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Eating in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto

Eating in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto
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  • Post #61 - November 3rd, 2013, 1:29 pm
    Post #61 - November 3rd, 2013, 1:29 pm Post #61 - November 3rd, 2013, 1:29 pm
    Thanks for the great summary of your ramen adventures, Dom. I loved the writing and the details and the photos.
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #62 - November 3rd, 2013, 11:17 pm
    Post #62 - November 3rd, 2013, 11:17 pm Post #62 - November 3rd, 2013, 11:17 pm
    FYI - if you'd like to have a peek at the Albatross bar I mention in post 49 above, as well as the bar area I described, Anthony Bourdain visits it on the Parts Unknown Tokyo episode that aired tonight.
  • Post #63 - November 4th, 2013, 9:20 am
    Post #63 - November 4th, 2013, 9:20 am Post #63 - November 4th, 2013, 9:20 am
    Fantastic thread! Thank you so much Dom and BR for sharing your Japanese noodling and other culinary experiences for us.

    Regarding shoyu ramen at Dokkan:
    Dmnkly wrote:First off, that chunky, opaque white stuff on top of the chashu? Grated daikon? Fried tempura batter doused in soup? Nope. Minced pork fat. Yup. And it was... kind of shockingly light. It lent surprisingly little in terms of flavor, and mostly just slightly enriched the broth, but much less than you'd think creamy curds of fat would. Anyway, it's a shoyu base, and it's piled with vegetables -- tons of blanched sprouts, menma, spinach, daikon (there was some in there as well), I think there was cabbage -- I don't recall all of it. And, I dunno... this felt more like a fill-you-up bowl, more utilitarian than artful. But there were also an unusual number of condiments out on the counter, so perhaps it's intended to be a baseline that you doctor up. And I suppose I can see the appeal. If you're really into that interplay of noodles and vegetables -- the noodles were great -- I can see this working for you. But for me, the broth was just kind of dull. And not because it was a basic shoyu (but we'll get to that later).

    The truck loads of sprouts? Cabbage? seabura or liquefied pork fat? A gross, heaping quantity of noodles? Shoyu broth? Sounds and looks like it could possibly be Jiro-style ramen, a highly cultish ramen variant there.
    This is a bulldozer/bear of a style with no finesse whatsoever nor is it meant to be according to their highly loyal, down-and-dirty noodling partisans. I had a bowl of this stuff once at Yume Wo Katare in Cambridge, MA and, although the Jiro ramen there clearly had many mostly youthful fans (which makes sense since apparently the original Jiro-ramen shop, Jiro Honten in Mita, caters to the students at nearby Keio University), this geezer was trying to leave the place after about 3-4 disturbing bites without the very proud ramen chef behind the counter noticing my hasty exit. Different strokes...

    Dmnkly wrote:Anyway, the thing at Gogyo is their kagashi miso ramen, or burnt miso ramen. And when I say burnt, I mean burnt.

    They prep the broth, burn the tare (the tare is the seasoning that's mixed with the broth base -- shoyu, shio, miso, etc.), dump it in the bowl, add the noodles, toss on the toppings, and bring out this...

    This kagashi or burnt style has clearly become quite popular over the last few years worldwide.

    Again, many thanks for the great posts.
  • Post #64 - November 4th, 2013, 12:35 pm
    Post #64 - November 4th, 2013, 12:35 pm Post #64 - November 4th, 2013, 12:35 pm
    PIGMON wrote:The truck loads of sprouts? Cabbage? seabura or liquefied pork fat? A gross, heaping quantity of noodles? Shoyu broth? Sounds and looks like it could possibly be Jiro-style ramen, a highly cultish ramen variant there.
    This is a bulldozer/bear of a style with no finesse whatsoever nor is it meant to be according to their highly loyal, down-and-dirty noodling partisans.

    Y'know, I haven't been to Jiro, and it hadn't occurred to me before you mentioned it, but yeah, it sure sounds like what I've read about Jiro. Though it wasn't an absurdly huge portion. Just kind of... bulky. In general. If they're similar, yeah, I'm not so much a fan of that style.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and
  • Post #65 - November 4th, 2013, 7:46 pm
    Post #65 - November 4th, 2013, 7:46 pm Post #65 - November 4th, 2013, 7:46 pm
    Wow, amazing thread. Thank you for posting. I'm headed to Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto next month myself. As of right now I am dining at Kawamura for Kobe, Jiro for sushi, and Narisawa. Unfortunately it appears our menu may differ as Narisawa is doing a special holiday menu for a few weeks only. They have not publicized what it will be yet!
  • Post #66 - November 5th, 2013, 9:13 am
    Post #66 - November 5th, 2013, 9:13 am Post #66 - November 5th, 2013, 9:13 am
    BR I was so moved by your photos and thoughts. Thank you for sharing with us all.
  • Post #67 - November 5th, 2013, 9:44 am
    Post #67 - November 5th, 2013, 9:44 am Post #67 - November 5th, 2013, 9:44 am
    That kagashi style (could it be kogashi style? that's all I can find online) looks awesome.
    Waiting for an instant ramen version.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #68 - November 24th, 2013, 11:58 pm
    Post #68 - November 24th, 2013, 11:58 pm Post #68 - November 24th, 2013, 11:58 pm
    I wanted to do one blowout meal on this trip, and I was having a brutal time deciding. High-end sushi? Premium steakhouse? Kaiseki? Indecision kind of let an unexpected choice slip in the back door. I really wanted to get some good tempura at some point, and after reading about a couple of upscale tempura restaurants, I found myself wondering what the heck constitutes high-end tempura? And the previous week, BR's post about how a high-end tempura restaurant in Kyoto was the highlight of that trip dropped, and thus the deal was sealed.

    We ended up at Zezankyo, overseen by Michelin-starred master Tstsuya Saotome (I didn't even know the place had a star when I picked it!), which has sort of become the high-end tempura stop for Western travelers in Japan. And I ordinarily try to avoid such places, because for every place that catches fire, I'm sure there are at least a dozen more in the city almost just like it that didn't happen to have the benefit of a key blog post here or a travel site review there. You know how these things snowball. But our second night was a really mediocre dinner, I was lamenting the waste of a meal, and decided that I'd really just rather play this one safe. Maybe there's better, maybe we'll overpay, but it's going to be -- at the very least -- really good.


    So many of these outstanding restaurants in Japan are so unassuming from the street. And then you start to look carefully, and you start to notice that everything is arranged just so. My favorite part? Note that the large pot right by the door is broken -- it collapsed and cracked while being fired. There's a little textbook wabi-sabi for you. In any case, we weren't even sure if we were in the right place when we walked in the door, but they were expecting us. A tiny little entryway gave way to an absolutely gorgeous room. Warm, cozy, not ostentatious, but stunning design with little art pieces all over the room. More accurately, just about every object in that room was a work of art. But more on that in a bit. There was an L-shaped counter that seated ten, and standing at the fryer, underneath an enormous cornucopia-shaped bronze exhaust hood, stood the master, his first in command by his side preparing the ingredients for frying.


    Did I mention everything in the room is art? This is the menu, calligraphy drawings with little red Xes next to those that weren't available that night. Dinner is an omakase-only affair, running about $150 depending on where the exchange rate sits at the moment. Our dinner ran 15 courses, and here are... most of them.

    zezankyopickles.jpg Pickles

    A dish of pickled vegetables greeted us as we sat down, just a simple little refresher to clean and wake up the palate. On a raised portion of the bar in front of each seat is a rectangular ceramic dish with a metal grate, covered with a carefully folded piece of paper. Every piece of tempura came out of the fryer and directly to this plate.


    But first, a little prep. The master's assistant (who spent the entire night conversing with the couple to my left, from Singapore) cleaned the shrimp, removing the tails, shelling them, taking off certain parts of the heads while leaving other parts intact. My favorite step was the last. You know when you get amaebi sushi and they fry the heads for you, and when you eat them there are those two short spikes on the shrimp's face -- stronger than all the rest -- that jab you in the throat? His last step was to crack these at the base while leaving them intact -- tasty and crunchy when fried, but just barely hanging the body so that they'd easily give way when you bite. Detail, people.

    zezankyoshrimp.jpg Shrimp

    The tails came out first, sweet and luscious and perfect. We were all provided with a small dish of salt and a larger bowl of tentsuyu. But they instructed us only to use the salt. The humor in the instruction, however, was that they ended up giving this instruction for every course (no exceptions), and as if to make the point, the tentsuyu was the lightest (read: weakest) I think I've ever tasted. It seems clear the master would prefer you just use salt. Most everybody present, Japanese and non-, dipped anyway. I settled on taking a little dab of tentsuyu-soaked daikon as a chaser, and found that I actually preferred it this way. In any case, shrimp -- delightful. Sweet, tender, a thin and light coating, light on the oil... really delicious.

    zezankyoshrimpheads.jpg Shrimp Heads

    But I'm a sucker for heads, and I enjoyed these even more. My father is not so much a fan. I was the beneficiary.

    zezankyofish.jpg Kisu (Whiting)

    This was kisu, a type of Japanese whiting, and with a thin filleted fish like this, you start to appreciate the skill necessary to make this crisp on the outside while keeping the fish -- which couldn't have been more than 8mm thick -- tender and light and flaky.

    zezankyosoup.jpg Dashi with Shrimp Dumpling

    We had a strip of exceptionally tender squid (not pictured), followed by a little palate refresher after the heavier piece of fish, a light dashi with what I believe was a shrimp dumpling.

    zezankyouni.jpg Shiso-Wrapped Uni

    I loved this. I've never had tempura-fried uni before, and I was curious to see how they'd do it here. The answer was between two shiso leaves, barely held together with a tiny dab of water, lightly dusted in flour, then battered and fried. Delicate and fragrant, and kind of show-offy, which to be clear is completely awesome.

    zezankyogingkonuts.jpg Gingko Nuts

    When one of the seafood offerings wasn't available, we'd get some sort of vegetable instead. Here we had gingko nuts, which have such a curious flavor and texture. Very nice.

    zezankyomatsutake.jpg Matsutake

    Next was another piece of fish (not pictured), though I don't recall the type, and then a stunning matsutake mushroom, halved the long way, trimmed at the bottom, and fried. It's dense stuff, woodsy, and also lovely.

    zezankyoanago.jpg Anago (Sea Eel)

    Winner. Unquestionably the highlight of the night. An long sea eel fillet, perhaps a foot long when whole, fried -- it seemed -- intentionally a touch longer than the rest. He'd place the fillet on our plate, and with his chopsticks, quickly break it in half. And what struck me here were two things. First, the large puff of steam that emerged from the break in the fillet like a mushroom cloud. And second, the sound... a sharp, crisp crack followed by a loud hiss as the steam escaped. Hard to believe that something so simple could be so dramatic, but it was.

    zezankyoshishito.jpg Shishitos

    Here, they brought out a basket filled with perhaps 8-10 vegetables, and let us select two. I went with sweet potato and shishito peppers. The sweet potato was among my least favorites of the evening, but I'm such a freaking sucker for shishitos.

    zezankyoscallop.jpg Kaibashira Kakiage (Scallops in Tea) with Tsukemono

    This is also something of a signature dish at Zezankyo. It's a fritter made with lots of tiny scallops, and they offer a few choices for how you'd like it served. I opted for ochazuke-style, swimming in a light tea broth. You get the crisp on top, and the soaked tempura batter on the bottom, and this was another favorite of the evening.

    zezankyoredbeans.jpg Sweet Red Beans

    See, now this is my kind of dessert. Three huge red beans, just tender enough but still with bite, slowly simmered in sugar syrup so that they absorb the sweetness.

    During a lull while dessert was coming, Saotome reached over, took my menu, pulled out a small calligraphy brush, and got to work. A few minutes later, I was presented with this:

    zezankyocalligraphy.jpg Calligraphy

    Y'know. Just in case there was any doubt that the artwork was his. There's a keepsake for you. I also struck up a conversation with the couple next to me, who were from Singapore. After trading pleasantries, the fellow started telling me some of the things he had learned from speaking with the assistant chef all evening. He started pointing out how different pieces of serviceware were true antiques, some over a century old. And the fellow dining with his wife at the other end of the bar was, apparently, part of the family that either owns or operates the Tsukiji market, friends of Saotome for decades. After a little more conversation, we cleared out for the second seating, paid in the small entryway, and headed off into the night.

    Some of these pieces were absolutely outstanding. Some of them were not to that level. If you read around about Zezankyo, you'll find mixed reviews, and I understand why some are disappointed. There's nowhere to hide here, and if every piece isn't perfect... well... you notice. But while I truly enjoyed the food, I enjoyed the experience just as much. The room, the company, the serviceware, the little rituals -- it was something special. It won't keep me from trying other new places on future visits, but it ended up being a good call. I really loved the experience.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and
  • Post #69 - November 25th, 2013, 8:16 pm
    Post #69 - November 25th, 2013, 8:16 pm Post #69 - November 25th, 2013, 8:16 pm
    The aforementioned mediocre dinner was my first crack at yakitori on this trip. It was at a place in Shinjuku called Keishoan, and with the exception of a pretty damn tasty oyakodon, it was a totally flat, soulless meal. And to add insult to injury, the set menu -- at a yakitori joint, mind you -- provided three skewers of grilled chicken, sandwiched between multiple courses of underflavored fluff. It was, in short, a total waste of a meal. So the next night, I decided to play it safe, and we hopped the train out to Nishihara to check out Fuku, which has gained a reputation for walking that magical line between appealing to the locals and Western visitors alike.

    It's about a 5-10 minute walk from the Yoyogi-Uehara station, through what may be the most charming neighborhood I've ever visited in Tokyo. Seriously, if we were to have the opportunity to live in Tokyo for a while, I'm house hunting in Nishihara first. Of course, it helps that it was Halloween and the streets were absolutely packed with little kids in costume, the main streets filled with all sorts of games and activities for them to do. "This Is Halloween" from the Nightmare Before Christmas was echoing through the streets, and while I first thought it was some particularly festive soul turning up the stereo, I quickly realized that, in fact, they were pumping the music through the neighborhood's PA system. It followed us as we walked. In any case, Fuku is another unassuming little storefront (shocker), with a vibe that looks almost like a Southwestern adobe building.


    The interior is bustling, dark with bright spots, but warm and cozy, a large U-shaped bar around the yakitori grill with a number of freestanding tables surrounding. There's a kitchen in back for drinks and about a third of the menu, but this is where all of the fire happens for a restaurant that seats perhaps 30, on this single grill about two and a half feet wide (the grill would get a little crowded as the night went on). It's a similar setup to Zezankyo, where one fellow's manning the primary cooking apparatus, while the other does all of the prep before the skewers go on, and finishing when they come off. Part of what was really cool was watching how he handled different items. Some were turned every few seconds. Some would go off to the edge and sit for 20 minutes. Some would start cool and finish hot, Some would do the reverse. He had cooler and hotter spots on the grill, and it was all a matter of timing, heat, and rotation to cook the different parts just so. Speaking of the different parts, they offered a lot of them. And the menu (I posted a PDF below), incidentally, is super Western-friendly, with good translations for everything.

    fukupotatosalad.jpg Potato Salad

    But we started with a couple of cold appetizers, and I kind of had to do this. I'm such a sucker for potato salad. And this is something they always do so, so well in Japan. And this is an exceptionally good one, cool and creamy, with a little bonito and bits of other vegetables mixed in.

    fukurawchicken.jpg Tori-Wasa ("Rare" Chicken Breast)

    Yyyyyyeah, you're not going to see this in a whole lot of places in the States. That's exactly what you think it is. The menu reads "rare," and that's in the running for understatement of the year. Without getting off on a whole other tangent, let's just say that the chicken supply in Japan doesn't have the... issues... that we have here. And let me also say that this was absolutely outstanding. One of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. You can see that the outer edge was just barely cooked -- a quick dip in hot stock, I"m guessing -- before being chilled and sliced to serve. And it was like fine sashimi, cool and creamy and sweet, with a little more chew than your average fish, but still very, very tender. In fact, I think this was the breast tenders, though I'm not certain. A little fresh wasabi (the real stuff, of course), a little slivered young ginger, just a tiny dip in soy... wow, was this good.

    fukubreast.jpg Kashiwa (Chicken Breast)

    Of course, most of the chicken came hot, though this breast was also quite pink in the middle (the rest were what we'd consider "done" all the way through), and served with just a little salt and wasabi. God, I love fresh wasabi.

    fukuthigh.jpg Neginiku (Chicken Leg with Japanese Leek)

    The dark is more my speed, served here with charred negi. It was immediately evident that this place was everything that Keishoan was not. There was fire and smoke in the food. There was char and Maillard reaction aplenty. There was sizzle and drippy fat and all of that stuff we associate with the grill, and it was all done so perfectly.

    fukutsukune.jpg Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs)

    I love tsukune. And this was one of the best I've had. They're these delicious seasoned meatballs made with ground chicken (or other meats, but most often chicken), and these were tender and juicy and full of flavor. And it didn't hurt that each skewer coming off the grill would go for a dunk in an enormous earthenware pot of a thick, sweet (but not too sweet) soy-based glaze before going out.

    fukuwings.jpg Tebasaki (Chicken Wings)

    Yeah. Our wings are okay. These are better. No sauce necessary or wanted. Just a celebration of chicken skin. It was at this point I regretted not ordering the chicken skin.

    fukuliver.jpg Tori-Reba (Chicken Liver)

    I was curious to see how they'd do these, and they left them pretty creamy in the center. This also got a good shot of the sweet glaze.

    fukuseseri.jpg Seseri (Chicken Neck)

    I love the use of more... esoteric parts. Yeah, I was going to try chicken neck. And it was awesome. It was crisp and chewy -- very, very flavorful -- and topped with a massive pile of what I believe was finely chopped cabbage and scallions. So frustrating that we almost never use these parts for things other than stock.

    fukubonbochi.jpg Bonbochi (Chicken Tail)

    Chicken butt. Well, tail to be precise. I knew I had to have this one. Whenever I roast a chicken at home, there are three pieces that don't make it to the table -- the flats of the wings, the oysters, and the tail. Again, I love this. It had some texture, it had some bite. Not that there's anything wrong with plain chunks of meat, but there's a whole beast to be used. One of my favorite pieces of the night.

    fukuasparagus.jpg Asparagus with Bacon

    It wasn't all chicken. We worked in some vegetables. Wrapped in pig, yeah, but vegetables.

    fukuonion.jpg Ko-Tamanegi (Pearl Onions)

    Heavy seasoning, and so, so sweet. Give me a bowl of these.

    fukueggplant.jpg Nasu (Eggplant)

    You'll have to trust me that there's eggplant under there. Some of these were topped really aggressively. I'm not complaining.

    fukushishitos.jpg Shishitos

    Well, yeah, of course, right? Here they got a little dash of a miso-based sauce. But so, so little... it's about the vegetable, you see.

    fukurice.jpg Yaki-Onigiri (Grilled Rice Ball)

    I saw one of these going by and had to get it as well. It's onigiri -- a seasoned rice ball -- cooked slowly over a cooler part of the grill until the exterior turns into this deep golden, crunchy crust. Not dry or crisp, but downright crunchy. And it's yet another example of how wonderful rice can be all on its own.

    Stellar meal. Ramen adventures aside, unquestionably my favorite of the trip. And relatively inexpensive, too. For the chicken items, depending on the part, an order of two skewers ran ¥200-300 (almost an exact 1 yen to 1 cent ratio while we were there, so $1-1.50 per skewer). I want to go back and have every single thing on the menu. I regret not getting more of the esoteric chicken parts, like gizzards and hearts and cartilage (if it had been just me...). But I could have kept going for a couple more hours. This will be a repeat visit whenever I get back.

    Fuku Yakitori
    3-23-4 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and
  • Post #70 - November 25th, 2013, 8:40 pm
    Post #70 - November 25th, 2013, 8:40 pm Post #70 - November 25th, 2013, 8:40 pm
    Nice stuff Dom! I too am a sucker for potato salad and the Japanese really do it well. We had a breakfast buffet at our hotel in Kyoto that offered a great version - that, some tsukemono, a little curry over rice, and I have a meal.

    When I said I barely scratched the surface of Japanese cuisine on my trip, your yakitori post is a good example. While we ate at a few izakayas, we didn't visit a pure yakitori joint -- one of a few regrets. But we did get some of that rare chicken, though it didn't seem as raw as the one piece you show. My attitude eating it was similar to yours though - Japanese and American chickens are very different things, and the chicken I tried was terrific. Does Japan have any version of the large, factory farms that we have?

    I had a version of that grilled rice at Raku in Las Vegas (near the end of this post) and recall enjoying it but not being a huge fan. But I recall being in food overload at that point. I wish I could revisit it after seeing your picture and reading your description.
  • Post #71 - April 21st, 2015, 4:46 pm
    Post #71 - April 21st, 2015, 4:46 pm Post #71 - April 21st, 2015, 4:46 pm
    Bumping this amazing thread. Headed to tokyo and will have one night(stopover and first night of hour honeymoon). So i am trying to plot the perfect food plan!

    First and foremost, we want to do a high end sushi place for dinner. Right now, im leaning towards Sushi Saito and Sushisho Masa. Anyone been to either? Have any other suggestions? Im leaning towards Sushisho Masa as ive heard their style is quite different and cant really be found outside tokyo.

    We are also plotting a Ramen place. I think we are going to try the one thats in Tokyo Station. But im also open to recommendations.

    3rd, yakitori. We will probably stroll over to yakitori alley and just pick one at random. But if there is an outstanding one that we need to check out then please let me know.

  • Post #72 - April 28th, 2015, 4:41 pm
    Post #72 - April 28th, 2015, 4:41 pm Post #72 - April 28th, 2015, 4:41 pm
    Based on my very limited experience I would say Sushi-sho, fuku yakitori, and Fuunji for tsukemen. I only stopped by sushi-sho for lunch but it was amazing and I definitely plan to return for dinner next time I'm in town. The tsukemen at fuunji pretty much ruined ramen for me (bc nothing else can come close).
  • Post #73 - September 10th, 2017, 9:58 pm
    Post #73 - September 10th, 2017, 9:58 pm Post #73 - September 10th, 2017, 9:58 pm
    Boy oh boy, Pudgy. How do you miss threads like this here on LTHF? :oops:
    Thankfully, I finally searched for "japan", and this was one of the handful of threads which turned out.
    As some of you may know, I'm headed back to Tokyo | Yokohama for my fourteenth visit there since 2005. The base item for this jaunt was the Blue Note Jazz Fest at the Red Brick Warehouse in Yokohama. Its headliner is Donald Fagen. This tour of his new band has added implications since Walter Becker, his consort in Steely Dan, died last Sunday. Reports of the set list on the U.S.A. portion of the tour had a number of Steely Dan songs already being performed.
    Anyhow, as to how this pertains to LTHF, looking through this thread {thankfully, I discovered it while on public wi-fi - not back at the abode on v.92}, I will investigate a number of restaurants mentioned. But I must be honest and tell you that there is no way I am spending ¥15,000 on any meal while here. :(
    {Oh geez - how many JAVs could I buy for ¥15,000?! I'd need a ship container to get them from Yokohama to San Francisco, and another hauler to get them from S. F. to Chicago. Or maybe not. :wink:}
    I just published a new issue of "Japan Jaunt". If you see me, I'll sell you a copy for $1 {I'm worth a dollar, you cheap shickelgruber!}. It has a piece in which I describe some of the venues in Tokyo where I have had a bowl of ramen.
    I have photographs of a bunch of the venues I have been at in Japan. They have been held back in case some magazine | newpaper editor decided it would publish me. Since some of these photographs date from 2009, I think they aren't likely to be included in an article were I actually published. Their loss is LTHF's gain.
    In the aforementioned "Japan Jaunt", I let on that the best bowl of ramen I have had anywhere is from Matador in Senju-asahi-cho, Adachi-ku, Tokyo; very close to the Kita-Senju trains station. Here are photos I took while there. This is the luxurious shio beef ramen (¥1,030). :D Image Image Image Image Image
    The links you can use, without the fluff, or sales pitch: