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Tokyo help - family of four

Shrimp ramen near shinjuku:

chowhound.chow.com/topics/930471#8563281

Apr 08, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Recommendations near Meguro station, also Shibuya - budget recommendations welcome....vegetarian friendly even more so

I would expect to pay around 3,000-4,000 per person at the soba place, half that if you only get the noodles.

Apr 06, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Recommendations near Meguro station, also Shibuya - budget recommendations welcome....vegetarian friendly even more so

One mile west of Meguro on the north side of a park and a few blocks south of Meguro-dori is a good soba place, Shisensan with nice side dishes and a somewhat old rustic feel in a house with a little garden: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1317/A131710/13038860/dtlphotolst/3/

This might be good for your situation as most of the noodle options and side dishes are meat free and in many cases seafood/fish free.

I recommend the duck soba, the yuba sashimi, the misoyaki (grilled miso), and one of the fish cakes. Assuming your son speaks and/or reads Japanese you should have no problem. But even if he doesn't, the staff with their extremely limited english tries very hard to help (they can identify "hot" vs. "cold" soba options etc).

They have an English website but pay no attention to the hours. They are now open only for dinner so I am not sure what changed with respect to course menu vs. a la carte but you might be able to figure this out from their Japanese language website: www.shisenan.com

The walk there is all up hill but going back to Meguro it would be a nice 20-30 min walk. It seems like the bus up Meguro-Dori would be easy and a taxi wouldn't be too expensive.

Apr 05, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Tokyo and Kyoto Honeymoon - Help! Totally Confused

I'd say very motivated if that's your only option. I find it very hard to walk in, particularly with no Japanese language ability.

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Are the following restaurants all okay for lunchtime walk-ins with assurance of seating?

You are correct that that can be frustrating. It's also frustrating when someone asks a general question that could be answered by doing some initial background research. However, I don't think the specificity needs to be neighborhood level geography, even if locals tend to think that way. It's more the extent to which the vastness can be defined in a way that makes recommendations easier and which doesn't cover ground that's available via search. I imagine it is equally frustrating to those who have done the research and attempt to be specific to receive no suggestions.

But perhaps I am being too optimistic and a little pedantic as I am also frustrated by the constant discussion and seeking of affirmation for of a very small number of supposed "go to" places which have gained notoriety and how they are not that well representative of the overall picture.

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Are the following restaurants all okay for lunchtime walk-ins with assurance of seating?

I'd clarify that the fact that we don't consider neighborhood much of a factor in selecting restaurants applies to Tokyo precisely because it is so easy to navigate and reach places by public transport. It's not about "willing to travel anywhere for the best." It just isn't a hassle for us, in fact it's a plus compared to other cities. It was in that vein that I said we might be the exception. I would not make the same statement about all cities. Los Angeles, for example.

I agree to some extent which is why I recommend a general approach to research and a more specific approach to requests. However, I don't understand why "the point myself and other regulars emphasize is that people experienced with Tokyo rarely discuss dining options on such a broad citywide level."

If you are specific enough in your request for the type of restaurant and experience you want, posters who have such advice, however local can volunteer that place in that neighborhood, while others can recommend appropriate places in other neighborhoods, with the OP then deciding what is feasible given his or her interests or constraints. the fact that "people experienced with Tokyo rarely discuss dining options on such a broad citywide level" shouldn't deter someone with sound advice from offering options as long as the set of restaurants one is considering is not too large. Certainly, some level of specificity is needed but it needn't always be neighborhood based. For example, I requested a lunch option with a private room and view of a garden within 60 minutes by train from the center of tokyo. It never occurred to me that I should ask for this in Arachiko or Yanaka specifically as that wasn't essential to what I was looking for.

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Are the following restaurants all okay for lunchtime walk-ins with assurance of seating?

It would be more culturally rewarding to ask for an omakase on the spot but it up the risk in terms of misunderstanding and expectations, particularly for those with no experience in the country. However, perhaps someone could post the right language/approach to use.

Taking taxis might be more problematic but I've never had a problem finding any destination in Tokyo with a modicum of pre trip planning (primarily a google map on my phone), trains and walking. Train times and walk times from stations are quite accurate and it's rarely more than 15 minutes from the nearest station. The one time we took a wrong turn we were helped by a local shopkeeper and the local police and were back on our way in the right direction a few minutes. Maybe we are the exception but when determining where to eat we've never thought to ourselves to focus on a particular neighborhood, preferring instead to go to the restaurant that is the most appealing, as long as we can get there in a reasonable amount of time.

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Big News For All You Japan Chowhounds: René Redzepi's NOMA to Japan

I am curious as well. I tend to view skill, creativity and execution at a high level as dependent on the original approach and ingredients available as the inherent skill of the chef himself (or the chef and his team). Too often, quality does not transfer well despite the inevitable media hype and michelinization. This problem is magnified in a place like Japan where there are many places interpreting Japanese ingredients and where there is a more exacting expectation.

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan
1

Are the following restaurants all okay for lunchtime walk-ins with assurance of seating?

With respect to the Izakaya discussion below:

1. The need to focus on particular neighborhoods is unnecessary as it's easy to get anywhere in tokyo within 30 min on the train. Taxis are expensive and usually not faster. However, just asking for the "top 10" izakay recs in Tokyo from posters is a difficult exercise and so stating which neighborhoods you are interested in is a good way to go about it. General searches across the entire city can be done using tabelog (see below).

2. As a non-Japanese speaker, you will have a very hard time unless you find a place that either speaks English or has a course menu. I would the former more limiting than the latter and the latter to likely have better food on average. There are many izakaya which have course menus and you can get your concierge to arrange it with a set price. Tabelog with google translate using the "tavern" food category is the place to start. You can even have the concierge arrange your sake selection if you know something about different varieties and want to try certain types/brands etc.

3. If you see recs which state clearly you must have a Japanese speaker with you, don't book it unless you can fulfill that criteria. However, assuming you have a course menu booked at places which don't state they require a japanese speaker, you likely won't have any problems aside from not knowing everything you are being served.

With respect to reservations, I find it is always better to make them a day ahead unless the restaurant doesn't accept reservations.

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Tokyo and Kyoto Honeymoon - Help! Totally Confused

You aren't blowing it at all not spending $400+ on the handful (relatively given the number of restaurant in Tokyo) of places discussed here by people interested in Michelin Stars. In fact, if given the choice of 1 meal at a 30k at say, Ryugin, and 3 meals at 10k I choose the latter every time. I don't feel the quality goes up that much (it's often surroundings and some flash expensive ingredients).

I highly suggest you use tabelog and google translate as Gargle suggests. You can search based on price and type of cuisine (note that in google translate the first two cuisines are "Japanese food" the first being the more general washoku and the second the more specific kaiseki/kyo ryori which refers to Kyoto style Washoku). Unless you speak Japanses, a la carte will be well nigh impossible. However, most of these kind of restaurants have set courses (in fact they emphasize it or have it exclusively). Have your hotel concierge book ahead and you can select the course price at that time. then you just show up and they know what to serve you. Note that higher prices generally means higher quality ingredients (or more expensive ingredients) rather than more food.

Many of these restaurants are small with counters and a table, sometimes a private room. My wife and I enjoy counters at these places and have excellent meals at between 8k and 15k. Note that unless there is a private room or table with some privacy, you will be sitting close with other diners (don't know if this is an issue for the honeymoon).

Here's a link that may help:

http://translate.google.com/translate...

Apr 03, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

五ノ神製作所 (Gonokami-seisakujo)- shrimp broth tsukemen in Shinjuku

Yes. Every time. Have to be careful and wait a few minutes after the stone goes in though. Had my toungue burned the first time.

Apr 02, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

五ノ神製作所 (Gonokami-seisakujo)- shrimp broth tsukemen in Shinjuku

A brief review of Gonokami-seisakujo. Thanks to Silverjay for making the ticket buying easier and for getting me hot noodles on a cold rainy day.

Initially, we were expecting a line at 12:00pm on a Sunday during hanami season and so close to Shinjuku Gyoen but when the forecast called for 13 degrees, rain and high wind, we didn't know whether this would deter people from going and standing in line or if diners would linger longer. Turned out it was the former as the place was half full (but a line would form by the time we finished).

Very easy with the kanji to select the ebitsukemen ticket and we asked how to purchase an additional ticket for the omori men portion and requested 'atsumori'- hot noodles.

On the noodles themselves (and not being ramen expert), they weren't as springy as my other favorite tsukemen places (Fuunji and Tetsu). Maybe this was because these men were hot. However, the whole wheat? noodle had a more interesting flavor even with the intense broth.

What impressed me most was the broth itself, which managed to be intense and diverse in its flavor without being as heavy as at the aforementioned places. The cha-su chunks while lacking in smokiness had a smoothy texture and went well with the broth. The shrimp flavor of the broth was excellent, in part due to the fact that there was much less salt (or at least there appeared to be) which allowed the sweetness of the shrimp to shine through. The turnip was very nice, not bitter like in other renditions.

My wife who is somewhat anti-pork and won't go near pork--based broths liked it so much that she has insisted this be part of our regular Tokyo rotation.

Apr 02, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Question re. multiple kaiseki dinners at ryokans

On Hakone, and anywhere outside Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka I don't have any specific restaurant recs (although see Nara below), but I wasn't that impressed with the food at Gora (looks impressive, ingredient quality and execution not up to the level of a good 10,000 yen washoku course in tokyo). If you can find a good rec, might be worth only dining there one night.

Apr 01, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Question re. multiple kaiseki dinners at ryokans

I think it's going to be more like the latter with subtle differences although certainly more diverse than sushi (at least from my point of view). You will see seasonal ingredients that will pop up again and again even with your moving around different parts of the island. We see this during our twice yearly stays in tokyo a variety of different restaurants.

I just think that after the first night, branching out into izakayas, yakitori, noodles (of various kinds), eel etc brings a lot of value. I tend to like washoku (the general term for japanese food served in small courses) more than sushi and other areas of the cuisine but even we like to switch out some nights with other things. Izakayas, in particular, are a lot of fun and you will get dishes you won't get with kaiseki. I'll also mention again that even if you only eat kaiseki/washoku you can up the quality by only dining the first night in ryokans and dining in restaurants the other nights (though the atmosphere will usually not compare).

As an example, I highly suggest you do the 13 course tofu lunch (or higher priced yuba lunch) at http://www.kondou-touhu.co.jp/shop/sh... in Nara. It's in an old building, a lot of character, great tofu, fairly inventive dishes, inexpensive (don't expect elaborate preparations or top quality tableware etc). We had a great time when we went even though our dinner was back at Tawaraya ryokan in Kyoto.

You should be aware of the following fairly standard schedule at ryokan:

1. Breakfast: starting at between 8 and 9 am for an hour or so.

2. Dinner: starting around 5:30 with the latest start time around 7 or 7:30 continuing for 2-3 hours.

It leaves less time for touring.

I should also mention that even at top properties, your sense of privacy in terms of noise levels is not the same as a 5 star hotel. Might impact your honeymoon to some extent.

One final thing: sometimes ryokan have private rooms for dining separate from your room. Often all rooms have their own private room. but sometimes only a few rooms do or its on request. It's worth requesting this as I think it adds to the setting and feel. When you return your room is then made up for sleeping.

Apr 01, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan
1

Question re. multiple kaiseki dinners at ryokans

I'd be interested to know how many nights you will be staying in ryokan out of the total and how many consecutive nights in particular ryokan.

The reality is that it is extremely likely that you will get a repeat of the same kaiseki meal at the same ryokan. Moreover, the ingredients from one ryokan to the next could be quite similar as well, leading to kaiseki fatigue. It is true that there is almost always a second course of shabu-shabu, sukiayi or nabe, but usually not beyond that (in terms of something different a third night) and again the ingriedients could be similar. You might be able to arrange a third different course, especially given some of the properties you mention but there is no guarantee.

Beyond the problem of meal repetitiveness, you might also suffer from ryokan fatigue. I find the 1 or 2 night experience to be magical and relaxing but that it drags a bit beyond that. More diverse and interesting experiences to be had outside the ryokan. based on the typical daily schedule, there is not as much freedom to do ohter things as if you were staying in a hotel. Also, I am not as impressed with the overall food quality at high end ryokan in comparison to what one can find in restaurants, with some exceptions, of course.

Apr 01, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan
1

A few questions re. Kyoto food itinerary

In my experience, when you see this kind of price difference for lunch of a tier at around 5,000, and then another from 8,000-15,000, the former is typically less food but of a similar ingredient quality as the cheapest of the next tier (8,000 range) (often it's just the same plus additional dishes). Going up in price beyond the 8,000 range means better quality ingredients but the same number of courses.

We enjoyed our lunch at Nishiki. It has a nice atmosphere in a private room in the middle of the river. I don't think being there at night would add much. However, we enjoyed our lunch in a private room at Sangencha in Gion overlooking the garden more. This was in 2009, however, so standards may have changed.

Mar 25, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

How many months in advance for Michelin reservations?

Again this will vary based on the restaurant. I don't think travel agencies or hotels have "leverage". You either make the cut for reliability (via credit card from the hotel) to show up or you don't. A friend who is located in country can often be better than a hotel. Finally, the fact you are travelling from so far away will likely not matter to the restaurant. Most
top restaurants are not in need of the demand from "far away travellers" though this might be slowly changing.

Mar 22, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

How many months in advance for Michelin reservations?

It will vary based on the season, reservations policy (some only start taking reservations a certain number of days out) and demand at that time. Some of the more famous places will come down to luck even if you are persistent.

An alternative strategy is not to rely so heavily on michelin to be your guide as there are a number of great restaurants which are not listed. Aside from sushi, I don't think it captures the best of tokyo all that well (and some may disagree even with sushi).

Mar 22, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

"Serious" Coffee Shops in Japan

Tried Switch last November and although I liked what the seemed to be doing with their bean selection and roasting, I didn't like the process. Could be that particular roast/bean combo wasn't to my taste. I haven't tried Onibus or Amameria yet. Any others in Meguro to try? I also want to try Parking coffee near Daikanyama.

Mar 16, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Tokyo visit -- a few questions

Just to clarify my initial comments that although I think it's important to a) have list of places as potential targets ahead of time, and b) make reservations at some point, you can make reservations for most place just a few days ahead (even 1 day ahead in some cases). You don't need to have all of your meals lined up weeks before the trip unless you want to go high end or you want to dine at the few trending midrange restaurants that are currently popular.

Two ramen places in the shinjuku area covered here before are Fu-unji (chicken based tsukemen) and Gonokami-seisakujo (shrimp based).

Mar 04, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Kushiage options

My wife's favorite kushiage place is no more and we are looking for an alternative. The only post in the last 5 years on kushiage recommends Tatsukichi in Shinjuku. Any other options to consider?

Mar 02, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

五ノ神製作所 (Gonokami-seisakujo)- shrimp broth tsukemen in Shinjuku

Thanks. Looking forward to comparing with Fu-unji.

Feb 19, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Tokyo visit -- a few questions

If you don't speak Japanese, I highly suggest you take the time to do some research and make reservations. Even more casual restaurants require reservations for dinner in particular. While you will have access to a lot of different aspects of Japanese cuisine by choosing places that are casual enough to not need reservations, you will be missing out on other styles.

I don't view don't Tokyo in particular as a "follow the crowds" type of destination, aside from some very specific genres, particularly ramen. While there are invariably "one dish" or "one style" places (soba, udon, ten-don, unagi) which are well know and which have queues, without knowing where they are in advance, it will be hard find them.

It is true that the average quality of restaurants in Tokyo is quite (particularly compared to the United States) but it will be very hard for you to access the full range of cuisine without being able to read or speak Japanese if you wander into places, even if they dont' take reservations (again aside from one dish restaurants).

For most places of mid and higher quality (sushi, washoku/kaiseki etc), even if they are not full they typically only purchase enough ingredients to meet the number of diners which have reserved and may not be able to accommodate you.

Of course there will be many situations in which you will be able to explore and try random ramen, udon, ten-don, sushi and chirashi shops but ultimately, aside from these your options may be limited and you can likely do better with just a bit of planning. The quality of Japanese food is so much higher that in a place like San Francisco (not surprising) and the ability to have that experience is essential, in my opinion.

Finally, a lot is made by some people about how far away certain neighborhoods are or wanting to find places near the areas which you will be visiting. I find the train system so easy to use and relatively fast that it's rarely ever a consideration. Typically, you are never more than 20-25 min away from any locations inside the Yamanote train line circle.

Feb 18, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

High End Sushi in Tokyo (or should I stick with Sawada?)

I agree it can change the ambiance at the counter. There are some restaurants which are so small we wouldn't want to take more than just the two of us as having 4 out of 6 or 7 non-Japanese speaking does change the experience. I am sure that just 2 changes it as well and I wouldn't necessarily blame a chef for wanting to maintain a particular ambiance. I only say that the experience can be enjoyed whether one speaks Japanese or not, as we have experienced many times in many small local restaurants we have selected without introduction, with the qualifications that 1) we can understand the ingredients words for the most part and 2) we haven't enjoyed sushi-ya as much so maybe there is a qualitative difference between this and other branches of Japanese cuisine.

Feb 17, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

High End Sushi in Tokyo (or should I stick with Sawada?)

I should have mentioned that the only place where I have some japanese language skills is in food words. Typically I can understand ingredients which are being served. I can see how without that it would be less enjoyable. Sometimes chefs go out of their way to communicate this though asking other guests to look up words on cell phones. One place we went to had never had a foreigner dine there without a japanese speaker and contacted a cousin who spoke english and she typed up a description of the ingredients and process for each course for the night we dined.

It would be an advantage to receive suggestions from the chef. Aside from that though, the meals can still be enjoyed.

I have never encountered a situation where the restaurant refuses guests who do not have at least one japanese speaker and yet this seems to be somewhat common, particularly among sushi-ya. Perhaps these restaurants get more foreigners and have had problems in the past.

Feb 16, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

High End Sushi in Tokyo (or should I stick with Sawada?)

I am curious about what needs to be managed in Japanese to eat at a quality sushi-ya as it seems to be important for some sushi chefs and posters here sometime place more emphasis on having Japanese language skills than at other types of restaurants.

We don't typically eat at high end sushi places, sticking to washoku and other dishes. We don't speak any japanese and have never had a problem as long as a) the concierge or a friend books and b) is able to confirm the course and price ahead of time (or an approximate range).

Typically, we arrive, sit down, are shown a drinks menu where we ask for a particular section (sake, beer etc) and point to one based on price, are served the meal, and are then presented with the bill.

Aside from the fact that drink selections are shots in the dark and that it is hard to order additional outside the course, where would Japanese be needed and is it different in the sushi-ya that are regularly discussed here? We have been to places like Sushi Namba in Ogikubo using the same approach and had no problems.

Obviously, allergies can present a problem but if they are not severe, a card or note from the concierge usually works.

Feb 16, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

五ノ神製作所 (Gonokami-seisakujo)- shrimp broth tsukemen in Shinjuku

Can anyone post the kanji to order the basic shrimp tsukemen, large size noodles, hot noodles? Greatly appreciated.

Feb 16, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

"Luxury Bento" or lunch in nice surroundings during Sakura

My impression from Japanese website was that the sakura lunch box and special "mini-kaiseki" was poor value. The sukiyaki looks nice. Will consider it.

Feb 13, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

"Luxury Bento" or lunch in nice surroundings during Sakura

Thanks. I'll take a look at that.

Feb 12, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

"Luxury Bento" or lunch in nice surroundings during Sakura

Given the geographic scope, I didn't think it was that detailed. And I thought detailed would be appreciated here.

In any case, perhaps I've been unclear: while Innsyoutei does meet some of the criteria, it doesn't get very good reviews for food but because of it's location in Ueno park, is extremely popular among Japanese, thus it is "well known", at least that is what reviews that I have read say. So perhaps "well known" was a poor choice of words. Perhaps I should have said: "in a location that doesn't lend itself to hordes of local tourists/hanami-goers which allows for a reduction in food quality because demand will be there anyway".

I have no friends in Tokyo, will not be dining with any friends other than my wife who I guarantee won't be impressed nor do I particularly care about eating with tourists except to the extent that the food is altered from what would be served to locals because of such tourists.

Feb 12, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan