2008 – what does the future hold?
Tokyo / Kyoto / Hokkaido
A 10-14 day trip is in order to finally explore one of my favorite cuisines. My friends call me a sushi snob, and I’ve eaten at many of the important Japanese restaurants in this country, but my knowledge of Japanese cuisine is certainly at a nascent stage.
Some questions / topics I hope to explore:
Just how good is Japanese sushi? And the quality of their raw fish?
I’ve limited myself in the past year to only eating at America’s best sushi/sashimi restaurants – Urasawa, Sawa, Kuruma Zushi, and Sushi Yasuda (no Masa this past year.) How does the quality of Sawa and Kuruma’s fish compare to Tokyo’s best? Is this magic of a Sushi Yasuda nigiri commonplace in the back alleys of Tokyo? Can Urasawa’s reverence for food and ingredient place among the best of Japan? When I discuss America’s best places, the common response is always “go to Japan.” The subtext of that comment often is, at worst, the continuing Japanese fetish found in America; and, at best, a truly informed point of view. Where does my reality lie?
How are Western fine dining trends manifesting themselves in Japanese cuisine?
I won’t be qualified to answer this question definitively but how, if at all, have the Spanish influenced traditional Japanese techniques in places like Ryu-gin? And, before them, how much French technique has infiltrated the best restaurants?
What do these mythical ingredients taste like?
We Americans, as said above, certainly have a fetish for the foreign; so much so, that the tales of some ingredients take on mythical properties. What does a sliver of A12-5 Kobe beef taste like? How sweet and creamy is fresh Hokkaido sea urchin? How much better does high-end toro taste in Japan, since it is theoretically fresher?
Can I get into the very best places?
Despite the arrival of the Michelin guide in Tokyo, the city’s best restaurants are off-limits to the gajin. Some restaurants, even a three star or two, have multiple locations where the original, and usually best, are by referral only. And, from what I hear, they don’t take kindly to strangers. Can I crack the code?
Finally, where should I eat?
My initial research has unearthed these selections:
- Sukiyabashi Jiro (Tokyo) – three-star sushi with two locations. The trick is getting into Ginza, and not Roppongi.
- Hamadaya (Tokyo) – 90 year old restaurant serving seasonal foods.
- Ryugin (Tokyo) – experimental Japanese with nods to Mugaritz.
- Kyubey (Tokyo) – one-star sushi that is purported to be nearly as good as Sukiyabashi.
- Rakutei (Tokyo) – no stars but potentially a benchmark for tempura.
- Oshima (Tokyo) – one of the main places to go for beef in Tokyo.
- Kozue (Tokyo) – modern kaseiki.
- Kikunoi (Kyoto) – best kaseiki in Kyoto?
London / Paris / Brittany / Copenhagen
What would a year be without a trip to Paris? Despite the Fed’s best attempt to de-value our dollar, I must visit Europe. The main purpose of this jaunt is to visit two restaurants – Noma and Roellinger. Both restaurants have captured my imagination – a potentially dangerous thing in the past.
- The Sportsman (UK) – a man and a woman, their pub, and their attempt to create everything they serve, including the butter and salt. See pictures of a wonderful meal here.
- Le Meurice (Paris) – a focus on seafood and iodization. Read the Luxeat review.
- Roellinger (Brittany) – a story of the sea. Read the Julotlespinceaux review.
- Noma (Copenhagen) – verygoodfood has written about too many great meals.
My excitement with New York dining has declined but I would like to try a few meals over the year.
- Bouley – I would like to finally re-visit this restaurant and see how it rates compared to my last impressive visit.
- Rosanjin – there’s a dearth of reviews but it will be interesting to compare this to Urasawa, Sugiyama, and my meals from the fore-mentioned Japan trip. Read the CountryEpicure review.
- Masa – it’s insanely expensive but I would like to re-try it.
- Tailor – I recently ate here, sans notes and camera, but the food measured up to WD-50 on a good day. I would like to do a proper review.
- Momofuku Ko – both Momofuku restaurants are favorites of mine and it will be interesting to see how it translates to a more ambitious menu.
My goal for the base of operations is to try a few other higher-end places:
- Aqua – does it really warrant two Michelin stars?
- Marinus – Michelin overlooked the restaurant but the chef has a commitment to very local ingredients.
- Auberge du Soleil – chef Robert Curry has an impressive resume.
- And a few Manresa, Ubuntu, Quince, and Urasawa visits.
The Rest of America
There are a few places I just need to try:
- McCrady’s (Charleston)
- Komi (DC)
- Blue Stem (Kansas City)
It’s a financially ambitious schedule that I hope to keep. If you have further suggestions, please provide them in the comments.