Japan trip report from January 2013
I recently made my first trip to Japan in January this year. I done quite a bit of research, mainly using this forum board, various blogs, and the Michelin Guide as my main resources. I carefully hand selected the restaurants I visited and just wanted to give a report on my most recent outing.I was quite excited for this trip, especially everything I've heard about Japan's food being on a totally different level. I visited with very high expectations and Japan not only met the expectation, but easily exceeded by ten-fold.
Here's our stops in order:
1. Dinner: Aronia de Takazawa (French/Japanese) - Really enjoyed this meal, was as creative and playful and delicious as people hyped it up to be. Oddly enough, my favorite items were all the vegetable dishes and I'm typically a meat eater type of guy. My only comment is that the few meat dishes we had were good, but nothing too special, but everything else in the 11-course meal was amazing. Although, my main comment is that 11 courses was WAY too much, we were pretty full and satisfied by our 5th or 6th course. Food and creativity level is pretty on par with Alinea.
2. Lunch: Fukamachi (Tempura) - This was a truly eye-opening meal. I never knew that tempura can be *this* amazing. Young bamboo shoot, Uni, and Anago were bright spots in our very hefty lunch. Easily one of my favorite places I visited.
3. Dinner: Sanda (Offal beef) - Sanda is known for creating offal dishes from a particular breed of Kobe beef. This was definitely an interesting meal, they served everything from lung to cheek to diaphragm to tongue. It was a fun meal and really interesting to try really unusual parts of the beef cooked in many ways. More of a try-once type of experience, won't probably go back for another round.
4. Lunch: Sushi Ichi (Sushi) - I was quite conflicted with this choice. I originally wanted Sushi Saito, but it got immediately booked, so had no luck there. I was struggling to choose from a Michelin rated sushi restaurant. I didn't want to blow $300+ for a sushi restaurant, so I was a bit limited in my selection. When push came to shove, I just went with my original choice. I can say that this was easily the best sushi I've ever had (at least compared to America). The sushi chef was really friendly, conversed with me as I was dining alone for lunch, and he spoke fairly good English. Some of the fattiest Hamachi and sweetest Chu-Toro I've had. The Uni and fish sperm were amazing highlights as well. I was told that in Japan there's a level of difference between hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurants and high-end sushi restaurants, I would have to agree with them and that there is definitely a significant difference here.
5. Dinner: Ishikawa (Kaiseki) - I was choosing between Ishikawa and Ryugin, I ended up with Ishikawa since many board members suggested that Ishikawa is more 'authentic'. I definitely want to go to Ryugin next time. I was very happy with this recommendation. The chef himself was extremely friendly and conversational, he even showed us a photo album of his most recent visit to San Francisco (our home). Food overall was excellent and service was as expected from a 3 Michelin restaurant. My favorite dish was the Uni, nori, and rice dish, this was seriously my dream-come-true dish I've had on this trip. Will definitely return (hopefully in a different season!).
6. Lunch: Daisan Harumi (Sushi) - This was highly recommended by a lot of folks on this forum and it did get a very good rating on Tabelog. I really enjoyed this restaurant, the two sushi chefs were friendly, but spoke very little English. But went through means and ways to communicate what they were serving us. Although the fish was very fresh and good, I did enjoy Sushi Ichi a little more, or perhaps my expectation for the diverseness of fish was a bit higher at Daisan Harumi. Nonetheless, I still liked this place but would probably not return as there's other places to be visited.
7. Dinner: Tajima (Soba) - Kind of went here on last call as we just quickly decided we wanted to try Soba. Really liked this place, I recommend the cold soba as that was what everyone was eating there. The soba with yams was also unique and good.
We ate at a few other places as we had a few extra days in Tokyo, but I don't quite remember the name as we had some relatives take us around. But nonetheless, I was very impressed with the food in Japan. Although it was very expensive, I wouldn't have done it any other way. I am eager to visit again and try some other places.
Hope this helps any new visitors!
I stayed at Hotel New Otani, which has an excellent concierge service. They were really great about booking and maintaining all my reservations.
I made the reservations at Takazawa and Ishikawa myself. I corresponded mainly via email with the folks at Takazawa and they were extremely accommodating, super easy via email. Ishikawa was a little tough because they don't have email, however one of their waitresses spoke very good English, so I had no problem booking.
My main tip for Takazawa, try to eat on the weekday (probably easier to land a table) and book way in advance (I booked 2 months in advanced). I also ate on a Monday, so I had no problem booking a table.
I am sure you had had a wonderful experience. I have been tempted to try Sanda. I just wonder how much of the meal is offal. THe problem is, I am not sure I am comfortable eating beef lung or other rare treats. Did they serve any steak as the main course or did they have any menu choices?
I think if gaminess is your fear, the only really 'gamy' dishes were the beef liver and beef lung. They don't serve sirloin or any of the prime cuts. But majority of the dishes are pretty tasty.
Also, it's all prix-fixe, you get served whatever the chef chooses. It's definitely an adventure to try, but not a type of place to repeat often, especially if you're just a visitor of Japan