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New Taco Bell in Shibuya

Taco Bell was in Singapore around 2007 for a year or so in conjunction with a few KFC locations. I walked up and asked for a crunchy taco. They didn't have any on the menu.

May 01, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Sushi Saito second counter?

Deep fried whale (-age, -katsu? don't know the right term) was fantastic at this little cheap but cheerful washoku near Gakugeidaigaku station.

Apr 21, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Sushi Saito second counter?

I enjoyed my visit there as well. He quizzed me on the Japanese name of the neta as he served each piece after I guessed correctly on the first few.

I am no sushi expert, but I enjoyed two things in particular: the tuna is fantastic (well-documented, particularly the tuna neck roll) and the rarer types of fish and seafood served (in contrast to other places).

Apr 21, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Last minute tips for Tokyo and Kyoto

Following on jjcha314's comments below, you'll be just fine with last minute research (random tabelog selections, tokyo food file, bento.com etc), hotel concierge advice, advice from fellow diners who might speak english etc. The one thing I advise is for many types of cuisine (washoku/kaiseki, most sushi etc) you'll need a reservation, particularly at dinner. However, calling just one day ahead is usually enough (chefs need to know how much to buy on the day) for the vast majority of tokyo restaurants. It's worth putting in a bit of time now just before you go so that you can ask your concierge to book places when you arrive and then start making bookings for later in the trip on the first few days you are there.

Ramen, udon, some soba places, tendon, tonkatsu, yakitori and many other types of "single dish/style" places won't require reservations, particuarly for lunch.

Apr 18, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Sushi Saito second counter?

To add to od_sf's rec of sushi iwa, if you want to get the full experience and are not familiar with Japanese food words, going to a place which has English speakers who an explain what you are eating and where it is from would be a positive.

Another approach (the one I take) would be to find new places or places not found in English language media but seem well-regarded in the Japanese media (google translate is your friend here). Use tabelog to see if the interior, presentation, content of dishes and location are amenable.

I should also add that Bento.com provides a good list of places in english that aren't found anywhere else and is an excellent resource.

Apr 14, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Sushi Saito second counter?

I would say that the "experience" is the same as the "taste" with respect to my comments above, even though I've never been to Saito. Because of the language barrier, there is a focus of many foreigners who are traveling to japan and who don't speak the language on a specific set of restaurants which despite the praise may not actually reflect a broader overview of restaurants in a particular category. I expect that you will enjoy any "top counter".

Finally, your chances of getting into Saito are extremely slim which is why the concierge suggested booking at his disciple. Many months there do not appear to be any reservations for non-regulars at Saito. I suggest you focus your attention elsewhere. There are many good recs for sushi as it is the most common request on the board.

Apr 14, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Sushi Saito second counter?

I prefer other areas of japanese cuisine more and so I don't eat sushi often (particularly for dinner). With that caveat, I would say that what others might be alluding is the fact that if you don't have a lot of experience eating sushi in Japan, you will likely not be able to tell the difference between Saito and other "top counters" whatever that last phrase might mean.

In addition, there are so many good sushi counters in tokyo which has far more restaurants than any city in the world that it seems strange to even worry about getting into one particular restaurant.

I don't have an alternative recs for you (see caveat above) but the search function will provide you with many.

Apr 14, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Tokyo restaurants while traveling with Dad who does not eat raw fish?

In a typical Washoku/kaiseki meal, there will be one sashimi course. There will also occaisionlly be additional pieces of uncooked seafood or fish as part of other dishes but this would not dominate the meal. I would think that your Dad would enjoy almost everything aside from the sashimi, which you and your Mom can eat from his plate (transfer with opposite end of the chopsticks).

At Tsukiji, eat at different restaurants.

Apr 05, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

High-End Restaurants: Taking Leftovers? (Tokyo)

My experience is that my 110-115 lb wife has no problems eating full restaurant meals at the type of restaurants you are targeting. One thing to remember is that far less oil and refined carbohydrates are used in the typical japanese meal in comparison with other cuisines (sushi and tempura are exceptions). Thus the overall calorie load is lower, particularly early on in the course. One of the traditional purposes of the rice at the end of meal is to make sure you do not leave hungry (less relevant now). Our approach to avoid being too full is to skip breakfast (or if eating breakfast skip lunch), eat lunch as early as possible (11:30 or 12) and book dinners on the late side (8pm).

As others have noted, there is no culture of taking food home but discreet eating off of others plates (either directly or using the other end of the chopsticks to transfer) happens on a limited basis. Only accept things the restaurant provides for you to take home, which in almost all cases will be the leftover rice in some form (usually "onigiri" or rice balls).

Apr 05, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Is 14 old enough for high-end Tokyo restaurants?

I don't think you'll have a problem at Den based on my experience with friendly attitude of the staff if your 14 year old can behave as an adult (which is what you seem to be implying he will do). However it is very easy to check with Den to see if they would have any problem by simply asking.

Apr 03, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Dress code issues

I know there are a very few places requiring a jacket but I've never been to one. In general, even at higher end places, smart casual (with the emphasis on "smart") is fine. You'll feel better relative to other diners if you look put together, regardless of particular items of clothing. For dinner and lunches at nice places I tend to think a button down shirt for men is better than say a polo shirt.

Mar 24, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Japan April 2015 - (Yet another) Suggestions thread

Thank you for your reply. I understand this perspective but it is still somewhat baffling to me based on my experience only.

I would say that at least 95% (of around 100 over the years) restaurants we have been to do not have anyone who can speak English. And yet from our perspective, we have never had a problem. The restaurant's perspective may differ, but I don't see where the myriad questions/interactions/requests arise. In fact, I would say we are less a burden than Japanese-speaking diners from a questions/requests/time standpoint as most diners always have more questions (be they drink or food related) and engage in more discussion.

With respect to interactions, it is almost never more than the following:

1. Being seated
2. Presented drinks menu or asked "drinku"
3. Asking for the "nihon-shu" section of the drinks menu. Selecting one.
4. Asking for the menu and selecting a 2nd sake.
5. Occaisionally asking for an umeshu for my wife.
6. Asking for the check.

I doubt from a time standpoint the above is a burden on the restaurant. Moreover, I always get the sense that once they understand we tend to know both the food and food words some concerns about questions or dislike of dishes fade away (again only my perspective). Sometimes we asked to choose fish for grilling (just like other customers) and this never presents problems.

Of course there are drawbacks. A la carte ordering is out (hence my question about izakaya). It would better to understand more about the ingredients (although frequently we are told what region or prefecture certain ingredients are from). It would be great to know the details of the sake we are ordering. It would be nice to know more about the approach the chef takes (one restaurant invited an English-speaking cousin to join us for the evening so she could explain the chef's philosophy and approach). But in general we prefer it to limiting ourselves to restaurants that have people who speak English.

All of this is with the caveat that only once in all of our dinners have we seen a non-Japanese party but one of the diners spoke Japanese in this case. So we haven't observed the situation outside of our own experience. And it seems that delays of type you describe might be more difficult for izakaya where there are more a la carte orders coming at different times and where resources, space and manpower may be more limited than in a washoku/kaiseki place. My guess is that places that become famous or well-known and start to get sought out by foreign diners who do not speak Japanese have too many problems where the situation you describe above presents thus the policy. In any case, it is helpful for understanding this perspective. We won't give up on restaurants where no english is spoken but we aren't about to try insist or barge our way into places with the policy.

Mar 20, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Japan April 2015 - (Yet another) Suggestions thread

I don't think it's unreasonable to have the hotel concierge or a Japanese friend call, explain the situation and ask whether the restaurant would agree. The approach I take necessarily allows the restaurant to decide. There have been some (non-izakaya) cases where this approach has been successful despite initial policies around having a Japanese speaker, but they always involved a course menu (washoku or kaiseki). My question related to whether in cases where izakaya do not have a course menu, whether one could be created to avoid problems associated with non-japanese speakers.

My experience and feedback from the restaurants that have been able to communicate some in English is that the big concern for restaurants with Japanese speaker policy is the potential for misunderstandings and inability to respond to questions, as well as guests understanding the food being served (and sometimes balking at things they are not sure about). We've found that a course menu, understanding food words, and being comfortable with japanese dining norms is sufficient to overcome concerns in many cases. The issue with izakaya is that if most ordering is a la carte, then the approach does not work without a course set up.

Lastly, my question does not relate to getting into Honoka specifically, but rather the larger group of places, some which do not even have a stated policy but might feel uncomfortable.

Mar 18, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Japan April 2015 - (Yet another) Suggestions thread

Wanted to get your advice on a strategy for how to deal with the lack of Japanese issue.

I've so far limited our Izakaya dining to places where a course is offered. Even in cases where it might not normally be standard to have a course, my hotel concierge has sometimes been able to get to the restaurant to agree to put one together. Drinks ordering is then as simple as identifying sections for different drinks on the menu and pointing. We are also then able to order additional a la carte dishes by pointing out things we see coming out of the kitchen as I do know most food words (this seems to reduce some tension in new restaurants when something like shirako, for example, comes out and I know what it is; usually my approach is to say the word to my wife as it's being served).

So far everything has gone smoothly from our point of view with no delays in our ordering (drinks or occaisional a la carte) or miscommunication. I wanted to ask whether this kind of approach would work in some of the Izakayas that request (but perhaps not require) Japanese speakers (Honoka and others).

Would appreciate any advice or perspective you have on this.

Mar 18, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

suggestion for dinner first night in tokyo

I like the TETSU if it's still there (last time 2011). there was also a pretty good tendon shop that has seasonal set that was relatively impressive (more expensive and rarer ingredients than one might expect).

Mar 11, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Seeking restaurant recommendations for Hiroshima, Nara and Shiroishi

Seems like now you might have to. When I searched for the name most references indicated that they did. I don't think it should be too hard. I remember we showed up in Nara round 11am and told them we'd come back at 12:30 for lunch. I also doubt it's the kind of place that will demand a hotel concierge and cc card.

Mar 11, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Seeking restaurant recommendations for Hiroshima, Nara and Shiroishi

Kondou tofu in Nara is a nice lunch experience. 13-15 courses focusing on tofu in an old wood house. didn't need reservations in 2009.

Mar 11, 2015
tigerjohn in Japan

Tapas in Northern and Western Spain

Thanks so much. Just a place to start that's recommended in each city is great help.

Sep 18, 2014
tigerjohn in Spain/Portugal

Tapas in Northern and Western Spain

Thanks, JuanDoe. We are thinking about a Monday night for Calle Laurel. Do you know if many bars are closed on Mondays? The website makes it seem like there are bars open every night.

Sep 18, 2014
tigerjohn in Spain/Portugal

Tapas in Northern and Western Spain

Looking for a few tapas/pintxo recs for the following cities:

Pamplona
Logrono
Leon
Burgos
Segovia
Avila
Salamanca
Toledo
Cuenca

Just interested in the 1, 2 or 3 best places that come to mind to give us a few ideas if you've had good experiences in any of these cities.

Sep 17, 2014
tigerjohn in Spain/Portugal

Places to sample a range of good ciders in Asturias as well as a Cider House for Sunday lunch

Many thanks to all for these recommendations. In addition, we are planning to spend a Sunday afternoon west of Oviedo in the mountains. Any recommendations for traditional Asturian food? (Navia or Narcea Valleys)

Sep 05, 2014
tigerjohn in Spain/Portugal

Places to sample a range of good ciders in Asturias as well as a Cider House for Sunday lunch

Looking for a good place in Oviedo or the countryside east of Oviedo to sample a range of ciders in Asturias as well as sample some good local simple cuisine. My cousin is a cider enthusiast who has imported grafts from France and England to start his own orchard in the US and is interested in the process in Spain. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Sep 05, 2014
tigerjohn in Spain/Portugal

Driving to/from Wineries in Rioja, Spain?

Do you know if most places are open on Monday nights? The website for Laurel Street says that there are bars open every day of the week and I am sure there are some. But I heard reports that most or almost all are closed on Monday. Is this the case?

Sep 02, 2014
tigerjohn in Spain/Portugal

Matsukawa - Probably (the current) Tokyo's greatest restaurant

Have not. We visit Japan too often to bother and have a no Asian policy in general when we visit the US.

Aug 13, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Matsukawa - Probably (the current) Tokyo's greatest restaurant

The other aspect of Kyoto-style kaiseki is that the flavors are extremely delicate. This led some "experienced gourmandes" to walk away from places like Hyotei less than satisfied/excited. This isn't my view of the style but there is greater chance of repeated approaches and techniques in the these older venerable Kyoto ryotei than in other parts of the country.

Aug 12, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Matsukawa - Probably (the current) Tokyo's greatest restaurant

In contrast to others' sentiments here, I like multiple washoku (not necessarily kaiseki) meals over consecutive days. I've done seven or eight dinners in a row (with other things for lunch) during one trip. The only aspect that can impinge on the enjoyment is when you see the same seasonal ingredients prepared in similar ways, which can happen. This is more likely, I think, to happen at restaurants which use more traditional approaches, including, potentially ryokan, and more likely in Kyoto than Tokyo (I spend the most time in the latter).

Aug 12, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Question re. November Reservations - Restaurants I'm waiting to book and likelihood of availability/issues

The big difference, and the key thing that is driving your perspective vs. the perspective of some others, is that Tokyo and NYC are not similar in the way you seem to want to indicate. In both cities, there are a group of restaurants for which those who live outside the city want to get into. There is also the list of restaurants that those who live in the city want to get into. These lists are not as similar for Tokyo, as compared to other cities.

The view from the resident's standpoint is that A) the food tourist's list is a tiny tiny fraction of "sought after tables" in Tokyo and B) as competitive as the market is for "sought after tables" from the resident's point of view, the ones not on food tourists' list are not that difficult to book, as many have pointed out (Saito a few years ago) but if they were to somehow get on that list, then they would become difficult to book. Almost all of the restaurants on the food tourists' list were not hard to book before food tourists discovered them. As you note, there is probably not that much difference in quality from before and after food tourist discovery.

This sets up a situation where residents view the quest to get into "hard to book" places known by food tourists as strange when you could book an equally good place very easily, or more easily, and a reluctance to talk too much about a restaurant which will then get "discovered" by food tourists and the become hard to book.

I feel like in SF, NYC, for example, locals and food tourists lists are more similar, largely due to the more english language information that exists.

Moreover you contention that restaurants would appreciate getting recognized in the Michelin Guide is certainly not true, as many restaurants refused or have flat out stated they don't want that recognition. A number of places I have been to have expressed this. Part of it is the perceived disruption of additional foreigners with less experience in Japanese dining culture (e.g. requests to change course or ingredients, demanding food be cooked in certain ways), lack of communication with foreign diners (key in Japanese dining culture), and having to deal with constant requests for reservations.

Aug 12, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan
2

Question re. November Reservations - Restaurants I'm waiting to book and likelihood of availability/issues

I am not referring to anyone in particular with these comments.

Aug 11, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Question re. November Reservations - Restaurants I'm waiting to book and likelihood of availability/issues

The interesting thing for me is why a particular set of restaurants out of thousands and thousands are the most appropriate for a "once in a lifetime trip". Of course this phenomenon is not limited to this board.

Aug 11, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan

Question re. November Reservations - Restaurants I'm waiting to book and likelihood of availability/issues

"My sonar is going to be directed at places that get talked about, not the ones that don't. That's just common sense, right?"

Yes. And to react to this and Robb's post below, the problem is that relative to size of the options on offer (in contrast to a city like San Francisco which is much smaller), there is a lot of information about a narrow range of restaurants in English and to some extent other non-Japanese languages. So you might understand the frustration about being asked about the same restaurants again and again. This also leads people who have alternatives to "protect" their favorite places because the list is limited and any new place that gets into the echo chamber is like to be overrun (also Japanese restaurants tend to have fewer seats).

When I look at other chowhound boards, you see a lot of people interested in both cheap and mid-range restaurants (in Japan anywhere from 7,000-15,000 yen per person) but you rarely see that here. It's all sushi, a handful of kaseki/washoku places and some single dish request (which amazingly, there is generally a small range of requests about despite a greater willingness from posters here to share more good examples of these types of places).

I generally am not able to respond to requests because people cite and want to compare this narrow range and don't seem interested recommendations for mid-range dining, despite the fact that for the most part, I find the experience equally as satisfying as the times I've been the top places, usually more so. But this last point is subjective on my part as others may enjoy having a more high end experience.

I should also note that my comments are only in general and not based on your particular requests/research posts.

Aug 07, 2014
tigerjohn in Japan
2