Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Japan >
May 11, 2011 02:58 AM

One Spectacular, Tour de Force Tokyo Dinner...Who to Choose??

Hi all,
I'll be heading to Japan for a two week trip at the beginning of June. This will be my first trip to the country, staying half the time in Tokyo and the other half in Kyoto with various day trips. I've been reading as many chow posts as possible about who is the "best" sushi chef and best kaiseki in Tokyo but can't find any real, solid answer, or even really two or three of them to choose from. I go to college in L.A., have family in New York, and studied last year in Paris, but choosing where to eat in Tokyo is by far the most exciting and overwhelming destination I've had to plan for, even more than those other amazing gastronomic cities!
I'll keep researching for the rest of my dining choices the next few weeks, but my mom and I are planning on going to one spectacular, "Michelin 3 star" (I hate to use that adjective because by no means does that always means the best) sushi or kaiseki meal we will always cherish for the rest of our lives. Since we're about a month away from our trip, I figured we should me making a reservation for this destination soon. I've been looking at Sushi Mizutani, Hamada-ya, Kanda, and Jiro (I wish we spoke Japanese to go to his original location), but I'd love to hear your thoughts on those and any others that could be considered life-changing experiences like we think of Masa in NYC and Urusawa in L.A.
Essentially what I'd love to know is your thoughts on who is the "best of the best?"
Thanks so much!!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Unless you're already a connoisseur of high-end fish, I'd say that it might be a more rewarding, "life-changing" experience to go to someplace like Ryugin for modern kaiseki - it's something you really won't find outside of Japan.

    1. I also traveled to japan a couple times for food after really enjoying my urasawa / masa experiences. Compared with those two, I think any top restaurant you choose in tokyo will have better fish, be a much better value, and be less "extravagant" in terms of the number of courses, decor, and service.

      I really loved my meal at kanda, but i also love minimalism and simplicity. If you want expensive sushi that is a bit "better" than masa in nyc, try sawada. i'd also suggest you hit up a high-end tempura place (kondo?) at some point too, as we don't have that in the US. Or maybe go to all three, i think it will still be less than the price of a single meal at masa.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Dustin_E

        each one his obsession, mine is sushi (=Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza), kaiseki (=waketokuyama), nabe (=yamasaki),Izakaya(=Shinsuke) and more... 
        In this research of complete satisfaction, the notion of price is not as important. As I haveee loveeed it... I have to say that I understand the precaution made on 'kaiseki'' and the enthousiasm also about the perfection of the products, the by the season... 
        Put your schedule in, come to Tokyo and enter this world of humble-delicassy, underneath beauty, purety..   

        1. re: Ninisix

          Oh, Kanda is one of France studied chef and had an impressive knowledge on wine, and speaks french, adapt his menu differently on clients, ...His one want to go.

      2. I like Sawada for sushi, Nana-chome for tempura, Zakuro for shabu-shabu, Quintessence for western. Ryugin is a safe choice, I understand it's a lot easier to book at Aronia de Takazawa now. I wouldn't choose June for sushi as the fish variety is not that great.

        1. Thanks everybody for your advice!!! So it certainly sounds like from this thread and other threads that Ryugin is the real, special destination, and looking at previous articles it looks perfect...
          Except I'm still trying to convince my travel partner to go above her 18,000 yen maximum per meal. Ryugin is currently 23,100 yen.
          Our current plan looks like this:
          Day One: Dinner: Tofuya Ukai
          Day Two: Lunch: Namiki Yabusoba
          Dinner: Izakaya (I'm thinking Yuian or Toki no ma or Shinsuke)
          Day Three: Lunch: Sushi Dai at Tsukiji
          Dinner: our special dinner-- looking now at choosing between Kanda, Waketokuyuma, and Esaki-- all three look wonderful and under 18,000 yen for omakase
          Day Four: Lunch: ramen (Gangko or Ivan or both?) or yakitori at Birdland because we really want to go for dinner but it's closed the first 2 nights we're in town.
          Cocktail/bar stops: NY Bar, Star Bar Ginza, High Five, possibly Tender Bar and Little Smith (we're staying in Ginza and love outstanding cocktails...)
          Let me know any thoughts!!! We'll be in Kyoto for a conference after this and having some kaiseki there too for sure. No reservations made yet and we leave in a week, so I'm open to lots of advice!

          20 Replies
          1. re: pats38sox

            Skip Tofuya Ukai, Sushi Dai, Ganko, Ivan, and Birdland. You can do better than all of these in their respective categories. Skip NY Bar out of hand..... Tokyo cocktail bars are whatever. You're drinking expensive drinks in a speakeasy and paying for the bartender's stiff smart outfit. They're fun as escapes for locals and expats. Not sure why you'd seek them out if you're a North American or European visitor. You pay $20 to watch a guy carve an ice ball and pour you two ounces of booze. Suggest trying a sake or shochu specialty place. Drink local. Support Japan.

            1. re: pats38sox

              Birdland is open only from 5-9:30pm.

              1. re: pats38sox

                Tokyo ramen: Ramen Jiro is the stuff of legends. Get in line and wait with the locals for this life-changing ramen. Hope your cholesterol level is good.

                Ramen Jiro
                Mita 2-16-4, Minato-ku

                Caveat emptor: Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza is in the basement of the subway station (yes, it has 3 Michelin stars, if you care for that sort of thing). And unlike Urasawa, where diners can linger for 3-4+ hours, expect your ($300 per person) sushi kaiseki meal at Jiro to be 2 things: (1) Unforgettably transcendent, and (2) Over within 45 minutes.

                1. re: J.L.

                  Won't be able to make a descontruction about the Kaiseki Kanda as I don't know about it. The fact are the number of seats :  8 and the chef French speaking. That will be a big help.
                  Also, avoid the Izakaya Yuan. It has a large view, but the food was crap comparable to Tokyo food scene.
                  In 2 days to reverse time, it will be better to don't try to run to Hiroo(=for Waketokuyama) or to the minami kurasuyama (=for ramen Ivan). For the best and the worse play your day in Ginza-Akihabara-Ueno\Asakusa or Shibuya-Omotesando-Yotsuya/Iidabashi or Yanaka-Ueno-Asakusa, pivoting and eating. If you have an itinary, please share it and let's try with it.  

                  1. re: Ninisix

                    Thanks everyone for your replies! We're very excited for the trip, leaving Saturday. Just got my J.R. Pass with trips to Kyoto and Hiroshima after Tokyo.
                    Ninisix, here's my current plan. We're staying right by the Shimbashi metro station.
                    Sunday arrival with dinner booked at Tofuya Ukai (we're looking for a great spectacular setting for opening dinner and heard lots of good things about here and want to try good tofu!).
                    Monday: morning: Tsukiji Market, probably won't wait in line at Sushi Dai or Daiwa
                    Afternoon will be Asakusa, Ueno Park, and Akihabara. I'm thinking lunch of soba at either Kanda Yabusoba or Namiki Yabusoba?
                    Dinner I'm planning for an izakaya. Any good ideas, preferably nearish to Ginza? I've only heard of Uokin in Ginza but heard terrific things about Toki No Ma and Shinsuke but they're further out. I know it's touristy but since we're big cocktail fans we were thinking this night of doing some sampling at 2 or 3 of Star Bar, Bar High Five, Tender Bar, and Little Smith.
                    Tuesday: morning: tour of Imperial Palace. Afternoon: undecided, maybe Harajuku and Meiji Jingu shrine? So lunch location is flexible but we really want sushi. We tried for Sushi Saito but it is closed next week. I'm thinking maybe Kyugei in Ginza or Shintaro (heard it's a favorite of Tetsuya Wakuda, famed chef from Sydney). A beloved chef here in California loves Sushidokoro Shimuzu by Shinbashi but I can't find any updates on it since 2008. Any advice for sushi would be very welcomed!
                    Then dinner is reserved that night at Ishikawa with drinks probably before or after at NY Bar. Then lunch the next day at Tempura Kondo before our train to Kyoto.
                    Would love some help still, especially with izakaya, sushi, soba, and great local sake bars...and if I've made any big mistakes with the 3 reservations we have.

                    1. re: pats38sox

                      FYI: Tsukiji is closed to visitors on Monday July 18, in case that's the day you were planning to visit. And the tuna auction at Tsukiji is closed to visitors indefinitely.

                      Sit on the right side of the train as you go from Tokyo to Kyoto for views of Mt. Fuji.

                      Kanesaka is a great bet for sushi, but be warned: It is expensive.

                      I still say Ramen Jiro is worth the pilgrimage.

                      1. re: pats38sox

                        For soba, you can't go wrong by heading to Sarashina in Azabu-Juban. There's lots of good soba but that's my favorite (we used to live right nearby.)


                        1. re: pats38sox

                          Kanda Koujyu is an excellent sake bar and small plates restaurant in Kanda. You definitely need to try and book ahead of time- . There are other threads dedicated to sake bars (ex: We didn't make it there, but was with a group of friends last time looking to drink at Sakantei in Shibuya- .If you're having trouble making up your mind for izakaya, Ebisu Yokocho (in Ebisu) is a series of indoor Showa Era stalls with various types of sit-down offerings and a convivial atomsphere- . Ok, it's a little bit kitschy, but you can try several different cuisines....Any of the Uoshin branches (there's at least ones in Shinjuku, Nogizaka, and Ebisu) will give you a good seafood-centric izakaya experience...Yoshinari in Shibuya is a more upscale seafood izakaya-ish restaurant- ....Re: Ramen Jiro, there are several dozen branches around the city. It's basically a bowl of pork. There are better, more soup and noodle-centric shops that are worth trying.

                          1. re: pats38sox

                            Have you made restaurant reservations for Hiroshima?

                            1. re: E Eto

                              No reservations for Hiroshima yet...any recs? We're there for one day and I'd love to try the wonderful seafood there (oysters and especially fugu) along with okonomiyaki.
                              We're also in Kyoto for 4 nights. Half the meals will be at a conference but would love a good shabu shabu, kaiseki, Kyoto-style sushi (Izuju?), and tofu experience. I've read a lot about Kikunoi Honten...thought about it but the raves mixed with strong unfavorable reviews have made me pause at going.
                              Also doing a half day in Nara, any ideas for lunch, especially for pickles and cha-gayu.
                              Tokyo-wise, Silverjay thanks for the advice on Kanda Koujyu! Looks perfect, should I reserve now, 5 nights in advance? I'm thinking since we'll be in Asakusa around lunch time, a lunch at Namiki yabusoba is a good idea. For our sushi lunch I'm now between the recommended and pricier Kanesaka and Kyubei since we'll be in the Ginza area that day...any thoughts either way?
                              Cocktail-wise, if anyone has advice about the best in Ginza between Star Bar, High Five, Tender Bar, and Little Smith, please let me know!
                              Thanks so much for all this wonderful help!!! Leaving in about 36 hours, very excited!

                              1. re: pats38sox

                                Izuju is nothing special in my mind.

                                1. re: pats38sox

                                  If you need help with Hiroshima reservations, I can help you if you want to contact me from the email on my profile page.

                                  1. re: pats38sox

                                    Yes, I would reserve Kanda Koujyu in advance for sure. Print out a good map too. It's close to the JR station but can be a little confusing to find.

                                    1. re: pats38sox

                                      In Nara, To No Chaya is known for their cha-gayu:
                                      (scroll down a bit).

                                      1. re: Robb S

                                        Thank you everyone for the advice!!! I think we're pretty set, heading to the airport in a few hours. I asked the hotel to reserve for Kanda Koujyu, haven't heard back. I've just got a few quick questions that hopefully you can help me with...
                                        For our Tuesday sushi lunch near either Ginza or Meiji Jingu Shrine (since we're touring the Palace grounds then visiting the shrine that day), any ideas for where to go that won't be too filling but still very good prior to a dinner at Ishikawa? I'm thinking Kanesaka (would need to reserve as I soon as I arrive) or Kyugei but would love other guidance...
                                        For lunch in Hiroshima---my travel partner will have to stay in Kyoto for business so my jaunt to Hiroshima is solo for just the day. I'd love to try fugu...
                                        Does anybody know if any of the Ginza sake/cocktail bars are open on Sundays?: Kuri, Star Bar, High Five, Tender, Little Smith. I know the Peter Bar at the Peninsula is. We're hoping to try 1 or 2 Sunday and 1 or 2 Monday.
                                        Lastly, any thoughts on tofu at either Tousuiro or Okutan for lunch when temple-touring one day in Kyoto? For our other Kyoto lunch, any thoughts on Kikunoi's cheaper kaiseki bento box? Or maybe a shabu shabu since we're not having one in Tokyo? Our dinners in Kyoto will be conference banquets (blah) so need to make the lunches great!
                                        Thanks Robb for To No Chaya, looks perfect for Nara! Should I reserve?
                                        Domo arigato everyone for your help!!!

                                        1. re: pats38sox

                                          Re: To No Chaya - you should definitely reserve.

                                          1. re: pats38sox

                                            Definitely have okonomiyaki in Hiroshima.

                                        2. re: pats38sox

                                          Soba namiki yabu soba is a good idea unfortunately they are under renovation. If you want to stay on the same parfume of soba, I really recommend the place named Ozawa soba : the negi oroshi hiyakake (=cold soba on a dashi with thin sliced leaks with grated radish) plus you can choose between the osomen (=thin soba like spaghettini) or chumen (=thiker soba like linguine) or futomen (=large soba like parpadelle). The hic is they do not have side dish like tempura, but the small apetizer like tamagoran no misotsuke (=egg yoke confit in miso) or kamo-sausage (duck sausage).
                                          Sushi Kanesaka have a lunch set at 5,000yens, one piece supplement is around 2,500,-yens to 3,000.-yens each, so... As the 'nigiri' pieces are small, after you'd better go to have a desert plate at Henri Charpentier Kobe patissier. This is near, just on the other side of the Chuo Avenue...
                                          That is nice to have this time important in a bar, if you're for a glass of cold champagne only, here below the link of the Salon de Champagne Vionys in Ginza :
                                          The glasses are from 1,800 to ~ ~ 

                                          1. re: Ninisix

                                            That Tabelog page says that Ozawa is not open on Mondays and anyway, doesn't look like they even offer weekday lunch service....I don't think it's absolutely necessary to pre-plan lunch on Monday in neighborhoods like Asakusa, Ueno, and Akiba. Tons of places to eat.

                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                              Navigation will be at your advantage, that's for sure. As it will be easy to lost, as well it will be easy to recover you way through a big avenue.
                                              Things I can't tell is that I do ask for my way at the 'koban (=police box)' and in the same time for a good soba or a good ramen ! 

                              2. The original comment has been removed