A snapshot of Tokyo dining in 4 Days: where MUST we dine?
- sunbell79 Feb 21, 2011 09:57 PM
After researching through many of the threads, and receiving some guidance from my initial post, I am looking for a bit more help with the planning. We will be in Tokyo for much too short of time in early Spring; so I do know that we’re likely trying to do too much in that time frame. We have 3 full days plus the evening of our arrival and the morning/afternoon on our last day. Essentially, we can have four lunches and four dinners with izakaya and ramen stops to fill.
We love to eat, enjoy experimenting and don’t mind spending money on ridiculous food, assuming the quality is worth the Yen spent. My list of places to visit is much too long which is why I need some of your seasoned help.
We’re staying in Bunkyu-Ku nearish to Waseda University and are looking forward to exploring what we can with the help of the metro.
Izakaya: As we don’t land until 6pm on our first night, I’m thinking something like this will be our best option. Are there any near that area that are a must visit? Kameya looks close? Other suggestions, or are these just best to happen upon? Sadly we don’t speak Japanese. How is Tenmamichi?
Sushi: Rather than three sushi meals as originally planned, I’m looking to have at the very least one experience, if not two. We’ve enjoyed Counter Sushi at Sasabune in Honolulu (loved the rice temperature), Yasuda in NYC (the fish quality was the best I’ve ever had, but hated the rapid fire service) and Nick San in Cabo San Lucas (interesting twists, though I prefer a more traditional approach). Our favorite nigiri/sashimi: all tuna, unagi, sake, saba, aji, ikura and hotategai. We’ve had uni in Portland, Oregon, but didn’t love the texture. Perhaps we’ll prefer it in Tokyo. Of Sushi Saito, Mizutani, Sawada and Daison Harumi what would you recommend? Should I be looking at any others?
Unagi: We LOVE unagi and are curious if we should go to a very focused restaurant such as Nodaiwa or Ryogoku, or simply enjoy it during our sushi dining?
Ramen: We’ve read about Ganko and Bassa Nova, both of which sound delicious and completely different. Would we be missing the boat if we only visited these two places?
Yakitori: Is this a must? If so, I’ve looked at Souten, Fuku and Birdland. Thoughts?
Tempura: Ten-Ichi or Tsunahachi? Is this a must for a 4 day visit?
Soba: I’m looking at Narutomi, Kosetsu and/or Hosokawa. If there’s something better, tastier, more traditional out there, we’re game.
Traditional: I’ve read about Hanakago which sounds fabulous. Again, we don’t speak Japanese, but are good travelers. Will we run into a problem here?
Non-traditional: Les Creations de Narisawa is listed as the best restaurant in Asia. Does it really live up to that reputation?
I realize that there is a LOT of eating covered here, which we obviously won’t be able to complete. Also, we don’t plan on making reservation or a strict plan for every meal time, but just want to make sure we get the best snapshot of this amazing city.
Domo Arigato !
Based on the sushi experience you say you have had to date, I think any of the sushi restaurants you mentioned would be excellent. You are not seeking a particular way that a particular fish is prepared etc, you seem to simply want a great sushi restaurant that gives you a fantastic overview of top end sushi. Different people will have different views as to which is best, but you would not go wrong with any of the restaurants listed.
If you go on a week day, Daisan Harumi may or may not be a good idea - the person running it, Mr Nagayama, is very particular about people eating the sushi correctly etc, and can be quite strict. Not everyone likes that approach, and you may find it daunting. On Saturdays, the much less scary Mr Kawashima is in charge, the sushi is much cheaper, but you may not get the same top selection of fish.
Les Creations de Narisawa is most definitely not the best restaurant in Asia. It is probably not even the best restaurant in Aoyama, the part of Tokyo where it is located. That sort of hype is rarely anything other than nonsense, and given the source (some ridiculous but strangely - seemingly - prestigious awards (St Pellegrino?) which only features two Tokyo based restaurants in the top 50 and list some restaurants where the mind boggles how anyone with a palate would regard them as the world-wide pinnacle of culinary art), this sort of thing should just be ignored.
I went to Narisawa very recently. The food was definitely very good, no doubt about it. But some of the dishes served were unnecessarily gimmicky (liquid nitrogen gratuitously applied seems a bit passé) and the flavours did not always go together that well - sometimes originality is not necessarily the best way forward if you know what I mean. Other dishes were well executed (definitely 2 Michelin star standard) but not in any way outstanding in comparison to other 2 star French places. The wine list did not contain a sufficient number of reasonably priced wines, though the by-the-glass selection was decent and the sommelier knew what he was doing - the wine pairings were in almost all cases spot-on and original. A good restaurant, but I cannot think of a reason to go if you are in Japan for the first time and only have four days. I would stick to Japanese food.
So basically you are going to have 7 meals on a 3.5 trips. If this is my first time to Tokyo(or first time to Japan ?), I am going to focus on Japanese food as well. Everyone's preference is different, but this is the list of Japanese food I am going to hit :
- 2 sushi (one in the Tsukiji market which I think Tsukiji market is a must visit, one high end).
- tempura (I will pick a more refined one such as Kondo or Ten-ichi, cannot find this kind of things in North America)
- teppanyaki with wagyu beef (just love it and cannot find quite the same experience in US)
- + exploring different kinds of food/dessert in the basement of those big department stores such as Daimaru.
Your new plans sound much more interesting than the all-sushi experience - I think you're on the right track.
Izakaya: Kameya is good but it's a tiny place and I don't think they speak any English there, and it might be a bit daunting after a long flight. It sounds like you might be able to get to Seigetsu in Kagurazaka (via the Tozai subway line) and they're far more interesting and fun (with better food in my opinion), and they definitely have an English menu. Others may have other suggestions, but that's mine.
Sushi: If you've had uni outside Japan and didn't really like it, do try it here - there's a world of difference between good and not-so-good uni. I would also recommend going someplace that has an English-speaking chef - the give-and-take with the chef is half the experience, and it makes the meal a lot more enjoyable.
Unagi: Ryogoku is a tiny place with zero atmosphere (but great unagi); someplace like Nodaiwa would probably be more fun. Unagi might be a good lunch option. Be prepared to spend some time though, as good places often cook your unagi from scratch.
Ramen: Two ramen joints is plenty for a four-day trip in my opinion. Bassa Nova is quite unique in style, so someplace like Ganko might be good for balance.
Yakitori: I think it's worth experiencing top-class yakitori while you're here. I would pick Souten based on their game birds and their sake, but if you'd rather drink wine and don't mind raw chicken parts, give Birdland a try. Note that yakitori is strictly a dinner option.
Soba: Narutomi is fantastic - great noodles and tempura, nice atmosphere. Hosokawa has very good noodles, but I found the tempura just a tad oily, and the service was unfriendly (although the owner himself seems really nice). My favorite place for soba is probably Honmura An in Roppongi, with lots of interesting side dishes besides just noodles and tempura, and lovely decor.
Tempura: Maybe not quite so essential if you're already having tempura at a good soba shop.
re: Robb S
A few more ideas:
Izakaya: Seigetsu is definitely a good idea. Personally I'd invest the extra 10 minutes or so to get to Monzennakacho and the great izakayas there, but I'm biased...another idea would be to go out the other way to Nakano (6 mins by train) and try Okajouki or Ranman, both top class if a bit more specialized.
Sushi: I went to Dai San Harumi last night at Aso's recommendation, and loved Nagayama san. I guess he might be strict, but it's clearly because he loves the food so much, and I've decided over the years that it's worth paying attention to what people like that think. Just one example - my guest at one point fumbled a shrimp nigiri and the rice kinda collapsed; Nagayama san took the shrimp back from him and remade the nigiri without any judgemental attitude. That's just cool to me, not strict or bossy.
By the way Aso, the book will be back in publication in 2 weeks (months?), now with English alongside the Japanese.
Unagi - definitely go to a specialty place, for lunch as Robb says.
Ramen - Ganko is a great experience, but I do think it's more for specialists. Unless you've eaten a lot of different styles of ramen, I'd recommend walking to Takadanobaba (or 1 station from Waseda) and going to Takatora or Ore no Sora, because real tonkotsu is likely to blow your mind. I don't think it's worth the time of going to Bassa either - it looks really really cool, but it's at least 4 trains and 45 minutes from Waseda.
Tenpura: I think it's sufficiently different in Japan than what you get internationally that it's worth trying. I was very disappointed with the Tsunahachi honten a few months ago, so if you must do that, go to the 'Rin' branch that people recommend. I've also had good luck with lunch at Hageten, several branches in Ginza / Tokyo station.
@jem589 - That is amazing news about the book! I think very many foreign sushi lovers would really appreciate something in English that describes the individual fish in detail. Apparently Nagayama-san wanted to publish it in English years ago but despaired at the difficulty in translating some japanese taste terms properly so abandoned the project. So great to hear that it has been resurrected.
Dons de la Nature is actually really, really amazing. Very different experience from teppanyaki though, since you are considering which of those two options to go for. Dons is simply about the steak, and that's it. Possibly the best steak you have ever had, and some Bordeaux. The wine list does not mess around too much with many other types of red because why should they - Bordeaux is best with steak, though some people nonsensically recommend Napa Cabs as if they have enough acidity to cut through the fat. But I digress. The point is, Dons do not do a lot more than steak, nor should they, as your mind should be focused on the meat. (Perhaps have one of their excellent small raw seafood starters to get going.)
Teppan-yaki of course just features steak as one of many parts of the meal. There are plenty of good teppanyaki places around, the usual suspects like Ukai-tei, plus lots of the high end teppanyaki places in the various five star hotels etc. All good and satisfying, though you can tell my enthusiasm is a bit limited. I got bored with teppanyaki a few years ago and never really recovered the enthusiasm. It is a ridiculous thing to say so ignore it, but somehow teppanyaki seems passe to me. There is no objective reason for saying this, it's just how it feels to me (not being snobbish about it or criticising people who are looking for some good teppanyaki, but somehow that's how I feel so i only go if it is an evening organised by someone else who wants teppanyaki).
I like XOX Morimoto close to Midtown. It is not called that anymore as Morimoto left, it is now XOX-something else, but the food is pretty much the same. They have some innovative menu items, like crudite starter with a really amazing kani-miso warm dipping sauce. Also some wonderful raw seafood starters (if they still do all that, it's been a year or so since I last went).
The steak was very good, but there is much better around. However, you don't really just go for the steak - if you do, see above (Dons). The lobster at XOX is good.
At Dons, it is customary to share steak among several people as the minimum order per steak is something like 400 or 500 grams. They usually have one fillet and two types of sirloin, which they wheel around in 10 pound slabs and you decide how many fingers' wide a cut you want.
I have not been for a very long time, though I did have some of the best steak of my life there. The reason I have not been lately is that a) it is very expensive (though nowhere near as expensive as Aragawa, which I have never been to as it seems insane to spend that sort of cash on a steak); and b) each time I went, I spent half the following day in recovery. Protein shock I guess. It is a real battle between you and the wagyu, especially if proceedings involve the fatty sirloin (I have always shared the steaks with a friend and we always went for one sirloin, one fillet), and the wagyu will always come out on top. You always feel you had had a tremendous meal, but also wish you were dead, and start hitting the spirits, like cognac, in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to 'cut through the fat'. A bit like after a massive multi-course French meal.
Can anyone shed light on the differences between the two steakhouses?
It looks like Gyu-An in Ginza is a budget option albeit probably lower quality.
for Tsukiji sushi without the lines, you can try the Tsukiji branch of Sushi Zanmai, open 24 hours, check it out on Bento.com
Oh hey, you mentioned Hanakago! I didn't even notice that. You should be fine there, because all you get to choose is your drinks. The fridge is like a supermarket display (a small one), so you can pick up bottles and inspect and stuff, and then just say "kore!" One drink is Y1000 and they'll bring you three small dishes with it. If you like something, you could try pointing and saying "one more".
You'll be fine. Also, I bet if you say "Jon" early on, Mama will like you.
another place to consider: Aronia de Takazawa. I just had the best meal of my life there, absolutely not an exaggeration (and Yes I have been to Paris). The parade of dishes was transcendental in more ways than one. Taste, structure, configuration, ingredients, and most importantly a refreshing sense of mischievous playfulness. This is a unique dining experience not to be missed.
I tried Komahachi once, based on their stellar reputation, and I was very disappointed. The sake list wasn't all that exciting, they were out of a lot of selections on the menu, and the sakes I did finally try weren't very fresh. Also I recall the food being rather hit or miss, and not very original or interesting. I had brought an out-of-town visitor there (we happened to be in the neighborhood) and I was embarrassed.