Help Planning for Japan 2016

@Alkiegourmand @markambrose73 @J_L and anyone who visits frequently. I need some recs for an upcoming trip in October 2016.

The itinerary is Tokyo (4 days) - Kyoto (2 days) - Hokkaido (3 days)

I need 2 high end sushi recs in Tokyo. I was thinking Mitzutani and Sawada.

Then I really need help with an awesome tempura bar (high end or low), yakitori, ramen (non tonkotsu), and soba.

My friend who just visited reported a very disappointing experience with kaiseki in Kyoto so I need some help not repeating that experience.

Also we’ll be going to Hokkaido to feast on seafood (hairy crab!) and stay in some ryokan in the woods.

Any and all recs are welcome!

It’s been a while since I went, but we’re planning for a big trip in May 2017, so I can tell you where we’re planning! In any event, it’s great that you’re planning early.

As you know, there’s probably some places that are highly recommended but are next to impossible to get into unless you’re a regular who’s re-booked right after visiting, e.g. Sushi Saito or Mitani. For sushi, Sawada sounds great. I’d also consider Harutaka or Hashiguchi for your second one. It’s good to have a backup in case reservations aren’t. There are a myriad of possibilities with which you could do quite well. I don’t have personal experience to differentiate among the options. Speaking with some sushi chefs though, I’ve come to the understanding that Sawada and Harutaka would both be great options that are still somewhat accessible for a visitor like me.

Tempura: we’re planning on Mikawa Zezankyo and Tempura Uchitsu.

Yakitori: it’s nearly impossible to get into Torishiki. But, Yakitori Shinka, Toriki (more casual), or Ranjatai (more upscale) are much more approachable and should be good options. I’d probably go with Yakitori Shinka (also note that the chef apparently speaks English).

Soba: Edo Soba Hosokawa, for tenzaru soba and some anago options.

Ramen: Rokurinsha for tsukemen. Ganko ramen for shio ramen. I’m sure others have much more in-depth expertise on this.

Re: Kyoto - I don’t know about which kaiseki to visit there but definitely don’t miss Kawabata Douki for wagashi (it’s been there for 16 generations) and Saryouhousen for tea.

Re: Hokkaido - I’ll ask my friend who’s from Hokkaido. I know she worked at a few renowned seafood places there.

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Thank you for the amazing recommendations!

The tempura places look killer.

My platinum standard for sushi, anywhere on this planet, both neta & shari, is Sawada in Ginza. Mizutani was great, but nowhere near the consistently otherworldly sushi at Sawada. (I get the feeling one needs to be a regular at Mizutani to get the top notch offerings.) Saito is impossible to score seats now - Not that I thought it warranted it by my one visit many years back. Second sushi meal: Try either Kozasa in Shibuya-ku, or Ichibancho Teruya, in Chiyoda-ku.

Tempura-wise, my Tokyo food friends say Uchitsu is your best bet. I very much enjoyed Tenkou in Kagurazaka on my last visit.

Ramen: The Tokyo state of play is always in flux - I loved Takano in Shinagawa-ku (chicken-based broth, I believe) on my last tabearuki to Tokyo. But I will always put a good word in for Ramen Jiro in Mita (yes, it’s pork-based, but as my Japanese buddy says,“Hot-toh dammu!! That’s gureitoh ramen!”)

Hokkaido: This is a chain, but worth trying: Soup curry at Okushiba. But let’s face it: You’re in Hokkaido for crab. Get thee to Hyousetsu No Mon in Sapporo.

Kyoto/Kaiseki: I recommend that you book a room at a high end ryokan, and do the in-house kaiseki. My favorite kaiseki was at the understated, but very elegant Sumiya Ryokan in Kyoto.

Thanks JL! Will look into those also.

Where did your friend go to in Kyoto for kaiseki?

We went to Kichisen in Kyoto in January and found it very enjoyable. http://kichisen-kyoto.com/en/ and preferred it far over Hana Kitcho. Do the higher end set menu (you get far better ingredients). We did the middle priced one and saw the customers to our right get this crazy looking “bamboo forest” kind of platter, where the “bamboo” were Matsuba gani crab legs. And the otoro sashimi from Amami Oshima, was such a damn treat. Beautiful falling frost (shimofuri) patterns.

It was also fun chatting with the chef owner (who defeated Michiba in Iron Chef battle hamo, but I wasn’t thinking about that until after I had left).

Updated list I maintain for my future visit:

Tokyo
Sushi Sawada
Sushisho Masa - Minato-ku
Sushi Yoshitake - Ginza
Sushi Sho Yotsuya - Shinjuku
Sushi Imamura - Minato-Ku
Kojyu for Kaiseki in Ginza

If time is of the essence (it will probably be the case), checkout a collection of Ramen joints in the aptly named “Ramen Street” located in the Tokyo Central Station’s underground mall. A few outlets open early at 7am, good place for an early hot breakfast and avoid the crazy lines. Try Rokurinsha for some excellent Tsukumen, broth is flavorful without the greasiness of Tsujita’s

Kyoto
Kikunoi for Kaiseki
Yonemura - Japanese Fusion

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I just had an average kaiseki at Kikunoi. I thought the in-house kaisekis at the various ryokans I’ve stayed at have each surpassed my experience at Kikunoi. Maybe Sergio wasn’t cooking at Kikunoi.

Was this the Tokyo location? I understand Kyoto’s is superior. Never been to either myself, so take it with a grain of salt.

I went to Kikunoi in Kyoto.

Looks like a lot of the 3*ers are adopting the US model of commercialism and spreading themselves too thin… hope this practice does not become too prevalent in Japan. Kojyu appears to have run into this same issue…

Porthos, here’s a good article about Tokyo dining scene. Couple years old but I think its still relatively contemporary.

Tokyo Tops Paris With More Michelin Stars and Better Food

Dear Porthos,

Dining in Japan is my favorite thing to do. Here are some recommendations:

TOKYO

For sushi in Tokyo, I highly recommend Sushi Yoshitake and Sushi Saito. They are both extremely good. Those are better experiences than Mizutani for sure. I do not think I’ve been to Sawada. For a less extravagant (but still excellent) lunch, try Sushi Aoki in Ginza. For low-end sushi that is better than all but the top sushi restaurants in LA, try Sushi Zanmai–a chain of restaurants that are open 24 hours. I go for breakfast!

For tempura, by far my favorite is Nanochome Kyoboshi in Ginza. I like it much more than Kondo, which is probably the most well-known high-end tempura place in Tokyo. Don’t let anyone tell you to go to Ten-Ichi, which is well-known but not high-end IMO (though it is quite expensive) and not particularly good. (It’s a concierge favorite.) For something great and off the beaten Westerner path, try Hasegawa. The quality there is excellent and it’s much cheaper than Nanochome Kyoboshi.

For soba, I’ve tried a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants and dozens more places here and there. None of them were amazing experiences. I wouldn’t necessarily seek out a soba restaurant on such a short trip.

I’ve been to good places for yakitori and ramen but don’t know their names.

For exciting kaiseki in Tokyo, I highly recommend Ryugin. That is my favorite restaurant in Tokyo. The downside is it doesn’t offer a traditional kaiseki experience (e.g., counter seating or tatami rooms). For a more traditional experience, try Ishikawa or one of its sister restaurants (Kohaku and Ren (aka Len)).

KYOTO

One of my favorite meals ever was kaiseki at Kichisen. I would recommend it very highly.

Note that there are two Kikunoi restaurants in Kyoto: One fancy “ryori” restaurant with tatami rooms and one more downscale “honten” restaurant with (mostly) counter seating. I had a disappointing meal at the “honten” restaurant; Kichisen blew it away. But I should note that all of this is relative: The honten restaurant would be one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. Kichisen would be the best restaurant in LA in my opinion.

Also: While Kojyu is good, I don’t think it’s near the top of the best Kaiseki experiences in Tokyo.

I don’t think there’s any hairy crab catch in Hokkaido in October.

I was thinking of late October or early December. It’s tricky because I don’t want it too cold but want the crab. Decisions decisions.

Hokkaido in December - Think beyond cryptorchidism cold…

Ooops, meant early November. Because as you pointed out, it’s silly cold in December.

Well, consider Kanazawa http://experience-kanazawa.com/cuisine/snowcrab.html

Thanks for the tip!

Looks like I got all my crab seasons mixed up. It appears April/May could be the better time to go and try go get as many overlapping seasons as possible.

http://www.sta.or.jp/english/kankou/d-shop/seafood.html