Reviews of Michelin-Starred Restaurants in Tokyo
I recently visited Japan for the first time on a business trip to Tokyo. I quickly became impressed with the low-to-mid-level dining in Tokyo. From pasta and pizza to sushi and tempura, the average food in Tokyo topped the average food back home in LA, by a substantial margin I thought. Most symbolic to me of the high baseline quality of food in Tokyo are the rather addictive onigiri available at every 7-11 store.
Initially, I didn’t intend to do a whole lot of fine dining in Tokyo. I was there alone, and the language and cultural barriers were rather intimidating. Still, I wanted to try high-level kaiseki and tempura, because these are generally not available in the U.S., and high-level sushi, to compare to what is available in the U.S.
I looked to the Michelin Guide and a couple of helpful websites (www.bento.com; www.sunnypages.jp) to find a starred kaiseki restaurant close to where I lived in Akasaka, and decided to try Kikunoi. Dining solo at the counter at Kikunoi was an exceedingly comfortable and pleasant experience. Moreover, the subtle flavors, the fresh ingredients, the aromas of yuzu and mitsuba, and the healthiness of the meal won me over. I don’t think a meal like this exists anywhere in the U.S.
Encouraged by my experience at Kikunoi, I set out to try other Michelin-starred restaurants. As my experiences at the restaurants were uniformly good, and I felt more and more comfortable finding and dining in them, this soon turned into a hobby. I wound up dining at 31 Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo, and have posted brief reviews of them below. I’ve divided the reviews into Japanese restaurants and Western restaurants, and listed the restaurants very roughly in order of how much I enjoyed my meal or meals there (including atmosphere and service, but excluding price). Considering the fact that I ordered the most expensive dinners available at some restaurants, and the cheapest lunches available at other restaurants, little stock should be placed in the order.
Overall, I can say that the Michelin ratings steered me very well. Of the 31 restaurants below, I would recommend 30 of them (if price is no object).
SOME BASIC TIPS FOR DINING IN TOKYO
Attire: Roughly the same as the U.S. I think business casual is okay for all the places below, but you'll probably feel more comfortable dressing up for the French restaurants (except L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon).
Reservations: Generally, you should make reservations for these restaurants. This is not only to secure seats (which is often not so hard), but also because many restaurants are tiny, their ingredients are expensive and highly perishable, and reservations are vital to their planning. (I was oh-so-politely reprimanded after my meal at two restaurants for dropping in without notice.) Every Western restaurant below takes reservations in English. Most Michelin-starred Japanese restaurants are able to take reservations in English as well. The only exceptions among the restaurants below are Mizutani, Okina, and (depending on who answers) Sushi Saito.
Finding the restaurants: This is harder than you might expect, but part of the fun of dining in Tokyo for me. Typically, restaurants have minimal signage. Often, they are located in unusual places. (After arriving at Sushi Saito, for example, it took me 20 minutes, some fruitless discussions with guards at the American embassy across the street, and the help of two taxi drivers to find it.) Japanese addresses comprise three numbers, followed by a neighborhood, followed by a (larger) ward. For example: 4-5-6 Ginza, Chiyoda-Ku. The first number is called the "chome" and corresponds to a contiguous area of the neighborhood. The second number is the block. The third number is the building number on that block. Many buildings have posted signs with the last two numbers; for buildings without signs you must extrapolate. A taxi or Google Maps should get you to the right chome and block, though you typically will need to hunt for the correct building. (Google Maps frequently gets the building way wrong.) Despite the challenges, I suggest foregoing a taxi and using the subway whenever possible. You'll get to see more of Tokyo this way, though you do need to allow for more time.
REVIEWS OF JAPANESE RESTAURANTS
Ryugin - modern Japanese, 3 stars, Roppongi
My dinner at Ryugin was the best meal I've ever had. From start to finish, the dishes displayed creativity, artistic genius, and exceptional skill across a wide variety of techniques. Many individual items were the best I've had in their classes--e.g., the sashimi (sea bream and squid), the smoked fish (mackerel), and the "Roppongi pudding" (made from steamed eggs and flavored with caramel). Deeply char-grilled chunks of fish and mushrooms that initially struck me as ordinary quickly won me over with their simple perfection and sheer deliciousness. A candy-shell pear filled with nitrogen-frozen pear sorbet, later to be broken open and topped with warm stewed pear, was surely the most beautiful dish I've ever been served, and belongs (nitrogen frozen) in a museum somewhere. (I couldn't find a picture of the Ryugin pear online, but there are lots of pictures of its sibling, the Ryugin apple. See, e.g., http://www.ingredientblog.com/ryugin/... ) And these aren't even the dishes I considered best (the details of which I've unfortunately forgotten). Suffice it to say that it seemed like the chef was capable of anything. Even the teas were great; especially terrific was the frothy matcha near the end of the meal. Service was excellent too. With two or three glasses of wine, dinner came to about 32,000 yen. I can't recommend Ryugin highly enough. Website: http://www.nihonryori-ryugin.com/inde...
Ishikawa - traditional Japanese, 3 stars, Kagurazaka
Ishikawa was perhaps the most sophisticated restaurant I ate at in Tokyo. Everyone from Chef Ishikawa to my waitress seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the ingredients in each dish. The waitress explained to me, for example, that the fresh young bamboo shoots in one dish were foraged in the wild by feeling around for them underground. She further noted that while many people thought that these bamboo shoots were best in the spring, Chef Ishikawa prefers them in the fall, and he was pleased that I liked the bamboo shoots. The bamboo shoots were by no means the only remarkable ingredient. The sweet, plump black beans in another dish were the best beans of any kind I've ever eaten. The waitress explained these beans to me in great detail (but unfortunately I've forgotten it all). In another instance, a junior chef brought out an encyclopedia of some sort to display a diagram of the crab used in a luscious dish of Hokkaido crab smothered in crab innards. Perhaps the most interesting dish of all was the whale skin soup. The whale skin had a resilient texture rather like jellyfish. As ingredient-intensive as this meal was, it didn't lack for creativity. In one creative dish, ankimo (monkfish liver) was smothered between two lotus roots and then tempura fried. The meal ended on high notes. The traditional rice dish served near the end of the meal, which seems like an afterthought at most Japanese restaurants, was a powerhouse at Ishikawa. The rice was mixed with uni and beautifully tender abalone, and was the best and most extravagant Japanese rice dish I ate in Tokyo. Finally, there was a surprisingly delicious pudding made from both regular soybeans and black soybeans. All of this came to about 20,000 yen as I recall (maybe less).
Sushi Saito - sushi, 3 stars, Akasaka
Dinner at this 7-seat sushi bar was my favorite sushi experience in Tokyo. It started with an extensive sashimi menu (about 7-8 substantial courses). Strictly speaking, the sashimi is optional, but everybody at the bar ordered it, and it would be a mistake not to do so. You'd probably have to sit there waiting for everyone else to finish, and anyway, the sashimi is fabulous. The most unique of the sashimi dishes was a slice of mullet roe (which one sophisticated diner referred to as "Japanese bottarga") on top of a slice of pear. The "sashimi" also included some excellent cooked dishes (e.g., a savory grilled mackerel). After the sashimi came countless pieces of nigiri sushi, the most memorable of which was a massive sweet langoustine, and finally a negi-toro roll. All of the sushi was superb. Service was very attentive; the staff were obsessive about providing me with fresh hot tea. Chef Saito is talkative and pleasant (a rarity at Tokyo sushi bars for some reason) and speaks decent English. In addition, there was good camaraderie among the diners at the bar; we talked with one another the whole time (again, a rarity at Tokyo sushi bars). The price of about 20,000 yen was more than fair for the large number of high-quality courses. Make reservations as far in advance as possible (but same-week reservations aren't out of the question).
7chome Kyoboshi - tempura, 3 stars, Ginza
I learned in Tokyo that tempura is not simply batter-fried comfort food. Rather, it is (or least can be) a refined way to cook high-quality ingredients to the perfect texture without comprising their flavor. The thin, crispy batter is just icing on the cake. While I ate at many excellent tempura restaurants in Tokyo, 7chome Kyoboshi was head and shoulders above the rest, for several reasons. First, the array of ingredients was dazzling. My dinner included several exotic tempura items, including chestnuts, shirako (cod fish sperm), butterbur sprouts (only time I've eaten these bitter suckers in my life), a quail egg, and wagyu beef. Second, the chef's technique is simply the best, IMO. The clearest example of this was the kakiage (a patty of fried small scallops and shrimp), which was the crispiest and most delicious I had in Tokyo (out of about ten, mostly Michelin-starred, variations). Third, the tempura was served in abundant portions. For example, there were at least four large tempura shrimps served over the course of the meal. I believe the chef served them from lightest to darkest, but I didn't pay close enough attention at the beginning of the sequence of shrimps to say for sure. Fourth, the pre-tempura appetizers were as good as dishes at the best kaiseki restaurants. Particularly memorable was a large portion of Hokkaido crab in a vinegar sauce. Unfortunately, this luxurious meal came at a staggeringly high price. With only a single order of sake, the price was 42,000 yen. Doubtlessly, this is the reason the restaurant was only half full on my visit, and it made the walk back to the subway bittersweet.
Kikunoi - traditional Japanese, 2 stars, Akasaka
Like Ishikawa, Kikunoi serves a refined kaiseki meal based on seasonal ingredients. Moreover, the chefs and staff, like those at Ishikawa, were eager to explain the details about every dish they served to me. (They actually brought out *two* books to help explain the dishes!) The counter seating is the nicest I experienced in Tokyo, because the chefs work in front of a large, meticulously kept garden. Everything about my meal at Kikunoi--the food and sake, the atmosphere, and the gracious, attentive service--combined to make it blissful and relaxed. The ease I felt at Kikunoi was remarkable given that it was the first of these 31 Michelin-restaurants at which I dined, and effectively my introduction to fine dining in Japan. The price is in the 20,000 yen range. Website: http://kikunoi.jp/english/store/akasaka/
Daigo - shojin, 2 stars, Atago
Daigo serves a beautiful vegetarian course menu in a beautiful setting. (Note that the meal is not strictly vegetarian, because bonito is used in the dashi, though you can call ahead and request a strict vegetarian meal.) The food is very creative and artistic. The best and most memorable dish was a plate of lightly fried vegetables adorned with white flowers that were still on the sprig of a plant. At least I thought they were flowers at first. I would have just moved them to the side, had the waitress not told me they were "popcorn." Then I realized the white "flowers" were actually puffed grains. What the grains were exactly (rice?), and how they were cooked, I wish I knew, but they were really tasty. You can see a picture of them here on someone else's blog. http://www.bobbyjayonfood.com/2011/11... (pic 8). Another amazing dish was an extraordinarily plump and delicious fig smothered in a miso sauce. I know that some reviewers on this site do not like Daigo as much as I do; clearly this food is not for everybody. Still, I am sure that most people will enjoy the overall experience. The price is in the 20,000 yen range. Note that very little English is spoken at Daigo.
Sushi Mizutani - sushi, 3 stars, Ginza
The quality of the sushi at Mizutani was as high as I've ever had. The fish and rice were both delicious, and the nigiri were close to perfect. Nonetheless, I preferred Sushi Saito for a number of reasons. First, I felt that Saito provided a more extensive sushi course, and I am certain that it offered a much more extensive and diverse sashimi course. Second, Mizutani lacked even a shred of warmth, whereas Saito was warm and convivial. Third, Mizutani cost more than Saito, which was greatly disappointing to me given the first factor I mentioned. (About 25,000 yen with one order of sake.) Unless you're among the most sophisticated of sushi connoisseurs who is able to detect fine quality differences and stylistic nuances at this level of high-end sushi, or you’re price-insensitive, I would recommend passing on Mizutani. Note that very little English is spoken at Mizutani.
Ginza Okuda - traditional Japanese, 2 stars, Ginza
The recently opened restaurant Ginza Okuda offers an excellent kaiseke lunch for 10,500 yen. Chef Tooru Okuda cooks there at lunchtime and at the three-star restaurant Koju at dinnertime. While I have not been to Koju, one regular patron told me he likes Chef Okuda's food at Ginza Okuda better. (There seems to be some intriguing backstory behind his decision to open this new restaurant.) Lunch at Ginza Okuda is delicious, and downright extravagant. (Plan to be there up to two hours.) The most memorable dish was the slowly grilled fish (grilled right in front of the patrons), which is frequently basted with a marinade and slowly turned and removed from the heat to prevent scorching. This was one of the best cooked fish dishes I ate in Tokyo. The counter seating is intimate and pleasant. This is a meal to savor. The staff speak excellent English. Website: http://www.ginzaokuda.com/en/greet.html
Sushi Aoki - sushi, 1 star, Ginza
I popped in for lunch at Aoki twice. (Surprisingly, it was only half full on both occasions.) The first meal came to about 7,000 yen and the second came to about 10,000 yen (I think because I ordered a negi-toro roll after the omakase set course). These were great values given the high quality of the seafood and the large number of courses and diverse selection. The most distinctive thing about Aoki to me is the chef's wide-ranging use of shellfish. The lunch courses include ark clams and geoduck, for example, both of which are toothy and delicious. Every so often the nigiri fell apart, but that was a minor flaw in my eyes. Sushi Aoki is an excellent lunch option; I can only imagine that it's good for dinner as well.
Mikawa Zezankyo - tempura, 1 star, Fuzukumi
This is an unusual tempura restaurant seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The restaurant is decorated in an eclectic and idiosyncratic artistic style that is at once subdued and gaudy. The bluish pastel and gold color scheme reminds me of the Peacock room in the Freer Gallery in Washington DC. The chef looks perfectly serene serving up tempura behind the counter underneath a giant vent shaped like a sombrero. The tempura is very, very good. The light, crispy style here is much like that at Kondo in Ginza (discussed below). The lunch course menu was notable for offering a big, firm tempura sweet potato (my favorite tempura item in all of Tokyo), as well as optional high-end dishes like tempura shirako and tempura uni wrapped in shiso leaves. Japan Times writeup here: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fg20...
Kondo - tempura, 2 stars, Ginza
Kondo is a popular high-end tempura restaurant in Ginza. The elegant counter that wraps around the kitchen is an appropriate setting for this particularly refined tempura. At Kondo, tempura doesn't taste like fried food; instead, it seems like a sophisticated method for delivering the pure flavors of the finest ingredients. The light, thin batter serves to showcase ingredients, not to modify them. My lunch at Kondo would sit higher on this list but for its lack of interesting tempura ingredients and non-tempura dishes. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if Kondo offers a more interesting dinner menu. The price for lunch was around 10,000 yen. Cheaper course menus may be available.
Okina - soba, 1 star, Ebisu
Okina was unable to take reservations from me in English. On a whim, I decided to go there anyway and try my luck. (I wanted to experience a Michelin-starred restaurant in the soba category.) When I got to Okina around 8:30, there were only a couple of tables occupied and nobody at the counter. The manager eyed me suspiciously. He spoke almost no English, but scribbled "15,000 yen" on a notepad. I said okay and was seated at the counter. I had no idea what to expect from this restaurant, and wondered how a soba meal could cost 15,000 yen. Soon, I came to understand that soba noodles were only a small part of the meal, but many, and perhaps most of, the dishes used buckwheat in some way. Soba cooking water was used to simmer vegetables and add flavor to a soup. Buckwheat seeds were used in another dish to provide taste and texture. The homemade soba, which was remarkably toothy, was of course made from buckwheat flour. And there was roasted buckwheat tea. But the most memorable dishes did not appear to use buckwheat at all. One such dish was a large plate of blowfish sashimi, which was served along with spicy daikon radish. The "ma la" flavors in this dish were sensational. Another great dish was teriyaki tuna cooked well-done. Tuna is usually served rare in both Japan and the West, but as this dish showed, tuna has a delicious meaty taste and texture when slowly cooked through. In terms of atmosphere, there wasn't much to speak of. Service was decent but unsure. The manager and the young chef (likely his son) seemed wary at first but warmed up to me as I showed appreciation for the food.
Hatakana - tempura, 1 star, Azabujuban
This restaurant feels more like a neighborhood tempura joint than a Michelin-starred restaurant, but the food is delicious and Michelin worthy. Hatakana's tempura has a pronounced sesame oil flavor that I quite like, and a pleasant aroma of sesame fills the little restaurant. The people at Hatakana were perhaps the nicest of anyone I met at a restaurant in Tokyo, and made dinner here special. If you're looking for a Michelin-starred tempura restaurant that will make you feel right at home, this is the place.
Rakutei - tempura, 2 stars, Akasaka
I ate at Rakutei twice--once for lunch and once for dinner. The two meals had some differences, but were essentially the same in terms of price and quality. Both meals started with high-class sashimi and appetizers prepared by a very young chef (maybe early 20s). These items were all delicious and beautifully presented. Then comes the tempura, which is prepared by an elderly chef (perhaps in his 80s). This man is extremely focused on his work. I only recall him speaking once to anyone, and that was to ask me (in respectable English) whether I wanted tendon (kakiage on rice) or tencha (kakiage in tea). It is a pleasure to watch this man prepare fish and vegetables behind the counter. His work is as precise and detail-oriented as any chef I observed in Tokyo. As for his tempura technique, I'm not wholly sure what to make of it. The tempura batter at Rakutei is thicker than that at the other Michelin-starred places in this post. Also, I noticed significantly more variety in the crispiness and darkness of the tempura at Rakutei than at other tempura places. For example, early on during my second meal, the chef served shrimp in a batter that was very lightly colored, soft, and droopy. Later, the chef served fish in a batter that was crispy, brown, and downright toasty. Given that the chef seemed to be in total command of everything he did, these things were likely purposeful. The chef's wife is the waitress at Rakutei. She provides good service and speaks good English. It is impressive that they keep up their excellent work. Rakutei is notable for being open for lunch on Sunday.
Kanda - traditional Japanese, 3 stars, Roppongi
The food at Kanda was generally good. For some reason, I wasn't enthralled with most of the dishes. There were some highlights though. In fact, the kawahagi sashimi (with liver) was one of the best dishes I ate in Tokyo. It was accompanied by the best chili sauce I've ever had--perfectly balanced and redolent with tingling sancho pepper (a Japanese cousin of szechuan pepper). There was also a nice dish consisting of a very large piece of grilled anago wrapped around sushi rice. But there were some dishes that I considered pretty blah as well. For example, my last savory dish was a lackluster bowl of some simmered grainy dumplings, which really disappointed me. One thing I really liked about Kanda was the sake service--the best in Tokyo. However, service generally was not on par with Ryugin, Ishikawa, and Kikunoi.
Nodaiwa - unagi, 1 star, Higashi Azabu
Nodaiwa specializes in wild freshwater eel. I think the course menus at Nodaiwa are some of the best values in Tokyo. Each course is focused squarely on eel. Particularly memorable is the appetizer of bite-sized cubes comprised of layers of eel and a gelee of some sort. It looks like something that would be served in a fine French restaurant. The main dish is luscious strips of teriyaki eel on a bed of rice, served with eel liver soup and pickles. The eel is truly delicious and melts in your mouth. Service is excellent, and the overall experience is quite pleasant. Note: There is a branch of Nodaiwa in Ginza, which is located underground at one of the C-numbered exits from Ginza Station. Look for the sign for Birdland. The experience at the Ginza location is very similar to that at the Higashi Azabu location. I believe other branches exist as well.
Sushi Kanesaka - sushi, 2 stars, Ginza
Sushi Kanesaka offers three omakase lunches: 5,000 yen, 10,000 yen, and 15,000 yen. (This 1x, 2x, 3x pricing scheme doesn't make much practical sense to me.) I wasn't all that hungry, so I opted for the 5,000 yen lunch. The sushi was (as expected) excellent quality and a good value for 5,000 yen. I thought the (intentionally) firmer-than-average rice at Kanesaka was a bit distracting. The chef was friendly and spoke good English.
Ginza Toyoda - traditional Japanese, 2 stars, Ginza
I had a 5,000 yen lunch here. It was an excellent value and an affordable way to enjoy a kaiseke meal. The lunch included large portions of Hokkaido crab and Hiroshima oysters, and more courses than I expected. Service was very friendly, and the staff spoke good English.
Sankame - traditional Japanese, 1 star, Ginza
Both of my lunches at Sankame were under 2,000 yen. The lunch sets include soup, rice, pickles, and your choice of additional dishes (some of which include sashimi, simmered dumplings, and grilled fish). While not a Michelin-level experience, the lunches are satisfying and a good deal for the price. The restaurant was crowded both times I dined there, but reservations shouldn't be necessary for one or two people. (In fact, I don't think the restaurant takes reservations for lunch.) If you're around Ginza at lunchtime, this is a "real Tokyo" experience that doesn't cost a whole lot and is well worth doing.
Muto - soba, 1 star, Nihonbashi-Muromachi
I had lunch at Muto for under 5,000 yen. Like so many meals in Tokyo, it involved numerous courses. The most interesting was soba-yaki-miso, a dish in which roasted buckwheat grains are mixed with miso and then grilled (and served) on a wooden spoon. I understand that this is a traditional dish at soba restaurants, and I was glad to try it, but truthfully I didn’t think it was so great. Another traditional dish at soba restaurants is tempura. I thought the tempura at Muto was fine, but it was soft, thick, and batter-y—and generally not on par with the tempura at the starred tempura restaurants. Of course, what Muto specializes in is homemade soba noodles, and these were indeed excellent. The service was very good, and the people were unusually nice and curious about my visit there. For a good writeup about Muto, see here: http://foodfile.typepad.com/blog/2011...
WESTERN RESTAURANT REVIEWS
La Table de Joel Robuchon - French, 2 stars, Ebisu
Dinner here was delicious. I have never been to a three-star French restaurant anywhere in the world, but I must say that La Table compared favorably to the six three-star Japanese restaurants at which I dined in Tokyo. In fact, if I had to rank all the restaurants I dined at in Tokyo, La Table would come in second, just behind Ryugin. Every single dish was exquisite, and many were immaculate. Perhaps the most impressive dish here was a carrot mousse topped first with a thin layer of campari gelee and then with a thick citrus foam, served in a thin glass. Each layer was so flat and even that the dish seemed superhuman. And while the ingredients in the dish didn't seem all that tantalizing, it was every bit as delicious as it looked. The carrot mousse was, in fact, outrageously delicious. Next came a perfectly flat and circular langoustine carpaccio, topped with tangy angel hair noodles and a big scoop of caviar. How one makes a flat and circular langoustine carpaccio, I'm not really sure, but I stopped caring due to the sheer tastiness of the dish. The hits kept coming. (Next was a decadent foie gras terrine.) Wines by the glass were profound. I quickly forgot all about my disappointment in not being able to make reservations at the three-star Robuchon restaurant above La Table; I cannot imagine how it could top my meal at La Table.
Edition Koji Shimomura - French, 2 stars, Akasaka
Although the cuisine at Edition Koji Shimomura is classified as French by the Michelin Guide, the heavy Japanese influences are impossible to miss. The restaurant expresses pride in the fact that it does not use butter or cream. My waiter, who was a serious foodie and evangelist for Chef Shimomura's cooking, explained that butter and cream overwhelm other ingredients. The aroma of sesame oil, rather than butter, was noticeable on several grilled vegetables (which included a wide assortment of Japanese radishes and turnips to boot). Whether the restaurant is French or something else, its excellence is undeniable. My favorite dish was raw oysters in an oyster mousse with a vinegar gelee (a staple at the restaurant), but there was no down moment anywhere in my meal. I was impressed by the worldliness of the dishes (which is not so common among Japanese chefs). For example, a white, frothy puree of lychees and other fruits spiked with palm seeds made for a surprisingly delicious dessert. As another example, the chef seasoned fresh citrus with a complicated blend of Indian spices, which the waiter described to me in painstaking detail. In sum, Edition Koji Shimomura lacks the extravagance of typical French restaurants, but makes up for it with wholesomeness and diversity.
Pierre Gagnaire - French, 2 stars, Akasaka
Pierre Gagnaire offers one of the best dining experiences in Tokyo. Located on the 36th Floor of the ANA Intercontinental hotel, there are great views from the elegant dining room. My French waiter provided the best service I experienced in Tokyo--ultra-professional, yet warm and friendly. The wines by the glass were exceptional. It is these features of Pierre Gagnaire that stick out in my mind; sadly, I don't remember a single dish I ate. This may call into question just how great the food was… But I remember enjoying the food quite a lot, and think Pierre Gagnaire is an easy winner of a recommendation. You'd have to be unusually fussy not to enjoy dinner there. Also, be sure to have drinks at the nice bar next door.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - French, 2 stars, Roppongi
I had both lunch and dinner at L'Atelier, which offers fine French dining in a fairly casual atmosphere. The majority of the seating is counter seating, overlooking the kitchen. There are a few tables too. The food at L'Atelier is very good and not dissimilar to the food at La Table. Nonetheless, I enjoyed La Table more for a few reasons. First, the dishes at La Table were more complex, and the execution was more precise. Second, I preferred the more formal atmosphere at La Table, and the better service that came along with it. (More casual does not mean more comfortable.) Third, I liked the wine by the glass better at La Table. The five wines I tried at L'Atelier were all just "good," whereas I had excellent glasses of mature-tasting white burgundy and white rhone at La Table. That said, for those that have not dined at a L'Atelier before, the counter dining and open kitchen make it the more unique of the two experiences. Also note that the Robuchon bakery adjacent to L'Atelier is outstanding. Just try the chocolate, hazelnut, chestnut rolls…
Faro - Italian, 1 star, Ginza
I ordered the chef's tasting menu at Faro. It was a very enjoyable meal that I relished from start to finish. No one dish was profound, but every dish was good, and portions were large for the price (even for pricey items like lobster). For dessert lovers, the dessert cart, from which you can pick any number of perhaps a dozen great-looking deserts, is too much to pass up. Indeed, the two desserts I chose (tiramisu and a plum tart) were the highlight of my meal. Italian wines by the glass were very good. Service from my French/Italian waiter was superb, on par with that at Pierre Gagnaire. The 10th floor dining room in Ginza is quite nice as well.
Bvlgari Il Ristorante - Italian, 1 star, Ginza
I suspect some people on Chowhound, like me, are instinctively inclined to dislike this restaurant, which resides in Ginza above "Bvlgari" (an annoyingly pretentious name for a luxury goods store). But I must say that my lunch here was excellent. I ordered a 7,000 yen course menu, which was great from start to finish. Particularly memorable dishes were a homemade penne-like pasta with a chicken and black olive ragout, and a grilled whitefish served with a saffron oil for dipping. Plating was especially excellent, and the dining room was elegant.
Au Gout de Jour Ere Nouvelle - French, 1 star, Marunouchi
My two lunches here were both quite good, especially for the price. The rare roasted duck, served without skin, was my favorite of about 6 Michelin-starred duck dishes I tried in Tokyo. Service is generally pretty good, but slow. Still, this is definitely my favorite restaurant in the Shin Marunouchi Building.
Monna Lisa Marunouchi - French, 1 star, Marunouchi
My dinner at Monna Lisa Marunouchi was good and easily Michelin quality. The langoustines in kataifi, served with broccoli puree, was particularly excellent (albeit eerily reminiscent of Edition Koji Shimomura's most famous dish of fish in kataifi, served with broccoli puree…). However, the dishes were served so exceedingly slowly that I didn't fully appreciate the meal. The kitchen didn't seem to be equipped to handle the restaurant at full capacity (and the restaurant, in my experience, is always at full capacity). The view from the dining room is top notch, however.
Michel Troisgrois - French, 2 stars, Shinjuku
Everything about Michel Troisgrois, from the elegant dining room to the skillfully prepared dishes, was impressive. For whatever reason, however, I just didn't enjoy my dinner here all that much. Some dishes struck me as dull and/or ill-conceived. For example, one dish consisted of 2 grape leaves wrapped around small pieces of low-temperature cooked salmon, served with tiny dollops of yogurt and tapenade. While I applaud chefs for branching out, this dish was far too bland and precious for me. I found myself wishing I could snack on some authentic lemony dolma from Greece. Another disappointing dish was a scallop fried in a thin, tempura-like batter and served in a white vinegar sauce. I didn't see anything to enjoy about the vinegar sauce, which only served to make the batter soggy.
Ristorante Honda - Italian, 1 star, Aoyama
Ristorante Honda served one of my favorite pasta dishes in Tokyo--spaghetti tossed with olive oil and five types of mushrooms, and sprinkled with black truffle shavings. Besides that dish, I thought my lunch was pretty good but not great.
Piatto Suzuki - Italian, 1 star, Azabujuban
I ordered the chef's tasting menu for dinner. Maybe it was an off night, but this meal was well beneath Michelin-star standards in my book.
Well, that's some serious eatin' there my friend. Thanks for the tip on Sankame, it is the only one of your list I haven't been to.
Great reviews Alkie. Kondo tempura dinner is fantastic with several interesting items. Finding the restaurant is interesting in itself.
Every "I'm going to Tokyo for "x" days, where should I eat?" poster should be required to read this prior to posting.
As far as locating the restaurants, I have often found that cross-referencing the photos found on the restaurant's website to google maps streetview helps tremendously. Alternatively, Flickr is also a great source of photos for cross-referencing.
To summarize, fantastic post!
With regards to locating restaurants:
I will make a map in Google maps ("My Places") of the restaurants that I am interested in once I am certain of their locations. Here is one that I made when I went back last August:
I could then access this map on my phone, which turned out to be indispensable when I was there.
Again, as AG stated, you WILL get inaccurate info from Google by just plopping in the address or the restaurant name, so be sure to cross-reference all your info before marking the location.
So we went to Sushi Yoshitake and had a wonderful meal! First, let me say it was hard to find - we took a cab because it was pouring rain and I am unfamiliar with Ginza and even the driver had trouble finding it. The name of the building (Suzuryu) is there in Hirigana but not very large!
Once inside we were greeted warmly and seated at the small bar. We had Sake to drink which was surprisingly included in the fixed price (21000 Yen per person). The meal started with a bowl of those small squid you see everywhere there with the whitish sauce but very fresh and rich. It was followed by three kinds of sahimi (octopus, whitefish and bonito) each with its own sauce. We also had a plate of abalone with asparagus and a sauce made from the abalone liver which was amazing and maybe the best thing we had. There was also marinated bonito and a bowl of tofu with crab and sea urchin, very fresh and delicate. This was followed by the sushi, served of course, one piece at a time. There were squid, two kinds of snapper (one "deep sea"), otoro and regular tuna, smoked salmon, mackerel, “baby snapper,” giant clam, shrimp and sea eel. The rice was a beautiful golden color, perhaps because of the vinegar? In any case it was amazing sushi and it was fascinating to watch the chefs make it. Finally we had a little bowl of crab bisque style miso soup, and green tea.
It was still raining when we left and they insisted we take an umbrella! It was very wonderful and we'd recommend it to anyone going to Tokyo who wants to try something special.
Nice list and great report! Glad to see that you braved your lack of Japanese and enjoyed the food in this great city.
It's good to hear from someone who has been to both Mikawa and Kondo.
I have been to Mikawa and loved it. The next trip, I thought of going to Kondo but I loved Mikawa so much that I went back there a second time.
Strictly in terms of the food, do you have a preference between the two?
Usually, a thick sauce referred as 'nikiri' that is home made and based of soy sauce is used to brush on seafood. Sushi-yasan (sushi shop) made 3 to 5 different brushing sauce to match each piece. Sushi apprentice receive from their master as a present to begin to open their shop as an merit present.
Great review. Would love an update if you get back to Tokyo. I'm living in Kanagawa and the baseline for food is high even here. Eating good food from 7-11 is pleasantly unsettling. Many thanks.
Wonderful read, really enjoyed your reviews very much.
Is there any possibility of adding approximate prices for the Western restaurants, as you did for the Japanese places? I found that enormously helpful too.