Tokyo

Blog, Food

The “petite pause” from wine articles continues as I start to work on launching my wine education business and the ability to purchase wines I recommend directly from my site. Stay tuned because I have some really amazing wine stuff in the works. For all the sushi “luvahs” out there, this one is for you…

Unfortunately, I don’t speak Japanese. When I travel, I make a concerted effort to learn the basics of another language – hello, please, thank you, etc. – but exchanging pleasantries can only get you so far. If you’re lost in Tokyo and can’t speak the language, a communication quandary is inevitable. Embrace it. One of the highlights of our visit was hitting the tuna market (Tsukiji). Even though it is literally over before the crack of dawn (seriously, we felt bad for those who showed up at 6:30AM because it was over), take advice from Starsky & Hutch, circa 2004, “DO IT.”  It’s a bit of a labyrinth to get to the actual auction and there are no signs saying “tuna market this way.”  When I said “toro” with a questioning intonation in my voice to locals, I got lots of smiles and then pointed in the right direction.

Taxi cab drivers never want to disappoint, so they politely agree that they know where things are. Guess what? In 100% of our experiences over that long weekend, they don’t. Suggestion: If staying in a hotel, have the concierge provide explicit directions for your destination to the taxi driver. Also, there is usually a card available from the hotel that more or less says “I live here.” Keep it with you always.

It’s quite possible that you will be jacked up with jet lag. I found myself in the gym of the hotel at 4AMish in the morning often. I even got to run right next to Nicole Kidman on the treadmill on one of these very mornings. BTW – She wasn’t very kind to the hotel staff or her trainer. Oh no you didn’t, Nicole…. When everyone else was throwing you under the bus during celebrity gossip time, I stuck up for you. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

I digress… Now, let’s get down to the food. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, so prepare yourself for a treat. I LOVE sushi, so when we had the concierge of our hotel book our dining reservations, he thought I was a complete freak show when he saw the number of sushi places I wanted to hit. Here’s the deal when traveling – when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When you visit New Orleans, you don’t go on a diet. So, if you go to Japan, eat the sushi and Japanese cuisine. Suggestion If staying at a hotel, have your concierge tell the restaurant in advance if you have any food allergies (or your degree of tolerance for changing it up). This will prevent any potentially harmful errors in communication.

Sushi Mizutani

8-2-10 Seiwa Silver Building, B1, Ginza
03-3573-5258
3 Michelin stars (2010 and consistently every year) – We went for lunch because that’s the reservation we were able to get. We planned our meals and days around Mizutani. Amazing amazing sushi… the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life! This was truly my favorite Tokyo dining experience. It’s a tiny (10 persons max) restaurant at the basement level of a strip mall, so don’t go for the decor. Chef Mizutani creates works of art on a plate and it’s no wonder that ambitious sushi chefs beg to study under him. We were the only ‘Mericans there and got the very polite extended smiles from the other local foodies who were also savoring Mizutani’s creations with us.

Shigeyoshi

6-35-3 Jingumae Shibuya-ku
03-34004044
2 Michelin Stars (2010 and awarded 1 Michelin star in 2009) – It features traditional Japanese food. The owner (and sometimes their patrons) go out of their way to make you feel at home. They’re impressed that you found their digs and will treat you accordingly. Trust the chef to pick items out for you. We truly enjoyed the food and the warmth of this restaurant.

Peter

03-62702763
1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
www.peninsula.com/Tokyo/en/Dining/Peter/default.aspx
This is the restaurant on top of the Peninsula (café). It has a lovely view of the Imperial Gardens and the city. Go for lunch on a clear day (the prix fixe at lunch wasn’t a bad deal). Or, go in the evening to see the city lights.

Shotai-en (Yakiniku)

5-9-5 Cheers Ginza, 9th Floor, Ginza
03-62745003
I know it’s a chain, but there is a location in Ginza situated right next to a slew of hotels, which made it perfect for the day-of-arrival, jet-lagged traveler. They spoke English very well for the slackers like me who weren’t up to speed on their Japanese. A shout out to the carnivores… it’s Japanese bbq in style with lots of marbled, Kobe beef. It was a total dive, but good.

After dinner drinks:

Volontaire

6-29-6, Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku
03-34008629
What a gem! I can’t wait to go back. The walls are laden with a library of vintage LPs from famous jazz musicians. The proprietress Kyoko Sakanoue is a fabulous hostess and effortlessly cool. It’s a memorable place for an after dinner single malt or bourbon.

Random:

I know this is a wine and food blog, and this is probably not “table” conversation, but I feel I have to comment on the toilets in Tokyo. With spa services for your tushy, including oscillating, massage and dryer features,  it’s a spectacle unlike anything else I’ve seen. These toilets seem to be the standard and are everywhere, from public bathrooms to fancy hotels. The Japanese must feel like the rest of the world’s toilet capabilities are so uncivilized when they travel.

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7 Comments

  1. Great summary! And you definitely read the guidebooks before you went (good for you because we did not and got ourselves into deep trouble). Here are some other tips – cash is very hard to get because our cards didn’t work in the ATMs, so get enough cash from the hotel to get you through in case of emergency. If you venture outside of Tokyo, then cash is definitely harder to find. We went to Kyoto and could not find a single ATM machine. The restaurants did not take credit cards, nor did cabs or many other places. We inevitably ran out of cash and had to walk back to the train station.

    Also, buses from the airport into the city are much cheaper than cabs, and that’s what most people use so they are nice (cabs are in excess of $180 for the trip into the city).

    Japan was an amazing place, and you can definitely enjoy it even more if you learn from the mistakes of others.

  2. Christine says:

    Thanks for your comments, Sus.

    I did a ton of research before we headed to Tokyo. I listed what I thought was the best of our best experiences.

    Agree 100% on the cash and bus bit… We had our hotel book us on the bus to get back to the airport. The buses leave regularly and usually pick you up right from your hotel – a no brainer here. Also, you bring up a very valid point on the cash. Most of the restaurants where we dined were cash only. Get out some Yen when you can.

    You live, you learn…. but maybe others can benefit.

  3. Gen Kanai says:

    Great website and great review. I’ve been in Tokyo and haven’t been to any of the places you enjoyed but hope in the future. What I love about Tokyo is that you can live here for your whole life and still only enjoy a fraction of what’s available. There’s also something about Tokyo having more Michelin stars than NYC and Paris combined? Or is that a rumor?

    Note that for your future trips to Japan, the ATMs at the post offices now work with most foreign ATM cards if they are on the major networks. Some of the conbini stores, 7-11, iirc, are also starting to expand services for some foreign ATM cards.

  4. Gen Kanai says:

    been in Tokyo for many years… is what I meant to say.

  5. Christine says:

    Hi Gen

    Thanks so much for your response. We LOVED Tokyo and can’t wait to go back. We had dinner with some friends this past weekend who went to Japan on their honeymoon and were just as enamored with Tokyo as we were. I find once you mention Tokyo to people who have visited, a floodgate of fabulous experiences is unleashed. Your insight on the ATMs was very helpful as many have shared “looking for Yen” stories. So, thanks for that.

    I had to do more research on the Michelin star post your comment.
    Michelin released its 2010 for New York in Oct. 2009 and Tokyo in Nov. 2009. Their 2010 picks for Paris are expected in March 2010. Here is what I was able to gather:

    2010 Tokyo
    11 3 stars, 42 2 stars and 144 1 star restaurants for a total of 197 restaurants featured (or 261 stars)

    2009 Paris
    10 3 stars, 14 2 stars and 41 1 star restaurants, for a total of 65 restaurants featured (or 99 stars)

    2010 New York
    5 3 stars, 6 2 stars and 44 1 stars, for a total of 55 restaurants featured (or 71 stars)

    so… it’s not a rumor…

    Now, the Frenchies still have bragging rights because, as a country, France had 25 restaurants with 3 stars, vs. 18 for Japan.

  6. Zak says:

    Just read your blog entry on Tokyo. Very curious how the Tsukiji fish market sushi at like Sushi Dai for example, compares to Sushi Mizutani.

  7. Christine says:

    Hi Zak

    Unfortunately, I cannot answer your question from personal experience. We visited the Tsukiji market at such an early hour and it was 2 days into the trip, so I was SEVERELY jet lagged. As a result, my stomach vetoed that idea. However, I do have many friends who went directly to the market post their flight and devoured heaps of sushi. Years later, they still have great things to say.

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