Japan is done – oh, the memories
The Japan trip is over and I’m back on American soil, just in time for the world to end. That would be fine, for I will never have to be subjected to that stuff they call “fish” here again – to think my friends called me a sushi snob before.
Meals ran the entire gamut – disgusting, bad, good, great, and unbelievable. I really did not expect the highs to be so high – think two meals in my all-time Top Five high.
If you plan to visit Tokyo, I can not stress enough the importance of buying the Streetwise Tokyo city map – it’s a work of genius that will make everything oh-so-clear. With it, you can get to the block you need to be. The only obstacle at that point is deciphering Kanji in some cases. What is not genius is losing it with two days to go – they don’t sell them in Tokyo!
A second tip – for more obscure restaurants you read about online or in books, bring a picture of the doorway whenever possible. This can get you past the Kanji obstacle. Use Streetwise to get to the right block, hold print-out of doorway in hand, and start comparing. This helped a few more times than you can imagine. I tried taking doorway pics for the upcoming reviews whenever possible.
If you plan to visit Kyoto, Diane Durston’s Old Kyoto: A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns is full of ideas and history for your trip. If you need an inspiration to book that ticket, buy the book – you’ll be on a plane to Kyoto soon. Out of three restaurant suggestions, it only led me astray once; but the real value is in targeting different stores for artisan products.
My one restaurant tip, before the reviews cycle through the blog: Ryugin. It’s beginning to receive more and more press, but it has a conflicted identity that might dissuade some from considering it. The chef made an international name for himself with some zany experiments; however, he has largely abandoned them for the pursuit of a more traditional kaiseki experience. The ingredients I ate there, particularly red snapper from Osaka and wild large eel, were eye-opening, mind-changing, and they might forever spoil me.
Here are a few pictures of various meals to whet the appetite until the reviews come:
Ryugin (Tokyo) – Blue Swimming Crab and Shanghai crab (with roe aplenty!) topped with Chrysanthemum Gelee
Hyotei (Kyoto) – one of the most beautiful bowls I’ve ever seen – this picture does no justice to the color
Yagenbori (Kyoto) – Ayu with roe popping out
Koju (Tokyo) – Three magical pieces of wagyu beef on a gorgeous plate of fall
Sushiso Masa (Tokyo) – Lightly grilled swordfish – one of the best bites of my life, thanks to the layer of fat between the skin and meat.
Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo) – Poor little turtles, too bad you taste so good.
Kasagi-Ya (Kyoto) – Fresh, made-to-order o-hagi, yummmm