...

* Tokyo:

We have one late dinner in Ueno before heading onwards to Bali the next morning... I'm tempted to just hit the local Toriyoshi branch but I'd be interested to see if anyone has any suggestions in that area.

I'll be reporting back after we return! Thanks again for any insight.

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    Camw RE: snaporaz Mar 5, 2010 04:28 PM

    I had a disappointing dinner at Yoshino Sushi in Osaka in December. The rice was almost inedibly dry and it was a genuine struggle to get through the pieces ordered.

    I don't know, maybe that is part of the style (as I hadn't tried Hako-zushi prior to this), but it wasn't to my, or my partners taste at all which was sad as we had been looking forward to it.

    1. Robb S RE: snaporaz Mar 5, 2010 04:33 PM

      It sounds like you've done some very thorough research!

      Just one comment for now - Kanazawa has some very nice local cuisine, and it would be a shame to miss it while you're there. I'd highly recommend Daiba near the station for dinner (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5676... ), as they also serve some really good limited-edition local sake (although you may have to search for it on the menu). Alternatively, Miyoshian for lunch in the middle of Kenorkuen gardens is a pretty special experience (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3644... ).

      1. Silverjay RE: snaporaz Mar 5, 2010 07:48 PM

        I think the plan to eat sushi in Kanazawa twice is not bad at all. The fish in Kanazawa is just brilliant, though season is not necessary the best as I’m not sure what the availability and quality of the buri will be. Definitely inquire….Komatsu Yasuke, according to some, is one of the best sushi restaurants in the country. I would definitely book as early as possible just to nail down a seat- especially if you are there on the weekend. They will not accept walk-ins if there are full. I tried to negotiate my way twice and was politely refused both times. Housyou zushi is a full fledged seafood restaurant and you can get many of the seafood related Kaga cuisine items there. The restaurant is near the actual port and if you are there early, you might want to explore the fish market- which is the actual trade market and not the consumer one that Omicho is. There are also a couple of shoyu factories there which may have some attraction. If you bail on the idea of double sushi, you can try Koide, back near the main station. This, by all accounts I researched, is reckoned to be the best izakaya for local dining.

        In Shirakawa, if you are stopping for a few hours on the bus from Kanazawa to Takayama, you can check out the rustic looking homemade soba shop right at the entrance to the museum park. It was closed when I was there. Up in the little minshuku village I ate at one of the soba shops just over the footbridge. In the general area of Gifu and into Ishikawa prefecture, “nishin soba” is quite popular. Nishin is herring. It’s marinated and dried and then added to soba noodles and broth as a topping. You can look for this dish if you want something local but not too filling for lunch. I thought it was great.

        In Takayama, I was referred by a local to Sakana. The owner is passionate about getting fresh stuff from the mountains- including vegetables and wild board that is hunted by his friend. Depending on how much interest you show he is liable to bring out photo albums- like 4-5 of them- with shots of him holding up vegetables and carcasses and stuff like that. I went on his recommendation to try his wild boar spare rib and it was nasty. I felt nauseous a good part of the following day and I’m pretty sure it was that boar rib. The other stuff I ate there was good but I eventually found the guy to be oft-putting and annoying, as I usually find people who talk about themselves too much, and was happy to get out of there. The part of Takayama that Sakana is in seems to have a few yokocho, so there might be some other casual spots to supplement your ryokan meal. Also in Takayama, I thought the food gift shops, although touristy, were really fun. Pick up some Hoba miso to take back to New York!

        5 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay
          Robb S RE: Silverjay Mar 5, 2010 09:39 PM

          Wow, after reading that description of the area and then checking their website, I realized I've actually been to Housyou Zushi! A very charming restaurant - I looked at the soy sauce factories and the fish market and then had an early dinner there. I have to say though that it's quite a long and confusing bus trip getting out there if you don't have a car. I doubt that I would go back unless I happened to be right out there already for some reason, and I don't think the soy sauce and fish market are really worth the long trip - Ohmicho is more fun as a market, and there's plenty to see in central Kanazawa.

          As for recommendations based on crowd-sourced ratings, I did some research before my last trip to Kanazawa and ended up dining at #20 on the Tabelog list along with one restaurant ranked in the top ten (out of over 300) because they were both very near my hotel. We were all looking forward to the top-ten place, but it turned out that the one ranked at #20 (Daiba) was far better in every respect - food, atmosphere, service and decor, and on top of that they had those limited-edition sakes.

          1. re: Robb S
            Silverjay RE: Robb S Mar 6, 2010 05:07 AM

            Omicho is worth about 20-30 minutes in the morning and maybe a visit to one of the overpriced kaisendonburiya. It's not a wholesale "working" market, but a retail market of seafood stalls mostly for the benefit of tourists- similar to the Hakodate fish market. It's not that big and there aren't that many shops within it. A lot of the stuff there is not necessarily locally caught.

            Housyou is, for sure, not among the regular Kanazawa tourist circuit. It was a 10 minute taxi ride from the central station. I'm not sure the bus ride is worth it if you've only got one day in Kanazawa and are trying to check out all the sights, but it is a fun restaurant. Just for having a good time's sake, I would recommend against one of the formal kaga cuisine set meal places in favor of something more informal and izakaya-ish. You can still try many local dishes and the sake/atmosphere scene will be a lot more memorable.

            We've covered Tabelog many times. It is what it is. If you sort on quality of food alone and read through the reviews, you can usually get a reasonable idea of what to expect.

            1. re: Silverjay
              wekabeka RE: Silverjay Mar 6, 2010 06:05 AM

              i heartily agree with silverjay in regards to considering something like an izakaya. itaru has fanatastic fish, regional food, a comprehensive nihon-shu list and personality in spades! last time i was there was kan-buri season, and i almost swore never to eat another fish after demolishing our very generous and excellent quality sashimi-moriawase platter. the kani-miso is worth ordering, too. you cant go wrong at any of there three shops, but make sure to book a few days before - its a favourite with the locals too.

              http://r.tabelog.com/ishikawa/A1701/A...

              1. re: wekabeka
                Robb S RE: wekabeka Mar 6, 2010 06:33 AM

                Ah, sorry if I wasn't clear - Daiba (the place I recommended) is also an izakaya, not a formal Kaga-ryoriya, and they have an excellent selection of raw and grilled fish and local specialties, including lots of cool Kaga vegetable dishes. Itaru also sounds great - I'll check it out next time I'm in town....

                (My lunch recommendation was a little more formal, since most izakaya are pretty useless at lunchtime - if they're even open.)

              2. re: Silverjay
                Robb S RE: Silverjay Mar 6, 2010 07:01 AM

                Ha, next time I won't be such a cheapskate and I'll take a taxi. It looked pretty far on the map though and it seemed like at least a 30-minute bus ride. And it didn't help that I went there on a Wednesday, when everything in the whole village is closed, so I had to go back the next day, in the rain.

                I still had more fun at Ohmicho Market than the pro fish market though!

          2. Robb S RE: snaporaz Mar 6, 2010 07:11 AM

            Hmm, Toriyoshi in Ueno is certainly okay, but I'm surprised no one has come up with other suggestions. Hantei in Nezu might be fun - it's very old-school kushiage, and it's been there for decades: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/g160000/

            Or maybe Odako for oden (a Tokyo regional specialty by the way), along with an excellent sake list. http://bento.com/rev/2499.html .

            1. s
              snaporaz RE: snaporaz Mar 6, 2010 09:11 AM

              It's great to read all these comments!

              @Camw: thanks for the heads up on Yoshino. I was already tempted to skip it since a two-serving box starts at ¥4,700.

              @Silverjay: too bad about Sakana. From what I had read it seemed like an interesting, fun place but it sounds like we'll be better off going elsewhere. Maybe more Hida beef at Yamatake?
              http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/cen...

              @Robb S: thanks for the Ueno recs - which both look great - but we probably won't be heading out for dinner until quite late that night - 9:00 or 9:30 - hence my Toriyoshi idea. But if there are other late eats in the area I would love to hear about them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: snaporaz
                Robb S RE: snaporaz Mar 6, 2010 09:25 AM

                Well Odako is open until 11pm*. (*call to confirm)

                And if you get a really late start, there's a 24-hour branch of Zanmai Sushi right across the street from Toriyoshi.

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