Restaurants & Bars 13

roppongi hills (tokyo) trip report

david kaplan | Mar 9, 200406:02 AM

I'm finishing two weeks working in Tokyo, staying for the first time at the Grand Hyatt in the new upscale mixed-use development Roppongi Hills. Though I speak no Japanese, I have been to Tokyo several times. During this stay, I ate nearly every dinner in the Roppongi Hills / Roppongi / Azabu-Juban area, and I would highly recommend this hotel and this neighborhood for others traveling on an expense account to Tokyo. Though the Grand Hyatt is not as beautiful, gracious, or spacious as the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku (the hotel featured in "Lost in Translation"), Roppongi is far more convenient than Shinjuku to most business and government offices, and has a far wider food selection nearby.

I did often eat right in the Roppongi Hills complex, which offers over 100 restaurants. I never ate in the hotel itself, keeping myself to dinners costing under 4000 yen ($38). Two places were good enough for weekday evening dinners when I didn't have the time or energy to venture farther out, both in the B2F level of the Metro Hat building. The first, Pintokona, is a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant -- quick, inexpensive, and good quality for the conveyor-belt genre. And the restaurant next door serves good Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet, though that translation doesn't do it justice) -- good grade pork with not too heavy coating. And Roppongi Hills, like every upscale area in Tokyo, has Starbucks, which I typically ignore, but I am curiously drawn to the Matcha (green tea) Frappuccino. The bitterness of the matcha cuts the sweetness nicely. But I fear I've lost my Chowhound credibility by mentioning it.

The real Chowish finds lie on the back side of Roppongi Hills, on the streets that run between the Tsutaya book/music/movie store (at the edge of Roppongi Hills) and the Azabu-Juban subway station.

First is Ganchan, a yakitori place recommended by others on the board. Informal grilled skewers of meat and vegetables: highlights include a skewer of bacon-wrapped shiso (often described as Japanese basil -- usually paired with umeboshi, the picked plums), and grilled rice balls. Ganchan is on the small side street that ends on the corner opposite the Tsutaya store -- a few doors from the coffeehouse advertising H&H Bagels (!) on the left side of the street.

Second is Kiwa's Chinese Restaurant. They advertise their Peking duck, which is available in serving as small as a quarter duck -- handy for single diners. But I loved their Szechuan noodle soup, which was sweetened and thickened with miso, and a salad of mustard greens and yuba (soy-milk skin) with a hot mustard dressing. Kiwa's is across from Tsutaya, with a big English-letter sign across the second floor of the building.

Third is Hosenka, a Korean restaurant that is highly praised on Tokyo Food Page (www.bento.com). A very kind English-speaking assistant chef explained it is Japanese-style Korean, which apparently means that the panchan (side dishes) must be individually ordered and paid for. But after tasting the tofu-chigae, a traditional Korean stew of tofu, pork, kimchi, and onions, I understood what Japanese-style actually meant: once again, the addition of miso. The miso gave the chigae -- just like the Szechuan noodle soup -- an unexpected sweetness and thickness. I kept almost imagining I was tasting an amatriciana sauce with too much parmesan, since I sometimes associate the taste of miso with the taste of reggiano, but there was no tomato (or cheese) in the chigae. The addition of miso really transformed the dish into something else entirely -- unfamiliar, but equally delicious. Hosenka is on a side street off the commercial street that runs parallel to the main artery connecting Roppongi and Azabu-Juban (and passes the Tsutaya store).

Fourth is a take-out deli called Delica Shop. I bought a japchae-like glass noodle salad, a yuba salad, and -- best of all -- some nishin. Nishin is usually translated as pickled herring, but is something altogether different from the Jewish or Northern European pickled herring. A better translation might be sweet teriyaki whitefish that has been earlier salted to result in a denser, meatier flesh. It often appears in soba (buckwheat noodle soup), especially in Kyoto; the only place I've seen it in the US is at Mifune, the noodle shop in San Francisco's Japantown. Delica Shop is on the commercial street parallel to that same main artery near Hosenka.

Finally, some random opinions about eating in Tokyo. Trust the Tokyo Food Page (www.bento.com). Exploit your hotel concierge, who can make reservations, draw maps, and even order in advance for us non-Japanese speakers. Try the onigiri (filled rice triangles, wrapped in nori seaweed) at the AM/PM convenience store -- they were the best of the many I tasted; I usually bought two in the evening for breakfast the next morning. Bring your own chocolate if you are an addict -- I found the chocolate selection (both bars and confections) to be disappointing, even at insanely expensive chocolatiers. And try to go to the Trung Nguyen cafe in Roppongi Crossing -- it is the first overseas location of the Ho Chi Minh City-based coffee chain and offers seven different roasts of Vietnamese coffee, served with (or without) sweetened condensed milk.

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