In this article that first appeared in Metropolis magazine I highlight some of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo.
http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/675/localflavors.asp (text follows)
Some days, I pinch myself while exploring Tokyo. Am I really spoiled with all of these places to indulge myself? And just when I think it can’t get any better, I happen upon a new area, restaurant, food or trend.
The attention to detail when it comes to food here blows me away. Wagyu cows are massaged and fed beer, resulting in marbled meat for shabu shabu. Fruits are manipulated to create perfectly blemish-free specimens. In celebration of all that Tokyo has to offer, here are some shops to get the best of the best in the city.
Try wagyu beef sliced paper thin and braised in a sweet soy sauce at Imahan in Takashimaya’s Nihonbashi branch, which has a counter in the meat department where you can have a simple sukiyaki lunch. If you prefer your meat grilled, check out Seikoen Yakiniku in Ginza. Don’t let the disco décor get you down—the shop procures great cuts of Mita wagyu for the barbecue.
“Hormones” or innards are considered a hot item at the moment. Nikomi is a dish of innards simmered until tender, and a fine version can be had at Yamariki in Morishita. This izakaya is also known for its grilled pork yakiton and its wine list. Ask for Mizukami-san, the sommelier, to help you pick from his well-thought-out list to go with your food.
While wagyu may be the best-known meat outside of Japan, pork and chicken are appreciated on the home turf. When done right, breaded and deep-fried tonkatsu is juicy on the inside and not at all greasy. Katsukura on Takashimaya Times Square’s restaurant floor lets you grind sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before adding them to the sauce, which then gets poured over the tonkatsu.
The bird flu scare in Miyazaki has the new governor, former comedian Sonomanma Higashi, eating chicken on TV to encourage consumers not to give up the faith. If you take up the challenge and want to nibble on bits of chicken stabbed onto skewers and grilled, try yakitori under the tracks at Yurakucho or in the small area of stalls outside Shibuya station (if I told you exactly where, I’d have to kill you). The pot of yakitori sauce at Abe-chan in Azabu-Juban has been in the shop for several decades, evidenced by the thick layer that’s grown on the outside of the pot. How could this be a good thing, you are wondering? Some believe that the container gives the sauce a richness and depth that a new pot would lack.
A tour of Tokyo’s food destinations would not be complete without noodles. For ramen, my recommendation is a bowl of hiyashi chukka in a goma dare sesame broth at Sapporo-ya in Nihonbashi. The dish is topped with, among other ingredients, pork, hardboiled egg and tomato, and the savory sauce leaves you wondering if you can lick the bowl clean. For hot noodles, the Jangara chain has a hearty tonkotsu sauce that I top with the spicy mentaiko. Or, for a quick lunch, check out the Hanamaru Udon chain, where you pick your own toppings from a variety of tempura bits and pieces.
Tempura is another delight. For high-end, Kondo in Ginza lets you sit at the counter and watch the team behind the counter prep, dip and fry shrimp, fish and vegetables. For a fast-food chain, Tenya serves up a respectable bowl of tempura over rice and drizzled with sauce. This tendon is a bargain at ¥500, and rarely disappoints.
I am fascinated by fruit stands like Sembikiya or Takano. Perfect fruits are wrapped to prevent bruising, and slapped with a sticker price that reflects all of the hard work to get to that stage. To sample a wide variety, order a fruit parfait whose fillings change as the seasons do, or try a single slice of juicy melon.
The appreciation for food at its peak, or shun, is reflected everywhere in Tokyo’s markets and restaurants. It doesn’t get much better than what we have available to us, so indulge and enjoy.
Imahan. Nihonbashi Takashimaya, 2-4-1 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3211-4111. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Nihonbashi.
Seikoen. 1-6-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3561-5883. Open daily 2-11pm (Sat 10pm). Nearest stn: Ginza-Itchome.
Yamariki. 2-18-8 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3633-1638. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm. Nearest stn: Morishita.
Katsukura. 14F Takashimaya Times Square, 5-24-2 Sendagaya. Tel: 03-5361-1878. Open daily 11am-11pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku.
Abe-chan. 2-1-1 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3451-5825. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-12:30pm, 3-10pm (Sat 3-10pm only). Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.
Sapporo-ya. B1, 3-3-5 Nihonbashi. Tel: 03-3275-0024. Open Mon-Sat 11am-10pm (Sat until 4pm). Nearest stn: Nihonbashi
Jangara Ramen (Harajuku branch). 1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3404-5572. Open Daily 10:45-2am (Fri-Sat until 3am). Nearest stn: Harajuku
Hanamaru Udon. 1-16-6 Jingumae. Tel: 03-3402-0870. Open daily 9:30am-10pm. Nearest stn: Harajuku.
Kondo. 9F, 5-5-13 Ginza. Tel: 03-5568-0923. Open Mon-Sat noon-1:30pm; 5-8:30pm. Nearest stn: Ginza.Tenya. www.tenya.com
Sembikiya (main shop). 2-1-2 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3241-1414. Open Tue-Sun 11am-9pm (Sat until 8pm). Nearest stn: Mitsukoshimae.
Takano (main shop). 3-26-11 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-5368-5147. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku.
Foodie’s Guide to Tokyo Part One: