Jan-Feb 2013 Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe trip review
Had a great time eating our way through Japan, wanted to share our dining experiences that were worth mentioning. There are so many choices, its hard to decide and obviously not everyone can do all Michelin for every meal, so here are choices in all ranges. Sorry this is long.
Wa-ta-mi: Right outside of the Meguro station, good location if you happen to be staying at the Sheraton Miyako, its a japanese chain “izakaya” which was recommended by the hotel, they have locations all over tokyo. Food was good and was a good intro to the japanese way... Overall everything we ordered was solid. Wouldn’t go out of the way to eat here but if you stumble upon it, it is reliable dining.
Tsukiji fish market: We attempted to attend the tuna auction but missed it b/c we had no idea where it was! But we unofficially marched our way through the fish market in the thick of the morning and it was AMAZING. We did have donburi at a random sushi stall which was cheap and so fresh and some ramen at Inoue 井の上.
Ginza Okuda: Kaiseki lunch on Saturday, cost 11500 yen per person. Took this recommendation from CHer’s. Chef Koju Okuda cooks at both Ginza Okuda and Kojyu for dinner so I figured opt for the cheaper option of similar execution! We were served by his capable sous-chef, Shun Miyahara who’s english is better than he lets on. Service here was top notch and amazing. The bar serves probably around 8 or 9 and I believe there are private tables hidden elsewhere as well. The meal was obviously seafood heavy with fish rounding out the heavier courses. An excellent meal and what I can presume is a great value (albiet still expensive). Highly recommended. Reservations were easily made by calling our hotel concierge ahead of our visit. We made reservations about 6 weeks prior.
Uogashi Nihonichi, Standing Sushi Bar: I was stumbling around Shibuya people watching on a Saturday evening, when I stumbled upon this sushi bar. I recognized it as the sushi spot from “Jiro, Dreams of Sushi”, where the narrator of the movie was eating at the beginning of the movie. I really really wish there were cool concepts that people would frequent like this in the US. So the concept is you stand to eat, the pace is lightening quick and the prices are CHEAP. And of course the sushi is fresh. All orders come in 2 pieces and pieces range from 75-300 yen with many great selections available in the 75 yen price. Our favs were squid scorched with mayo, negi-toro handroll (if only nori was this good in the states), ikura and uni. Most people came in alone, stopped in for 6-8 pieces and were out in a jiffy. Fun experience. There are locations throughout tokyo, even one in tokyo station.
Sawada: Omakase dinner on Saturday, 35000 yen per person excluding alcohol. Reservations more difficult to obtain due to his strict policy. Reservations for non-japanese guests must be made by your hotel concierge which must include a faxed copy of a credit card number to hold the reservation. But YES ITS WORTH IT! I debated a lot amongst the choices of high end sushi omakase, with obvious choices like sushi mizutani and jiro, but ended up with Sawada because of the unique personalized service with 6 bar seats and Sawada-san + his wife. I can see why Michelin has yet to award the 3rd star.. because its a two person show and in Michelin eyes, they probably want an entourage to wait on each personal guest hand and foot, who knows. What I do know is my experience here is unparallelled and once in a lifetime. There are the dining moments I live for! Every cut, every motion, every intention that exudes from this genius was magical! He embodies that perfectionism that exists in the nature of all Japanese and he exemplifies it to the max. Google for pictures of the dining experience, it is amazing. Definitely can not be missed! My personal highlights were grilled chutoro that reminded me of eating Kobe in Kobe, chu-otoro, bonito (before it became flakes), aki stuffed with rice and nori, and uni from hokkaido.
Karaage in Gion: If you’re headed to Gion and taking a bus from kyoto station, make sure to stop by the corner Karaage stall. We had a many karaage in Japan but this was by far THE BEST. He opens after 5pm and you order using a vending machine.
Tankuma Kitamise（たん熊北店／たんくま きたてん): Stopped by for lunch (3700 yen for boxed lunch). We were having dinner at our ryoken so the boxed lunch seemed to be an obvious option to try. We seemed to be the only diners on a random Monday. The boxed lunch was delicious and a great way to experience a mini-kaiseki and save some time. The dessert was a high light and as with all high end restaurants in Japan, the service was impeccable.
Omen: Another great lunch spot, right walking distance from Ginkaku-ji temple (which was one of my favorites). Bowl of noodles + tempura runs 1200 yen. To call this udon would be underplaying it. Its a special udon preparation where the udon is served to be eaten like tsukemen and it’s accompanied with a plate of several different fresh vegetables that you can add to your soup to your preference. Overall, it was a solid udon experience, nothing to make a trip out of or run to, but if you’re in the Ginkaku-ji area and want some lunch, this is a viable option. It was pretty popular during lunch, so may be a wait.
Kyoto Station Ramen Alley: Located on the 10th floor of the Isetan building, this place is a gold mine! I had a bowl at Hakata Ikkousha (博多一幸舎). This was my most favorite ramen bowl I had in Japan. Shared with a plate of karaage and fried rice, I was in heaven. If you’re on the move and have a short layover in Kyoto station, please swing by the ramen alley.
Wakkoqu: We really wanted to go to Kobe to have Kobe beef, so per CHer’s rec’s this is where we went. It’s a 30 year old english style decorated restaurant that serves steak by way of teppanyaki. We came for lunch which I feel is much of a bargain, because the kobe beef lunch (150g steak) was $5000 vs $8500 for 25g more for dinner! The set lunch comes with soup, salad, veggies, steak and dessert. For additional 800 yen you can order fried rice which the chef cooks in the kobe fat!!! Definitely a must. We had a great experience, the steak was amazing. Highly recommended, esp for lunch. The restaurant is walking distance from Kobe JR station.
Thanks for reading. Japan is a food-lover’s dream and I hope my specific experiences can help you sort out some choices amongst a myriad of food choices!!