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Getting ready for quick Tokyo foodtour

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Hi all,
I'm a new user, hopefully I won't break any rules with this post.
So, will be in Tokyo next week from Thursday to Saturday.
A week in advance has been able to secure me these two places thus far: Friday lunch at Daisan Harumi (it closes at 1:30pm so going at noon). Cancellation policy is same day or JPY 10k penalty.
I've also gotten Sushi Mizutani but it was only on Thursday at 17:00pm (cancellation 24hrs in advance or JPY 10k) so i think I'm going to regretfully pass that one and try to allocate the splurge to Ryugin on Friday (pending reservation).

Details and reviews will of course follow, inputs appreciated of course.
I would like to sneak in at least one of the 'non vanilla' ramens posted by SilverJay (was thinking this: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3477... still have memories of randomly going into a random resto near Dean & Deluca (coming from Daikanyama in 2008) and having one of the best dipping ramen with spectacular char shu.

FH

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  1. Friday 7 December 2012: Daisan Harumi Lunch

    Reservation: made via credit-card concierge (Amex has a service that does this) which coordinated with hotel reception (I stayed in an average 3-star hotel btw and they managed just fine ). Reservation was secured about a week in advance.

    Location: thank the lord for google-maps. I took the train to Shiodome station, then walked towards Shimbashi station (the closest to the venue I think) and then used the map. The restaurant is ensconced on a small road behind a 7-Eleven. I passed by it, but all the writings were in Japanese, though I did notice a “Best Restaurant” award displayed on a window. I showed a local passerby the name for confirmation but he dropped from the sky (weird…he couldn’t read Kanji?) so I just walked in and it was the right place.

    Ambiance: I read some chowhounder review complaining a bit about the décor, but I am a big fan for tiny Japanese places, which is what DH is. There is a counter sitting about 8 people and a small table nearby. The place was full, barring 3 reservations (one of which was mine). Clientele all Japanese, mostly suits on lunch break.

    Food & Beverages: upon seating at the sushi-bar, a staff asks what you’d like to drink. I opted for water and green-tea, both of which are regularly refilled, and the latter of high-quality. There are 2 sushi-chefs, I was served by the slightly more junior one, who actually spoke a bit of English.
    For lunch there were 2 choices: a JPY7,000 course and a JPY 10,000 course consisting of 14 nigiri pieces plus one tuna roll. I’m not in Tokyo every day, so I opted for the latter. The chef warns that all pieces are “already salted”, which perhaps was a subtle innuendo not to make the usual “soy sauce / wasabi soup” that is ubiquitous outside of Japan. Now this was a bit gimmicky, but I didn’t mind it at all: the chef has a list of cards accompanying each upcoming nigiri piece, written in English and Japanese.

    I ate the following (voting: 6 is average, 7 is good, 8 is very solid, 9 excellent):
    1. Kumura Ebi (tiger prawn): this is lightly cooked, beautiful color and texture (7.5)
    2. Shin Ika (young squid): I liked this a lot, super fresh and not overly chewy, with no strong fish afer-taste (8)
    3. HIrame (olive flounder): nothing special (6.5)
    4. Aoyagi (chin clam): chewy, though not ridiculously so, and very tasty (8)
    5. Maguri (tuna): a classic (7)
    6. Chutoro (fatty tuna): another classic (9)
    7. Saba (salt vinegared cured mackerel): I’m partial to saba even though it’s a “simple’ fish, plus the marinade was great (8)
    8. Ikuro (salmon roe): tasted much more flavorful than any roe I’ve had outside japan. A pleasant surprise (8.5)
    9. Uni (sea urchin): I wonder if the wasabi grated on top was too much…im a big uni fan but wasn’t blown away. It was also from the box, not carved out of the urchin as I’ve seen some restaurants serve (not sure if it makes much of a difference) (8)
    10. Shako (mantis shrimp): was quite smoky but I found it a bit dry (6) in texture.
    11. Kohado (gizzard something, also vinegared): maybe I just like the marinade, similar as the saba above, but found this interesting and tasty (8)
    12. Hotate (scallop): I liked this if only because the scallop was so fresh, but this rendition was smoked, whereas I prefer plain raw to fully savor the fish (still an 8)
    13. Katsu-something (bonito): this was seared and very tasty (8)
    14. Anago (eel) : super butter y (9)
    The chef added a piece of tamago, which was very good, and then the standard –good- maki roll.
    During the meal a delicious sea-food miso soup was served, as well as a crispy prawn head on a bed of a salt.

    Damage: JPY 10k all-in, saw most people paying in cash so I did the same.

    Synopsis: definitely a very good meal as per above . Now what I’m left pondering is, however, the following: I’ve seen very similar fish- cuts served in various Tsukiji sushi restaurants for prices around JPY 3,500 / 4,000, of which I had one a few days after. I’m wondering: how much fresher and/or tastier than Tsukiji can a Tokyo sushi-meal be? And is the marginal increase in quality/flavor (maybe my palate is not refined enough, but to me it wasn’t very noticeable) worth the more than double price (or even quadruple if you go to Mizutani / Jiro)?

    December 8 December 2012: RyuGin dinner

    Reservation: made via credit-card concierge (Amex has a service that does this) which coordinated with hotel reception (I stayed in an average 3-star hotel btw and they managed just fine ). Reservation was secured about a week in advance, which may explain why I only got the crappy 10pm table. I arrived at 9:40pm-ish only to be told the previous customers were “on the slow side” and thus to comeback a bit after. In the end I think I started at around 10:15pm.

    Location: very easy to find, it’s at most a 5 minutes walk from the Roppongi subway station, on a street near a Family-Mart and a Meidi-Ya supermarket.

    Ambiance/Staff: beautiful, cozy place. Something interesting: admittedly it’s a small sample, but the restaurant was almost fully foreigner (everyone armed with bazookas-cameras to take pictures). Only the table in front of me was Japanese. All the staff has a perfect mastery of English, in fact mine was a very polite French lady. They all have an earphone “secret-service” style, and there is also an “eye in the sky” (a camera) on the ceiling.

    Food & Beverages: I was served a complimentary glass of good Moet to start (not sure because of the table being late or if it’s customary). An envelope meanwhile contained the menu for the day, labeled “Winter Menu”. I had read that there were a few different selections but maybe that has changed.

    1. Seasonal vegetables with pine nuts dressing: served in a classic small Japanese appetizer bowl, this was a good, decent starter (7) though nothing special.

    2. Premium “Uni” from Hokkaido in lace wrapping flash fried with “Burdock Root” and Mushroom Soup: ok, I was pretty excited by this as I don’t get to eat “Premium Uni” every day, yet this dish disappointed me. I find uni spectacular in itself (ideally raw). This was lightly battered, and its favor was strongly masked by (I think it was) shiso (or some other herb / spice). The chefs seems rather into this spice as it came on many dishes. The mushroom soup on the side was “standard perfect execution”, silky, though the disappointment from the uni didn’t allow for a full enjoyment. (6.25)

    3. RyuGin special: premium monkfish liver in white miso sauce with sea scallops: the staff informs this is one of the signature dishes, and it surely was. The creamy sauce was super full of flavor, and the monkfish liver was spectacular too. Hopefully it won’t be heresy comparing it to foie gras of the sea  (9)

    4. Matsuba Crab from Sanin served in Crab broth: the staff encourages one to lift the lid off of the small bowl and inhale the crab aroma. Gimmicky perhaps but good. A lumpy piece of crab meat rests on top of a crab-meat ball. (7.5)

    5. RiyGin Sashimi: one of the best dishes alongside “3”. The cuts were:
    a. Turbot
    b. Smoked monkfish
    c. Squid
    d. Lobster
    e. Smoked Turbot?
    f. Monkfish flank in sesame marinade
    g. Salmon Roe
    All were of extreme freshness, flavor and quality (8.5)

    6. Deep water kinki fish from Hokkaido charcoal grilled, grilled eggplant stuffed, and pickled apple with ginger flavor: great smokiness and texture, though this dish didn’t blow me away. There was also a lovely small caramelized onion. (7.5)

    7. Simmered cod-fish roe and fried tofu-ball with mizuna: soupy version, the cod-fish roe had an interesting texture though flavor-wise didn’t leave a lasting impression, as the tofu ball wasn’t particularly tasty. (6.25).
    ***by this time I start to feel rather satiated ***

    8. Wagyu Beef Filet with 7 thinly chopped veggies: good, decent “melt-in-the-mouth” feeling (though not crazily so). The staff encouraged it to mix the beef with the veggies for flavor contrast. Hmm. (7.5)

    9. Rice with Chinese cabbage, miso soup and pickles: this is the classic (carbohydrate) “filler”. I found the pickles and soup delicious, the rice nothing to write home about. Perhaps being a bit full starts to raise the bar even more. (6.25)
    a. At this point the staff offer another rice dish simmered in chicken broth, but I was too full so we moved to desserts.

    10. Tangerine Candy: this is a very gimmicky dish, which was nonetheless fun to eat. It first comes in the form of a perfectly shaped tangerine candy, which you are encouraged to break. Inside there is a very cold tangerine powder which is mixed with a hot jam. It creates a funny fizzling sensation in the mouth. (7 for the fun).

    11. Baked “ginjou sake, Oyaki soufflé” with “salt” soft ice cream: I’m not much of a dessert person and I was full by this time, but this was easily in the top 3 of the dinner dishes which should attest how good it was. The soufflé was of mind-blowing richness, and it complemented the creamy “salt” ice cream beautifully (9).

    Lastly a “matcha’ is served, which is a gorgeous round bowl of extremely concentrated green-tea. This has the caffeine to wake one up after an 11-course meal ;-)

    Damage: JPY 25k inclusive of 10% service charge. I did not have any booze nor mineral water (the staff was rather cool in not pushing San Pellegrino down your throat). All major credit cards are accepted.

    Synopsis: this meal was a xmas present to myself, so while definitely not cheap, I have no regrets overall (in specific, just wished the uni had been better and perhaps a bit of less shiso used on other dishes too since the underlying ingredients are great on their own). The attention to detail was ubiquitous (even the toilet paper was perfumed), and the staff escorts the guests all the way out to the street. Definitely recommended at least once and, as I type this, I would probably not mind going again in the future. They also have a branch in Hong Kong, Kowloon side (the tower with a lot of banks).

    4 Replies
    1. re: FedwardHyde

      Ok, I will try to answer ... For sushi, you can't hide the quality of ingredients in sushi. That is mystical, you can't do it at home !! Quality based high ends requires hard work, in particular the search for the best product at each season, so costs. For exemple, 'ooma' maguro is very expensive. Actually, it is known that 'maguro(=tuna)' migrate north to get food, then back south to reproduct. The boat that takes for exemple too many 'katsuo' along with 'maguro' will invariably be have mediocre quality. 
      So ingredients are key, but so is also the personality of the sushi itself. The experience, the knowledge are not easy, and need usually 10 years practice to be a recognize chef.
      I had this week end a 1000 yens sushi, I was so bored, I just couldn"t eat 8 pieces ... 
      Sushi Sukiyabashi Jiro, ok, is expensive, at 30,000.-yens, you have 20 pieces - 1500yens per pieces, the 'shari(=rice)' is warm (have you been eaten warm sushi before?), his nigiris have personality, ..
      Still, raw fish on rice, so the real difference is difficult to explain, you have to try to get convinced of the real difference.
      Next time, just go to sushi Uoshin in Higashi-Ikebukuro they have the dinner omakase at 4800.-yens (2000 yens more than your lunch at Tsukiji right?). Tsumami/sashimi are very good, the simmered fish are fabulous, nigiri will be more upgrade than Tsukiji sushi-yasan, also still far from the high ends ones. The family that owns this sushi is a fourth generation fishermen, and 2nd generations sushi-yasan, no relation with the Uoshin chain.. 
      At 4800.-yens, it is a small risk (especially for dinner), and it should give you a taste for quality, and what can be done with these products of the sea. If you are convinced after this try, I will give you another step forward... 
      http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1305/A13050...
      http://ameblo.jp/xylangylangx/entry-1...

      1. re: Ninisix

        Hi Ninisix, thank you for reminding about posting back. I took your suggestion and went to Uoshin last month for dinner omakase. Very good sashimi including uni in its own tea-cup. Nigiri included 'hobo' which was new for us and very much enjoyed. We also had grilled buri - this was not so good, somehow a very 'chewy' cut, maybe the fish was too big for this treatment or this particular cut better suited to braising. The proprietor and his family are super-friendly.

        I would happily go again but would also love to hear your recommendation for the next step. Also thank you for all your great patience and generosity on this board. I know some questions are difficult - people want 'the best' 'that others don't know about' 'that I can book immediately' 'that meet many many many complicated conditions' ... and you are always kind enough to respond.

        1. re: shakti2

          oh thank you ! I am glad you've liked it ! Next time, you go there I recommend you to book in advance and ask for 'fugu' steaks, the fugu are just roasted with slightly sauce added. The firm flesh, similar to steak, is the best part of fugu, and I liked this preparation, simple and quite knowledgeable, as they cut the fish like T-bones, so with the bone, and roast it. I do not know how much is it though ?! The 2nd step, if you are interested, could be to take you to a bit better preparation and to have lunch at sushi Manten. The lunch is actually very affordable. For the diner there are 2 sets, it is not as comfortable as sushi. Nigiri this time don't need any sauce. If there are 2 of you, that will be alright, the only difficult point being seating.

          1. re: Ninisix

            A precision, Manten sushi, the diner is at 5250yens, and lunch at 2980yens.