Japan Trip Report - Tokyo / Osaka June 2024

Reporting back from a quick trip in Japan this month. It was actually a visit with friends to Karuizawa, but I still managed to get a few meals in during a few days in Tokyo and a day trip to Osaka. Sticking to max 5 photos per for a quick rundown.

Sushi:

Sushi Sanshin.
Really happy to return here, very much worth the journey from Tokyo to experience the innovation, style, and skill of Ishibuchi-san.

5 otsumami and a few extra bites alongside about 18 nigiri.

Great starter of grilled isaki with negi and shiso buds, no sauce - good clean fat vs. charred skin and fresh negi. Also of note, shabu shabu saezuri (whale tongue) with karashi and komatsuna - again, clean fat and some nice texture. Nigiri started with shiroamadai, with the right thickness and toothsomeness being a nice foil to the nicely defined shari. Then kensaki ika with excellent scoring. Too many highlights to list, but I love the shellfish especially: hokkigai seared on one side, ni-hamaguri trimmed very nicely, and of course their now famous kurumaebi. The vegetables are always good here too, this time a very fragrant grilled yurine, both caramelly and floral. To end, kanpyo maki served with some aged Kikuhime sake, a very thoughtful pairing before sipping hojicha alongside warabimochi in the next door annex while admiring the handwritten menu.

Isaki to start


Iwashimaki

Grilled Tachiuo rice

Kensaki ika

Handwritten menu alongside dessert

Namba Hibiya
Chef Namba is considered one of the top sushi chefs in Tokyo, and given the high expense of the upcoming Florida satellite shop, I’m glad to have had this meal served by Namba-san himself in Hibiya. He’s perhaps known for his meticulous temperature control, but I couldn’t really perceive the minute differences. 13 nigiri plus tamago and a bonus otoromaki. The shari is nicely sticky but gently pressed, not loose necessarily, but it breaks apart very nicely in the mouth. There were some standout nigiri, namely donchichi aji, torigai, akamizuke, and anago.

But the 9 otsumami really made an impression on me. Ok, the starting niidako was very savory but not my favorite texture. The famed botanebi with ebi miso and fine-ground shells is a bit earthy vs. sticky, plump shrimp. But the sequence of the next 4 were incredible: kinki in broth (actually not prepared sakamushi according to the chef), ankimo with wasabi, aoriika with okura and junsai, and kujira (whale meat by the tail). Maybe the aoriika was my favorite - beautifully neba and slippery texture with okura with a nice tart hit from the junsai, with a beautiful dashi broth that was slightly bright. And the kujira was meaty and slick, very savory with ginger and a sweet soy sauce.

We briefly discussed his NY pop-up, which won’t become a restaurant. It’s more of a promotional tour for the upcoming Florida shop by the Tcherassi brothers.

Kinki steamed


Botanebi with its miso and ground shrimp shells

Aoriika with okra and junsai

Kujira

Torigai

Kurosaki
Lovely time back at the main counter. The meal switches between otsumami and nigiri, but in all about 23 servings after a couple of extras. So many hits here - the tennen unagi from Hakata with wasabi, kinome, and cucumbers was one of the best otsumami. Super crispy and fragrant. The half-seared clams were great - torigai and hokkigai. The maguro progression was all harakami and zuke’d - the chutorozuke was incredible with the mildly warm and nicely defined shari. The hamaguri otusmami was incredible as always (this time with rice) as was the chawanmushi, kegani with kanimiso like last time. The hairy crab felt lke 2/3 cooked with a lacy moist texture and a super savory chawanmushi. Finally, the anago was on another level. The whole experience is so smooth.

Unagi, some of the best I’ve had.


Kinmedai shabu shabu, plump.

Kohada, a great reset after agemono (ainame karaage with yuzu).

Chutoro zuke, (the whole maguro flight was served with warmed Yamagata Masamune 1898 kimoto omachi).

Anago

Ginza Saeki
I tried Kyoto Saeki last year, but I had heard good things about the Ginza new flagship of sorts. Saeki-san wasn’t working here tonight, but he has various projects ongoing (including serving dinner on a yakatabune ship at one point). The ingredients here are the draw particularly with some creative otsumami. It is a bit of Ginza luxury here, with beautiful glassware and Chrome Hearts coaster and chopstick rests.

You’ll get served here some pristine and unusual ingredients. For example, grilled kobanzame (like suzuki), and yakogai (a giant sea snail). In Kyoto, they had a shabu shabu of hotaruika, still squirming live (which is extremely rare given how quickly they die). This time, the shabu shabu was yakogai, and the hot pot is heated with a large stone.

I quite liked the otsumami here and think they’re probably one of the main draws. Texturally nice and balanced. The shari uses a combination of red and black vinegars, konbu, and salt. The nigiri itself is impactful, with good ingredients. Stylistically, it’s not my absolute favorite, but for some I could see this being a very nice spot.

Chef Saeki was considered one of the top in Kansai region with his Osaka shop. Apparently he was at one point slated to take over the Ginza sushi institution Kiyota. But that didn’t pan out, and he opened Ginza Saeki instead a few years later. Stylistically, I don’t see much continuity between the meals I had at Saeki and the meal I had at Kiyota. Kiyota’s is much simpler in style (both in otsumami and nigiri) and more of a historical institution, but one thing’s for sure is that they both get top flight ingredients.

Yakogai shells


Ika somen with okra, shiso, and tosazu

Kegani with asparagus and kanimiso, super good

Aji

Yamagata cherries, sweet like plums

Other:
Sobamae Yamato at Azabudai Hills
Solid tenzaru soba before the flight home. Quite nice texture on the noodles. Like most good soba shops in Japan, this is geared a bit to starting with some snacks with drinking and then finishing up with soba. Iburigakko with cream cheese, some yakitori, rare duck, sashimi, etc. This branch didn’t quite have the drinks list of the Roppongi Hills one, but it was still a nice time nonetheless with a comfortable space and good service.

Kamo to Negi
It was one of my friend’s first time to Japan, and she wanted to try some unusual ramen, so I chose the duck ramen at Kamo to Negi. Still a good bowl, even if the queue is rather long at 2pm (we waited about 1 hour).

Izakayas
in Mitsukoshimae, sake galore with all the Jikon, Aramasa, Juyondai, Akabu, Denshu, and Hiroki you could want. Food here was ok, but I liked the kakifurai and simply grilled shiitake the best. I keep forgetting this place, but the proprietor looks like a Japanese Vincent Laval of Champagne.


during a food crawl in Kanda

Unagi Yondaime Kikukawa at Tokyo Station
I was at the Tokyo Station to pick up some souvenirs and tickets for the next day, and this hit the spot for some unagi. I’m sure that one could do better by seeking it out, but overall I was rather happy with the 1.5x unajyu and friendly service, plus you get to see the eels grilled over charcoal right in front of you behind a screen.

Konbuya at Ebisu Garden Place
Good city views (38th floor) and a nice drink list - friend wanted Juyondai so we had some nice pours alongside some heartwarming oden.

Bars

Centifolia
This place feels like an Instagram show. All patrons when we went were foreigners (including us, of course) and every drink is presented with a table light for pictures and video. Occasionally, the bar stops to record the fire show and ice cutting. The bartender Kobai-san is award winning and apparently very skilled, though we thought our drinks they recommended were not really to our style (a bit low in alcohol or a bit too creamy sweet). We ordered some neat whisky instead. However, the hostess was nice and kept her composure while managing all the other customers’ requests (such as “please light the bar on fire for my photograph with the bartender”) and some waiting customers trying to cut others. The bartender has some accolades but the theatricality of the whole thing detracts from the experience a little bit. I think he’s put in the time to reach his level of success but the question is how to manage the experience given its social media fame…I can’t think of a solution but I think they’re doing a pretty good job, it just wasn’t really for us.

Old Imperial Bar
We came here because it was designed in 1923 by Frank Lloyd Wright and the decor did not disappoint. Some of it actually felt a bit more Czech Cubist than I expected. The drinks were pretty good, but come here for the interior.

La Jetée
I’ll brave Gorudengai for this, and it was nice for us to return to chat with the proprietress Tomoyo Kawai. This bar of course is named after the Chris Marker film, and Wim Wenders even shot a scene here a while back (he was there the week before as well, which we learned after discussing mixed reactions to his latest film “Perfect Days”). There’s not much in the way of variety, but don’t ask for a rum and coke, as some others did and promptly left thereafter.

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Great post and thanks for sharing! Looks like some awesome sushi meals. I’ll have to keep that Izakaya in mind next time I’m in Tokyo. I had a lot of great and interesting sake at other places but sometimes it’s nice to get some of the fancy stuff. :laughing:

Thanks for the Centifolia report too! I’d seen it on IG and it did seem quite theatrical. I’m sure the drinks are good but hearing your report I think I’d probably feel similarly about the experience.

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@pomodoro how did you reserve Bar Centifolia? I still have a desire to visit in October since my wife would probably love it. Thank you in advance!

It’s indeed around and much more accessible and affordable than here! Lots of izakayas and sobayas show what kinds of sakes are available. Actually, a bunch of places had special stocks if you ask.

Where did you like to drink?

That Izakaya is around Mitsukoshimae station, but I keep forgetting the name or to take a picture of the exterior. It has lots of bottles outside and loud salarymen drinking in the courtyard.

Sakes from the trip. My friend from Paris wanted to try Juyondai. We also drank a fair bit of Tanaka 65 (but I prefer the Tanaka 65.13.) which is a rather popular sake now (perhaps like I noticed Ubusuna and Nichi Nichi being served at many meals last year?). A couple of entry level Noguchi Naohiko ones I tried were a little disappointing, but maybe I didn’t order correctly.

I really liked the pairing at Sanshin, and the aged Kikuhime with kanpyo was a nice surprise.

At Namba, the pairing of Juyondai with ankimo was super tasty; how could you go wrong with that? As far as the house sake, Sugita and Hashimoto also have a special sake by Kamonishiki and I think I liked those a touch better.

Kurosaki’s is always interesting, with sakes that are light, straight, and which I’m less familiar with. They’re perhaps not as characteristic by themselves, but they are good with food and don’t get in the way (like Higan with fried ainame last time). The warmed 1898 with zuke honmaguro flight was really good.

at Sanshin

Juyondai Ginsen ginjo, to start


Gikyo yorokobi (I believe this is aged), with iwashimaki

Reisen tokubetsu junmai, to pair with murasaki uni from Amakusa

Kokuryu Ginpu 2022, to pair with kohada

Hiraizumi Four Seasons “Summer” yamahai, to pair with aji

Tanaka 65, to pair with kegani

Kikuhime yamahai junmai aged, to pair with kanpyo maki

at Ginza Saeki
Juyondai Tatsuno Daigokujo


Kokuryu Shizuku

Nabeshima 100th Anniversary

at Namba Hibiya
Kamonishiki nifudazuke tank 167 for Sushi Namba, to start


Juyondai nama, with ankimo

Kamonishiki for Sushi Namba, to start with nigiri

Isojiman junmai daiginjo, with makogarei

Zankara tobuketsujunmai, with katsuo

Gikyo Haruka, with uni

at Kurosaki

Kurosaki’s own sake, by Niizawa brewery to start


(not sure on this one), with kinmedai shabu shabu

Shinzenbi (not sure about this one), with hokkigai semi aburi

(not sure on this one), with kohada

Kukumi (a private brand by sake retailer Shudouan), with aji

Yamagata Masamune 1898 kimoto omachi, served warm with a flight of honmaguro zuke

at various izakayas

Juyondai Origarami nama


Juyondai Banshu yamadanishiki nama

(not pictured: Juyondai Tatsu no Otoshigo and Sake Mirai)

Juyondai Nakadori (not sure on the specifics)


Hiroki black label namazume

Jikon omachi nama

not pictured: more Tanaka 65 and a bunch of Sharaku and Akabu

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We just walked in, no reservation. We waited about 10 minutes. If it’s too busy, or it ends up not being your speed, there’s a bunch more options nearby.

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So much delicious sounding sake! :star_struck: :heart_eyes: :drooling_face: I went to Kurosaki once before it got ultra popular and they had a small sake pairing with the dinner. I wanted to go again after I’d eaten and drunk more but by then it was almost possible for the typical foodie tourist. :smiling_face_with_tear:

Oh yeah I always ask for sake at restaurants and they’ll surprisingly have something. Had some good off-menu sakes at French Michelin type places lol. And Mitsukoshimae was all I needed I think haha. I Googled the station and instantly found an Izakaya with pictures of Juyondai.

Besides restaurants, I’ve typically enjoyed drinking at Eureka Sake Bar (EUREKA! Minato City - Google Search) and Nihonshu Stand Moto Kayabacho (日本酒スタンド酛 茅場町店 - Google Search).

Eureka Sake Bar always has lots of specials and collaborations. I remember they had this incredibly delicious sake that the owner was collabing with a brewery on (if I understood correctly). I think they aged it in a whiskey barrel or something? They were also doing a collab with the Kaze no Mori brewery I think called Mizuhana (if I read it correctly). The 2023 pink bottle I really enjoyed but apparently they aren’t selling it anymore. The 2024 one was a bit too dry for my taste I think (I’m not good at describing tastes). I believe the point of that collaboration was using a really old process for making sake. For any others looking in, they have a staff with perfect English and English menus too.

Nihonshu Stand Moto is I think more of a locals sake bar? It’s a sake-focused standing bar right outside Kayabacho station near Nihonbashi. I only know of it because I went to a prior incarnation in Shinjuku that shut down around COVID. I think the predecessor has some connection to the owner of Eureka Sake but I’m not sure if that connection still exists. It’s pretty much Japanese-only but they do have a lot of great and interesting sake. Sometimes the fancy stuff too as they did an Aramasa night when I went November 2023. I’ve had a lot of fun times there talking to locals and drinking sake. They have some neat small bites to go with the sake too. It’s not a big space and for others looking in I don’t know if it’s the best place for you if you don’t speak some Japanese. But it’s quite fun trying sake and chatting with locals. I basically have made it a thing to drop by every time I’m in Tokyo going forward.

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Just left Sanshin ourselves. My favorite sushi meal I’ve ever had. (not that I’ve done some of the very famous locations in Japan as this is my first time). God damn that was amazing.

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