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Matsukawa - Probably (the current) Tokyo's greatest restaurant

I like Sushi, but I love Kaiseki more. This is one of the main reasons why, given available time and budget, we only visited 2 elite sushi-yasan. In addition to Ishikawa, we ate at Matsukawa. When talking about Matsukawa (prior to our visit), 3 things came to my mind: 1st, introduction-only restaurant. Similar to Kyo Aji and Morikawa etc. newcomer needs to be invited by the restaurant’s regular patrons. Fortunately, Matsukawa did not apply this rule strictly or at least I got no problem when asking my hotel’s concierge to make reservation for us (perhaps, we could be lucky). 2nd, Michelin, go away please. Tadayoshi Matsukawa, the chef-owner, seems to be allergic to any publicity and media attention. For many restaurants, Michelin award can make or break their business. However, Matsukawa is confident with his cooking and happy with his current clientele base. 3rd, creating pure and simple washoku at its highest quality. Matsukawa-san, a former leading chef at Seisoka, is a master of preparing Japanese traditional cuisine. He selectively chooses the highest possible quality ingredients and apply minimal touch to these pristine produce to ultimately generate dishes with utmost refinement. There’s only one-menu available, but guests are welcome to notify their food preference and allergy (if any) in advance. Normally, Matsukawa will serve 10 courses before the desserts and tea.

The main highlights of my meals were:
- The Crabs: late Fall or early Winter is the main season for Japanese snow crab, and among them Taiza kani is arguably the most precious one. Matsukawa-san is the master of preparing crab dishes. My favorite was the owan mono. The soup, with clean and light dashi, contained a generous amount of delicious red snow crab. On top of it, there are a few slices of aromatic Matsutake mushroom and green yuzu to enhance the dish. Excellent! I can eat this soup every day. Apparently, this was one of Chef Matsukawa’s signature dishes and deservedly so. A strong candidate for the best dish in my Japan’s trip.
The other two crab dishes were: lightly cook Taiza crab (the meat and the eggs) prepared on its shell. It was fresh and exquisite. Matsukawa brought it to another level by creating a little sour sauce (a mixture of komezu, shoyu an dashi) on the side. Another fabulous crab dish was a lump of tasty crab meat served with creamy and flavorful kani miso. I even tried to scoop up this greenish sauce left with my chopsticks. I like Japanese snow crab very much - as much as I love Brittany blue lobster.
- The Sashimi: at first, I expected to eat Maguro or Tai, like what I often had in other restaurants. Our mukozuke happened to be more interesting: crunchy and fresh Filefish with its rich liver was very good; the red shell clam was deep in flavor and chewy but soft enough to bite through; blowfish ‘meat’ and its skins had great texture and refreshing when consumed with daikon and ponzu sauce; the ultimate sahismi for me was the beautiful spiny lobster – the meat was inhenrently sweet while the ‘Lobster’s’ brain was even more umami without any bitterness.

Honestly, there was pretty much no bad dishes here; I liked nearly all of them. The yakimono dishes were also excellent. I enjoyed the grilled Tai, Awabi and Mana-Katsuo. The rice might look simple, but each side dish was of high quality even the pickles and miso soup. The star was, of course, Ikura – I love when the roes’ burst and dish out immense flavor. Also, make sure to get Matsukawa’s signature dessert called Azuki bean jelly; under the light, this yokan turned semi transparent like a piece of art. Tastewise, it’s ethereal and incredibly delicate with the right amount of sweetness (Initially, this sweet was not part of the meal. I requested the waiter and the cook about it and was politely declined. I kept pressing on and asked Matsukawa-san himself who immediately prepared us this awesome yokan). A typical dish of Matsukawa: simple, pure and umami. For me, a meal here was a life-changing experience. I ate plenty of dishes with unique ingredients. Besides those mentioned above, for the first time I ate: Bottarga (robust and salty), Iwatake mushroom (rare and often associated with longevity), Konoko (intense brininess), Fugu shirako (soft and creamy) and Nametake (a decent mushroom). There are still plenty more dishes not yet mentioned and I will let you read my more detailed review if you really want to know all of the stuffs that we had.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I got so many different dishes because I came here twice. The first one was for dinner, seated at the counter. The second one was at lunch, seated at the private room (I reserved late, that’s why I could not get the counter that only has 6 seats) – a good way to have different experiences. I haven’t been to Matsukawa before and there was not that many (English) info available out there (at least I could not find any at that time). The 2nd booking initially happened because I could not find any good kaiseki restaurant for my lunch (sounds kinda crazy, right?). I would like to try either Esaki or Seizan, but neither opened for lunch on Thursday. Then, I decided that Matsukawa should be worth it for a 2nd meal within a week (L’Arpege and Le Louis XV were the other 2 restaurants having “the honor” where I ate there more than once during the same trip). After having fabulous dinner, it was an easy choice that returning here is a “must”. The service was overall good, but not in the Ishikawa’s league. They’re friendly and helpful, but hardly took initiative to re-fill our water, sake or change the hot ocha. Somehow I often found that kaiseki restaurants often have great service when the Chef’s wife/daughter acts as the “Okami”.

The true star of the service was actually the hospitable Chef Matsukawa himself. He’s modest, amiable and charming despite hardly speaking any English. We communicated with my limited Japanese and during dinner, fortunately there was one lady staff who spoke fluent English. When I stated that his restaurant was Tokyo’s best, he humbly refused and said that Kyo Aji was (still) the real Tokyo no 1. During lunch, Matsukawa-san came to our room twice to serve the dishes. After each of our meal, as we expected, the Chef, accompanied by 1 waiter, escorted us out and bid us farewell. Matsukawa might appear shy, but he surely possesses extra ordinary talents in preparing Japanese traditional cuisine: from sourcing out-of-this-world ingredients to consistenly producing sublime dishes executed with high precision. It’s almost certain that I would love to return here should I get a chance to visit Japan again in the future. The main challenge is probably: can Matsukawa outdo himself? It would probably be difficult especially if I visit outside Autumn season. For Kaiseki, it’s generally agreed that Autumn generates the best quality produces – at least, it’s true for me since I love snow crab and Matsutake very much. I doubt if I will like Ayu or Takenoko more. Matsukawa scores 98 pts for the food only perspective; it’s been a while since I ever bestowed such high score to any restaurant. The last time I did this, if not mistaken, was in 2010 for my meals at L’Arpege (due to Challan duck and Pigeon ala dragee), L’Ambroise (due to pastry containing black truffle & foie gras and (lightly cooked) scallop with truffle) and Gagnaire Paris (due to Turbot steak and Lozere lamb)

If you want to read detailed reviews (sorry but yes, it’s longer than this one), please visit:
http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspo...
If you want to see the pictures only (lots of them as if I eat at Sushi place), please visit:
https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...

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  1. No doubt, Matsukawa is stellar. The one thing that bears mentioning is the price. The last time I ate at Matsukawa the food was twice the price of the most expensive menu at Ishikawa. IMHO it is worth it, and Matsukawa San is a wonderful host, but comparing any ¥20,0000 meal to a ¥40,000 meal is not a fair comparison. Matsukawa San is very friendly, the food is unbelievably precise, the ingredients are top-notch, and the technique is impeccable. That said, for those who are not familiar with high level washoku ingredients, and Kyoto cooking in general, be forewarned that Matsukawa San's food can be very austere. I was expecting things to be very lighty seasoned and I definitely got them that way, some things being so light that I wondered if there was any salt added at all. I have been twice, both meals very memorable, and I recommend it highly to many people, but it's probably not for everybody.

    5 Replies
    1. re: la2tokyo

      Thanks for your comments
      The price is still the same as you mentioned, but I thought that's only happening in the season of snow crab and Matsutake? Have you been to Matsukawa outside Fall season? I'm wondering what the ingredients were like

      True, it may not be that fair to compare (about the pricing), in this case, Ishikawa vs Matsukawa. But then, if Ishikawa charged double, he might not be able to attract that many customers. Likewise, had Matsukawa charged half, he might not have been able to produce as many stellar dishes as he does now. Any thoughts? Honestly I think Ishikawa can charge 25% more so that he can use more luxurious produce and give 1-2 extra dishes. The rental in Kagurazaka should not be that expensive either

      Also, some notes about the food taste: Matsukawa's dishes taste light focusing the natural taste of the ingredients, but by no means they're tasteless. Not sure if it's a good analogy: Like Passard, Matsukawa has such expertise in seasoning the food. For example, his "yaki/grilled" stuffs were very flavorful even without sauce. However, when he prepares sauces (for instance, the kani miso or taiza-kani sauce), they're simply umami, somewhat rich but not cloying at all

      1. re: Bu Pun Su

        I love both restaurants. I don't really feel the need to compare the two - they are both favorites of mine for different reasons. I don't think Ishikawa wants to charge that much, regardless of if he can fill the restaurant at higher prices, or even if he can make more money. Ishikawa has a very large number of regular customers, and they are very happy doing what they are doing at the price they do it at. I felt the price at Matsukawa was fine for what I got, and I also think the price at Ishikawa is fair too. The only difference to me is that I can be a regular at Ishikawa, and I can only afford to go to Matsukawa once a year or so. I guess it all depends on the individual's budget though. Both are great restaurants.

        1. re: la2tokyo

          True that the restaurants should operate as they are because that's what make them unique. Not every chef given "unlimited" budget will be able to prepare dishes as stellar as Matsukawa or Bernard Pacaud; likewise only a few chefs can use "more common" produce and elevate them to higher level the way Ishikawa or Alain Passard does.

          For my case, it's quite unlikely to visit Japan once a year (every 2-3 yrs perhaps more realistic). Given every opportunity, I always cherish it and try to make the most out of it including the last visit in which I picked the Autumn season - a season that many chefs and connoisseurs seem to agree that is the best/most interesting season as far as Japanese kaiseki's concerned

          1. re: Bu Pun Su

            can you please let me know where Matsukawa is located?

            thank you!

    2. wow that looks amazing!! i want to try it next time i go to tokyo (although i'm the opposite of you, id rather eat sushi than have kaiseki)

      Btw 40,000 yen while not cheap doesn't actually sound that egregious for a 10 course meal using top notch ingredients

      18 Replies
      1. re: Lau

        Yes, I think you should put a priority to visit Matsukawa the next time you're in Tokyo
        I have not been able to confirm it yet, but generally in any Japan's kaiseki restaurants - the omakase menu will cost more whenever they serve Zuwai gani and Matsutake. Maybe, if neither of this ingredient is available, it would be cheaper

        I like kaiseki more because I feel that the dishes are more elaborate and test the chef's skills in many aspects: beautiful presentation, different dishes with different preparations (soup, sashimi, grilled, simmered and so on), and of course the taste. The (formal) kaiseki also reminds me of my love for French haute cuisine

        1. re: Bu Pun Su

          how far ahead did you make the reservations?

          i agree there is probably more skill involved in kaiseki meal, but
          from a pure just taste / enjoyment of food i like sushi better (personal preference obviously). although for my tastes while i like haute cuisine type of stuff, its not something i crave very often...i think i find the mid range or homestyle stuff most enjoyable, but again this is just my tastes.

          1. re: Lau

            Approximately 2.5 months before my selected date for the dinner; for lunch, it's 1+ month in advance as I was undecided earlier
            Japanese food (or even the fine versions) is easier to eat daily compared to the western food (French or Italian) - at least for me
            Sushi is actually my 2nd fav. type in Japanese cuisine. How important is the non-sushi part (i.e. tsumami/sashimi) when you eat or select your fav. sushi-ya?

            I guess your comfort food will be Chinese cuisine then? I, thankfully, adapted quite easily in the new place given the food is good. 6+ years ago, I traveled to western Europe with my parents for nearly 3 weeks and I had no problem to never eat any rice at all in spite of having grown in SE Asia. But it's not the case with them after 7+ days, they had to eat rice at least once which I thought already quite incredible ..

            1. re: Bu Pun Su

              2.5 months thats not that bad for tokyo standards i guess...ill def check it next time

              the non-sushi portion to me is somewhat less important than the actual sushi. the reason being is that i really shari. shari combined with whatever fish or shellfish is a 1+1 = 3 kind of situation for me. good shari is amazing, the flavor, texture etc and combined with a great piece of fish or shellfish and whatever they garnish with for flavor (soy sauce, salt etc) is just so good to me

              i consider most chinese cuisine to be comfort food to me although at the high end of cantonese cuisine, i consider it on par with any other haute cuisine out there although you can only find this level of cooking in HK

              i'll eat any kind of food and i think all cuisines certainly have at least a few things i'll probably really like. That said i much prefer food in Asia to the rest of the world's food (prefer japanese, chinese, taiwan, singapore / malaysia, korean to a lesser extent). I start to crave it fairly badly if i haven't had it like when i was in spain twice this summer for over a week each time and i was dying by the end for some sort of asian food. In western europe i like french food the best (i've spent alot of time there), but i like italian food as well

              1. re: Lau

                So, like, what does shari mean?

                  1. re: Bu Pun Su

                    That would just be su-meshi, wouldn't it? Why is it shari?

                    (I was just poking some fun at the recent chow trend of calling various things by non-English names so as to appear knowledgeable)

                    1. re: Gargle

                      yes all the same definition...and yes people do do that for sure

                      1. re: Gargle

                        As far as I'm aware, sushi-meshi is vinegared rice, and shari is the name for the small balls of rice pressed into the neta to make nigiri.

                        I understand your cynicism. As chuckeats drolly tweeted recently, "in the post-Tokyo Bourdain world, critics speak of "expertly aged" fish as if they've known all along". Word!

                        1. re: wekabeka

                          'Shari' means simply 'cooked rice', at first was the white rice, but also 'rice material' of sushi..

                          1. re: Ninisix

                            A Japanese person aged 64 tells me this is true.

                          2. re: wekabeka

                            Yet the chef calls for shari from the kitchen, and it's not in ball form at that point. At least the etymology is interesting.

                    2. re: Lau

                      Good points
                      Possibly, in many sushi establishments is not so much about having the best neta, but more on how to find the most suitable fish/seafood to be paired with (each) chef's unique shari recipe. I used to care more about the sushi, but then the recent experiences have somewhat changed that paradigm

                      For instance, the best thing I ate at Sushi Mizutani was mushi-awabi in "sashimi style"; Yoshitake HK was abalone with its liver & braised tako with 'sweet' sauce; Kanesaka Singapore was uni don with ikura & negi toro. I guess I'm not too picky/particular about how the sushi morsel has to be prepared

                      I can appreciate the Chinese cuisine high end ingredients, but not to the extend they will create the ecstasy when I savor top dishes in French/Japanese cuisine. Also, I usually only notice a very subtle variety among restaurants: braised shark's fin with "superior stocks - chicken broth+yunnan ham"; dried abalone with "special brown sauce" - probably because I prefer fresh abalone than the more complex dried version. This being the case, often it's not easy for me to pick any distinguished Cantonese restaurant

                      1. re: Bu Pun Su

                        yah that abalone at yoshitake was really really good; actually i found that the biggest difference in japan was the quality of the shellfish; like the fish was better than the best places in NY, but the shellfish was lightyears better

                        i hear you, i think my love for cantonese food is pretty well known on the board at this point, but personally i consider it up there with the best although for high end food japanese is def my fav (well its actually my fav in general, japanese and chinese food are my fav food)

                        1. re: Lau

                          Spot on regarding the shellfish quality
                          Before eating in Tokyo, I hardly noticed/remembered the shellfish in any sushi-ya - I'm sure I ate them (in LA, NYC, Singapore) but perhaps they're not too memorable. Any favorite season to eat sushi? Where would be your favorite kaiseki places outside Japan (if any)?

                          For Cantonese cuisine, I enjoy more on the cooking with "more humble dishes" such as crispy chicken, suckling pig or sauteed lobster than the once prepared using the priced ingredients I mentioned before. Perhaps, I should continue this part sometimes in the China's discussion board

                          1. re: Bu Pun Su

                            i agree, sometimes i have shellfish in the US where im like yah this is good, but i almost never get an piece of shellfish where im holy crap this is good (maybe oysters) and i def had many pieces where i had that reaction in tokyo. actually next time you're in tokyo go to dai san, its much more reasonable than the top tier places but it was really very good and the shellfish were so good

                            hmm im not like some kaiseki expert and i wouldnt say i have a favorite place per se bc i simply don't go to them that much

                            well for cantonese i like from the bottom all the way to the top, so congee, bbq, homestyle all the way to the expensive delicate stuff, but i would agree with you although thats the case in almost all cuisines i generally tend to really like the more mid ranged or simple stuff...i think thats the stuff you end up craving

                            1. re: Lau

                              +1 on the shellfish. I am here in tokyo now. This morning at Iwasa at the tsukiji market I had the kai set. 7 or 8 pieces of shellfish most of which I have never seen in the usa and all mindblowingly delicious. This breakfast put all sushi restaurants in SF including my favorites to shame. Light years of difference. Please don't make me leave Tokyo!

                              1. re: pauliface

                                go try to walk into dai san early like 6pm my friend did it and it was fine or go for lunch...thank me later

                                and yes the breadth of shellfish in japan is amazing, i probably hadnt had like maybe 70% of the shellfish i had in tokyo

            2. Bun Pun Su, I am a big fan of your food adventures but Matsukawa is, to me, a private club as confirmed by your statement ''''newcomer needs to be invited by the restaurant’s regular patrons''. They seem to do great and I am glad for them, but as a private initiative they are useless to the most (I mean, normal diners who are looking for a normal / non exclusive dinner).

              32 Replies
              1. re: MichelinStarDinners

                Regardless of stated policies, they accept reservations from newcomers.

                1. re: Gargle

                  This was not my experience this last week.

                  My hotel concierge called, and was told that they do not take reservations through hotels.

                  Following this, my friend (who speaks fluent Japanese) attempted to make a reservation. But he was told that the restaurant is invitation only...

                  1. re: pauliface

                    Maybe your friend has an Osaka accent?

                    Just kidding. These things are fluid and it no more surprises me to hear contradictory reports about reservation policies here than it is to be told by a restaurant they only take reservations one month out, but that they're fully booked three months out anyway :)

                2. re: MichelinStarDinners

                  Thanks for having followed my "gastronomy tour" (reports)
                  About Matsukawa - that's what I learned as I did my restaurants research. Then, I thought I got nothing to lose by asking the hotel's concierge to make a reservation there and it turned out to be great. Again, I wasn't 100% sure whether we're lucky or Matsukawa no longer holds "introduction-only" policy. We would need a few more people to confirm this. But, why not trying it yourself? Even if they had rejected me, I would not have been too disappointed as there were plenty of top kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo I could visit such as Yukimura, Ryugin, Kojyu and so on

                  For me personally, I'm fine when people reviewed introduction-only places. It might be "useless" since we could not eat there anyway, yet from the positive side I'm quite happy to know what the dishes' pictures and their experiences were like. I could sort of tell whether I will like the places just in case I would have the opportunity to dine there in the future somehow. In fact, I really look forward to reading the reports of people who had a chance to have meals at Morikawa or Kouraibashi Kitcho Honten

                  1. re: Bu Pun Su

                    Well, I can tell you with certainty that if you speak even marginal Japanese Matsukawa will let you book. The post-Lehman collapse of the super-high-end, invitation-only dining market is a global phenomenon after all - one that allows us to get dinner reservations at l'Ambroisie and Kyo Aji, but also one that will lead to no good.

                    1. re: Gargle

                      "but also one that will lead to no good" - why is it so? Or what do you mean?

                      I didn't know that l'Ambroisie used to be a "private club"
                      I ate there pre-Lehman for the 1st time and got chance going there a couple more times. Never got any difficulties to book there whether through direct call or ask the hotel to do it on my behalf. Also, not even once the restaurant was packed; at most only half seats were filled

                      1. re: Bu Pun Su

                        Getting a dinner table there used to be impossible. Lunch, yes, easily, but dinner was nearly unheard of. Did you eat dinner there before 2008? Then you were very lucky.

                        1. re: Gargle

                          p.s. according to the bu pun su gastronomy adventures blog, your first visit was for lunch, I should have clarified I was talking about dinner.

                          1. re: Gargle

                            Ah yes, I only went for lunch. A meal at l'Ambroisie is usually shorter than in any other 3-star places. I saved the longer ones for dinner. Moreover, la place des vosges is much more beautiful during the day. I often walked around there when eating at l'Ambroisie

                            1. re: Bu Pun Su

                              Lunch is certainly shorter, yes. But then you don't get to meet the same people or have some of the same food :)

                              1. re: Gargle

                                Isn't the menu the same between lunch and dinner? Unless you talked about the off-menu such as wild duck pastry during the game season. The length of the meal should depend on how many courses we order, right? Unless it's like some resto which has different and longer dinner-only degustation menu (though you can almost always order dinner menu at lunch nowadays)

                                1. re: Bu Pun Su

                                  All I can tell you is we usually sit down for dinner around 19:30 and stumble out just before midnight. The menu is the same but the food is not.

                      2. re: Gargle

                        -> Gargle
                        openly discussing invitation only restaurants (but rule not strictly enforced) on global forums makes chefs less wanting to accept 1st timer foreign guests , if the number of foreign guests outweighs local ones??

                        1. re: Lucil

                          You mean it should be just our little secret? ;)

                          1. re: Gargle

                            Actually a question , if this was the meaning that you think might lead to no good, ;)

                            1. re: Lucil

                              Oh, I see. No, I mean the fact that restaurants that once could operate as a super-high-end dining room for some classes of vips now largely have to cater to everyone who can afford to drop 100000 JPY on dinner for two will lead to no good.

                      3. re: Bu Pun Su

                        "Again, I wasn't 100% sure whether we're lucky or Matsukawa no longer holds "introduction-only" policy. We would need a few more people to confirm this."

                        I have made reservations for clients there on three occasions, before finally dining there myself in August. So it would seem there is no "introduction only" policy in place.

                        FYI: Tabelog will often state whether a shop has a restriction on reservations. The red characters 非公開 (hikoukai) means that the establishment is not open to the public.

                        1. re: wekabeka

                          Thanks for the clarification Wekabeka
                          It seems that Matsukawa is not an "introduction-only" kind of restaurant after all
                          So everyone who is interested in coming here can do so any time

                          If you don't mind sharing, what was your meal like in August? What were the "superstar ingredients"? Was it 'cheaper' than during Matsutake/Crab season or it's the same price? Lastly, the rice dish - was it still rice with ikura, pickles & nori? Thx

                          1. re: Bu Pun Su

                            They declined my reservation last year, less than a year after the restaurant opened, claiming they had a referral only system. So the referral system was definitely in place for the first year. Now they seem to be open to everyone.

                            Most dishes are the same from his time at Seisoka, which is also and excellent restaurant.

                            1. re: babreu

                              Sorry to hear that. I hope you didn't give up and finally had a chance to eat at Matsukawa. It's interesting when you said most dishes were still the same. I thought the dishes would be the rights of Seisoka. Is it still common high end places in Japan where the head chef is not the owner of the restaurant? Talking about Nihon ryori here

                              1. re: Bu Pun Su

                                Yes, I went to Matsukawa in october and had the matsutake kaiseki.

                                I didn't return to Seisoka this year, but chef Matsukawa said he's implementing new dishes while keeping some of his creations from Seisoka.

                                1. re: babreu

                                  Good to know you could eat at Matsukawa in the end
                                  Thanks for sharing some info about Matsukawa & Seisoka
                                  I assume you tasted Matsukawa-san's dishes during his 'old' days at Seisoka? Do you like his cooking better now or then? Was snow crab available yet during your Oct meal?

                            2. re: Bu Pun Su

                              It was a wonderful dining experience: the food, service and ambience were all flawless. I usually find kaiseki dishes overly complex and ornate - it really irks me when beautiful ingredients are fiddled with too much, so I appreciated the seeming simplicity of his dishes.

                              It was the height of summer, so naturally the menu was focused on eel. Our course included two preparations of grilled wild unagi (Lake Shinji): with tare sauce & as shioyaki; and three dishes of hamo (conger eel): thin slivers of sashimi (hamo segoshi), shabu-shabu, and zousui (a thin rice soup/porridge) made with the hamo dashi from the shabu-shabu. So if you aren't a fan of eel, I would perhaps avoid Matsukawa between July and early September. To be honest, I could have done without the zousui; it was the low point of the meal in terms of flavour, and it filled me up too much before the rice course. As well as the ikura and nori that you mentioned, our rice condiments included fresh karasumi (bottarga) and jakko (fried baby sardines). The latter of which we were given a jar of as our omiyage (souvenir).

                              I adore fish liver, roe and intestines - the umami flavour works brilliantly with sake, so my favourite dishes were the morsel of sticky rice topped with Awaji-Shima uni and Kazakhstan beluga caviar, the braised awabi with a sauce of its own liver and a dried crisp of kuchiko (sea cucumber ovary), and the surume ika "ruibe" (a sliver of frozen squid stuffed with its liver) - Matsukawa's signature dish.

                              I was escorting clients so I didn't see the final bill, but I guess the food would have been around ¥30,000 p/p, with the total being closer to ¥40,000p/p once the sake we ordered was factored in.

                              As far as I'm aware, the course menu during matsutake season is priced between ¥35,000-40,000, and when matsutake is at its peak the price spikes to ¥40,000-¥45,000. Ouch!

                              1. re: wekabeka

                                Yes, the menu in october was ¥40k, at lunch time, with lots of Matsutake.

                                1. re: babreu

                                  It's 40k now too, with several species and genders of crab, uni, karasumi, japanese lobster, wild fugu and so on, and so forth.

                                  1. re: Gargle

                                    Are you sure he served karasumi? He seems to use only konoko (dried sea cucumber ovaries), one of the most expensive delicacies in Japan.

                                    1. re: babreu

                                      According to the comments on tabelog, karasumi ochazuke is a recurring menu item.

                                      1. re: babreu

                                        I know kuchiko when I see it.

                                        Two large slices of lightly seared karasumi (of course the least salty mullet roes short of fresh smoked versions you'll find in the southern US, but still salty compared to the rest of his food) sitting on top of some hand made mochi in daikon sauce.

                                  2. re: wekabeka

                                    Thank you so much for your detailed reviews - awesome!
                                    It seems that Matsukawa should be a great place to go to at any season. How's the Hyogo's uni (i.e. in terms of taste/texture or color) different from its Hokkaido counterpart? I like anago and hamo, but not sure whether I will enjoy 5 eel dishes like you mentioned - maybe 1-2 too many. Is awabi in the summer that much better than any other season & why? I only know and tasted Otoro in the winter' it was the 'best' (due to acquiring the most body fat)

                                    I also need to accept the "fact" that Matsukawa's rice dish is always the same - I like Chef who's doing seasonal/more creative thing with his gohan. Lastly, it's interesting that Matsukawa also embraced caviar for his dishes, not sure if he would go as far as truffle in the future.

                                    1. re: Bu Pun Su

                                      Plunging deep into my sake addled memory, the Awaji-Shima aka (red) uni was a little firmer and more briny than the Hokkaido ezo-bafun & kita-murasaki uni that I had eaten at sushiya during summer.

                                      In regards to awabi, it's associated with summer as that's when most species are at their peak here. Ezo-awabi (a different species to the madaka awabi I had at Matsukawa), peak later in the year, so that's probably what you were eating.

                                      If you want to learn more about the regional and seasonal differences in uni & awabi, I suggest you refer to Nagayama-san's detailed posts on the subject:

                                      http://harumi-sushi.sakura.ne.jp/d09_...

                                      http://harumi-sushi.sakura.ne.jp/d04_...

                                      Or pick up a copy of his bilingual book, Sushi.

                              2. re: Bu Pun Su

                                Thanks Bu Pun Su and Gargle for the extra infos about Matsukawa. Absolutely, I'll try it myself (In Autumn, if all things go well) and sorry for using the word 'useless' (sounds rude). I am not against reports of exclusive restaurants, just thought that their exposure will lead to disappointments (for eg, you see all that beautiful description about a meal, but no..ain't gonna happen for the most ;p). But I absolutely respect your opinion on the matter, Bu Pun Su. @Wekabeka - Glad to hear that they seem to have dropped that introduction-only policy. PS: regarding L'Ambroisie: it was same experience as Bu Pun Su, for me, which means normal reservation process (opened to public / I just called and booked).

                            3. Hi all, I attempted to book Matsukawa through my hotel but they seem to have reverted to an 'introductions only' policy. Has this been the case for others too?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: robs87

                                Basically, yes. I have been able to book before on my own, but I recently called and was told they were fully booked even though I had been there before. I had a friend who is a high profile customer call for me and they took the reservation immediately. Regardless of what they tell anyone on the phone, I believe they regulate who is permitted to book pretty severely. And, in case anyone is wondering, yes, IMHO it is still worth the hassle. Although the reservations policy is not democratic, Matsukawa San in one of the most hospitable chefs I have met in Tokyo and the food is second to none.

                              2. My wife and I have are fortunate to have upcoming reservations at Matsukawa. Even though they were made through a concierge the restaurant asked us to provide them with the name of a person who can, in their words, "verify" their eating experience. Our problem is that we don't know anyone. If you have any suggestions please let me know. Your help would be greatly appreciated. I would hate to lose this reservation!! Thank you.

                                29 Replies
                                1. re: markmich

                                  Another way of looking at this is that you don't have a reservation at Matsukawa and that you should ask your concierge to release the seats back to the restaurant.

                                  1. re: Gargle

                                    It might also be the way the restaurant looks at it.

                                    1. re: Gargle

                                      I've just discovered this incredible photo gallery of dishes served at Matsukawa and the meal looks etheral!

                                      https://plus.google.com/photos/118237...

                                      I have one special celebratory dinner saved for our very last night in Japan. We'll be leaving Nagasaki and returning to Tokyo for one single night before ending our trip. I would definitely like to do something more upsacle and fancy since we'll be eating strictly without reservations for at least a full week prior; all regional stuff and lots of Chinese in Nagasaki.

                                      I was initially leaning towards Aronia, since it's unlike anything we'll have experienced to date, from what I gather. I had stayed away from most fusion cuisine in the planning of our meals and I have very little interest in any European fine-dining while in Japan, however Aronia was the one restaurant that seemed creative enough with it's use of ingredients and flavors (from the menus and descriptions I've read) to entice me.

                                      I'm sure it's very difficult to compare these restaurants, but simply stated - if you had your choice of eating at either Matsukawa, Kyo Aji, or Aronia de Takazawa, which would you pick for a last meal in Tokyo?

                                      Keep in mind that we'll have stayed in 10 different ryokans throughout our trip, experiencing at least one kaiseki meal in each. In addition, we'll have eaten "upscale" kaiseki meals at Gion Yata, Hyo-Tei, Hiiragiya, Kamigamo Akiyama, and Kitcho Arashiyama all in Kyoto... kaiseki overkill!!

                                      We'll have a full 2.5 week break from any kaiseki with exception of one meal each at Minamikan, Iwaso, and Sakamotoya (though it would be absurd to compare any of the kaiseki meals served in our ryokans with what I've seen in the photo gallery linked above!).

                                      We'll have had modern kaiseki meals at Ishikawa, RyuGin, and possibly Ginza Okuda (still debating whether to keep this reservation!) while in Tokyo as well.

                                      With all of this information (or regardless!) would you go for Matsukawa or Aronia? Before anyone offers warning, I have an acquaintance in Tokyo who could most likely assist with a reservation, so that isn't a concern.

                                      Strictly in terms of proficiency and skill, do you feel that Matsukawa or Aronia is the stronger kitchen? In terms of creativity and playfullness, does one win out over the other? Lastly, simply accounting for the most enjoyable and memorable courses that you've experienced, which of the two (or three if Kyo Aji's a contender!) would you stand behind?

                                      Gracias!!

                                      And apologies in advance to those who'll undoubtedly criticize all the fancy eating.

                                      1. re: OliverB

                                        I had a relatively disappointing meal at Aronia recently. It was not as good as before and they seem to have adjusted their prices to what michelin tourists expect to pay (both by menu price inflation and by the addition of substantial service charges) so that with a typical bottle from their list you'll end up spending $1000+ for two (compared to $450 we spent in 2011). The reformulation into a somewhat more kaiseki-like structure is also doing them no favors as it highlights how much better it is to treat pristine ingredients with very slight intervention as opposed to all sorts of Francomulecular (sorry) trickery.

                                        So personally I'd go to Matsukawa (or many other proper Japanese places) before Aronia.

                                        But for some reason I have a slightly difficult time imagining you (I mean the you that is reflected in your posts) in a place like Matsukawa. Maybe go there but get a room. (and please don't make special requests unless you're allergic to something)

                                        1. re: Gargle

                                          Thanks Gargle... well, I think so, haha. I have no idea how to interpret the last part of your post.

                                          Am I correct in thinking that it's a more laidback and fun environment than Aronia as well? If so, I'm convinced and will try for a res!

                                          (I never make requests on set menus, other than to alert the kitchen that my wife doesn't eat red meat)

                                          PS - What would you consider the "closest" or most similar kaiseki to Matsukawa in Japan; is it unlike any of the places mentiond that we'll have visited?

                                          PPS - what is the "me" reflected in my posts that you have trouble imagining at Matsukawa? I need to hear this :-)

                                          1. re: OliverB

                                            No, Aronia is far more laid back and fun in the sense that you're probably using the words (and they'll be more than happy to chat with you in very good English). Matsukawa is a quiet environment that is all about doing the very deliberate work required to take priceless ingredients and making them shine.

                                            Mesubim offers a glimpse into a typical moment of fun at Matsukawa:

                                            http://mesubim.com/2014/03/20/matsuka...

                                            Which I personally much prefer to too much talk and flashy presentations.

                                            Many of the places you visit will share that spirit, but each will have its own interpretation, its own style, and certainly its own take on service. I can't tell you which one it's the most similar to.

                                        2. re: OliverB

                                          Matsukawa is very traditional, not creative at all but the technique is impeccable.
                                          Aronia is definitely more creative and playful but can be inconsistent.

                                          1. re: FourSeasons

                                            Thanks FS!

                                            I think I understand exactly what to expect from both places... inconsistency is often a facet of that kind of "playful" creative molecular cooking; perhaps inherently. I have a feeling I'd enjoy Matsukawa much more but I'm gonna leave this decision to the missus. She goes for that theater and showmanship style of cooking more than me. Aronia is definitely the more 'unique for our trip' pick as it's a departure from everything I've chosen so far, so I'm gonna let my wife chose (she typically gives me carte-blanche for our restaurant plans).

                                            Thanks for the feedback on both places!

                                            1. re: OliverB

                                              Matsukawa maybe quite similar to many of the other kaiseki you will visit in Kyoto. When you mention "kaiseki overkill", I am afraid that may just happen. And not to forget that since you visit them on the same month, you will face many of the same seasonal ingredients as well. I thought you just need to be aware of this.

                                              1. re: FourSeasons

                                                Thanks again FS,

                                                My only experience with kaiseki to date have been at places like Kyo Ya in NYC, Wakuriya in San Mateo, and Sakae in Burlingame. I eat a lot of Japanese food in the Bay Area (katsu curry is a bi-weekly lunch staple) but I have to say that my few experiences with kaiseki have been the most rewarding, and I personally favor this style of Japanese cuisine over anything else. Unlike other "degustation" multi-course menus in the U.S. and Europe, I find the understated approach towards the presentation of fresh, seasonal ingredients and undressed flavors incredibly satisfying. I could never do more than one or two meals per week like this in Paris for example, but I find Japanese kaiseki to be less overwhelming and in many ways, a more artfully curated and refined exposition of flavors and aesthetic; almost an auteurist approach to food, without sounding too pretentious. It isn't overly adorned or rich, and doesn't leave you feeling gluttonous afterward. In Kyoto, more than anything else I'm drawn to the environs and surroundings. The centuries-old residences and gardens; heritage and tradition combined with modernist ideas and approaches - it's definitely right up my alley and I'm very excited for this stretch of our trip! I definitely value the experiences over "the best meal" or "ecclectic dining" in Kyoto. It may seem short-sighted, but it's a personal preference. I'm sure we'll taste many of the same seasonal ingredients, but I'm sure each preparation and presentation of these ingredients will offer different interpretations of flavors. It will be fun to compare and if nothing else, we'll be dining and drinking in sublime atmosphere and I know I'll get a huge kick from the settings and cultural experience. My wife will be in orbit at Kitcho.

                                                1. re: OliverB

                                                  I hope you enjoy it all, but don't say no one warned you. I'd be interested to hear your opinion after your tenth kaiseki meal in the same month.

                                                  1. re: Robb S

                                                    Thanks Robb,

                                                    If it gets really tired, we could always cancel our reservations. I remember starting a thread several months ago in which I shared the same concerns, and the general concencus seemed to be that we wouldn't be receiving a rehash of the same meal at each place. The Tokyo modern kaisekis like Ishikawa seem to be world's apart from the traditional Kyoto institutions. My bigger concern was with regards to the meals served in our ryokans, but I figured it was part and parcel with the experience and we had to include at least one dinner with each stay. Since we'll be jumping from towns and prefectures at each inn, I'm hoping we'll at least experience some of the regional specialties which will make these meals feel a bit more diverse; plus we'll typically have several days worth of meals inbetween. I guess we'll find out for ourselves though!

                                                    1. re: OliverB

                                                      Yes, Ishikawa/Ryugin may differ from traditional Kyoto kaiseki but they are still likely to use the same seasonal ingredients of the month.
                                                      As to ryokan, you can always ask for an alternative option from kaiseki. I think maybe a good idea if you request regional nabe or shabu shabu (crab or beef) or sukiyaki.

                                                      1. re: FourSeasons

                                                        Thanks FS, that's a good backup if we start to get bored of the traditional kaiseki services. The trouble will be remembering to call ahead, since we're always doing our one-meal at ryokans on the night of arrival. I definitely want to request Hida beef at Myojinkan. I'll put the missus in charge of remembering! :)

                                                  2. re: OliverB

                                                    In contrast to others' sentiments here, I like multiple washoku (not necessarily kaiseki) meals over consecutive days. I've done seven or eight dinners in a row (with other things for lunch) during one trip. The only aspect that can impinge on the enjoyment is when you see the same seasonal ingredients prepared in similar ways, which can happen. This is more likely, I think, to happen at restaurants which use more traditional approaches, including, potentially ryokan, and more likely in Kyoto than Tokyo (I spend the most time in the latter).

                                                    1. re: tigerjohn

                                                      Thanks tigerjohn,

                                                      I imagine we'll see that often at the more traditional ryokans like Hoshi Onsen Chojukan, Kanbayashi Senjukaku, Minamikan, Iwaso, and maybe Sakamotoya (not sure about kaiseki in Nagasaki actually) but in places like Gora Kadan, Wanosanto, Kayotei, we'll probably see a more modern approach, similar to the higher end Tokyo restaurants. Since we only have a single meal booked at each (with exception of Gora Kadan for lack of alternatives) I don't expect this will be a problem. We'll be eating plenty of other meals inbetween, so it's really just Kyoto where we'll be in kaiseki hyperdrive.

                                                      1. re: OliverB

                                                        Re Gorakadan: kasieki there is not that impressive, and it is not modern style as per your envisage, certainly will not be the same standard that you will enjoy in Tokyo. But the beef shabu shabu is pretty good, request for their home made black sesame dipping sauce. I would recommend you to opt for the shabu shabu rather than kaiseki for this one night stay there.

                                                        1. re: FourSeasons

                                                          Thanks for the tip; we're actually spending 2 nights at Gora and I've read mixed reviews of the food. I'll be sure to request the beef shabu and hopefully they have a non red meat option for my wife. Do you have any other suggestions for our second night?

                                                          1. re: OliverB

                                                            Since you are having 2 meals at Gora, I don't think you have to request the beef shabu, that will probably be your 2nd night dinner. At most ryokan they try not to repeat meals if staying more than 1 night. Like FourSeasons says, the kaiseki won't be as good as the meals at your kaiseki restaurants, but by no means is it bad. If you have requests, make sure to do it in advance. They should be very accommodating.

                                                          2. re: FourSeasons

                                                            FourSeasons,

                                                            Have you ever experienced the kaiseki set at Hiiragiya ryokan; if so, what was your impression?

                                                            I wonder if we should request a shabu shabu course or nabe for our one meal at Hiiragiya (we are staying 4 nights but opted for only one meal in order to experience other restaurants) since we have so many other kaiseki meals booked for that week: Hyo-tei, Shoraian, Kamigamo Akiyama, Kitcho Arashiyama.

                                                            I would love to get feedback on the kaiseki (or any meal experience) at Hiiragiya before deciding. If it's exceptional and a highlight of the stay, I'll gladly leave it as is.

                                                            Thanks!

                                                            1. re: OliverB

                                                              Strictly from the food perspective, I find that the kaiseki at Hiiragiya was executed better and more tasty. But, I love the Gora Kadan's breakfast more

                                                              About other aspects, Gora Kadan hands down has better facilities and more spacious. However, Hiiragiya has a long history, if that matters to you, and I find the service there is warmer and more friendly

                                                              You may check some pictures at the links below to get better ideas:
                                                              https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...
                                                              https://picasaweb.google.com/11823790...

                                                          3. re: OliverB

                                                            The other aspect of Kyoto-style kaiseki is that the flavors are extremely delicate. This led some "experienced gourmandes" to walk away from places like Hyotei less than satisfied/excited. This isn't my view of the style but there is greater chance of repeated approaches and techniques in the these older venerable Kyoto ryotei than in other parts of the country.

                                                            1. re: tigerjohn

                                                              Thanks tigerjohn,

                                                              Have you ever eaten at any of the noted kaiseki restaurants Stateside, like Kyo Ya in the East Village? If so, how comparable would that be to what's found in Kyoto?

                                                              1. re: OliverB

                                                                Have not. We visit Japan too often to bother and have a no Asian policy in general when we visit the US.

                                                                1. re: OliverB

                                                                  The "kaiseki" at Kyo Ya is very different from what you'll have in Kyoto, even if prima facie the ingredients and preparations would seem similar.

                                                                  1. re: Gargle

                                                                    Thaks, I'm even more exciting knowing that as it will probably be a complete reintroduction for us... and we rate Kyo Ya highly!

                                                                    1. re: OliverB

                                                                      Question for Gargle, Tigerjon, or anyone else that's contributed to this discussion:

                                                                      How would Hirosaku compare to Matsukawa in terms of traditionalism versus innovation and creativity with regards to ingredients and flavors? Are they two branches of the same tree, simply executed differently? Matsukawa certainly has the edge based solely on Tablelog, Chowhound, and just about everywhere else that it's covered... but in terms of departure from the traditional kaiseki set (in all regards - ingredients, preparation, plating, presentation, setting) which is likely to be furthest from what we'll experience in Kyoto or at the many ryokans that we're visiting?

                                                                      Thanks!

                                                                      1. re: OliverB

                                                                        I've never been to Hirosaku, but it seems like a soba-kaiseki place and a traditional one at that. These are not places you go to for innovation.

                                                        2. re: FourSeasons

                                                          any tip on reservation for matsukawa??? thinking of planning a trip in February ..
                                                          wanted to go to kyoto ,osaka, but the restaurants to try in tokyo always negate other factors. haha