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Mid July Tokyo and Kyoto Trip

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My wife and I are planning a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto for about 8 days in mid-July. It’s our first time in Asia at all, and we are very excited about it! Whenever we travel, food is probably the number 1 priority, and so we are trying to have a broad, spectacular dining experience. Our budget isn’t unlimited, but shouldn’t be the main constraining factor either. I’ve tried to approach making a dining plan by thinking about all the categories we want to try during out trip, and then seeking out the best sounding options in each one (then trying to layer that on top of our day by day plans). I apologize in advance for the length of the post, but maybe it will be helpful to others planning trips as well. I’ve split our list up by category.

Sushi
Sushi Dai
Sushi Miztuani*

Pastry
Shinjuku Isetan (Probably try to hit all the highlights here – are there any standalone shops worth visiting in addition)

Tempura
Kondo*
Tenyou (Kyoto)

Yakitori
Fuku

Tonkatsu
Butagumi*

Kaiseki
Yuzuya Ryokan (Staying here in Kyoto)*
Kikunoi Roan*

Haute Cuisine Non-Kaiseki
Quintessence (Lunch)*
Also considering Tapas Molecular, Aronia de Takazawa and Les Creations de Narisawa

Izakaya
Aburiya Fudo: Azabu-Juban

Ramen
Menya Kissou

Udon
Omen (Kyoto)

Soba
Yabu Soba

Tofu
Tofuya Ukai

Kobe Beef
Dans de la Nature*

Cocktails
Bar Tender

Apologies again for the long list. I’d love suggestions about better choices in each category, or major worthwhile categories I am leaving out. Our schedule is pretty full to hit all these places, so if we add somewhere new it means dropping something – please keep that in mind as well. In Tokyo we will be staying in Minato, but plan to be pretty mobile. Also, for places that need reservations I want to go ahead and try to start getting on lists before it’s too late – I’ve starred above the places I think I need reservations, so if I’ve gotten that wrong it would be very helpful to know as well.
Thanks in advance!

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  1. Tempura--I've been both to Kondo and Tenyou, and I think either would be a good choice. I haven't written up my meal at Kondo, yet, but overall, I think I preferred Tenyou. That being said, Kyoto was the first place I lived in Japan, and the Kyoto-aesthetic has a special place in my heart.

    In terms of food, it has been some time since my last visit to Tenyou, but I think Kondo offered more food at a cheaper price point for the most expensive sets at each. I could be wrong about that, but it seemed that way to me. Kondo's batter fries up more crisply (and is also greasier, I thought), so if you prefer crispy tempura, Kondo would be a better option for you. (Someone here once said that tempura shouldn't really be crispy because the ingredients should shine, not the coating, and crispiness implies overcooking.) Kondo also offers many more a la carte options. I've never seen anyone order a la carte at Tenyou, so I don't even know if they have a la carte.

    In terms of atmosphere, Tenyou is more austere, and less jovial than Kondo. I've never seen the chef at Tenyou chat up customers (although he is not unfriendly), while the chef at Kondo was very easy to chat with (if you happen to be sitting in front of him. I still prefer Tenyou's atmosphere, but it's all about what appeals to you.

    Tenyou does have English-speaking staff, but Kondo's staff is more fluent, and Kondo has English menus (Tenyou didn't the last time I went, but I don't know about now).

    I think for most foreigners (and perhaps even most Japanese), Kondo is a better option, in part because it's less intimidating and more accessible. Tenyou is very Kyoto, and I love it, but it's not for everyone.

    Regarding Omen, I like Omen, but keep in mind the udon is not served in a traditional manner. If you're looking for a tradtional udon experience, you might want to consider another restaurant.

    Stand-alone pastry shops--I'm sure many will recommend Hidemi Sugino in Ginza. He specializes in mousse cakes, so if that's your thing, you might enjoy it. I find his mousse cakes to be too phlegmy and too sweet. Be prepared to arrive early or wait in line for a long time. The experience would take up a couple of hours of your day (waiting plus eating time), so I don't know if it would be worth it for you.

    Also Toshi Yoroizuka. I haven't purchased anything from there, though I attempted to once. Same thing applies regarding time spent (which is why I didn't end up with anything from there). Weekdays might have a shorter waiting period.

    I really liked a tes souhaits, but it's out of the way, so you'd be spending precious time getting there, eating (primarily a take-out place, but they have a few tables), and getting back to wherever you're going. Taking a taxi from and to the closest train station would help shorten your journey, but I took the bus so it took me awhile longer.

    I think Isetan Shinjuku is enough, though you can also venture over to Takashimaya and check out their selections. They still have that big display counter that has cakes from several different shops around Tokyo (and other places in Japan, I think) that don't normally sell at depachikas, so it might be worth a visit rather than going out of your way or waiting in line for an hour or two at a stand alone shop. The only regular shop at Takashimaya that wasn't at Isetan was Grammercy New York. Grammercy New York has really good small packaged tarts called Wall Nuts. If you like nuts and caramel, you'll like them.

    3 Replies
    1. re: prasantrin

      Prasantrin -

      Thanks for the great reply. Is there another Udon shop you would recommend?

      1. re: bmdaniel

        I'm not really an udon fan. I'd still recommend Omen. I like it. Just don't expect it to the usual kind.

        http://kyotofoodie.com/omen-udon-kyot... gives a good explanation on how to eat it at Omen.

        1. re: bmdaniel

          In Kyoto, I had a fabulous udon at Yamamoto Menzou. Cheap and delicious. The gaijin (me!) made a fool of himself by drinking the dipping sauce, it was that good!

      2. of the places on your list that I have been too (Mizutani, Butagumi & Omen), I love all of them! I haven't yet been to Kondo - I LOVE Yokota though and am reluctant to go anywhere else. However I have not been there since they moved, I assume it is still the same quality though.

        Last time I was in Tokyo I was going to go to Dons de la nature but in the end could not bring myself to spend that much on a steak. One day I will - but I would be very interested to hear your report on it...

        Sorry I have not been of much constructive help.

        1. I would think Kyoto is a better place to eat tofu. Here's a good account of why, along with the pick of the places to eat it: http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/20...

          1. I think you will need to have a reservation for Tofuya Ukai. However, also agree with coldicott that tofu in Kyoto might be the better option. Have a great trip -

            5 Replies
            1. re: goodncheap

              I'm thinking about replacing Omen with a Kyoto Tofu spot and then replacing Ukai with a Tokyo Udon spon.

              Anyone have suggestions for either? The Bon Appetit article suggests Tousuiro and Kichisen?

              What about Udon - Ideally something in the Minato area open for lunch?

              1. re: bmdaniel

                Hmmmmm. . . would you be able to do both Omen and tofu in Kyoto? Omen is a great spot, and it's very popular with Kyoto-ites, too. When I lived there, almost every Kyoto-born person I met recommended it.

                They do have other things on the menu, too, like grilled sansho chicken which is really good, and the tempura I mentioned before. I find udon to be very boring, so it might be nice to have other things to nibble on in addition to the udon.

                If you do order other items, rice is ordered separately (at least when I was there), and it's relatively expensive, but it's multi-grain. etc. etc.

                1. re: bmdaniel

                  Kichisen is kaiseki, so the tofu is only a small part of a pricey meal. Better to go to Junsei (075-761-2311‎), near Nanzenji.

                  1. re: coldicott

                    Thanks everyone, this has been very helpful. We were actually planning to go to Ukai on the day we leave for Kyoto, so I think we will just leave earlier and eat lunch at Junsei (that way we can still do Omen as well).

                    I've started the reservation making process - i just wanted to verify that I won't need them for Junsei, Tenyou, or Omen.

                    Thanks!

                    1. re: bmdaniel

                      Reservations might be helpful, but from what I've seen, most people who go to Tenyou don't have reservations (I've never had reservations when I've gone). That being said, if you want to sit at the counter to watch them cook, you'll need to arrive right when they open or very shortly after, otherwise if the second floor counter is full (there are only 8-10 seats maybe), you'll get seated on the third floor (I've never been to the third floor, but I know they bring food up there, so I assume there's not chef there).

                      http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/7057.... has a good picture of the exterior (good to have--I walked by it many, many times the first time I went, because I didn't recognize the kanji for the name). Just remember it's on the second floor (but the toilet is on the first floor, go figure).

              2. Hi BMDaniel,

                How was the kaiseki and ryokan experience at Yuzuya Ryokan in Kyoto? The restaurant is called Isshinkyo if I'm not mistaken. Searched for it on the boards but couldn't find any feedback. Would appreciate hearing your experience, thanks!