Recently returned from our first trip to Hokkaido, visiting Sapporo and Hakodate. Both were great cities, Sapporo bustling and busy, Hakodate very laid back. We were impressed with the city infrastructure in central Sapporo, underground walkways linked to the JR and subways for deep winter. Not quite as built up as say the Montreal underground but still well thought out and convenient.
In Sapporo we ate at a nearby izakaya Daishyo Suisan where we enjoyed freshly grilled scallops in their shells, three cuts of tuna (akami, chu toro and ohtoro), freshly grilled dried hokke (mackeral) and crab fried rice. The hokke was excellent, a large half fish nicely dried, not salty and grilled to perfection. The fried rice was tasty, fluffy rice not oily at all and full of flavor. A very nice intro to the city. We noticed many izakaya in the area surrounding the central JR station so there are lots to choose from.
The next day was rainy and cold so we made good use of the underground walkways, the entrance at our street was just a couple of steps from our hotel via the Starbucks store attached. By the way Starbucks in Japan has a matcha pudding that my wife is crazy about. They also have great cinnamon buns, soft and delicious unlike any I've had in their Stateside shops.
We walked up to the Esta building which is attached to the station complex and went up to the 10th floor Sapporo Ramen Republic which features about 8 restaurants. We chose Baikohken for their shoyu ramen. For me this was life changing ramen, the best soup I've tasted to date, absolutely excellent!
That night we again went underground to Matsuo for Genghis Khan BBQ, a very popular restaurant filled with what looked like large office groups drinking and feasting after work. We had the basic set meal of lamb cooked over a brazier surrounded by vegetables (beansprout, onion, cabbage, pumpkin) at the bottom of the grill which cook in the meat juices and sauce. Dipped in raw egg like sukiyaki, it was a delicious, hearty and filling meal, perfect with cold Sapporo beer. There are Genghis Khan bbq places all over the city as well
Lunch the next day was in Otaru at Yabuhan, a famous soba-ya a short walk from the main station. Very good tenzaru soba. But be prepared to wait in line here.
Our final meal in Sapporo was at Hanamaru Sushi, a mid range sushi restaurant very popular with locals. Again packed with what looked like office groups seated on the tatami floors with couples seated around the sushi bar. Good sushi, not top tier but good quality and price. Hanamaru also has a kaiten shop near the station with an hour wait to get in at dinner.
Next day we caught the train to Hakodate, first purchasing bento from the Daimaru department store basement adjacent to the station. Lots of different bento and onigiri to choose from, a better selection than the usual ekiben at the station.
Hakodate was rainy, windy and cold our entire visit. A bit disappointing but we made good use of the Japanese baths and massage on the top floor of our hotel. In fact our best meals were breakfast at our hotel, the La Vista Hakodate Bay which was included in our room rate, and is an award winning breakfast buffet. It was fantastic!
The buffet has grills with fresh salmon, squid, octopus and shashimo piled high.The shashimo was excellent, small grilled fish you can eat head to tail. There was also chirashi bowls which could be topped with excellent ikura (not at all salty), raw squid and shrimp. I couldn't believe how much ikura some people piled on, incredible amounts. There were many other simmered items to choose from as well as sanpeijiru, a Hokkaido soup of salt salmon, onion and potato, absolutely delicious. With the usual salads, fruit, breads and western dishes, after eating here we weren't too particular about food the rest of the day.
We did try Ajisan ramen, a famous Hakodate shop for shio ramen. Very good and served quickly after ordering which came piping hot as was their excellent gyoza. Comforting food in the cold, rainy weather.
Our meals in Tokyo included some favorites and several new places for us. one was Konakara in Ochanomizu, a classic neighborhood oden restaurant. Tasty servings of various items like tofu, eggs, bamboo shoots, fishcake in a light tasty stock. It was perfect with beer and sake. Every seat around the 14 seat counter was full so reservations are advised at peak hours.
We also tried Rengatei, the first yoshoku restaurant in Japan established in 1895 I believe. I had the filet katsu which was excellent, better than even Tonki in Meguro which surprised me. Five large pieces of katsu with shredded cabbage and rice made for an great dinner after cocktails at the Ginza Bar High Five, a world famous bar. My wife loved the hayashi beef over rice.
Also memorable was lunch at Yanmo in Omotesando. Grilled saba teishoku for 1,100 JPY was a lunchtime bargain, the best grilled saba I've had in Japan to date. I advise you to get here 15-20 minutes prior to opening to get first seating, otherwise you'll have to line up and wait at least 45 minutes for customers to eat and leave. Well worth seeking out, link attached.