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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?

                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'

                      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

                      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

                      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...

                      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) : 
                      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.

                    3. Hi all,

                      I am in a similar situation but not exactly the same. I'm also a solo traveler planning to be in Tokyo for just two dinners and two lunches, though I am not on business and I don't have a lot of money to spend.

                      I don't need to go super ramen cheap, but budget is certainly on my mind. Because my time is so short, I don't really want any long, drawn-out dining affairs, but I would like:

                      Perhaps some mid-range, not famous but very delicious sushi, that differs from what I know in California.

                      Maybe an authentic foreigner-friendly isekaya or even street food experience. Note I don't speak Japanese.

                      I've never been to the Tsukiji fish market. Is it worth it on such a short trip?

                      How about some affordable, authentic lunch ideas?

                      19 Replies
                      1. re: crunchy

                        For dinner, I love Kaikaya by the sea.

                        It is in Shibuya. Informal and not expensive. Really fun. I like to sit at the counter, the 3 chefs (sushi/grill/sautee) are a joy to watch.

                        1. re: pauliface

                          It's in Shibuya actually. That's the only overtly foreigner targeted place I can think of for this type of request.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            Thanks, Silverjay, I have corrected my post.
                            Hmm, 'overtly foreigner targeted...' .... is that an encouraging or disparaging remark in this context?

                            1. re: pauliface

                              Oh, completely matter-of-fact nuetral. I've never been myself, but have read about it frequently on this forum and checked out their website. There are of course tons and tons of places a foreigner will feel welcome.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                Silverjay's comment is right on. Have eaten there several times with visitors who wanted to eat somewhere with an English menu. The few Japanese customers that were there were with tables of English speaking foreigners. The food is fine, so it seems to fit your request. However, as someone who speaks Japanese, I wouldn't bother to make a detour there.

                        2. re: crunchy

                          If you're the type of person who comes to Chowhound for advice, then I think you must go see Tsukiji Fish Market.

                          Deprive yourself a bit of sleep (you may be jetlagged anyways) and show up early (6AM) to witness the incredible hustle and bustle of Tsukiji. Just be mindful and respectful of the people who work there and don't touch the wares.

                          Who knows; you may see me there too (my 3rd visit, hopefully)! I'll be the one taking Canon macro lens shots of the yummy food.

                          1. re: J.L.

                            what if I show up later? will I miss everything?

                            1. re: crunchy

                              Not really, just less bustle after the morning rush.

                              They used to let tourists watch the tuna auction at 4:30AM, but I'm not sure about that now. That was a lot of fun.

                              1. re: crunchy

                                I've gone and arrived at 7:30 and it was still great. You miss the tuna auction, but believe me it is an amazing experience.

                                Also, I've only been to one place for sushi there, but I loved it.
                                It was recommended by my hotel, and did not have long lines like some of the others mentioned. I have no idea if the more popular ones are better, as I have not tried them.
                                It is called Iwasa Sushi, and I had the "Kai Set" which was all different kinds of shellfish; many kinds of clams and also scallops.
                                Amazing stuff, I daydream about it all the time...

                                Oh hey looks like they have a website with a map!
                                Oh and they have a picture of my kai set on the upper right...

                                1. re: E Eto

                                  Sorry to kinda hijack the thread, but I am Toronto chowhound and have been following this thread and researching others, for my own 'short solo food trip to Japan', so I felt compelled to ask a question or two on the topic of Ryugin and other recommendations...If this is rude or inappropriate in the Japan forum, kindly let me know and i apologize for same.

                                  I have read that the chef used to be more contemporary in his keiseki interpretation, but was more recently traditional. Is this accurate? The reason why I ask is that I will be enjoying a traditional Keiseki in Kyoto at Hiiragaya, and since I have only 5 dinners or so available, want to perhaps avoid 'two traditional keiseki' dinners...But perhaps they will be different enough and worthwhile enough to try both....? Thoughts?

                                  Also, can someone chime in about how a high-end sushi place such as Mizutan compares to Tsukiji market, which is also much enjoyed, but is a fraction of the cost....

                                  Lastly, and I know I am pressing here....but I can't help but ask for your views on whether some high-end tempura places, such as Kondo, are more vegetable or more seafood, in their focus....Although I would love to try some nicely done asparagus for example, I would definitely be disappointed if the mainstay of the lunch or dinner was vegetable as opposed to seafood, especially at those prices....

                                  1. re: Teffub

                                    Hi there Teffub,

                                    I can not comment on Ryugin historically. However, I stayed at Hiiragiya in 2009, and dined at Ryugin in the same trip. Both were wonderful, but they were plenty different and you do not need to worry about them being too similar.

                                    in 2010, I went once again to Ryugin in a different season. Fantastic once again, and would not be monotonous against Hiiragiya.

                                    As for Tempura, I have only eaten at Mikawa. Once in his old location, and again at his new location. It was so good the first time that, even though I know there are other wonderful options, I returned to Mikawa. If I remember correctly, the dinner course there was mostly seafood, with a vegetable course, and at the beinning of the meal he asks you to select 3 vegetables for that course.
                                    I wish I could go there tomorrow.
                                    When last I was there, the master, Tetsuya Saotome, had recently opened his new location, in Monzennakacho.
                                    Here's an article I found about the new location....

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      Kaiseki = 2 ways, tempura = one time(=2nd vote for Mikawa- Monzennakacho), sushi = might be two times ?... Seems that you are organising an exceptionnal tour on food !!
                                      With the Dollar that now quote 75.-yens compared to April quote  December 2010 at 97.-yens (=as it lives!), you might want to secure your budget... No doubt that an high end sushi worth it. If you have the ability and are fan of sushi, the price worth an obstacle, but if your budget is restricted to a certain amount, I will recommend you to choose a high end sushi omakase at 10,000.- ~ 15,000.-yens, in choosing the tempura Mikawa whose course (=prawn, conger eel, kikuko=milt, sea food kakiage) is at around the same price with prawn, it will be affordable...The criteria in this choice, in comparaison to the mid-range ones, is that you will have more : slightly smoke bonito, fondant and decadent toro, soy sauce boiled hamaguri, steamed 'awabi,... quality will be different, different chef different style, different presentation... After if you do like particularly beautiful display, I think the new open sushi Garyu in Yotsuya 3 chome, omakase at 15,000.-yens, might give you a nice program 'omakase' :
                                      My budget per month can only afford lunch times at 3,000.-yens and usually some extra sushi at 10,000.-yens, the top sushi are my ultimate fun...can't pass by !!!

                                      1. re: pauliface

                                        Many thanks for the great advice and insight, Pauliface!

                                        1. re: Teffub

                                          I noticed J.L. stated they would be doing Ryugin - solo. I was considering doing the same and was wondering if there's any concern for doing it alone? I've done many places solo, including Alinea and El Bulli, but never did anything on that level in Tokyo. Is it a two-hour experience, or should I plan on 3-4 hours?

                                          Also, though I travel to Asia quite a bit, I speak very little Japanese. With regards to making the reservation, their website talks about confirming within 24 hours. Am I correct in assuming this is something I can have my concierge do? Silly, simple questions, I know, but I have two weeks to kill in Japan and would like to try Ryugin if at all possible.

                                          1. re: grimaldi

                                            I stay at the Cerulean Tower, and the Concierge staff there is amazing. They will make reservations ahead of time for you, and when you arrive, they will have everything ready, including maps. Once there, they will confirm as well.
                                            I can only assume, based on experience in Japan, that any fine hotel will have similar services.

                                            At Ryugin itself, the staff speaks English well enough that you will be fine. You should feel comfortable dining there alone, and allow 3-4 hours rather than 2.

                                            1. re: pauliface

                                              Thanks for the prompt reply. I'll be at the Park Hyatt and the concierge there is fantastic, so I'm sure they'll be able to arrange everything. And thanks for letting me know it's a 3-4 hour affair. That makes a huge difference.

                                              1. re: grimaldi

                                                The concierge at the Park Hyatt is great indeed. I really enjoyed my stays there in the past.

                                                For the non-Japanese traveler to Tokyo, the hotel concierge can be your "lifeline" to the restaurants of Tokyo.

                                                1. re: J.L.

                                                  So please let us know how your restaurant selections turned out and report on the culinary adventure, please, J.L.! :)