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Japanese Foodie Vacation 2010

I am a foodie who lives in Atlanta. I love four-star restaurants and small portions. Lately, however, Japanese food has become my favorite.

Atlanta is low on non-sushi Japanese food, although omakase at MF Buckhead (www.mfbuckhead.com) rivals Masa in many ways.

I plan to stay in the City for a week and eat all the Japanese food I can. I would prefer to eat omakase at sushi bars/go other places with modest portions. I don't need the places to be fancy, but I also don't like to visit places who aren't exacting about the integrity of their ingredients.

So . . . based on this:

1. Should I stay somewhere in Midtown? Is that where all the good sushi places are located?

2. What are people's top ten high quality, no-expense-considered Japanese restaurants in the City?

3. is there any place that offers a traditional tea ceremony?

4. I will be taking this vacation solo due to the illness of my usual traveling companion. Would anyone be willing to dine with me and show me the ropes?

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  1. A number of these threads might help you:

    http://search.chow.com/search?query=&...

    It's probably mentioned in some of those threads, but my husband was blown away by a recent dinner at Sasabune on the UES. I've not been yet.

    1. Tomoe
      East 15
      Momofuku Ko
      Bondst
      Koi
      Morimoto
      Nobu
      Sushi Yasuda
      Hagi
      Sakegura

      -----
      Sushi Yasuda
      204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

      Nobu
      105 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10013

      Morimoto
      88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

      Momofuku Ko
      163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

      Koi
      40 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018

      6 Replies
      1. re: carub

        Hagi have you eaten at Masa, Kuruma, Gari, Seki? The OP is asking for no-budget-consideration BEST. Morimoto and Tomoe? They are mediocre at best, to cite two examples. Momofuku Ko is not a Japanese restaurant.

        -----
        Gari
        370 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10024

        Morimoto
        88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

        1. re: gutsofsteel

          As gutsofsteel said, Morimoto isn't THAT great to put it in the top 10.

          And Momofuku Ko is indeed not pure Japanese. There are Japanese influences but that's not what the OP is looking for.

          -----
          Morimoto
          88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

          Momofuku Ko
          163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

        2. re: carub

          Re: Nobu, is the OP looking for traditional Japanese nigiri sushi? Or cooked, fusion, Nobu-created dishes? I think in the former, they are not so strong, but in the latter, well, Nobu IS the reason why everybody has miso black cod, etc. on the menus these days. Is it top 10, high quality, price being no object though?

          -----
          Nobu
          105 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10013

          1. re: kathryn

            Miso black cod is a standard Japanese dish. Not sure how Nobu got associated with it.

          2. re: carub

            Not to pile on, but Momofuku Ko is most definitely not a Japanese restaurant.

            Sakagura > Sake Bar Hagi, but I wouldn't make a special trip to either one. Sakagura makes sense if you're looking for sake specifically.

            I'd definitely skip Tomoe, BondSt, Koi, Morimoto, and Nobu.

            So basically, I agree with 15 East and Sushi Yasuda.

            -----
            Momofuku Ko
            163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

            1. re: carub

              Hagi is a good place to get cranked on cheap shochu and fried food. It's a lot better with friends though.....

            2. The link that CH automatically generated...for Masa's....is not Masa. Just an FYI.

              Look for some posts here by a poster named sushiman.

              Masa
              Kurumazushi
              Sushi of Gari (go to the original one on the est side, not the west side location which CH automatically generates)
              Sushi Seki
              15 East
              Shinbashi (I have not been yet, but it is #1 on my list to go to asap)

              Start with those for sushi. Everything else, including Yasuda and Sasabune, is lower level than those. Your "exacting about ingredients" comment is understood. Speaking relatively, Yasuda and Sasabune do not make the cut compared with the others. Ushiwakamaru and Kanoyama are both better than Yasuda and Sasabune, but also not in the highest tier.

              For other types of Japanese meals:

              Sakagura (food is good not great; but fun atmosphere in an interesting subterranean space; excellent sake selection)
              Sugiyama (do the full on kaiseki at the bar; reserve in advance and ask about special menu items that need to be ordered in advance)
              Yakitori Totto (obviously this is yakitori, and it's a lot of fun. Yakitory Torys is their other identical place - go to either one)
              Ippudo (ramen)
              Kyo Ya

              This is a start.

              You will get a lot of recommendations...take them with a grain of salt if the posters have not eaten at all of the highest end places in NYC. People here will say that Yasuda is 'the best." No it isn't.

              -----
              Yakitori Totto
              251 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

              15 East
              15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

              Sakagura
              211 East 43rd Street, New York, NY 10017

              Sugiyama
              251 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

              Gari
              370 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10024

              Kanoyama
              175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

              Shinbashi
              7 East 48th Street, New York, NY 10017

              Masa's
              89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017

              10 Replies
              1. re: gutsofsteel

                Sushi Yasuda is much better than both Ushi Wakamaru and Kanoyama and is regarded by most as one of the best in the city- despite your passionate multiple efforts to dissuade that recommendation. The restaurant is plenty "exacting about ingredients". Both Ushi and Kanoyama are good second tier more value oriented options- both definitely below Yasuda. 15 East is comparable to Sushi Yasuda....Sushiman's recommendations usually come with the caveat that even if he recommends you a place, you will never be served a meal as wonderful as he will because he's so known there.

                -----
                15 East
                15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                Sushi Yasuda
                204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

                Kanoyama
                175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                1. re: Silverjay

                  I have eaten at all of these places many, many times. If you go to Yasuda, at least do yourself the favor of NOT sitting at Yasuda's station. His cutting is sloppy, his sushi forming is sloppy, and he doesn't pay attention to what he's doing - rather, he's talking about himself the whole time and forcing you to listen. The other chefs threre at the bar are more skilled and attentive.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    Thank you, Silverjay.

                    Speaking of taking posters' recommendations' with a grain of salt, OP, you will find that Silverjay has eaten at some of the best sushi places in Los Angeles as well as Tokyo, while some other posters have not stepped foot in Japan.

                    Ushi and Kanoyama are definitely NOT on par with Yasuda. Gari is not traditional sushi, though is still good. Two of my favorite places in NYC are Yasuda and 15 East.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      "Sushiman's recommendations usually come with the caveat that even if he recommends you a place, you will never be served a meal as wonderful as he will because he's so known there."

                      This is the problem with Kanoyama, Sushiden, etc if you're not a regular or not know how to order you wont be served the best or have your meal prepared by the head chefs.

                      -----
                      Kanoyama
                      175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                      Sushiden
                      19 E 49th St, New York, NY 10017

                      1. re: Ricky

                        Because people walk off the street and order "omakase", which has really just become a euphemism for "pre fixe" at this point (it's used like that in Japan as well on printed menus) and expect that they are going to get the best stuff. "Omakase" is only that loaded, ethereal experience when you have an established relationship. Otherwise, you've got to earn your chops by demonstrating knowledge of what you're eating, asking good questions, etc. Better to order "okonomi" style off the street and work your way into the chef's heart. Just knowing the Japanese names of fish is a good start I would think for many places.

                      2. re: Silverjay

                        I am going to have to agree with SilverJay on this one. I have eaten at all of the Sushi places mentioned except Masa (yes I know, a major disgression). Sushi Yasuda gets some of the more interesting pieces of fish I have seen in the city. As to Yasuda himself, I would love an explanation as to why his knife skills are lacking, every piece of nigiri I have had made by Yasuda has been great. From previous comments it is clear that gutsofsteel does not get along with him.

                        So to the original poster, there are many opinions and all should be taken with a grain of salt. The good thing is that there are enough places in NYC to have so many dissenting opinions.

                        -----
                        Sushi Yasuda
                        204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          About your question re: Yasuda's knife skills, most likely you won't hear a response as the poster is simply repeating another poster's opinions.

                          OP, if you are interested in wagashi at all, Minamoto Kitchoan would be fun to visit.

                          -----
                          Minamoto Kitchoan
                          608 5th Ave, New York, NY 10020

                        2. re: Silverjay

                          I actually think the original poster would like Donguri. They serve an excellent menu of varied well done Japanese foods.

                          -----
                          Donguri
                          309 E 83rd St, New York, NY 10028

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            I agree with Silverjay's assessment. However, I've found Kanoyama to be surprisingly good, especially for a low-key downtown place. I only sit at the sushi bar, and order piece by piece, knowing what is in season. The chef takes pride in having Japanese fish available, some hard to find in the best midtown places, Yasuda among them. This will set you back $150 per person, so if you're not prepared to invest, this may not be the place for you.

                            I have been to Masa, and was horrified at the experience. Masa himself was our chef -- I asked to be seated with him at the bar. My wife and I noticed the warning signs with the poorly trained staff and mispronunciations of simple Japanese words and city names.

                            Masa himself was surly and his creations uninspiring. While maintaining a polite quiet during the meal, we did sparingly attempt to connect with him (in Japanese), even recognizing the maker of his beautiful sushi knife (a well-known place I have patronized in Kyoto). All of this to no avail. Perfunctory sushi at very silly prices: the bill for two with beer and sake was $1400.00! (yes you read that correctly)

                            We decided we will fly to Tokyo (where we lived for a number of years)for the real thing with more engaging and proud chefs before returning to Masa.

                            -----
                            Kanoyama
                            175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                            Masa
                            10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                          2. re: gutsofsteel

                            Masa and Kurumazushi are tops for sushi and you'll absolutely pay for that pleasure. I think Sushi Yasuda is better than Sushi of Gari and Sushi Seki and a full tier above the likes of Ushiwakamaru, Kanoyama, and Sasabune, but you have a well-professed dislike for Naomichi Yasuda. I find that that his sushi rice is consistently excellent and it is a perennial contender for best in the city. Even the humble chirashizushi there can be terrific (and cost effective!) because of this. FWIW, factoring in price, Sushi Yasuda is my favorite overall sushi-ya in NYC.

                            For yakitori, I think Tori Shin is much better than Yakitori Totto/Torys. It's pricier, but there's a definite difference in quality.

                            A couple of additional suggestions: adding to the kaiseki list, Kajitsu is pretty much the only place in town serving serious shōjin ryōri, if you're interested in that type of cuisine. Since you're from Atlanta, you may already know about Sotohiro Kosugi's restaurant Soto. He's especially known for his uni dishes.

                            -----
                            Gari
                            370 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10024

                            Kanoyama
                            175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                            Kajitsu
                            414 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

                          3. Midtown East has a lot of Japanese restaurants, and a lot of them are clustered around Grand Central, which is good, because then you can take the 6 train downtown to the East Village, where a lot of other Japanese restaurants are located (though my general feeling is that there's a lower quality overall in the EV due to all of the cheap drinking establishments but we do have Kyo Ya, Kanoyama, etc).

                            -----
                            Kanoyama
                            175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                            Kyo Ya
                            94 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

                            1. Kai is a lovely place to while the afternoon away if you are dining solo. Very traditional and wonderful tea, especially since the Japanese tea and sweet shop on the Upper East Side closed a few years ago, leaving a gaping hole in the City. You can also check out the tea store downstairs from Kai after lunch.

                              As to sushi, if money is no object, you can't do any better than Masa at Time Warner. Avoid Bar Masa next door - not the same quality and you can do better for the money. Kuruma Zushi is also a nice place to while away the afternoon if you are on the money is no object tour.

                              For something completely different, you might check out tea and cake at Lady M on the Upper East Side. http://www.ladymconfections.com/old_h... It's not Japanese food at all; yet is so deeply Japanese (you will find many shops like this in fashionable neighborhoods in Tokyo). Basically, Lady M, which is Japanese-owned, is a Japanese interpretation of a traditional French pastry shop. Reminds me of so many places in Aoyama - a very chi chi neighborhood in Tokyo.

                              Lady M® Cake Boutique
                              41 East 78th Street
                              (Between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue
                              )New York, NY 10075
                              Phone: 212.452.2222

                              -----
                              Kai
                              822 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10021

                              Kurumazushi
                              7 E 47th St, New York, NY 10017

                              Bar Masa
                              10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: omotosando

                                Kai is closed - http://www.itoen.com/kai/.

                                Mail order only now - in the U.S.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  OMG, I am so sad. I loved that place. First, Toraya closed a few years ago and now this. Now there is really nowhere in NYC to have a Japanese tea experience.

                                  Anyone know how Donguri Restaurant is? - apparently, it is also owned by the Ito En people.

                                  -----
                                  Donguri
                                  309 E 83rd St, New York, NY 10028

                                  1. re: omotosando

                                    Donguri is one of those places about which I've heard good things, but not yet been to.

                                    -----
                                    Donguri
                                    309 E 83rd St, New York, NY 10028

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      donguri is very good. it changed ownership many years ago b/c the original owners (who were awesome) decided to retire and move back to japan, but I believe the owners of kai bought it. The food is very good and I think one of the better japanese restaurants in the city. i used to eat there fairly frequently when my GF lived in the neighborhood, but it's far from LES, so i haven't gone in a little while

                                      The homemade goma tofu is my favorite dish there (it's on a completely different level than any other version I've had in the city), but generally everything i've had there is very good

                                      1. re: Lau

                                        I am afraid Donguri has had a change of Chefs very recently - totally new menu and disappointing to say the least. They have scrapped just about all of their standby dishes.

                                        -----
                                        Donguri
                                        309 E 83rd St, New York, NY 10028

                                        1. re: scoopG

                                          i hadn't been since the original owners left, what was it 5-8 years ago? i'd heard it was still good - maybe i missed my chance to find out

                                          1. re: scoopG

                                            oh man! i actually was planning on going back soon...blehhh

                                2. I believe Cha-An in East Village offers a tea ceremony event. For some reason, their website is not working too well today but you can give them a call to confirm...

                                  http://www.chaanteahouse.com/

                                  Address= 230 East 9th Street, 2nd Floor.
                                  Phone = 212-228-8030

                                  -----
                                  Cha-An
                                  230 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: bearmi

                                    I'll have to check out Cha-An next time I am in NYC, but the tea list isn't very impressive - they offer exactly one sencha and don't even say where it is from (sort of the equivalent of a wine list offering "bottle French wine"), and the menu looks quite fusiony (sweet potato samosas and scones), which I guess can be okay if you want fusion food, but not necessarily when you are hoping for a Japanese experience.

                                    It does look, however, from the website that Cha-An does a Japanese tea ceremony every Tuesday from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. (or at least were doing that in 2008). If they are still doing that and anyone goes, please report back. That sounds a little more appetizing than sweet potato samosas and scones.

                                    -----
                                    Cha-An
                                    230 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

                                    1. re: omotosando

                                      If you are not into Fusion food, you may want to avoid Cha-An. However, given that the other potential places that may offer Japanese tea ceremony are no longer in operation (Toraya and Kai/Ito-en), I thought I would mention Cha-An. Perhaps folks here can come up with other places that offer authentic versions of Japanese Tea Ceremony in response to the OP. Wish you good luck!

                                  2. consider a meal at Soto, just for the sake of your Atlanta origins.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bigjeff

                                      I would add Tsukushi to the list. The food is not outstanding, but it is a very typical Japanese dining experience where the meal is basically fixed- with a few options- and made by just one or two chefs at a counter. Even if it's not a first destination meal spot, you can go later in the evening for light drinking snack- called "tsumami" courses.

                                      -----
                                      Tsukushi
                                      300 E 41st St, New York, NY 10017

                                    2. sushi yasuda for traditional sushi
                                      sushi of gari of modern sushi
                                      sasbune for an omakse of a different style

                                      matsuri & sakegaya for nonsushi japanese
                                      tatany 72 for a neighborhood non-sushi japanese

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: thew

                                        You reommend Yasuda over Masa and Kuruma then?

                                        Sasabune is absolutely not worth going to if the goal is the best sushi in NYC with no budget considerations. And Tatany 72 is a slight cut above Monster Sushi. Don't bother.

                                        -----
                                        Masa
                                        10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                        1. re: gutsofsteel

                                          i haven't been to masa. i like yasuda for traditional sushi.

                                          tatny is a neighborhood place, not a destination restarant like all the others here. their sushi is average at best - but their home cooking style stuff is great, for a not fancy neighborhood joint.

                                          1. re: thew

                                            The OP is asking for no-budget-consideration best. Why would you recommend Tatany or Sasabune?

                                            Have you been to Kuruma? Would you recommend Yasuda over Kuruma or Masa?

                                            -----
                                            Masa
                                            10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                            1. re: gutsofsteel

                                              i was at sasabune a few weeks ago, and i thought the food was top notch quality, and certainly not a budget place. i had been wary of the whole warm rice thing and stayed away from it for a long time, but thats not very chowhoundish - so i finally threw my apprehensions over my shoulder and tried. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

                                              i already said i had not tried Masa above - 1st 5 words of the post. So i cannot recommend anyplace over or under it.

                                              Kuruma i only stopped at for some sake and sashimi before going out once so I am not qualified to judge, but i found it excellent, and would happily recommend it.

                                              As to tatany the OP sais she would rather"...go other places with modest portions. I don't need the places to be fancy, but I also don't like to visit places who aren't exacting about the integrity of their ingredients."

                                              i think tatany fits that bill.

                                              when i travel I will have some over the top blow out meals (which reminds me i never posted about the trip to marseille a few weeks ago), but i also like to eat in low key local places that are not famous, or fancy, but good solid local places. exactly as i described tatany

                                              -----
                                              Masa
                                              10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                      2. Adding Aburiya Kinnosuke to the list. Really refined, elegant, tasty robatayaki style food.

                                        -----
                                        Aburiya Kinnosuke
                                        213 E 45th St, New York, NY 10017

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ExFlexitarian

                                          I recommend checking out the seasonal menu here....AK is run by the same group as Totto, Tory's , Soba Totto.

                                          -----
                                          Soba Totto
                                          211 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017