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Solo L.A. Hound has 36 hours in Tokyo for food tour, early November... Please help with my itinerary!

Konichiwa Tokyo Chowhounds,

Please comment on my plan:

I will be traveling solo on business from Los Angeles to Tokyo in early November. I will have only about 36 hours in Tokyo as free time, and would like to use it to eat! Time-wise, I have 1 breakfast, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners, and lots of snacking in between to plan.

My budget will not be a limiting factor on this trip. Though budget is not a concern, it does not mean I must eat expensively. I enjoy street food as much (if not more) than high end dining in general.

I will be staying in Shiodome, near Chuo. I have visited Tokyo many times before, and can use public transport without problems. BUT... I am not fluent in Japanese.

So far, I have made a reservation for dinner at Aronia de Takazawa, and a dinner reservation at Tapas Molecular Bar in the Mandarin Oriental for the next night. I am sure I want to keep the Aronia de Takazawa reservation, but I am less certain if Tapas Molecular is a "must-try" restaurant.

I would like to focus on ramen, sushi, teppanyaki and any other "must-try" places while in Tokyo. I will probably return to Tsukiji Fish Market for sushi for one of the meals. I tried getting a reservation at Sushi Saito, but they are full. I am told Sukiyabashi Jiro (Ginza) does not take solo foreigners.

Because I know many restaurants do not take solo diner reservations, I have arranged for a friend in Tokyo who will be my dining buddy "on-call", just in case a certain restaurant does not accept a reservation for just one person.

Places I have enjoyed in Tokyo include Ramen Jiro, Keyakizaya Teppanyaki, Sushi Kanesaka, and Ten-ichi Tempura in Ginza.

Has anyone tried Iberico Bar or Ivan Ramen for ramen? Is Hokkaido crab in season in November? Anything else in season I should try?

As always, Thanks in Advance!

Los Angeles 'Hound J.L.

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  1. I would replace Tapas with sushi Sawada. I would love to experience his fish selection in November.

    Disclaimer: I am not a Tokyo expert by any stretch.

    1. Hi, good to "see" you on Tokyo Board. Time for me to return a favor to you.

      2 dinners: Yes, keep Ariona and cancel Tapas Molecular. If budget is not a factor, then substitute it with a Michelin-rated kappo style kaiseki, whether it is Koju, Ryugin, Ishikawa, Kadowaki, Tomura, Hirosaku, Banrekiryukodo, La Bomba. There should not be a problem for solo diner as you can sit in the counter. Each chef has his own style, you just can't get the same standard outside of Japan.
      Or if you just want seafood izakaya, then I will recommend Sawaichi at Roppongi. http://sawaichi.jp/ The chef used to work at Nabura, which I wrote a review sometime ago (just use above Search function) but has moved to this new place a few months ago and it is getting rave review at Tabelog.

      2 lunch: go for Sushi Sawada if you can still get a place though it would be quite tough by now. But it is easier for solo diner to get a reservation so no harm trying. Sawada-san does not speak English but he is quite friendly so it is not a problem. But just be warned that this is probably the most expensive sushiya in town, be prepare to fork out 30,000 JPY per person. As for the second lunch, what type of food do you have in mind: tonkatsu, ramen, tempura, shabu shabu, sukiyaki? Hirosaku, the kaiseki I mentioned above, offered a very good deal for lunch at 7-8,000 JPY and also the best soba in town. That is another good option.

      Re breakfast: I usually skip breakfast and go for late night ramen instead so not able to advise on this one.

      1 Reply
      1. re: FourSeasons

        Of the places mentioned thus far, I have been to Ryugin and Tapas.
        While Tapas is fun, there is no comparison. You should go to Ryugin if you can; it's in credible.

      2. I, too, would skip Tapas. Not sure which of the other places I'd choose instead. I've been to Ryugin twice and have enjoyed both meals there (though I enjoyed Chef Yamamoto's earlier style a little more), but I think I might try Banrekiryukodo next time around.

        Regarding Aronia, is your friend joining you there? IIRC, they do not accept single diners (understandably so, as they only serve two tables per night.

        6 Replies
        1. re: prasantrin

          Banrekiryukodo -- oh heavens I did not catch that someone had mentioned this.
          I went there about 3 years ago.
          It was truly terrible. I was so looking forward to it, but just an awful meal. At first they brought out a platter of the ingredients and it seemed very excting. But many dishes were boring or even just nasty. Worst dining experience of that trip... don't go.

          1. re: pauliface

            Ouch! I thought it was supposed to be quite good? Is it possible that it has improved since you went? Or maybe the opposite. . .

            1. re: prasantrin

              When I planned that trip, there was not a lot of info available online about Banreki.
              What I read was good, and I was intriged by the way they brought out a platter of all the ingedients, took them back to the kitchen, and brought them out later prepared in courses.

              The place was pretty.
              It took a course or two for the dread to fully set in.
              Mind you, I do feel I have a very accepting palate. I love almost everything I eat in Japan. But there were some really unpleasant tastes. One thing in particular sears my brain just remembering it; it looked like a little crab napolean but it tasted awful. I think there were a lot of innards stuck in there or something; it was bitter and unpleasant.

              I will go see if I have any notes anywhere about this restaurant and post them if I find them.

              In the meantime, if you google "pauliface banreki" you will find 2 very short videos I took of my hands and the table while waiting for my friend to use the restroom. :-)

            2. re: pauliface

              Really? I thought it was supposed to be quite good. Perhaps it has gotten better since you dined there? (or worse?)

              FourSeasons--have you been there recently?

              1. re: prasantrin

                I went there 4-5 years ago. It was pretty good back then.

            3. re: prasantrin

              Yes, I am also paying for my friend's meal at Aronia de Takazawa.

            4. Thanks for chiming in, everyone! Good to see you on the Tokyo board, FourSeasons.

              OK, I will try to: (1) Cancel Tapas Molecular, (2) Do my best to score a seat at Sushi Sawada for lunch, and (3) Substitute kaiseki for Tapas Molecular for dinner.

              I am prepared for the sticker shock in Japan, including Sawada. I will update you all on my progress. Keep those recommendations coming!

              2 Replies
              1. re: J.L.

                I just want to be clear to anybody else reading:
                Tapas Molecular bar is great.
                I would include it in an itinerary of 4 or 5 or more nights.
                It provides a wonderful contrast to other things.
                But it's not my choice for such a short trip.

                1. re: pauliface

                  Agree. We can get molecular here in the U.S. wd~50, e by Jose Andres, etc...

                  I'm in Japan to eat what can be found nowhere else.

              2. Thanks to your collective voices, I've made some changes (thanks to some connections on the ground in Tokyo). Here is what my current lineup looks like...

                First day:

                Breakfast: I should be sleeping, but in case insomnia sets in... Sushi somewhere at Tsukiji Fish Market?
                Lunch: To be determined (need help here)
                Merienda: Iberico Bar? (need advice here)
                Dinner: Ryugin (solo)
                Late night dining: ??? (need help here)

                Second Day:
                Breakfast: To be determined (a patisserie or bakery, perhaps?)
                Lunch: Sawada (solo), omakase
                Merienda: Ivan Ramen, other street food? (need help here)
                Dinner: Aronia de Takazawa (with dining buddy), 11-course option

                Still need some input about worthy breakfasts, snacks, low-end dining, and street foods...
                By the way, I love awabi (abalone) and kegani (Hokkaido hairy crab): Are either in season right now?
                Domo!

                4 Replies
                1. re: J.L.

                  First Day-lunch: what do you have in mind? Tonkatsu, tempura, unagi, sukiyaki, shabu shabu? Many here have raved about the tonkatsu with Iberico pork at Butagumi so you may consider that as option: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/572357

                  Late night dining: Ryugin is in Roppongi area, which is right opposite Grand Hyatt where I usually stay in Tokyo. The dinner meal at Ryugin is actually quite filling but if you are looking more food than that in late night hours in that area, I tend to either go for ramen at Akanoren http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1307/A130... (closed at 5am) or yakiniku at Jojoen http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1307/A130... (closed at 4am). Both are quite well rated at Tabelog, one of the most popular food website in Japan.

                  I think you can get abalone at Sawada if you opt for the dinner menu. Hokkaido crab is available all year round. Both are also available at Sawaichi that I recommended at the top. The best crab I had was actually in a shabu shabu restaurant called Seryna but it would be too much for solo diner. Another option is a kaiseki meal at Yukimura; I have not been there but was told they serve very good crab kaiseki meal in November.

                  P.S: Just one note on your selection of Ryugin and Ariona for both dinners on your stay in Tokyo: both chefs are super creative and artistic so they don't represent the traditional or modern culinary style of Japanese cuisine. Just make sure you have no issue with that.

                  1. re: J.L.

                    late night dining after Ryugin is probably not necessary. I was really really quite full after my dinner, and I am not a small eater.

                    1. re: shekamoo

                      To complete your 'petit gourmet' tour, here below some links :

                      Breakfast at Akihabara !!! Open from 7:00 AM on weekdays. It will be a nice beginning day in trying the 'katsu sandwich'
                      http://s.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1310/A131...

                      For a snack at Yurakucho, a 'takoyaki' at the new open Osaka Hyakumanten at Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan in front of Yurakucho station (~22:00), or a stop at Okachimachi to get the whale sushi 'nigiri' piece at Magurobito in the Ameyoko street...

                      For a quick cheap lunch, at 1000.-yens, I will recommend a 'kushi-age set' at Shun's in the Tokyo Bldg near the Tokyo station
                      http://www.unzen.com/tenpo/tokyo_syun...

                      After, if you want a bit of sweet taste, a bit crazy, the cold chocolate sparking drink 'choco n'est ce pas?' has been a summer big surprise
                      http://s.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1302/A130...

                      For another office lunch set, soba ate not that terrific, but if you choose the 'kakitama soba or udon(=simple egg with a touch of sesame hot soba)' you can't go wrong. I have been there 2 weeks ago, with it I have had grilled sanma and maitake tempura. At shimbashi, the name of this crowd restaurant at lunch time is Konya...
                      http://s.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130...

                      Sushi Sawada is not my favourite...My first time there, I found his way to use 'uni(=sea urchin)' like eggs very impressive, it was around the same period than yours and 'awabi(=abalone)' was on the 'omakase(=chef recommendation)'.
                      Crab, this is the season for the 'watarikani(=gazami crab)' and the best advise I can give you is to make a call or ask your hotel to do it for you. Usually when you make reservation, just ask about the 'omakase' and to add a little  piece of crab how much do it will cost ? Trick the 'omakase' !!! Not sure if Sawada-San will arrange it !!

                    2. re: J.L.

                      Here below a recommendation (= Yuuhi Sushi -Komagome) : 
                      http://s.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1323/A132...
                      Master Wada will be able to answer to your request for crab if you make a call 3-4 days before...Omakase is under 10,000.-yens including dashi maki anago (=rolled dashi egg omelet with conger eel), sashimi, assorted sea food (=steamed abalone, ark shell), grilled one day dried nodoguro, and small size 'nigiri' but tasty ! The quality of the maguro(=tuna) can't be compared to the clan of the super sushi, whose tuna come from India. But the 'minami maguro (=tuna from south)' is quite good actually, better in my opinion than the 'shibi maguro(=3 days fermented tuna)' from Boston that can be tasted for exemple at the sushi Manten in Marunouchi Brick square. This sushi feels like your local sushi around the corner, located in a small, old downtown Komagome... far cry from the upright high grade sushis.