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Dec 20, 2013 08:22 AM

Trip report!!

Hello everyone,

First of all, thanks a lot for helping me plan my trip to Tokyo. The 12 days that I spent there were beyond incredible. NYC may be up there when it comes to variety but purely in terms of deliciousness, Tokyo is just unbelievable!

Before I move on to the food, I'd like to take a moment to describe my experience outside food. Just for reference, this was my first visit to Japan, I do not speak any Japanese (except the basic "hello", "thank you" and maybe 10 sushi related words that I picked up at Ushiwakamaru and 15 East in NYC) and I look like a foreigner :) I'll actually let an incident that occurred about 5 hours after I landed do the talking!

I had dinner reservations at Sushi Iwa for 7:30. Since this was my first meal, I did not know then, how inaccurate (relative to the U.S.) Google maps in Tokyo is. So, I got to the place that maps directed me to around 7 and I had with me photographs of all the restaurants that I wanted to go to so I started comparing Iwa's photo to the buildings around me. None of them matched what I had so I asked a gentleman standing there if he spoke English by any chance. He said no. I thanked him and went back to my papers and looking at the buildings around me. He looked at me struggle for about 2 minutes and what happened next just blew my mind. He came to me and in broken English, asked me what was I looking for so I tried to tell him that I was looking for a restaurant called Sushi Iwa and that I had the address and phone number but I was having a hard time locating it. He took out his cellphone (I did not have one then), called Iwa, asked them where they were located (I was off by about a block and a half). He then walked with me to the restaurant, went inside and confirmed that this was the right place and then left! I was speechless for a few seconds. Though, I would have to add that when I narrated the incident to my Japanese co-workers the next day, they were surprised and told me that this wasn't normal. In fact when a few days later, I told this story to Hidetsugu Ueno at Bar High Five, he too was surprised and said that this probably happened because I was a visitor. Irrespective, I found the people to be very polite and friendly and was floored by their kindness! Awesome city in my opinion!

Time for food! I'll use the following scale to grade my experience,

No stars - Poor
* Fair
** Good
*** Very good
**** Phenomenal

1. Sushi Iwa (dinner) - *** and a half

I had the Omakase. Very-very good sushi, very friendly chef. He translated a majority of the fish names to English for me (refused to translate Shirako though ;) and when he found out that I was visiting from NYC, he asked me about sushi restaurants and sushi chefs there. One dish that I remember in particular was a dish where the chef took some rice in a bowl, added some sea urchin to it and mixed it up well. He then topped it with salmon roe. It was delicious! I liked the Tamago here as well. This was the first time in my life where I was stuffed after an Omakase meal at a sushi restaurant. It was so much food! I actually was a little relieved at the end that the eating was over :)

2. Mansei Mikage (lunch) - ***

I went here to try Sukiyaki. I found this place relatively easily. The server who first came up to me handed me a Japanese menu and he did not speak any English so I was about to just say Sukiyaki and use the pictures in the menu to order when I heard someone say "May I help you. I speak English"! It turned out that one of their servers spoke English so he told me about the 3 kinds of beef that I could choose from. I asked him for his favorite and he recommended the medium grade. I got that and it was delicious! This was my first experience with Japanese beef and I was amazed at how delicate and fatty and flavorful it was. This was a very good meal indeed.

3. Yoroniku (dinner) - ****

I had a set meal. This was what I call a "life altering" experience. Holy c&*p! The only Yakiniku that I had before this was at Takashi in NYC which is considered to be pretty decent by NYC standards but I wasn't too impressed so I wasn't expecting to be wowed. Boy was I wrong! This was the first of the two meals that I had in Tokyo that I would say are must haves! The beef - fatty, flavorful, tender (literally melt in your mouth), just divine.

My favs were the beef sushi (just get this!), Harami, Chateaubriand, Sirloin and the Shinshin. Oh and I have to mention the dessert here. It was shaved ice but it was the lightest, airiest and the most delicious shaved ice I've ever had. It was just amazing! The host spoke good English and my server too spoke some. My server was kind enough to tell me how to eat each piece of meat that I was served, some with a particular kind of sauce, some with a different kind and some without any sauce.

4. Anago Tamai (lunch) - ***

There was a line before it opened. Wasn't expecting that but because I was by myself, I didn't have to wait too long. They had an English menu. I got the medium sized Hako Meshi and the eel broth. My first real Anago experience. The eel was cooked perfectly and was flavorful. The eel broth at the end was very good with some rice and eel as suggested.

5. L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (dinner) - ** and a half

I was expecting a lot more from a two star, Joel Robuchon restaurant. I admit that I made a faux pas at the starting when I accidentally knocked over a glass of water (not over someone, just on the counter and an empty seat) but I doubt that had an effect on my experience.

I thought that the bread was very ordinary and the amuse was like chicken salad from a deli and should never have made it to a plate. I opted to go for the smaller, appetizer sized portions so that I could try multiple things. The first dish was snow crab with cocktail sauce and marinated Japanese radish. I liked this but I thought that this had a flowery after taste that I could have done without. The next dish was the lobster jelly with Uni dish. Dear god! This is why Joel Robuchon was voted to be the chef of the century! This was one of best dishes of the trip. Texturally innovative and a burst of flavor - it's like the ocean in your mouth. Brilliant dish! My last dish was the foie gras with quail. This was very good as well but nothing that made me go wow.

The service was not what I would expect from a place like this. No major flaws but a decent wait at the beginning and a bizarre 20 min wait for my check at the end.

6. Tempura Kondo (dinner) - ** and a half

Before I write about this, I should confess that I am not a big fan of deep fried stuff in general (except maybe fries) but I still wanted to try authentic tempura while I was in Tokyo. 7 chome Kyoboshi was too expensive for me so I decided to go to Kondo. Very cool space. I got to sit on the counter with chef Fumio Kondo serving me. He too was very helpful about how to eat each piece of tempura that he served. There were a few pieces that he cooked but his assistants served and they did not tell me about how to eat those pieces. They have an English menu. I got one of the set meals and added the sea urchin and the sweet potato.

I loved the shellfish tempura. I don't remember the exact ones that I had but all of them were very-very good. The whitefish and the vegetable ones I thought were just OK. That's probably more my taste than anything else. The sea urchin one was sublime and the sweet potato was good but it was too much for one person. I wish it was possible to get just 1/4th of the potato. If I were to go back to Japan, I would try tempura again but it would exclusively be shellfish and maybe some other fish but I would not spend the kind of money you need to in order to go to a Kondo.

7. Butagumi (dinner) - * and a half

Getting to this place involved a very decent walk through a very residential neighborhood. The stars here are probably a reflection of my mis-ordering, rather than the quality of the food itself. Their menu has English translations as well. I wanted to try something from section 3. I was hoping for the Tokyo X but the day that I went, they only had about 7-8 types of pork and Tokyo X was not one of them. Also, on their menu they had marked the ones that they recommend. None of the ones that were available in section 3 that day were recommended so I opted to go for one from section 4 (most fatty) that was recommended. In hindsight, I think that this was a mistake.

The pork that I had was too fatty for me. And my limited linking of anything deep fried made this one of the least memorable meals of my trip.

8. Daisan Harumi (dinner) - ** and a half

I sat at the counter and ordered Omakase. This place is almost exclusively recommended for lunch but since I could not carve in enough time during lunch, I went here for dinner. I may now know why is it not recommended for dinner. The counter in my opinion, can accommodate about 7 people. The night that I went, there were at least 10 people seated there. I'm not too fussy about personal space and stuff but when someone's chopsticks threaten to topple my glass of water every time he uses them, it's less than a pleasant experience. Also, I thinking serving that number of people is tough. In the first 50 minutes of my meal, I think I had like 3 pieces served to me.

Moving on to the food itself, the sashimi pieces here were huge in comparison to everything that I've had. I'm still undecided if that was a good or a bad thing but it definitely was different. Also, one thing that I noticed was the amount of wasabi the chef used in some of the sushi pieces. They definitely opened up my sinuses and almost got me to tear up at least 3-4 times. It was fine after that. Is this something that is normal and it's common to use more than the usual amount of wasabi for certain kinds of fish? All in all, the meal was good but no where close to my Iwa experience.

Since everyone sitting on the counter were very cosy, the gentleman sitting next to me became pretty friendly and we had a short conversation. The only thing that he relayed back to the chef was that I was visiting from NYC and that I found out about his restaurant on the Internet. As I was about to leave, the chef asked me how was everything and I used some English and some gestures to tell him that I enjoyed my meal. He then asked me to wait a minute, took out the day's menu from the frame behind the counter and gave it to me :) Perfect souvenir! He also told me about one of his friends who owns a restaurant in NYC and gave me his business card. It's little things like this that happened a few times that made this such a great trip.

9. RyuGin (dinner) - ****

My second meal after Yoriniku that I would recommend to anyone. This actually was the first time I was having dinner at a three star restaurant and it was just amazing. Great service, brilliant food! They had an English menu. The standouts that I remember were egg custard with sea urchin, grilled shirako, Matsuba crab soup (the crab was amazing!), the squid from the sashimi plate was the best that I've had. The squid that I've always had has had a slight chew to it but this was so tender. I didn't even know squid could be that tender. The fish in the king fish with eggplant dish had a great texture. The dessert was sake flavored soft serve and sake flavored souffle. Brilliant!! The only dish that I did not think belonged there was a chicken rice dish. Apparently this was a dish that chef Yamamoto created in memory of his childhood. There really wasn't anything going on, both in terms of texture and flavor. An exquisite meal overall.

10. Fuku (dinner) - ***

I sat at the counter and tried a bunch of stuff. They have English translations on their menu. Unfortunately, they had run out of Tori Wasa that day so I missed out on a golden opportunity to try raw chicken. Out of the things that I tried, my favorites were the leek/leg meat, tail, wings and enoki wrapped in bacon. I tried the smoked cheese but wasn't to impressed by it.

11. Nodaiwa (lunch) - ***

I didn't know this when I went but they have another building close to the original one where they serve food as well. I had gone here with a friend and was taken to the other building by a hostess because there was no room in the original one. I got the medium sized Unaju and added chawanmushi. The latter I thought was good but not very different from the other good chawanmushis that I've had in the past. The Unaju was very good.

I'm still undecided if I prefer the Agago at Anago Tami or the Unagi here but I would definitely get them both again if I go back.

12. Sushi Taichi (lunch) - ***

This was my last meal in Tokyo. I had originally intended to get Omakase but there I guess that is not an option that is presented to you when the chef tells you what are the options available. I was given a 11 piece option (I think it was 11) and a 15 piece option and I opted for the latter. In hindsight, I don't think getting just sushi in place of the complete Omakase experience was necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy sushi more than sashimi and it was relatively quick which gave me plenty to time to get to the airport :)

The sushi itself was very good. I would place it between Iwa and Harumi, closer to Iwa then Harumi. The chef translated a lot of the fish names to English for me. I think this was the first time that I had a piece of sushi with sea urchin without nori wrapped around it. I liked this a lot. I think this is an excellent deal for the price.

13. Rokurinsha (lunch) - ***

Waited in line for about 40 min and got the Tokusei Tsukemen. Absolutely brilliant. For me, it blew everything I've ever had at Ippudo and Totto Ramen in NYC out of the water and into orbit! The texture of the noodles was excellent. Soft with a bit of chew. And, the broth! Incredibly flavorful. A little bit of the broth was left at the end so I asked for soup wari and it was excellent by itself. I know that there are places that are supposed to be better than Rokurinsha and I can't even imagine what they must be like.

14. Narutomi Soba (lunch) - ** and a half

I got there about 5 minutes before it opened. No line. Tried the Gobo tempura, cold soba and soba gaki. It was pretty good but I guess I just like Ramen and Udon more. I wasn't a big fan of the soba gaki though. It just seemed like a big piece of tasteless dough.

15. Moyan Curry - ** and a half

This actually was a last minute substitution. Having enjoyed Rokurinsha a lot, I had planned to go to Fuunji but unfortunately, for some reason they were closed when I went (it was a Saturday). So, I decided to go to Moyan. I tired the pork curry here. I thought it was good but nothing special. Not sure if curry can be special :)

16. Hidemi Sugino - *** and a half and then *

Before I comment on this, a general observation about pastry in Tokyo - the number and quality of pastry shops here is unbelievable! I wonder why don't some of these places that have branches in multiple countries open up stores in NYC.

Coming back to Sugino, the first day I went here, I reached about 40 minutes before the place opened and was third in line. By the time the place opened, there were about 20 people in line. I got the Marie and the Ambroisi to try in the store. I thought that Marie was a strawberry based pastry but the one that they had that day had raspberries. One of the best mousses I've ever had. Light, airy and delicious. The Ambroisi too was excellent. The best pastry shop that I've been to.

The twist was when I went back the next day. They were out of the Ambroisi. They had the Marie but I wanted to try something different so I asked one of the clerks there for recommendations. Unfortunately, I don't really remember the two pastries that I tried that day but both of them were very-very ordinary. I was surprised at how much better my pastries had been the previous day.

17. Brasserie VIRON - ***

I only tried the Kouign Amann here. My benchmark for comparison was the DKA at Dominique Ansel in NYC. I think Viron's was better. The texture was superb. Very crisp and crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. It had a caramely flavor. I personally would have preferred for that to be a little more subdued but still, no complains.

18. Pierre Herme - * and a half

I tried a chestnut dessert in the store and bought two macaroons, pistachio and vanilla. All of them were too sweet for me. The flavors were good but too much sugar.

19. Omotesando Koffee - **

This was the hardest to get to. For some reason google maps took me a kilometer away from where this is actually located. I then had to use Time Out Tokyo's map to figure out the correct location. I tried two coffees here, something similar to an Americano and a cold Machiato. Both were OK, nothing special.

20. Bear Pond Espresso - *** and a half

I asked the clerk here for a recommendation and she gave me an espresso based drink. Wow! This was one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had! It looked a little think and heavy in appearance but it was perfectly balanced.

21. Fuglen - ***

I tried two coffees here, the first was their standard hot coffee. It was good, nothing special. The next one was an aeropress. Brilliant. This, along with the Bear Pond coffee and Barista in Portland are probably the three best cups of coffee I've ever had!

22. Elevage - ***

Went here for a couple of post Yoroniku drinks. I don't remember the wines that I had but the ambiance, selection and service was very-very good.

23. Gen Yamamoto - ***

Great ambiance and service. Tried the 6 drink flight here. I particularly liked the kiwi fruit - matcha and the sweet potato drinks.

24. Kuri - ** and a half

They have a great collection. I tried one of their flights. The sake's were good but I guess I'm more of a beer/cocktail person. But, I'm sure that a sake connoisseur or someone who is interested in learning more about sake would have a great time here.

25. Bar High Five - ** and a half

Having heard a lot about Hidetsugu Ueno, I was really looking forward to this. The ambiance and the service is top notch. I tried 3 drinks here and although I would have loved to say that all of them were stellar, I felt that they were just moderately above average. They only drink that I remember being a little different was something with grapes and a Japanese whiskey. I'm not a whiskey person but I did enjoy this. The others I felt were too safe and lacked complexity. Maybe I wasn't able to express what I wanted clearly but having had some pretty amazing stuff at the likes of Dead Rabbit and Attaboy in NYC, I was a little disappointed with my experience here.

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  1. Well, that's some serious eating there, pal. Good all-around mix, and a lot of food for 12 days!

    1. nice report....
      had the sweet potato from kondo few years ago and i agree it definately is too much for a person, haha..
      and desserts at ryugin are always cool and excellent stuff..
      shinshin is good, not too fatty

      1. thanks for sharing your wonderful experience
        Tokyo is really the heaven for foodie

        some questions:
        - what is the "Tokyo X" menu at butagumi? I just heard that most people would order the platter with 5 different 'sample' of pork or to get the best of the best - the deep fried of iberico's pork
        - I agreed with your rokurinsha experience though the portion was too big for me
        - was 30-40 min. queue at hidemi sugino worth it?
        - where's your favorite macaroon's place? for the pierre herme's pastry, i personally love the ispahan and the "old" edition of millefeuille (with caramel)
        - if you don't like something too sweet, in the future, just get a pastry with "alcohol" inside it such as aoki's bamboo

        20 Replies
        1. re: Bu Pun Su

          Hi Bu Pun Su,

          - I think Butagumi discontinued the sampler because a lot of people complained that the pieces were too small. So, now if you're interested in Sirloin, you select a pork from 4 basic kinds (A picture that I found online -
          )Tokyo X is a type of pork in section 3 which is the 'Rich flavor' section.

          - I would do Hidemi Sugino again. I don't know for someone who lives in Tokyo if there are alternatives but I don't think I would find that kind of stuff in NYC. I would stick with the pastries that I had the first day I went there though. The 2nd day was a big let down.

          - I'm not a big Macaroon person. I've tried Laudree in NYC and frankly did not understand the 2 hour lines that were there when i opened. I found the ones that I've had at La Maison Du Chocolat to be OK. Thank you for your recommendations. If I go back to PIerre Herme, I'll keep this in mind.

          - I was thinking about trying Aoki but just couldn't fit it into my schedule. Next time I guess :)

          1. re: indiefoodie

            if you like hidemi sugino, you should try m koide (also have sous bous here, maybe some relationship to hidemi sugino, the flavor is more intense here) in jiyugaoka , also nearby lots of famous japanese pastry shops like mont st clair etc, paris seville, also aux bon vieux temps at oyamadai, need some walking from jiyugaoka

            on hidemi sugino, stick to his best cakes, and the fruit tart , they are good, as for the rest like mango mousses etc.. they are not as spectacular

            1. re: Lucil

              Hi Lucil,

              I have Hidemi Sugino & M.Koide on my list in my upcoming trip and will be visiting for the first time.

              There have been countless raves for Hidemi Sugino internationally and I want to ask in your opinion, which are his best cakes? I was planning to try all his cake creations (over a few visits) although I'm not sure if it is worthwhile.

              Thanks for any input!

              1. re: VeraCc

                Just note that about half of the items in the case are eat-in only as they are too delicate to take-out. His most famous cakes are probably the ambroisie and the marie. You need to go early to get the ambroisie though as he only makes 15 a day I think? Also note that you can only order 6 pastries at a time. Unless you like mousse cakes you will probably be disappointed though.

                1. re: killersmile

                  yea ambrosie , marie, mervee and probably the tarts and ambre noix(i did not try this)

                  veracc-> mkoide only takeaways, do take note

                  1. re: Lucil

                    Thanks killersmile & Lucil!

                    Any thoughts on Mont St Clair, A Tes Souhaits and Aigre-Douce?

          2. re: Bu Pun Su

            The sampler at Butagumi is a bad idea. Because the panko-crusted surface area to meat volume ratio is higher for the sampler, it isn't representative of the best Butagumi has to offer.

            Also, if you don't like fatty fried foods, Butagumi isn't the place for you! They do have some lean styles and cuts that are very nice, though.

            I am a big fan of tonkatsu, and I think Butagumi is the best tonkatsu in the planet.

            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              Yeah, the whole fried fatty stuff is not up my alley I guess but I'm glad I tried it at one of the best places :)

              1. re: indiefoodie

                Let me do nothing useful, but just agree with what is written here -- I am an occasional tonkatsu eater (my next day is filled with stomach pain, but the actual night of eating is usually very enjoyable) and think Butagumi is great. But avoid the sampler, and avoid the Iberico except maybe to split among 4 people or so.

                1. re: VCB133

                  Avoid the iberico? I assume it's too fattening? Someone told me that Cerdo iberico is actually very healthy

                  If you're familiar with "char siu" aka Chinese Bbq pork - my favorite was the one at Tin Lung Heen where they used Iberico pork - I think the meat from black Iberian pig is the most delicious pork on earth :)

                  1. re: Bu Pun Su

                    Agree with your love of iberico pork -- I just think at Butagumi it seems like a great idea to try it out, but it ends up being too fatty for the preparation as tonkatsu. Having one piece as a shared option for the table is ok, but more than that is overwhelming.

                    1. re: VCB133

                      The way to eat Iberico at Butagumi is in menchi katsu. The fattiness gets dispersed along the entire ground meat patty, and it is one of the most ridiculously delicious things I've ever eaten.

                    2. re: Bu Pun Su

                      I'm sure Iberico is very healthy for whoever is selling it :) It's also surprisingly easy to get in Japan for home cooking.

                      And yes, it's delicious if a bit on the sweet side, although I fear you rush to declare things "most delicious on earth" - you should do more exploration of Mangalitsa pork,as well as Cul Noir and other breeds.

                      1. re: Gargle

                        Been there done that. Iberico in menchikatsu is the King of Pork Hill.

                      2. re: Bu Pun Su

                        I am definitely trying the menchi katsu version the next time I go! Also agree with Gargle on Cul Noir and on cooking with iberico and other "artisanal" pork (one of my favorite tricks for a simple meal with guests is to order the bellota "steaks" via Rakuten, cut them into strips, give them a dry rub, and then rapidly cook when time to eat -- always creates a kind of wow response with really not much effort, and gives me more time to drink wine and less time in the kitchen prepping).

                        1. re: VCB133

                          I've been known to do the same. If you're willing to be careful with the temperature, a secretive visit by the power of koji makes things even more irresistible.

                          1. re: Gargle

                            Just a bit of a coating with the koji and then cook? Lower temperature? I have a jar of koji that a friend gave me (two years ago). I just need to find some decent pork!

                2. re: Bu Pun Su

                  re: Hidemi Sugino--whenever I visit Tokyo, I go to Hidemi Sugino. I'm still trying to understand what makes his cakes so popular. I am not a fan, but I think it's worthwhile to go at least once (and I once waited well over an hour in line, as they had changed the hours to open an hour later than previously reported).

                  i think if you go there, you should stick with the mousse-based cakes--those are the cakes that are only available to eat in--you cannot take them out. That is what he is most famous for. I find them a bit too muscillaginous, but that's all about personal taste.

                  For macaron, I still love Henri Charpentier, and I also liked the macarons of another Japanese French pastry shop Chez Cima. I generally prefer less sweet macaron with less filling (so my tastes run the complete opposite of Pierre Herme macarons), though, so ymmv.

                  1. re: prasantrin

                    I actually bought some madelines and financiers from Henri Charpentir's Isetan outlet. I thought they were good but nothing special. I'll give the macaroons a shot next time I guess :)

                    1. re: prasantrin

                      Hi prasantrin,

                      Is there any cake/pastry in Tokyo you prefer over Hidemi Sugino? Thanks!

                  2. Terrific post, sounds like a great trip.

                    They are really keen on extra wasabi at Dai San Harumi ! We've been served once by his assistant, with Nagayama-san stepping over to check on us a couple of times and telling our guy each time to add more wasabi. He reckons the fattier the fish, the more wasabi you need to go with it.

                    Google Maps is much more idiosyncratic in places without roman script. Fortunately in Tokyo, there is Tokyo City Atlas, an excellent little volume of maps for key commercial areas. I replaced my Paris Pratique, London A to Z etc long ago but retain this useful book for Tokyo.

                    1. also all food destinations in tokyo in 12 days? sounds pretty monotonous

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Lucil

                        @Lucii, you mean why not some other city? If yes, then that's because I was there for work so couldn't really travel :) It actually did not feel monotonous at all. Except sushi, I didn't really repeat anything (and the sushi was planned so that the first was the day I landed, one in the middle of the trip and the last sushi meal was the day I left).