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.
8-2-10 Seiwa Silver Building, B1, Ginza
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.
6-35-3 Jingumae Shibuya-ku
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.
1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
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.
5-9-5 Cheers Ginza, 9th Floor, Ginza
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:
6-29-6, Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku
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.
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.