just got back from 7 nights in tokyo. thought i'd share some notes from my meals there.
=== kaiseki ===
hirosaku - dinner
i was the only diner here this evening, which made for an enjoyable evening watching the husband+wife couple cook for (just) me. they spoke zero english, and i speak zero japanese. but they were enthusiastic in showing me, and even having me smell, some of the raw ingredients.
some of the unique things:
sashimi that had been frozen, then thawed just enough to give it a unique texture.
i'd probably only return for dinner if i was with a friend who spoke japanese and knew food, as i suspect some of the details were lost on me.
final course was a choice of unagi on rice or some other dishes -- i don't think soba was an option.
quoted price was 35k yen. total price was 37k with sake and water.
they gave me a hand-written list of the dishes at the end of the meal.
overall, a great meal, though i'd probably be more impressed if i hadn't had a very similar experience at the same place for lunch the next day at 1/3 the price.
hirosaku -- lunch
~10 courses. memorable dishes included:
thinly sliced vegetables with caviar
clear soup with abalone
fig and mango with gelee
overall a really excellent value at 13k yen (this was the most expensive menu offered at lunch -- there were other menus from 2600 yen.) fantastic food, great atmosphere+service. i'd return for lunch anytime.
over my past four trips, i've tried 10 high-end kaiseki meals in tokyo and kyoto. i'd rank this #1, with hirosaku lunch and kanda tied for #2. that said, the dishes at this place are bare-bones minimalism, even by japanese standards -- and prices top end. alongside 7chome kyoboshi, this is my favorite restaurant in japan. the menu was:
white fish sashimi - cut into thick "threads"
abalone - liver was served alongside, in a solid form.
unagi on rice
sword fish sashimi
hamo clear soup
scampi / lobster
wheat noodles - best pickles i've had
mochi-type thing - good, interesting dessert
the ayu, hamo and unagi were all noticeably better here than at hirosaku. when making reservations, i was offered choice of 23k, 30k, or 35k yen. i chose 35k -- no idea what the difference in menus was. if it was just the scampi/lobster, i probably wouldn't pay the premium for it again. total bill with one order of sake and a lot of water was 43k yen. i'd like to try their lower priced menu on a future visit.
=== sushi ===
i liked the appetizers a lot more than the sushi. i though the sushi rice was a little bit too firm for my taste.
crab with uni and gelee -- very good
octopus -- easily the best i've ever had
abalone in liver sauce, then with rice -- awesome. favorite abalone in japan.
sardine (or anchovy -- not sure) maki -- awesome, interesting
prawn nigiri -- noticeably larger and more plump than at mizutani
i didn't understand why there was no o-toro, just maguro and chu-toro. didn't particularly like the flavor of the miso soup at the end.
overall, i liked this a lot more than sushiso masa, but not quite as much as mizutani. to be fair, though, i had a very sore throat, so chewing and swallowing each piece was an exercise in pain management. i'd like to return, but probably only after trying other top sushi spots. though the octopus, abalone and sardine make me want to return a lot sooner...
this is my favorite sushi i've tried. i liked the quiet atmosphere. also much preferred the rice here over yoshitake. definitely order the sake -- i didn't, but a neighbor shared a bit with me -- fantastic. no particular standouts -- everything seemed pretty even and balanced.
=== tempura ===
so, in a nutshell, i think last trip's visit to 7chome kyoboshi has forever ruined me for tempura, as i didn't particularly love either of the two i tried.
overall i thought the vegetables too big for the delicate batter, so the vegetable overwhelmed the batter. certainly not bad, but with all the dining options in tokyo, i probably wouldn't return. bill was 12k yen with beer and 2 kinds of sake.
salad was very good, with an interesting mix of greens and a nice sesame dressing.. chef was very very friendly. there were also some very interesting cuts of fish presented. but the batter was a bit too greasy, a bit too salty, and not crispy enough for my taste. bill was ~12k yen with beer and sake.
=== beef ===
corn soup -- nothing special. basically corn in hot milk.
smoked salmon in the salad was good -- a bit wetter and stronger in both salmon and smoke flavor than the also very good dry-smoked salmon at my local swan's oyster depot in sf.
steak - honestly, i found this steak to be disgusting and i had a hard time finishing it. maybe wagyu steaks are an acquired tasted, but i really didn't enjoy this, and felt sick the rest of the day. after this meal all i felt like doing was taking a nap (which i did.) vegetables were fine, nothing special. this steak definitely could have used some starch -- i would have killed for a baked potato. the couple slices of mediocre french bread really weren't enough.
coffee -- not enough to make me feel good.
i had the lunch special -- 300g for 22k yen all in. reasonably priced, i thought. unfortunately, i found eating this much ultra-fatty beef in steak form just gross. is it an acquired taste? i don't know.
i honestly loved this place. randomly stumbled in here on a sunday night after wandering around akihabara (couldn't resist the huge cow sign). went up to the 7th floor and ordered a 99k yen shabu set.
appetizers -- nothing fancy, but nonetheless very good
beef -- awesome. this is how japanese beef was meant to be eaten. delicious. interesting. nothing like shabu i've had in sf (made from non-fatty US beef.)
ice cream + tea -- also very good
after the meal i had just the right amount of i-just-ate-something-really-fatty feeling.
room and service were definitely nothing special, though the view was nice. i'll definitely explore more shabu and sukiyaki places n future trips to japan, and wouldn't hesitate to return here.
beef on rice grab+go
2k yen - awesome. 2'nd favorite beef in tokyo
at new otani
tried their 3k yen spaghetti with japanese beef. good, but not necessarily any better than versions made with less expensive us beef. the soft poached egg on top was certainly high quality, but made the dish too rich imo. the bread was great. space was nothing special -- could have been any hotel restaurant in the us.
=== italian / french ===
100g japanese beef with peppercorn sauce (6k yen) -- overall, the beef was good, though i didn't really prefer this to similar dishes made with american beef.
tagliatelle with veal sauce and a japanese vegetable - very good
rum baba - very good
homemade bread - good
overall, but very solid food for a very reasonable price in charming setting with great service. i don't think the food was better than what can be found in sf for a similar price, but the inclusion of japanese vegetables in the dishes made it interesting.
i'd definitely return, and try more starters, pastas and desserts.
had the 'feast of 3 emperors' menu at 25k yen.
homemade bread - excellent
lobster - okay
foie gras 3 emperors - very good
green soup - excellent
fish on vegetables - good
duck - excellent
dessert - excellent
standouts were the bread and the duck, which were at about the same level i'd expect from a top paris spot. interesting that not too many tables were drinking wine. i'd return, but order duck, the game pie, and a dessert a la carte
at the imperial hotel
had the 'queen elizabeth ii' menu at 10k yen.
homemade bread - great
ham and melon - great. better melon than at sembikiya
consomme - just okay
prawn and sole with sauce (don't remember name -- a specialty) - awesome
prime rib - good, though not better than i can get in sf.
peach melba - just okay
overall, i really liked this place. i'd return, and order their specialties a la carte. san francisco doesn't really have classic french restaurants like this.