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Japan trip report May 2018

Belkisw | May 19, 201812:54 AM

Here are my foodie notes from our three week trip to Japan earlier this month. As you will see, I essentially tried to have us eat one of each time of Japanese cuisine once, and then a few thing more than once, like sushi, udon and ramen.

Takamatsu

We came here as the launching point for two days in Naoshima (I would only recommend it if you are staying in the museum hotel, otherwise the whole trip I think is not worth the journey), Inujima (by far the coolest of the three), and Teshima.

Sushi Tomo- Nice place, friendly and young chef, and the hostess spoke basic English. Small space with seating for 8 people. Decent sake selection. You can select sushi and sashimi omakase, or just sushi, which is what we went for. The sushi rice is seasoned with red vinegar, and had a very nice flavour and temperature I thought. Some strong bites, including delicious clam, geoduck, and a delicious monkfish liver dish. All around a good meal.

Teuchi Udon Mugizo- We had a delicious lunch here, arriving right when it opened at 11am. We got a small portion of udon cold, with dipping sauce, and the side of fried chicken. The udon were the perfect consistency, with their springy bite, and the friend chicken was just so juicy and crispy and the batter was light as air- best noodle texture of the trip. Well worth making this the one udon meal you have while in Takamatsu (and it has a 3.68 on tabelog which is the highest rated udon place in town). They have no English menu and nobody who speaks English, you have to show them a picture of what you want to order unless you speak Japanese. (best place for pictures of their food is on tablelog).

Osaka

Okonomiyaki at Yakizen was delicious, not quite Hiroshima level but almost.

We wanted some kushikatsi so came to Wasabi. First off, very cool to see a female chef- a first for me to see in Japan. Yummy skewers, interesting combos, but not sure how much this type of food can be elevated. Still, a very enjoyable meal.

Shimada sake store- go to the basement and explore their dozens of bottles by the glass. A great experience, and we left 6kg heavier, ladened with bottles of quiet unique sakes. They only take cash for the tasting and purchases of bottles. If you do not want to carry around bottles, they can send it to your last destination within Japan.

Koyasan

You eat the meals offered at your temple lodging, but for us a fun highlight was to use the coupons we got when we booked the special tourist roundtrip train ticket to pick up the range of delicious little sweets scattered throughout the town.

Kyoto

Okaraiba- we came here at the recommendation of chowhounders, but the moment I saw the tabelog rating vs the tripadvisor one (and lonely planet review) I was concerned. If you are trying not to waste an entire meal over the course of your Japan trip, I would not recommend coming here. It’s a smoky bbq lodge but the main pork item doesn’t taste porky or gamey, more of char that stays in the back of your throat and ruins anything else you eat for the rest of the night. And the rest of the meal was ok, not exciting. The one major misstep of the trip. A silver lining- it’s quasi open bar with a good selection of sakes.

Yamamotomenzo- We got the original, with spicy soup and burdock tempura, and a side of the chicken tempura with extra curry salt. While delicious, I firmly believe that to appreciate the noodle, you should have the noodles cold with dipping sauce. So it was a great bowl of soup, with a perfect egg yolk in there, and dipping the tempura in was lovely, but if I had time to return, I would get the cold noodles, because his noodles are great. The spicy soup flavour was delicious, as was the burdock and chicken. I would say that it was not the best udon I have had, maybe because I got it hot. Best one I had was in Takamatsu, the Home of udon. Make sure to get there by 10:15, because it says it opens at 11, but it seemingly opens earlier and by 10:30 you already have quite a line- we waited about one hour at that time.

Giro Giro Hitoshina- big letdown. The entire meal lasted 1 hour, from start to finish, with pacing that was way too fast. Only two dishes (their version of the tempura dish and the dessert) were very good, as well as the rice and pickle course which was tasty and very unique, the rest were ok or downright not good. Because they are keeping the price so low, they do mass plating, and I think the idea is high turnover, so as to be able to charge that little. The effect is that for example, the sashimi dish is pre-cut, etc. And just a note and not necessarily a bad thing, but this is the first restaurant on our trip where the guests were majority not Japanese.

Ogawa Soba- good, not the best soba I have had though despite the high rating on tabelog. Don’t get the duck broth version if you want cold soba cold dipping sauce. It looks like it comes cold, but the broth is actually hot. Regular dipping sauce with yam was tasty. And an appetizer of the burnt miso was nice and interesting.

Hyoto Kyoto- Fantastic shabu shabu, best I have ever had. The pork is good, the beef is excellent, and the beef sirloin is out of this world. Go here, just get the simple shabu shabu menu (you dont need all the extra courses like appetizer, sashimi, etc) and plan on getting extra veggie and meat portions.
Gogyo Ramen- definitely the most unique ramen I have ever had. We got one burnt miso and one burnt soy sauce, and they were both good, the miso one slightly better. Get the cucumber sesame starter.
Yoramu sake bar- I visited him a few years ago, and now came back to find his disdain for well, basically everything, has increased to the point that it is very hard to enjoy your night. Any question you ask and his response will make clear that he thinks you are a moron for having asked. Nonetheless, his Sake selection is stellar.

Miyoshi- this was our one wagyu meal of the trip. Overall a great meal, though exceedingly expensive (with a few costs that were not made clear to us). Quality of the meat and range of dishes was fantastic. Had the best tomato dish of my life.

Arashiyama

Tempura Matsu- outstanding, one of the top ten meals of my life. Make sure to book at the chef’s counter, and get the most expensive menu option. Stunning!

Shouraian- amazing and serene place, delicious tofu, and the wagyu course means that even people who don’t love tofu will leave happy. The highlights for me were the tofu skin, the tempura course, the agedashi tofu, and the tofu tiramisu for dessert. This place is a little slice of heaven. Make sure to book well in advance and ask for a private room.

Uji

Mogmog bakery- Get the muffin with match, and the bun type thing with cream inside- both were delicious

Matcha Republic- Get the matcha latte with rock salt cheese on ice- sounds odd, but is insanely delicious. And if you are in the mood for some gorgeous ceramic purchases, check out their collection of Shiga pieces in the vitrines in the back of the shop.

Kanazawa

Taheizushi - Relaxed atmosphere and lovely chef and waiters in a pub style setting. His sushi was very interesting in terms of what fish and shellfish you could get, but also in that he didn’t use soy sauce, barely any wasabi, but instead a combination of large sea salt grains and lemon, and very low ratio of rice to fish. The two best dishes were his “hot seafood” dishes, one almost like a risotto with melted blowfish that was fantastic.

Mekumi- This was stunning. A seven seater, at a wooden counter that is over 400 years old, that the restaurant sands down every single day. We went for both the sake and tea pairing, both fantastic and led me to have one of the most unique sakes and teas of my life. The progression of the meal was perfect. A steamed abalone sashimi to die for, as was a nigiri of blackthroat seaperch. I didn’t like his rice, quite starchy and I could not taste the vinegar. His nori was fantastic, as was his ginger and wasabi. A couple there from Tokyo told us they had come all the way just for the meal, and in their view he is the best sushi chef in Japan- an accolade I can understand. The chef’s demeanour is lovely, very humble and approachable and even has a Japanese-English translation devise he uses to describe the dishes. One critique is that he is a man’s man- didn’t make eye contact with me once, only with my husband. And if I spoke to him, he would only answer to my husband. He behaved the same with all the other women dining there, ignoring them completely for their male partners.

Takaosanguchi

Ukaitoriyama Restaurant- Stunning location and a lovely way to spend the afternoon, after a hike up Mount Takao, but the food… they bring you very good quality chicken, but you cook it yourself and invariably burn it. The entire place smells of burnt chicken wafting from each hut when you leave. But a really fabulous location, enough so that I think the culinary flaws are easily forgiven.

Tokyo

Oroji- fantastic katsu curry, well worth the way, the meat is so tender and perfectly crisp, the curry is lovely. All around delicious. We waiting about 45 mins before being seated and another 20 or so to get our food.

Isetan food court- such a fun way to grab lunch before the train, you will find anything your heart desires.

Okonomiyakikiji at Tokyo station- yummy but not at the level of the great places in Osaka or Hiroshima. Does the trick but I would not go out of my way to eat here.

Nanachome Kyoboshi/7 chome Kyoboshi- this ranks as one of the best meals I have ever had. The perfection, simplicity, elegance is unparalleled in my culinary life history. I cried early on in the meal from the sheer joy, and sensory overload, and will remember that meal for the rest of my life. I came out of it just feeling so blessed/lucky that in my lifetime I get to experience this meal once. I would easily come all the way back to Japan just for a second meal there, particularly in the winter or autumn because of the type of fresh produce available during these seasons.

Nodaiwa- we had the smallest menu, with the smallest size of unaju. The eel was fatty, tender, very tasty, and not over sauced. All in all a nice meal, though the place is quite old and stuffy. One excellent part of the meal- the dessert was an umeshu jelly that was outstanding.

Narisawa- The service and presentation are stunning, the place is beautiful, and the sake pairing is also very good (despite the choice for the main kobe beef, which I really didnt think worked). The food… is hit and miss. Some dishes suffer from being too conceptual, without enough flavor to bring them home, others just aren't that tasty. Two or three of the dishes though were very good, and overall we spent a lovely evening here.

Sumibi Yakiniku Nakahara- Outstanding, beyond belief Yakiniku. Go for the most expensive menu and enjoy each course from beginning to end.

NOODLES IN TOKYO

Tamawarai- we got on line at 11, half an hour before it opened, and between the line and waiting at our table only got our food at 1pm. Had the plain cold which was good, the herring and radish- too much radish but the herring was delicious, and then finally the cold soba with tofu that was by far the best, even for my husband who doesn’t like tofu. Good soba, but not sure it’s good enough to wait that long. We also had the baked miso which was lovely, and the omelette which quite watery.

Yabu Soba- so delicious, really kicked the butt of the noodles at Tamawarai in my opinion. I got the noodles cold, just with some dipping sauce and wasabi, and a side of the shrimp tempura which was also great. I got a chawanmushi as well, good but not too exciting. My hubby got the mixed veggie tempura which was nice- nothing fantastic. Another big advantage of Yabu Soba is that the restaurant is much bigger (seats around 40) and thus you will not have to wait as long.

Maruka- Fantastic udon, up there with the best in Takamatsu (I prefered the springiness pf the noodles in the place we went to in Takamatsu but the taste of the noodles is by far the best here). We got cold noodles in cold soup, which was nice, and then even better were the cold noodles with egg and spring onions and cold noodles with egg and yam. We also got a hot noodle, egg, pepper and butter dish- absolutely delicious, tasted like a very good carbonara minus the bacon. Of course when you have the noodles hot you do not get to appreciate their texture quite as much, but oh that bowl was delicious. As a side we got the chicken tempura (not great and a far cry from the quality at other top udon places) and the fish cake tempura (so delicious).

Fuunji Ramen- the noodles have the perfect bite, and with that dipping sauce are just perfect. All you need to do is order the special tsukumen and the toppings, including egg already come with it. The line is long but it moves very quickly, and the ramen are well worth the wait.

Kagari Echika fit Ginza- Best ramen I had all trip- the slices of chicken are outstanding, the broth fantastically complex, with the added notes of yuzu citrus and ginger that you add. Get the extra egg, its perfect. The line is LONG and moves very slowly, but I tell you the wait is worth it.

SUSHI IN TOKYO

First thing to point out is that in terms of the fish I like, we were in Japan at entirely the wrong time of the year- May. Much better to come in late autumn and winter to get the best tuna, scallops, uni, etc. But hey, we didn't have that option.

Hashiguchi- lovely and friendly chef, who speaks a bit of English. He and a woman I presume to be his wife are very inviting, and both like to tell you about what season is the right season for the different fish you eat, what type of sake to drink with each, etc. The sushi was very good, not the best overall sushi meal I can remember having but the main issue as that we were not here in the right season for lots of the fish that I enjoy the most. Also the others at he sushi bar were not the most appreciative of the meal, spent their time mostly on their phones, etc so that detracted from the overall experience. His rice was not very heavily seasoned but still very nice, and his sashimi dishes were some of the best I have ever had.

Sushi Harutaka- fantastic sashimi courses, fantastic rice, very well seasoned, best sushi meal of the trip in terms of food. The downsides are that the sake selection was really not great in our view, and unlike some sushi experiences where it is a small room with a few patrons and the sushi chef, here it feels a bit like a train station, with 3-4 sous chefs running around, and Harutaka watching and then getting involved for the nigiri. Not very zen, but fantastic food and the room itself is beautiful. They show you a book that describes every fish you eat, which is very nice.

Sushi Umi- First, he has his theatrics, including running the waitstaff like a bootcamp, with tons of shouting by him and the rest of the staff throughout the meal so any hint of a zen experience is out the window. Second, because his meal is cheaper, he does lots more to dress up his fish- this can mean lots of delicious bites and nicely seasoned rice, but also a few where the lower quality of the item is painfully clear. All in all, I think the meal was worth it, but it would not be my top choice if I came to Tokyo for sushi again.

Sushi Masuda- The room is lovely, as is the dishware and the very calm and quiet atmosphere. His rice is beautifully seasoned, and he uses wasabi at the ratio that I like. Some delicious bites, and he served the biggest range of fish of any sushi restaurant that we went to, though served less shellfish as a result. Very good sake selection too.

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