After weeks of research on Chowhound and many Google menu translations we were still very concerned as we do not speak any Japanese. Not to worry, we ate wonderful, interesting meals, were in awe of the variety and, diversity of the food and of the helpfulness of everyone we met. Most of the restaurants we went to were small (12 or so seats).
We went to Nishiki Market in Kyoto and enjoyed seeing the fish, produce and other shops but we were blown away by the depachicas (basement food halls) in the department stores (Misukoshi, Daimaru, Takashimaya) in each city. The variety, diversity, presentation and quality of the food was outstanding and the venues were huge. We bought "take-out" and snacked in our hotel room. Do not miss visiting at least one!
TSUKIJI Market-You need to be there on time for the tuna auction (5 AM). There are two groups of 60 people a day. Wear sneakers and jeans as it is a working market. After the auction we walked to SUSHI DAI and waited 1-1/2 hours, there's always a line and after all we were wide awake with jet lag anyway. The sushi was good and we enjoyed the “braided sardine”. Our chef spoke English and was very welcoming.
FUKU- yakitori (skewers) located in a family-type neighborhood in the Shibuya area. (It was off the beaten path so follow the directions below.) The chef and waiters were amused to find us visiting Americans there. There is an English translation of the menu and one of the waiters, Suzuki, spoke English and explained the specials.The highlights were okra, onigiri (triangle shaped- rice balls), shiitakes stuffed with chicken, chicken meatballs. Directions: Go to the Yoyogi Uehara station. Walk out the east exit going through the arcade. Make a left at the cd store. Go down the hill one block, make a right at the flower shop. The restaurant is a minute or so up the street on the left. It has a dark sandstone colored facade.
HORTENSIA-Fraponese(French-Japanese) Elegant but located in the basement of a hi-rise. Fabulous fusion meal!!! Beautiful, artistic presentations. Raw tuna wrapped in pickled green cabbage with tapenade smear and paprika cream, pink peppercorns; warm fois gras atop lichee with pea-spinach puree; pictaresque lobster terrine served with lobster soup; duck magret with cassis sauce. Tables with tablecloth and silverware. Excellent service, food was as good or better than meals we've had at Daniel or Jean Georges in NYC.
NARUTOMI– soba- small place in business area- best for lunch. No English menu but the chef/owner spoke English and directed us as to what to eat. Very simple fresh food. Cold soba noodles, vegetable and fish tempura and tempura fish with separate the “curled” spine.
TENYU- tempura-Bitter greens appetizer, miso soup, tempuras of: crab, small prawn with head, corn kernels, eel, eggplant, onion, sea urchin in nori (really good/interesting). Tempuras very light,delicate and greaseless. Peach and plum in gelatin for dessert.
ROAN KIKUNOI- went for lunch kaseiki meal. All about simplicity, exquisite presentation, taste and texture. Here is a copy of our basic menu
Hassun (appetizers) Small Japanese taro, brook shrimp, salted Tai, Edamame,
marinated fish, sea eel liver, Shimaazi (yellow-jack) sushi
Tai (red sea bream), baby tuna, yellow leek, curled cucumber, wasabi
Soup: Yuba, Mibuna ( Tofu “Skin” (skimmed off top of boiled tofu milk ) and Japanese green leaf
Salad: Kamonasu (Kyoto eggplant) with light soy sauce gel and Japanese ginger
Tempura: Prawn, sweet potato, eggplant, corn
Rice with tai and ginger, Japanese pickles (kombo, seaweed, cucmber, daikon)
Dessert: Warabimochi (bracken-starch dumpling) soybean flour ice cream
KANI DORI– Looks totally touristy with a humongous crab over the facade, but the all-crab menu was of good quality and variety. Large place, cook your own and a totally fun experience.
WANAKA – fun snack, fast food hole in the mall - octopus balls (tacayoki)