Tokyo & Kyoto - restaurants which specialize
I'll be spending a few days in these cities, and I'm wondering if anyone can recommend any restaurants with a very narrow focus or specialty. One of the things that intrigues me from what I've researched so far is how entire restaurants will focus, e.g., just on tonkatsu, tempura, or what have you. I've already flagged some places for ramen, tonkatsu, sushi, izakaya experience, kaiseki, and soba. I still need to research other stuff, maybe yakitori, teppanyaki experience and/or wagyu beef in general, and I'm sure I'm not even scratching the surface! More generally, as an adventurous food lover visiting Japan for the first time, what kinds of weird and wonderful foods am I in danger of missing out on? E.g. I'd never have known to look out for deep fried eel bones w/out seeing the recent post here.
Mishima Tei in Kyoto serves good sukiyaki and a few other beef dishes--lunch prices are quite reasonable. They have their own meat shop attached and the product is as marbled as you'll ever see. Reservations a must. That said, the best beef I've ever had was in a ryokan in Tsumago. Supposedly fed on apples and beer and pampered with massage.
We had a very enjoyable lunch at Tempura Tsunahachi Honten in Shinjuku in October. I can't comment on how it compares to other tempura specialists in Tokyo, as it was the only one we visited, but reviews I've found on the web suggest it's well considered and we thought it delicious.
If you like eel, I know there's a place Robb S recommends near Tskuji. We didn't get to it but would have liked to. I'm sure he'll be able to advise.
For Tonkatsu, we only visited Maisen (Jingumae) in Tokyo, though I'd also read fantastic things about Butagumi restaurant. My favourite tonkatsu was in Kyoto, at Katsukura. For me, it beat Maisen though both were very nice. We also went to one other katsu place in Kyoto which was nice but fell below the other two by a fair margin.
Are you heading to any other destinations? Takayama (and Hida region in general) was great for Hida Beef, which I learned is a very highly regarded brand of waygyu. Before this trip I'd really only encoutered Kobe brand.
We have touched on Tokyo specialty restaurants a couple of times the last few years. I would run a search. There are whale specialists, horse meat, pork (including sashimi), beef, chicken, various offal, eel, tuna, tofu, things on sticks, and all sorts of places.
There are probably tens of thousands of restaurants in these 2 cities that specialize in different cuisines (specialization seems more the norm to me than the exception).
We ate at many specialized restaurants on our last (and first) trip to Japan. One that sticks in my mind was an eel restaurant near the top of the escalator in Kyoto Station. I have no idea what the name was - whether it was famous - or whether it's still there - but we liked it a lot.
Note that Kyoto Station is well worth a visit (or 2 or 3). It's one of the largest busiest railway stations in the world and perhaps the most striking in terms of architecture. It has tons of restaurants (many underground). In many different "flavors". There's also an excellent food basement in the Isetan Department store. We did "take out" several nights from Isetan when we were dead on our feet and too tired to go out to dinner. Very good tonkatsu. And - at least when we were there - it was the opposite of "touristy". Guess it's too modern to attract most tourists (who generally go to Kyoto to see "old stuff"). OTOH - you'll find things there that most people here won't tell you about. Like real authentic Japanese spaghetti - made with a Japanese mayo based sauce. I thought it was pretty awful - but I don't think the other restaurant patrons shared my impression - because the place was packed.
We had kaiseki in Kyoto too (Hotel Granvia branch of Kikunoi - we couldn't get a same week reservation at the main restaurant location). In all honesty - very traditional kaiseki is not my favorite. It's a very ascetic Buddhist cuisine that I found more notable for its beauty and lack of calories than its flavor. My favorite dish at this kaiseki meal was a gorgeous vegetable plate composed/carved in the form of a Japanese garden (it was Cherry Blossom season). Doubt the whole thing had more than 200 calories though (and it tasted like it).
In Tokyo - a specialty restaurant that sticks in my mind is Ippoh - a tempura restaurant that's on a restaurant floor at Barneys New York.
We ate at other specialty restaurants too. Soba - udon - sushi - etc. There is of course a ton written about sushi restaurants here. Regarding the other specialty restaurants (and the 2 I mentioned previously) - we stumbled into them when we were exploring various parts of various cities (Tokyo is huge and you pretty much don't want to have to go from one end of the city to the other to have lunch). I'd suggest that except for bigger deal dining experiences - where you'll need reservations - that stumbling around and finding places is a good way to go :). Robyn
re: Robb S
Oh yes, we went to Kokkekokko, think we found it on your site, Robb! Food was excellent, though we were so tired that night, it was hard being next to an incredibly rumbunctious table of 8 or 9 salarymen. The staff moved us to a quieter table actually, as we couldn't hear each other speak on the original one.
Robyn, your experience of kaiseki sounds like shojin ryori, the vegetarian Buddhist cooking of temples? The kaiseki ryori we enjoyed in two ryokan and one restaurant were certainly not lacking in calories or flavour. Certainly the dishes were small but they were numerous enough that we were properly satiated by the end and the flavours and textures were superb. I'd say the dishes were certainly healthier / lower calorie than tonkatsu or tempura but they didn't strike me in the same way your experience did.
It wasn't strictly vegetarian - but it was pretty austere IMO. Based on what I've read - my initial reaction wasn't atypical. Still - we're going to try it again this trip. If nothing else - the meal will leave me with lots of room/calories to have some wonderful chocolate later :).
BTW - the name of the place where we dined was a branch of Kitcho in the Hotel Granvia (got kaiseki restaurants starting with K's mixed up). Robyn
My favourite ryokan kaiseki ryori meal (not that we tried loads, we went to 4 ryokans plus a temple dinner in Koyasan) was at our Nara ryokan, I've written about it in more detail on my blog, Kavey Eats, but I can't link to that here. Certainly it wasn't austere and was a real treat of a meal.
Hope you can find a great example on your upcoming trip.
We're going back for a second trip this year, can't wait!