[Japan - Kyoto/Tokyo] Trip Report Nov 2018 (non sushi / kaiseki portion)


#1

Just returned from a trip to Japan where I was fortunate to have eaten some spectacular meals. Posting the non omakase meals here with pictures as a start - if folks don’t think I’m spamming the site, I’ll add the sushi and kaiseki meals later one by one :slight_smile:

KYOTO

Ryuhei Soba

This was a bit out of the way, but we figured we would rather make a res and schlep here and eat rather than wait in line for 45-60 minutes at Okakita or Yamamoto Menzou. We ordered the “mini set” for 3000-4000 JPY each, and the meal was utterly delightful. I got the cold seasonal soba with veggies, which came with a starter course consisting of carp sashimi, veggies, and plain soba. Then the main soba course, followed by a fantastic grilled unagi course with rice, and the dessert, a soba cream pudding. This meal was a fantastic value and it would be a great way to eat an excellent course meal without breaking the bank. However, amazingly, I don’t think this was the best soba on our trip - that honor would go to soba courses that were served as part of our kaiseki / sushi meals (at Ifuki and Kimura).

Starter course with carp sashimi and cold soba

Seasonal cold soba with veggie toppings

Rice with grilled unagi and oshinko

Soba cream for dessert

Menya Hiro (ramen)

My goodness. I know it’s hard to compare among different types of ramen, but if I were given a chance to go back and eat only one bowl of ramen from my past, this would probably be it. We had his signature kanishio soba (crab and salt ramen). The chef uses water he sources from nearby Fushimi and then boils the crab for 4 days. The result is such an intense but light crab broth where we basically drained every last drop. The pork was thinly sliced and well done, but the highlight toppings were the grilled bamboo shoots and what seemed like poached chicken. We also asked them to recommend a donburi, and we got a poached chicken bowl with raw egg. Absolutely delicious. We didn’t know at the time, but you can order ajitama (or course) and extra toppings. I would for sure get the egg and extra chicken toppings next time. Our cab ride to Yamashina-Ku from our hotel was 3-4x the cost of a bowl of ramen here. But even if you factor in the fully loaded cost, this ramen was well worth it for me.

Kanishio “soba” goodness


Chicken and raw egg donburi

TOKYO

Rokurinsha (ramen)

Great as always. We got the tokusei (special) ramen for breakfast, which uses a lighter broth.

Tokusei Tsukemen - nothing here comes close (though I like Menya Musashi’s tsukemen FWIW)

Check out that ajitama!

Ekibenya Matsuri (bento takeout)

This place in Tokyo Station was packed! They sell all kinds of bento box meals from different regions in Japan. One highlight was the sukiyaki box; the beef and broth both were both flavorful even though they were served at room / cold temps. They probably used some unholy combination of chemicals that I don’t want to know about.

Awesome sukiyaki bento



Seirinkan (pizza)

Personally, I normally don’t like spending precious time with non Japanese food on trips to Japan, but we wanted a quick dinner as we had just had a big lunch. David Chang highlighted this place in Ugly Delicious, and we walked in out of curiosity. This pizza joint is 100% hipster and wouldn’t be out of place in Noho NYC or Silverlake LA. The pizza wasn’t the best in the world but pretty darn good. They were able to keep the crust stiff enough to stay straight but still be chewy, and the olive oil was fragrant and permeated the pizza (in a good way). Ingredients were of a high standard, as is to be expected.

And the undercarriage…

Moyan Curry

I prefer Japanese curry over other types, so this really hit the spot for me. The beef was extremely tender (you could cut it with the fork) and moist, but a bit less flavorful (presumably because it has been stewed for a while) and the goodness is all in the curry. Would go again to scratch the itch.

Ordered mine with extra avocado and leeks. Also check out the complimentary onions!

Udon Maruka

Thanks Tabelog. We went on a weekday around 13:30 and “only” had to wait in line for 25 minutes or so. This is the best udon I’ve ever had. I got the cold udon with pour over soy sauce with mtn yam. The noodles were the perfect texture. My dining partner got hot udon in broth; as another poster mentioned, some of the chewy texture gets lost. We also order fried chicken nuggets and fried fish cake. This was not a “light” meal.

Yamaimo cold udon

Hot udon

Miyasaka (kaiseki)

I have always wanted to try Mizai in Kyoto but have never been able to finagle a reservation. When I learned that a former apprentice from Mizai had opened his own shop in Tokyo, this restaurant automatically moved up my list of must-tries. The counter seats 7-8. There were three of us foreigners, and we sat down and started at 7pm. The remaining seats were reserved by locals, and their reservation was at 7:30. I didn’t mind, and maybe this helped the pace of the meal. No photos were allowed, which was liberating, but this was maybe visually the most beautiful meal of our trip. I would say that all the flavors were very restrained, but not bland (and I know it can be a fine line). This was our third white miso soup, and we still weren’t tired of it. Miyasaka-san is very warm and friendly, and service was responsive without being overbearing. The hassun was perhaps the most spectacular dish, both visually and in terms of taste. But the meal itself was eminently Kyoto in style, not opulent (like Kimoto), with a focus on seasonal ingredients and especially vegetables. We had a soup with the kabu radish and a simple carrot that will long live in my memory. A roasted wagashi with chestnuts was an amazing dessert. The meal really lifted our spirits and nourished us, but it was not a visceral experience. I would not eat here if this is your first foray into kaiseki, but I can absolutely see how Tokyo denizens would be ecstatic about being able to eat at a Kyoto- style kaiseki restaurant without having to jump on the bullet train. The only picture I got was of the onigiri to go that they made with rice we hadn’t eaten :slight_smile:

Dons de la Nature (wagyu)

For me, still the best wagyu I’ve had (I liked it more than Ukai Tei or Shima) though the wagyu at Kimoto was comparable in quality yet different in preparation. I’ve found the best serving size for my stomach and wallet is to split 400g between two people (we had a choice of sirloin from Matsusaka, which we picked, vs some sirloin from Hokkaido and some filet from Omi). It was empty on a Saturday night - I’m not sure how he stays in business given he must be paying crazy rent in his Ginza location.

A5 Wagyu sirloin from Matsuzaka

Other randoms…

Oden at Family Mart!

Wagashi from a Kyoto dept store food court


#2

Nice! Thanks for sharing. That kanishio soba sounds amazing!
Currently planning a trip to Kyoto, Tokyo and beyond. 1st time to Japan.
Would you have any advice for a 1st kaiseki experience in Kyoto? I’ve been to Kyo Ya and a few other kaiseki inspired places in NYC. Also, how did you get a reservation at Kimura?
Please do post the rest of your experiences…


#3

Please post more of your trip.


#4

Wow, you’re really in for a treat. I’m jealous, and I just came back from Japan! Btw, I really enjoyed Kyo Ya, along with Sugiyama, when I lived in NYC. Both served as my introduction to kaiseki.

Re: Kimura - I got a reservation from Tableall, and even then, it felt a little bit like luck of the draw. We did not find out until Oct 10th for a Nov reservation.

Re: Kyoto kaiseki -
I know for a fact that a few other FTC posters have eaten kaiseki in Japan, and Kyoto more specifically, so I hope they also chime in with their views. I don’t know what your budget is, so I’ll just make a rec based on what I would do.

Knowing what I know now, even though I haven’t been myself, I would recommend you try to get a reservation at Ogata**, which is kappo (counter) style. I think that would give you a wow meal that would be amazing in every way, including taste along with ambience and hospitality. However, I think I saw in one of your posts that you’re going in Jan / Feb? Ogata takes reservations one year in advance - you could contact Tableall to see if Ogata has any openings. I emailed Tableall in Sept for Nov, and Ogata was booked the days I was in Kyoto, but there was an opening a few days prior to my arrival date.

If you can’t get into Ogata, then I’ll talk about the kaiseki places I’ve been to - the below are NOT in order of preference:

Kitcho Arashiyama*** - I’ve been a couple times; the reservation isn’t that hard (book maybe 2-3 weeks before). I would say this is the safest pick - there is no way you won’t have a spectacular meal here. The flavors are vibrant and bright, the service is very modern and friendly, and the locale and ingredients are opulent. The catch? It’s 50k JPY per person +

Hyotei*** - I went on this trip and will post a report; I’ve read a lots of reports of it being overrated, but I think it’s because it’s more traditionally Japanese, and the flavors are more subtle. At this point, I personally would go to Hyotei over Kitcho, but that doesn’t mean that I would recommend you do so. There’s a risk you’ll find that Hyotei is too buttoned down and bland. I would highly recommend you go for their bento lunch or their asagayu / porridge breakfast, where you can get a taste of their food for a fraction of their price

Ifuki** - Just went on this trip, and arguably it was better than Hyotei. The one consideration is that they focus on grilled food, so most of the courses have been grilled in some way. They’re absolutely delicious, but this would not be a general intro to Kyoto kaiseki. I don’t know if that makes a difference to you though.

Mitsuyasu** - I tried to get in this past time, but it was booked. This meal was just about as good as my meal at Kitcho last time, with less opulent ingredients and a less opulent (but still very warm setting). They have some of the best vegetables I’ve ever had, and the QPR is ridiculous (11k - 15k JPY per person). Allow me to post to a trip report from a previous occasion that I posted on CH with a short review of Kitcho and Mitsuyasu, among others.
If you don’t want to blow the bank but want to have a spectacular meal, Mitsuyasu would be a fantastic choice and a great introduction to Kyoto kaiseki.

Hope that helps - let us know if you have any more questions!

P.S. I put the Michelin star ratings after the restaurants in case that sort of thing matters to you :slight_smile:


#5

Everything looks amazing except for the udon with grated nagaimo. I don’t mind a little mucus texture but thats way too much for me haha!

Thanks for sharing, definitely saved some of these for my next trip to Japan. I’m trying to find a reason not to go to Kyoto but I can’t resist even though I wanna explore other parts of Japan but I can’t normally spare the time.


#6

I was full from my dinner…and then I read this post. I’m hungry, again. Thanks for sharing your adventures!


#7

thank you very very much, super helpful!