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Sep 27, 2013 07:00 PM

Recommendation for someone who loved Ishikawa?

Last trip to Tokyo, Ishikawa was our favorite.

We also dined at Ryugin, and Takazawa, which were wonderful. But there was something about the perfection, refinement, and traditional approach of Ishikawa that made it the winner for us.

We are lucky enough to be returning to Tokyo in December.

Where would you recommend for us to try this trip?

Thanks for any help you can provide.

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  1. REN, also in Kagurazaka, is owned by Ishikawa and run by someone why apprenticed under Ishikawa. Also kaiseki, very good value.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Asomaniac

      Thank you for this, it sounds like a good recommendation. :-)

    2. If you enjoyed Ishikawa so much on your first trip, why not pay it a return visit?

      25 Replies
      1. re: BaronDestructo

        Oh, we definitely plan to return!

        But we will be in Tokyo for 5 nights.

        Two nights are definite: on the first night, we will return to Kaikaya by the Sea. It is close to our hotel and we always like to begin our trip there.
        Another night we will go to Ishikawa (assuming we can reserve).
        Another night we will go to the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt. We have been there before and like to spend an evening drinking and having snacks there.

        We also plan to have a lunch at Tofuya Ukai (first time).

        So we have a couple of other nights to fill.
        We are considering Ginza Okuda and Ren for kaiseki.
        Also Quintessence (we have tried many times to reserve but never succeeded) or Joel Robuchon Restaurant for French. Then there is Narisawa -- I do not know how to classify it and I've never been; but also I fear this may be a very difficult reservation to score.

        We have other favorite places that we have been to more than once, but we will not be returning to this trip, to make room for new things: Mikawa (while this place is still my favorite tempura ever, time is precious and we will not do tempura this trip). And Ryugin (we have gone every trip, but we feel that last time it was not quite as good as the times before).

        1. re: pauliface

          Narisawa is excellent. If you're unable to score a table, you might want to look at the similarly-themed Aronia de Takazawa. We'll be going in November.

          1. re: BaronDestructo

            Thank you, Baron!

            Actually, last trip we had the good fortune to score a table at Takazawa. It was excellent. I am certain you will love it. However, even though Takazawa was perhaps a more elaborate, modern and unusual meal, there was something about Ishikawa that was so sublime and perfect that it was our favorite of the trip.

            So that is the restaurant we are 'keeping' for this trip. (I like to always start at Kaikaya, out of tradition, then keep the favorite from the previous trip, then try new places for the other nights).

            For anybody who cares, here is how the chips appear to be falling...

            Wednesday-- kaikaya
            Thurdsay -- Okuda or Koju, depending on which reservation we can score
            Friday -- Quintessence, if we can reserve, else Narisawa, if we can reserve, else a posh evening of cocktails and snacks at the New York Bar
            Saturday -- lunch at Tofuya Ukai, dinner at Ishikawa
            Sunday -- Joel Robuchon Restaurant

            we have other things planned for daytime, but will not be making reservations. We probably won't get to all of these, but they are: A favorite sushi place at tsukiji, a tea house we like in ginza, a noodle shop we want to try in shibuya, an okonomiyaki restaurant we saw at sky tree last time but did not have time to try, and maybe Atelier Robuchon if we end up in Roppongi Hills...

            I am so excitied I could burst!

            1. re: BaronDestructo

              Paging Asomaniac to the white courtesy telephone...

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                Heh. Well I just looked up some of Asomaniac's postings....

                So then, not so hot for Narisawa or Joel Robuchon?
                Howe do we feel about Quintessence? That is our current preference over Narisawa for that night, if we can get in.

                And Joel Robuchon is our pick for Sunday. It seems much is closed on Sunday. What might you recommend for that night, to go with our other selections on the other nights?

                Thanks for any suggestions you can provide...

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  No, Uncle. I have no power left to write again how absurdly overrated, overpriced for what it is, emperor's-new-clothesy Narisawa is. Although the anger is still there following our Narisawa dinner, even though it is a long time ago.

                  1. re: Asomaniac

                    Wow. Okay then.

                    What about Quintessence? Thoughts?

                    And how about a good Sunday alternative to Joel Robuchon?

                    1. re: pauliface

                      Quintessence is an interesting one. Many people rate it highly, some critics who knew nothing of the hype the place generated when it first became famous but are very serious French food connoisseurs think it is vastly overrated. I am going with the second opinion. Also, staff are very arrogant, lots of attitude, especially for Japan. Nevertheless, as I said, opinions vary and many people rate this place very highly so maybe a good idea to give it a shot (if you manage to get a booking).

                      Robuchon alternative for Sundays? Depends - do you mean the ridiculously grand one with three stars, or the other two? If the former, I guess in terms of grandeur probably L'Auberge de l'ill is the only place that comes close. Also love the Alsatian food there and the Alsatian wine list. Haven't been for a long time though - check if it hasn't closed down.

                      If you mean the other two Robuchons, I think those are good but nothing special so many other French restaurants would work. Emun is open on Sundays, or any French restaurant from the Hiramatsu group would do.

                      I like other European but non-French places as well. Ogasawara Hakushaku-tei is a great modern Catalan place, grand setting as well. Sant Pau is good as well.

                      1. re: Asomaniac

                        For my palate, Quintessence is the best of the French places I've tried in Tokyo, except maybe the old l'Osier. There are a few highly rated spots I haven't been to yet, but from the tabelog pictures many of them seem like they've been frozen in the 80s.

                        Hiramatsu is like one big happy wedding/hotel catering operation. It doesn't matter which one of their outlets you visit - it's going to be boring one-michelin-star-ish food.

                        Narisawa is a big no, I agree.

                        I'd probably go with something eclectic on a Sunday, like Bingo, or Kirakutei, or maybe one of the better sushi places that are open instead of going the white tablecloth French route. Ymmv.

                        I'd do some completely different Kaiseki in place of Ren. It's not the same as Ishikawa, but it's close enough that it'd feel like a somewhat lesser version. Plenty of options, of course.

                        1. re: Gargle

                          Well, the "new" L'Osier should be opening soon (if not already). Anybody been?

                          1. re: Uncle Yabai

                            Opens on the 25th. I'm going in two weeks (looking forward to it but worried that it won't live up to its previous glory)

                          2. re: Gargle

                            Well, for the 3rd trip running we failed to snag a table at Quintessence. We had been considering trying for Narisawa that night, but based on feedback here and further research, it does seem that a lot of people feel it is form over flavor with much trickery and not enough delicious. So instead we are going to go hang at the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt that night for drinks and snacks. Have been before and love it there. It's more New York than New York (my home town) and for that I love it.

                            For our Sunday I think we are going to stick with Joel Robuchon restaurant. Several have said that 'we might as well go to Vegas' but [a] I haven't been to vegas since '93 with no plans to return, and [b] I find it hard to believe that the experience in Tokyo would resemble the experience in Vegas. Have never been to a high end Robuchon and I think Tokyo would be a good place to try.

                            I was to L'Osier several years ago and to be honest it was not my favorite. The decor was gorgeous but had no desire to return.

                            We are not going to Ren. We are going to go to Ishikawa and Ginza Okuda. If we can score a table at Ginza Kojyu we will do that instead of Okuda.

                            1. re: Gargle

                              You're not wrong on Hiramatsu, but I see little difference to the small Robuchon (e/g, the one in Roppongi Hills). All good, nothing outstanding. And EXACTLY the same as anywhere in the world, including the decor. Literally identical to the one in Hong Kong.

                              Ristorante Aso (of the Hiramatsu Group) actually used to be a lot more than your standard wedding / hotel catering operation, but went downhill massively. Such a shame. I posted about it elsewhere - some years ago, that was one beautiful, innovative restaurant. When I last went about 3 years ago, it was a shadow of its former self and I will never go again unless I hear that things have improved. I wonder what happened.

                              Now L'Osier I loved, and would have recommended for French if it was not still closed.

                            2. re: Asomaniac

                              Tell me more about L'Aurberge de l'ill.
                              This is the only mention I've heard of it, and it's the only French alternative to Robuchon (yes the 3 star, and while there may be many, I've never been to any) that might appeal....

                              1. re: pauliface

                                L'Auberge de l'Ill is a branch of a restaurant of the same name in Alsace. The original restaurant is the most consistent restaurant by Michelin standards (and bear in mind this is in France, where - unlike in Tokyo - a French restaurant has to have seriously high standards to be awarded stars). It has maintained a 3 star rating for over 40 years, every single year.

                                The Japan branch is in a grand setting in Tokyo - see their website:

                                The food is Alsatian, though they do take liberties with that concept as there are dishes that are clearly heavily influenced by other French regions. I particularly enjoyed the Alsatian pigeon breast with black truffle and foie gras filling and port sauce:

                                I also love the wine list as I love Alsatian wines, especially aged Alsatian Riesling and Pinot Gris. We had an array of 20+ year old Alsatian whites, and they were phenomenal. Uncle Yabai and I once spent a very memorable evening there. I am still paying off the mortgage on that dinner.

                                Regarding the 3 star Robuchon: I don't want to dissuade you because if you are after a fairly formal, grand French experience, I think it is one of the only games in town, along with L'Auberge de l'Ill. My issue with that one is just that the food is not spectacular. Don't get me wrong - it is very well made, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But equally, there is also nothing spectacular about it. Within a day I had forgotten almost all of the courses, and there were 17 of them. All I remember is the foie gras terrine, and not because it was special, but because the wine match of Condrieu was so spectacular. Also, even for a huge eater like myself, it was just too much food, I thought I would explode (though I aprpeciate this is very subjective).

                    2. re: pauliface

                      looking forward to your report on Tofuya Ukai -- had wanted to try that place.

                      1. re: pauliface

                        Your trip to Tokyo sounds very exciting.

                        I'll be in Tokyo in a few weeks time and I'm planning to hit up a few Kaiseki and Sushi Temples.

                        I will be visiting Ishikawa for the first time as well and I'm so looking forward to it.

                        I've been to RyuGin a few times. Having had the privilege to dine at various most-talked about restaurants/Michelin starred establishments all over the world, RyuGin is by far the best restaurant in the world.

                        I mean I don't know if you could compare RyuGin and places like Joel Robuchon, Per Se, Mugaritz, Daniel to name a few ... but I could, and RyuGin easily tops them all. Of course the abovementioned restaurants are brilliant too. :)

                        I would highly recommend you to return as chef Yamamoto just changed his menu to a winter menu. If they are full you can always go for ala carte after 9pm. :) I've actually made two reservations at RyuGin for my upcoming visit. No, I don't get any commissions from RyuGin. I starved myself for months for better food. haha. Such is a life of an obsessive foodie.

                        You should also check out Zaiyu Hasegawa's "Den" in Jimbocho, I guarantee you'll have an experience of a lifetime. He makes you feel like home, and his food is out of this world. Zaiyu san is by far the friendliest chef I know. You will not regret. Guarantee.

                        As for Narisawa, it's good, but I wasn't impressed. I mean I respect his approach to sustainable cooking, there are dishes that was interesting such as oak wood water, Hida wagyu filet and his impressive dessert trolly. I just wasn't wowed by it. And in terms of reservations it shouldn't be very difficult.

                        You should also try Matsukawa in Akasaka for some more life-changing kaiseki and Ukai Tei for some wallet crushing but some of the best wagyu teppanyaki the world has to offer. :)

                        You should write a review after your trip.

                        "eating is need, enjoying is an art"

                        1. re: palatism

                          And if you think Ryugin is that good, maybe it's time for you to try some real serious food :)

                          1. re: palatism

                            Thanks, Palatism.

                            This trip we will not visit Ryugin. Maybe next trip we will return.

                            Best restaurant in the world? That is a tricky title I am not sure I am ready to bestow. :-)

                            I definitely want to try Den next time. I missed Matsukawa in my planning this year. But I think it may be a good pick for next time as well.

                            Thank you so much! And I hope you enjoy Ishikawa!

                            1. re: pauliface

                              Yeah, that's quite a bold statement I supposed.

                              I mean I talk food alone. Many judges a restaurant by its food, service, price, presentation, ambiance, mood ...etc. So may I boldly state that it's the best tasting food in the world at least for now. :)

                              It's probably too late now, but you should probably visit some sushi temples too. Or maybe you are not a sushi fiend. Haha.

                              Thank you, I'm looking forward to my Ishikawa meal. :)

                              1. re: palatism

                                I love sushi but my traveling companion does not. We compromise by having a sushi breakfast at one of the places on the edges of Tsukiji.
                                I forget the name but always go to the same place for their "kai set"!!

                                1. re: pauliface

                                  That's a compromise where you got the rawer end of the deal, my friend. Sorry for the bad pun.

                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                    Haha, you are the man with the

                                    1. re: palatism

                                      Laughed so hard I almost toro hole in my gut.

                      2. I like Ginza Toyoda for washoku in a style similar to Ishikawa. The service and atmosphere may not be on par with Ishikawa (although still very good), but the food is in a similar, authentic straightforward washoku style with very high quality ingredients that shine through. Ren is good but the food is more casual than it is at both Ishikawa and Toyoda. Okuda is also good but I found the seasoning to be a little heavy in some of the dishes. That's the style they are known for though, and many people like it. If you want to eat Okuda San's cooking you should go to Koju if you can get in. I consider the service at Okuda to be about the same as it is at Toyoda.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: la2tokyo

                          Thanks for this. I will look into switching from Okuda to Koju, if possible. But otherwise, we will keep Okuda.

                          Toyoda also looks wonderful. But I thnk we will save it for next time; or maybe try to go there if we have trouble reserving Ishikawa.

                          Since I think we will be having 2 kaiseki meals, from what you are saying Okuda/Koju might provide a more interesting contrast to Ishikawa than Toyoda.

                        2. Did you recall what the difference was between Ishikawa's 15000 and 19000 menu? Quality? # of courses? It's not as defined as Takazawa and I can't seem to find additional intel elsewhere. Thank you.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: shake N baik

                            We just ordered the pricier one so I don't know what the difference is.
                            In general we go for the pricier ones at these places. Why not go for the best when I've travelled halfway round the world?

                            1. re: pauliface

                              I'm normally of the same mindset but Ishikawa is sandwiched between dinners at Takazawa and Ryugin. That's not including lunch and snacks during the day. Oh well...guess I'll be finishing off my wife's portion as well.

                              1. re: shake N baik

                                Takazawa has 2 menus, I belive, and the longer one is a huge long dinner.
                                I dined there last time, ordering the long course.
                                That meal my appetite started to poop out partway through.

                                Ishikawa's higher price menu, we ate every drop and it was the perfect amount. Ditto for Ryugin.

                                So, if I were going to shorten one of them, I might choose Takazawa for that. But then, don't you want to see everything they have to offer? :-)

                            2. re: shake N baik

                              I always check what the difference is before deciding. In many places, it is the quality of ingredients rather than quantity of dishes.

                              Specifically at Ishikawa, one time it was an abalone dish versus some fish which made the 4,000 yen difference. I chose the 15,000 yen menu as abalone can be quite boring. I like it when it is thinly sliced and steamed in sake for about 10 hours, then it can be divine, but ordinarily it doesn't excite me enough to justify the price tag. The fish was excellent, gave me more pleasure than the abalone would have done, and as an added bonus I saved some money.

                              1. re: shake N baik

                                The 15K and 19K menus differ by quality of ingredients. The menus are basically the same, but there is more luxury stuff like abalone, crab, and expensive fish like nodoguro in the 19K menu. The rice dish is almost always vegetarian in the cheaper menu, whereas it has some sort of fish or crab in the more expensive menu. Steamed abalone is a signature dish of Ishikawa San, and he only serves that with the 19K menu. Obviously it depends on your budget, but in my opinion it's well worth it to spend the extra 4K yen.

                                1. re: la2tokyo

                                  Thanks for the insight. I ended up opting for the 19k because we rarely get to eat well prepared abalone and crab. I'll most likely opt for fewer courses at Takazawa but I still have a week to decide.

                                  1. re: shake N baik

                                    Wow, live reports from the front.

                                    How did you enjoy Ishikawa?
                                    Where else have you been that you particularly enjoyed?

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      Oops...should clarify that I needed to inform the restaurant of my menu choice ahead of time. Still have three weeks to go before my trip. Have you secured or attempted to get a reservation?

                                      1. re: shake N baik

                                        Yes, the reservation at Ishikawa is all taken care of. :-)

                                        1. re: pauliface

                                          Just amazing. Only criticism is that the ice cream was slightly over churned. Besides that, everything was perfect.

                              2. FYI: We have not taken the trip yet but we have settled our plans. Here is the result:

                                Wednesday - Kaikaya by the Sea
                                Thursday - Ginza Kojyu
                                Friday (lunch) - Tofuya Ukai
                                (dinner) - no reservation. We'll visit New York Bar
                                and possibly bar hop after that
                                Saturday - Ishikawa
                                Sunday - Joel Robuchon Restaurant

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: pauliface

                                  I am really interested to hear what you think about Koju vs Ishikawa.