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Sushi, Kaiseki, High-end Dining (again...) [Tokyo, Kyoto, other...] - Beware, long post !


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Sushi, Kaiseki, High-end Dining (again...) [Tokyo, Kyoto, other...] - Beware, long post !

Rio Yeti | | Jan 22, 2012 05:58 AM

Here it is the dreadful post, the naive newbie post, the eager to suck up as much knowledge from the regular japan hounds post.
I've been posting quite regularly on the France board, and am now starting to plan my first trip to Japan in September 2012 (about one month where me and my girlfriend plan on staying mostly in Tokyo, visiting Kyoto and probably some other “nature-oriented” peaceful place). I've done a bunch of research and will probably continue to do so until the day I'm heading to the airport.
I'll come back later probably asking about Ramen, Yakitori, Nabe, Kobe beef etc. but I'm so full of questions I'd rather take things methodically and start with this post about Sushi, Kaiseki and High-end dining.

Now as I implied, I live in Paris France, meaning pretty much that all the sushi I ate here was bad. I could argue that even in the “bad” spectrum there still is some “not so bad” emerging, but since I ate in San Diego at Kaito Sushi ( I now know what I've been missing (or do I ?).

- Sushi:
I don't want to have a sushi overdose while in Japan because I'm well aware of all the other incredible food I'll be able to taste. So basically I want one great, life-altering, spirituality invoking omakase sushi experience (basically...), and one sushi breakfast at Tsukiji.

Right now I've settled on Sushi Saito, I was in between Saito and Sawada but apparently Sawada is more expensive, and at this level I doubt the difference is that obvious to the untrained sushi palate, please correct me if I'm wrong. Talking about price, I found a bunch of different sources about Sushi Saito with prices ranging from 20,000¥ to 40,000¥ per person... does the price vary depending on seasons/ingredients ? Or is one price right and the other wrong ? Planning my dining options will unfortunately have to take into consideration budget, so I really hope I can get a correct idea of the prices of the places I want to visit.
Is sushi traditionally eaten at lunch or dinner ? Will choosing one over the other influence the price/quality/diversity ? Is there a better time of the week to eat at Sushi Saito (I know, silly question, but sometimes places get different ingredients depending on the day...) ?

For the Tsukiji market, I'll go on a weekday and go to whichever has the shortest line between Sushi Dai, Daiwa Sushi, and Sushi Bun. I know I can have better or same quality sushi without a line if I go a bit further, but I've wanted to have a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji since long before I even actually considered really going to Japan.

- Kaiseki:
I understand kaiseki is a specialty of Kyoto. So of course I would like to have a full kaiseki/ryokan experience, maybe just staying one night at the ryokan and then a couple more nights in a cheaper place. Of course from what I can tell Gora Kadan is a dream place but it is too expensive for me... Hiiragiya and Hiiragiya annexe are still expensive but less so (especially the annexe), so I'm gearing towards this Ryokan right now... The annexe is cheaper with more modest rooms, but does anybody know if the food is any different between the two ? Also, I don't quite get the reservation system, as you don't choose the room, but the price you want to spend from 15,000 to 26,000 yen at the annexe and from 32,000 to 90,000 yen at the main building. Does that mean I can put whatever price I chose in-between those numbers ? And do they have a precise way of allocating the rooms based on the price or is it a sort of bidding system ? Can someone explain ?
I've also read interesting things about Nishiki as a mid-price great kaiseki, but from what I could tell you cannot spend the night there. Would Nishiki be interesting if I decide to stay at one of the Hiiragiya, or is it only interesting if I stay in a cheaper ryokan with not so great food ?

- High-end dining:
If I go to Sushi Saito AND stay one night at Hiiragiya, my budget would touch its limit (unless something unexpected happens job-wise, never know I work freelance). But taking into consideration the help I hope I'll get with my previous questions, I may decide otherwise.
In that case 2 restaurants have really rang my bell pretty hard, and that's Ryugin and Aronia, you see I'm very interested in modern (or modernist) gastronomy so those restaurants have really captured my attention. Now for the tricky question (because obviously everyone can have a different opinion on the subject): will the experience eating at one of these restaurants be more unique for me (french guy) than eating at a high-end sushi or kaiseki restaurant ?
Obviously having great sushi and kaiseki is unique to Japan, but do you think I should lower my budget for those two types of cuisine to be able to squeeze in one of the two contemporary ones ? Or do you think that the experience at Ryugin or Aronia would be closer to something I can have closer to home (Mugaritz, Noma, Fat duck...) and therefore I should stick with my choices for sushi and kaiseki ?

Wheeew... that was long, I'm sorry about this, I hope you had the courage to read it all and then maybe give me a few answers. I also hope I haven't asked questions already asked (I swear I've searched chowhound for hours before writing this post !).
Thank you all.