I am minutes away from lunch at Wa Yamamura in Nara. Full report coming soon!
Watch out for the beggar deers in Nara. For Alex Trebek: Tōdai-ji at Nara is the largest all-wooden structure in the world, and it houses the largest bronze buddha as well.
And for Sake Trebek: One famous local Nara sake brewery is Harushika (Spring Deer). The Junmai Daiginjo is comparable to Dassai 39, and great with izakaya food.
Pictured here is the nama (unpasteurized) sake, updated label.
Morning snack: Nara Park
Finally picked one up. Just as good as everyone said it was going to be. Tuna and mayonnaise. Very happy making.
Lunch: Wa Yamamura, Nara
Please forgive me if my writing is a little bit sparse on this post. I’m doing this from my iPhone, and I desperately need a set of nail clippers. My talons are not doing my typing skills any favors at this point. This is the meal that I was hoping to have in Japan. Not that anything has been terrible at this point, but this met and exceeded all of my expectations. Excellent service, wonderful attention to detail, and to sort of answer @beefnoguy 's question about comparing and contrasting to Goryukubo: I emitted a lot more ooohs and aaahha from this meal. Flavors were a bit bolder, but that’s probably a poor choice of words. The only thing that was really strong were the baby sardines that had been cooked in Sancho pepper and soy sauce towards the end. I’m just having a hard time articulating why enjoyed it so much. Just a couple of things for example: the sashimi was simply perfect Each single cut in terms of taste and texture. What even blew my mind was the desert: two pieces of mango, a shot glass of orange juice and some strawberries in gelatin. And they were absolutely perfect as well. I just feel really blessed and grateful that I got to experience this meal.
Afternoon snack: Kyoto Station
I finally found it! I wasn’t really hungry, but I figured I needed to jump at the chance. As promised, it was really good. If I lived in a cold climate and I need a quick snack, this would not only sate my appetite but serve as a nice hand warmer as well.
Dinner: Chojiro, Kyoto
Here is the part of the trip for things start to go sour. I find that there is an unagi restaurant just a couple of train stops from where I’m staying. Says it’s open until nine. I had over there and there is a sign in front of the door saying, closed" and it is 630. There is a line of people waiting so I decide to take my chances and step in. The receptionist surveys the line, acknowledges me, and goes back inside. I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. When it’s finally time for me to come up to the beginning of the line, she advises me that they are “sold out”. It is not even 7 PM. So, since I went very high end at lunch today, I decide to go look for a conveyor belt sushi experience. Jump back on the train, find a branch of Kura Sushi and head east. I get there, and it is packed to the gills. The only thing I can figure out on the computerized kiosk that you use to get your number is that the next available seating time will be approximately 9:30 PM. At this point it is 7 PM. In my brief searching, I see that Chojiro is another similar type of place and maybe a little more tourist friendly., So, I jump back on the train. I am back near where I was the night before, apparently in an area called Pontocho. A lot of tourists running around the street., and yet another line to wait in. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait and I wait. I decided not to destroy my psyche by keeping tabs on how long I was waiting, but it was an extra long period. This queue did not move swiftly at all and the tables were not turning. My theory is that if one is waiting so damn long to get into the place, one may be reluctant to give up their seat. My experience was the exact opposite. I am finally seated and starving to death, I pick up this plate:
That is the first and last photo I took of this meal. This eel had the same temperature and mouth feel as the plastic display in the window outside. At long last, I finally had my first bad meal in Japan. But again, I was so famished, that I wolfed down a bunch of plates and hightailed it out of there. Mind you, while I was in line, I realized that I could’ve just picked up my dinner to go from Lawson and brought it back to the room and had a lovely time Lessons learned. If this is the only bad meal I have during this visit, I consider myself lucky.
Nara holds a special place in my heart, as there are so many small mom-&-pop places nearby which serve simply delicate, uplifting fare for us weary travelers. The most transcendent dessert I’ve ever had in Japan wasn’t at Takazawa, but instead at one of these places in Nara as we were waiting out a rainstorm.
Very happy for you! The Nara kaiseki meal is definitely a different style.
I’ve had the baby sardines rice as shirasu kamameshi at Kyoto’s Kichisen, though it was more like a larger clay pot. The baby fishlings were unseasoned so you have more of a natural subtler taste. This preparation is interesting, and yes definitely more bold and stronger flavors overall. Goryukubo’s flavors were far stronger than Kichisen, and for me a better experience despite the different styles. Though what you have is very stunning and yet simple/complex at the same time. There’s something about Japanese fruit in general that tastes so damn good, even something simple like a strawberry as a dessert at a kaiseki restaraunt. There is a large sticker shock element when you go to the depachika supermarket and see $20 to $30 for a small portion of strawberries, or $80 to $300 ranges of musk melons, or $25 for maybe 10 to 12 Kyoho grapes…but they taste absolutely heavenly. My dessert at Goryukubo were slices of Yamagata pear, topped with a sauce made from the same fruit. Had it with a glass of a cult favorite light aromatic sake and it was quite earth shattering.
Speaking of fruit, DO try to sample the Japanese musk melon (and a ton of other delicious fruits at the height of season and ripeness) at a fruit parlour (Sembikiya is a much-lauded chain I can vouch for)…
Lunch: Shigetsu, Kyoto
This shojin-ryori restaurant is located within the gardens of Tenryiu-Ji. Also at this point, my amazement at the beauty of Kyoto is also being tampered with my disdain for the amount of tripods, selfie sticks and overly composed and intrusive photo shoots that are taking place at every single historic site I visit. This was a nice respite:
Not an animal product in site. It was good, but zero wow factor in the taste department (although I am beginning to think that there is no such thing as bad sesame tofu). Pretty for sure. No regrets. I’m glad I checked it out.
Snacks: Nishiki Market
Damn. This was the business. And not as chaotic as I thought it would be. Started off poorly: lady took my squid/sansho tempura and nuked it to “make it hot.” You all know where that went. But those grilled mochi balls in the sweet/salty soy sauce. And those piping hot takoyaki with tons of fresh green onion on top. And that ethereal bao( I will be using this word again shortly ) filled with tender and well spiced beef. This visit was kind of like heaven.
Another snack: Kameya Yoshinaga
A friend of mine visited Kyoto last month and recommended I check this place out. The shop clerk and I decided upon a couple of pieces:
She described this one is a sort of East meets West combo, utilizing Parmesan cheese. Although it was still sweet. It was really nice, like a Parmesan cookie, with a really nice texture.
This little piece of mochi was ridiculous. And yes, ethereal. Pillowy soft, and not too terribly sweet, just perfect. I walked out of this place with the big smile on my face.
Dinner: Yasai Hori
I had a free night and I was thinking between a night trip to Osaka, or just staying in town. Staying in town won out because I was pretty exhausted. Also, and not to get too “new age-y”, I wound up having my one little spiritual moment during the trip this evening walking through the park around Yasaka Shrine at sunset before dinner. Kyoto did right by me then for sure. Back to backtrack, I asked the receptionist at my hotel for a restaurant recommendation. She asked, “do you like vegetables?” As an Angelino, I said sure. I was directed to this cute little spot hidden away in a little hallway within a really bustling shopping arcade. A few tables and a small counter and only two people running the shop
It felt like this place would be right at home in my neighborhood. Very vegetable focused, with just a few dishes of meat/seafood. It did get a little redundant in some regards (multiple dishes of bamboo shoots; multiple tempura dishes), but I really respect what they were doing here and it was kind of nice to have a bunch of produce laid out in front of me. The best bites of a night were a fried lotus root silder (with tartar sauce and cheese) and rice cooked with mackerel and umeboshi. My biggest regret is that the mini fridge in my hotel room isn’t working, so the onigiri that he made with the leftover rice is of questionable safety. The chef was very sweet and gave me a business card and asked me to recommend to my friends. I wouldn’t say this is a must see experience, but it really was kind of a nice diversion It look like a lot of the people in the restaurant her regulars. Perhaps this type of cooking (like Centeno’s PYT) is not that prevalent here in Japan. I’d be interested to see how the chef grows and develops over the years.
So simple yet so profound, right? Thanks for taking us along…
(And this is the part of every vacation that I start to get homesick and crave the routine of my very nice and ordinary life, and have my cats sleep on top of me again)
Lunch: Kikunoi, Kyoto
This is what a three Michelin starred bento lunch looks like. The location was lovely, with me sitting at a counter overlooking a lovely garden. Service at first was quite impeccable. When I initially made the reservation they asked me if I had any dislikes. I told him that I really don’t care for egg dishes. In the middle of eating, there was a flurry of attention as someone probably read a note regarding this in the kitchen. I told them not to worry about it since was there was just a single slice of tamago in the tray.
There was a lot of attention put into this meal. I think my expectations might of been a bit too high. Nothing was bad per se, but nothing thriled me either. Also of note, this was the first meal I’ve had in Japan that started to make me feel heavy and over-served. And as I have come to be mindful of the magic of dashi at this point, I have to say that their dashi was not particularly memorable. But it was a nice and pleasant way to spend an hour in a beautiful room enjoying some food.
Restaurant was located right in the middle of Gion. I felt very grateful that I got to have a counter seat to watch this chef to his magic In sum, this meal was absolutely incredible. So grateful I had this opportunity. I am going to provide a play-by-play:
Beef consommé with truffle, uni , and caviar
At first glance, I thought this would be really gilding the lily, but this crazy melange of luxury ingredients really worked well, in particularly due to the quality of the cold beef gelee.
Tongue sashimi, with "beef "salt
No joke, probably the best slice of tongue I’ve ever had in my life. Cray smooth and tender. I’m pretty sure he said the salt was made with some sort of beef product. When I sampled it on his own, it had that distinct umami flavor from beef fat.
This was described as “low” meat from the “hip”. Served with a variety of condiments. I just simply used the salt and wasabi provided. It was all it needed.
Ox tail soup with bamboo shoot, and wakame
A common theme throughout this trip is seeing how various chefs treat bamboo shoots. These were exceptionally tender, but the stand out was the broth. Clear, with that nice essence of marrow
Braised beef with bamboo shoot and sansho flowers
What does picture cannot express is the absolutely delightful aroma from the sansho flowers that emitted from these boiling hot pots. Beef was exceptionally tender. Would love to be served this any day I am sick in bed
Bean soup with namako
This might be the first dish we were served that didn’t have any beef products in it. Or maybe it did and I just wasn’t made aware. Fried sea cucumber was a nice foil to the super fresh veg in the dish.
Chef dipped these pink and well-marbled slices of beef and dipped them in the boiling broth himself, then serving them to the guests. What can I say: this was super delicious as well.
At the beginning of service, you are asked to select a price point that corresponds with the type of me you’re going to get for your main dish. Chef recommended this one, which was the second most expensive option. Zero regrets. Back home, one of my favorite beef preparations is the wagyu supplement at Providence. Depending on which menu you choose, the add on price could be anywhere from $50-$100. In terms of value, I probably got about four times as much as I would back home. This was really ridiculous. I was kind of swooning with each bite. Another nice addition was a small tray of wild wasabi to enjoy the meat with. It’s a cliché to say "melts in your mouth ", but there’s not really a better cliché to employ here. Because that is exactly what it did.
Fillet, rice, soup, and pickles.
Everything on this dish was perfect, including the rice. And while we’re at it, why not add some more beef to the mix.
Green tea sorbet
This was the culmination of the mail. I don’t drink alcohol. I took a little bite, and my mouth sort of set ablaze. I asked if there was any alcohol content in the desert, and they said that whiskey was used in the preparation They apologized, but didn’t really do anything. I have learned from various foreign travels that personal preferences/restrictions don’t necessarily carry the same weight as they do in Los Angeles, where everyone seems to have a special diet. I was a little disappointed, but got right over it. However, there is hope on the horizon.
The other people sharing the counter with me were celebrating a birthday. They brought this beautiful strawberry cake along and offered me a slice. I don’t need to tell you how delicious strawberries are in Japan right now. This little sliver of cake was all that I needed. And actually wound up being the perfect ending to the meal.
Actually the ending to the meal was walking up to Kiyomizu-Dera, which is being illuminated at night for Springtime. This marked my last night in Kyoto. I had a little trouble getting adjusted to the city at the beginning. But it yielded me some really spectacular cultural experiences, and some outstanding eats. Now, back to Tokyo for one last night.
Fantastic looking meal!! We would so enjoy. Thanks for sharing.
We’ll be back to Kyoto in June. Are reservations difficult? Is the restaurant English friendly?
Beef tongue sashimi?!? So there.
My hotel was kind enough to arrange it for me. They didn’t seem to have much difficulty. English was pretty much limited to food descriptions, but zero issues with my almost non-existent Japanese language skills. Trust be told, I was mostly chewing, grinning, and saying “arigato gozaimasu” a lot.
Me too. Throw in a “Oishii Desu” once in a while, and you get smiles back. We frequent smaller places, and are invariably greeted well by our second or third visit. Love being in Japan.
Japan has become a yearly visit for us. I like Tokyo, and wife prefers Kansai. We take turns.
A hearty “Gochisosama deshita!” (That was quite a feast!) with a slight bow at the end of an enjoyable meal always endears you to the hosts in Japan…
First lunch: Tsukiji Sushisei, Isetan, Kyoto Station
Just a quick bite before jumping back on the train to Tokyo. Picked one of the set menus and was happy to be delivered each piece at a time by the chef. Also happy to be having a conversation with a lady next to me: she didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese. It was awesome. Perfectly decent meal. Even a good cucumber roll which I usually eschew back home.
Second lunch: Bento from Isetan basement
Really delicious unagi set with very aggressively flavored pickles and a packet of powdered sansho that really closed the deal. This is the first thing I ate that gave me some agita. Probably more due to it being lunch #2 than than any quality issues.
Afternoon snack: Blue Bottle/Pain du Joel Robuchon, Shinjuku Station
I mean, come on. I routinely walk to the Blue Bottle near my pad and having a New Orleans was sort of a nice way for Tokyo to tell me it’s time to go home. But the fricken’ Robuchon bakery right across the way. I’m done. One of my highlights of a very good dinner at L’Atelier in Vegas was the bread basket. Suffice it to say, each of these pastries were spot on (strawberry cream, chocolate croissant, curry pan). Nice to nibble on through the night and for the next day’s breakfast.
First dinner: Gyukatsu, Shinjuku
Before heading on my trip, I made a silly little list of things I wanted to try. One of them was a wagyu katsu sando. A little googling found me this spot closer to my hotel. At 1600 yen, this was one of the best deals of the trip. So juicy and tasty. Just a little sear oneach side was needed. My only sort of embarrassment was trying to figure out the proper way to eat the dish of mountain yam on the tray. I couldn’t glean any clues from my neighbor. I think I did the best that I could!
Post dinner snack: Takano, Shinjuku
“Since 1885”, the sign read. This fruit parlor thing is mad! On the ground floor, suited salesman were overseeing displays of fruit as if they were working at Tiffanys. Downstairs, a fruit bar, counter service, and various display cases for rather elaborate fruit desserts to go. I got this nice little container of musk melon for a little under 700 yen. Super fresh, sweet, and cold. I ate it walking down the street, forgetting about the absence of waste bins around town. And paradoxically, the lack of litter to be found.
Second dinner: Sushi Zanmai Higashi, Shinjuku
Not really motivated to do much of anything, I default to having a second dinner. And a return to the tourist trap where I had my first ever meal in Japan. Brighter eyes this time: a week prior, I was so deletions from the flight that I haf no idea I was walking though the red light district and a sea of love hotels. This time, I was well aware! And I have to say, this place did me right for a quick and dirty meal. The tourist factor was ramped up this round. Americans getting testy with the servers for not getting the concept of “draft beer” yelped at them. You could have done a drinking game with the table next to me: if you took a shot every time they said “bro”, you would probably go to the ER for alcohol poisoning – bonus bong hit for each time they referred to something as “legit.” Regardless, I enjoyed my tray and went back to my room and indulged in my newly found hotel ritual: watching CNN dubbed in Japanese.
So the deal here is that everyone is supposed to take their generated trash along with them to throw away at home, but only after extremely aggro sorting for recyclables on your part. Japan and Taiwan use this philosophy the most. No surprise there, 'cuz they’re both island states, with very limited land for landfill.
FTC thug life.
Bizarro world - I looooove watching NHK here in English.
Lunch: Nakajima, Shinjuku
Got in line early to grab another lunch set at Nakajima for I had to catch my flight back home. And to try another variation. The deep fried sardines were just as awesome as the sashimi that I had on my first visit. Lightly crisp and super tender. As simple as this lunch may appear, it was a good way to end my trip as it represented so much of what I have some to appreciate during my visit. But I am way too jet lagged right now to enumerate such things.
What I do want to say is a whole hearted thank you to @J_L @Sgee @beefnoguy @teriyakichi @PorkyBelly @President_Mochi @set0312 @MrRedz and everyone else that took the time to contribute to this thread both before and during my trip. The contributions from this board really enriched my on the ground experiece and really helped to immerse myself into the the culinary and cultural joys of Japan. Arigato gozaimasu!!!