2008 Itinerary

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.

New York
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)
  • re-visit
  • Alinea

It’s a financially ambitious schedule that I hope to keep. If you have further suggestions, please provide them in the comments.

- chuck

  • http://davegreten.typepad.com Dave G

    “financially ambitious”

    ha! that’s one way to put it :-)

  • C

    Chuck, seriously, your not having visited Italy is becoming a glaring, gaping hole in your culinary and travel portfolio. Copenhagen over Italy? Eeesh!

    The only Japan comment I’d have is that you should make time in the morning to actually visit the fish market (the famous one).

  • Per

    Hi there!

    Have to say that i really like your page..
    The comment about Italy vs Denmark is maybe the traditional point of view….. but it must be said, Rene and his crew at NOMA is cooking some unique food.
    It´s really fun to see that small Scandinavia can match a lot of top notch restaurants if you compare what is served on the plate. When you are in the nearby, take a visit to Oaxen krog ( http://www.oaxenkrog.se ) in the outskirts of Stockholm if you want to try one of Swedens bests chefs. I would say that you have around 10 restaurants that really match high ranked european ones only in Sweden.
    Now for the reason that i started writing this comment. Spent a month travelling in Japan this summer and yes, the fishmarket is truly awesome and the sushirestaurants on the market area opens at 05:00 in early morning. Aim for the place with most people outside.
    The fish standard was really good in the places we tried.
    The japanese sushi is traditional, i believe that the only “new style” sushi we had was at Nobu and at a place called Nobu creative sushi ( nothing to do with Matsuhisa ) in Hiroshima. And the prices is really good compared for the quality.

    Have fun and keep eating :)

    Best regards


  • ChuckEats

    yes, C, you’re right – Tsukiji will definitely be in the mix. italy will come in due time.

  • http://shortexact.com Eric

    Based on what I’ve sampled here in the States, Hokkaido uni is not actually that sweet compared to Santa Barbara, but is more nuanced. In any case, you’ll have to tell us what it’s like fresh from Hokkaido.

    The 2008 itinerary sounds great. I especially look forward to the Japan posts, as it’s been a long personal dream of mine to visit Japan and go to Tsukiji early in the morning. So hurry up and get over there! :-)

  • ChuckEats

    interesting Eric. my one and only taste of hokkaido uni was at Morimoto in NYC, nearly 2 years ago. it may have been an exceptional piece, but it was much creamier and sweeter. from what i can remember, i haven’t had it anywhere else (everyone else, of course, serving Santa Barbara uni.)

    regardless, yes, i can’t wait :)

  • http://QuintessentialCuisine.Blogspot.com/ QUINTESSENTIAL C U I S I N E©

    … My friends call me a sushi snob … (Oh! Really,–LOL– and you certainly are! That’s why we all love you.)

    Mine call me a SNABB too, but because I drive a Saab Turbo, hehehe)

    We all envy your travels and ability to eat such wonderful things at the best restaurants in the world. I’ve never been to the Asian side of the world but I’d only want to try “Fugu liver” to see what that’s about??

    In Baltimore we have to eat some strange sushi by Korean — Hong Kong (link) — QUINTESSENTIAL C U I S I N E©: ~~ HONG KONG SUSHI…Maryland Style ~~ and the other day a sushi chef from Bali. I think he tried to serve us some lethal “alley cat” from the dumpster. He called it Fugu cause we were not feeling well afterwards … and we thought we’d die when we got home.

    I understand it [Fugu liver] gives you a numb tongue and lips and that’s what you learn to crave about Fugu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugu

    Fugu contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin in the internal organs, especially the liver and ovaries, and also the skin. Therefore, only specially licensed chefs are allowed to prepare and sell fugu to the public, and the consumption of the liver and ovaries is forbidden. ~~”THE LIVER AND OVARIES ARE FORBIDDEN”~~ MAKES ME WANT IT EVEN MORE!

    You just keep taking those great photographs and telling those great tales.


  • Pingback: Dining with Chuck « very good food

  • http://verygoodfood.wordpress.com Trine

    Chuck, do you know about this Japanese (/French) site http://shizuokagourmet.wordpress.com/?

  • ChuckEats

    i do now :)

  • http://shizuokagourmet.wordpress.com/ Robert-Gilles Martineau (ロベル)

    Dear Chuck!
    Thank you for visiting my blog!
    Just have posted an article on vegetarian sushi (all local products in Shizuoka Prefecture. Definitely helthier, cheaper and more authentic!) which might interest you.
    Great blog!
    Expect me to visit and comment regularly!
    Robert-Gilles (FRench expat in Japan)

  • ChuckEats

    welcome Robert-Gilles, i look forward to your comments (and reading your blog)

  • D. Gordon

    This is very helpful — we’re planning a honeymoon in Japan in May, and you’re doing all of the leg work for us. Question, though — I can’t seem to find anything on the web about Oshima in Tokyo for beef, do you have a link?


  • Paul

    Good luck in trying to get into those Japanese 2*/3* star Michelin Restaurants Chuck because your going to need it Lol, personaly speaking i would not want to eat in a restaurant were i was not welcome just because i was a gajin know matter how good the food is, and it amazes me that this still goes on in this modern age i mean could you imagine the media out cry if say Gordon Ramsay or Heston Blumenthal decided to ban the Japanese tourists from there particular restaurant’s beacuse they did not want to serve Asians, the media would try to hang them from the nearest tree IMO, P.S you should like the Sportsman pub because there food is just as delicious as those Flickr pictures, also they just got there first Michelin Star yestarday as well.

  • ChuckEats

    i’ve read the horror stories Paul but i’m prepared to brave the waters. and, yes, i saw the good news on the Sportsman!

  • http://www.alifewortheating.com Aaron

    definitely keep kyubey

  • http://www.alifewortheating.com Aaron

    tokuya ukai was also nice

  • http://www.luxeat.com Luxeat

    Hi Chuck,

    when are you going to Japan? We are planning to go there in March….



  • http://www.luxeat.com Luxeat

    P.S. I have been in Aqua in San Francisco(i guess you speak about the same restaurant) last September and wouldn’t even recommend “as a good decent restaurant” , not speaking about the two stars… But maybe it was just my bad choices…

  • ChuckEats

    Aiste, Japan is Apr/May or Sep – not sure yet. Aqua is 5 blocks from my apartment – I figure I could try it for lunch sometime.

    - chuck

  • http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-0213schwafeb13,1,2276412.story Bruce F

    If you visit Chicago, try to get a table at Schwa.


    I’ve been going there since he opened. A Huge talent……..