Japan

Traveling and dining in other Arizona cities and beyond
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BarbaraToombs
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Location: Chandler/Tempe, Arizona

6 years ago

Wow wow WOW, Dom!! What a write-up!!! You put me right there...except I unfortunately couldn't TASTE anything!
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

The aforementioned mediocre dinner was my first crack at yakitori on this trip. It was at a place in Shinjuku called Keishoan, and with the exception of a pretty damn tasty oyakodon, it was a totally flat, soulless meal. And to add insult to injury, the set menu -- at a yakitori joint, mind you -- provided three skewers of grilled chicken, sandwiched between multiple courses of underflavored fluff. It was, in short, a total waste of a meal. So the next night, I decided to play it safe, and we hopped the train out to Nishihara to check out Fuku, which has gained a reputation for walking that magical line between appealing to the locals and Western visitors alike.

It's about a 5-10 minute walk from the Yoyogi-Uehara station, though what may be the most charming neighborhood I've ever visited in Tokyo. Seriously, if we were to have the opportunity to live in Tokyo for a while, I'm house hunting in Nishihara first. Of course, it helps that it was Halloween and the streets were absolutely packed with little kids in costume, the main streets filled with all sorts of games and activities for them to do. "This Is Halloween" from the Nightmare Before Christmas was echoing through the streets, and while I first thought it was some particularly festive soul turning up the stereo, I quickly realized that, in fact, they were pumping the music through the neighborhood's public PA system. It followed us as we walked. In any case, Fuku is another unassuming little storefront (shocker), with a vibe that looks almost like a Southwestern adobe building.
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The interior is bustling, dark with bright spots, but warm and cozy, a large U-shaped bar around the yakitori grill with a number of freestanding tables surrounding. There's a kitchen in back for drinks and about a third of the menu, but this is where all of the fire happens for a restaurant that seats perhaps 30, on this single grill about two and a half feet wide (the grill would get a little crowded as the night went on). It's a similar setup to Zezankyo, where one fellow's manning the primary cooking apparatus, while the other does all of the prep before the skewers go on, and finishing when they come off. Part of what was really cool was watching how he handled different items. Some were turned every few seconds. Some would go off to the edge and sit for 20 minutes. Some would start cool and finish hot, Some would do the reverse. He had cooler and hotter spots on the grill, and it was all a matter of timing, heat, and rotation to cook the different parts just so. Speaking of the different parts, they offered a lot of them. And the menu (I posted a PDF below), incidentally, is super Western-friendly, with good translations for everything.
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Potato Salad
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But we started with a couple of cold appetizers, and I kind of had to do this. I'm such a sucker for potato salad. And this is something they always do so, so well in Japan. And this is an exceptionally good one, cool and creamy, with a little bonito and bits of other vegetables mixed in.
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Tori-Wasa ("Rare" Chicken Breast)
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Yyyyyyeah, you're not going to see this in a whole lot of places in the States. That's exactly what you think it is. The menu reads "rare," and that's in the running for understatement of the year. Without getting off on a whole other tangent, let's just say that the chicken supply in Japan doesn't have the... issues... that we have here. And let me also say that this was absolutely outstanding. One of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. You can see that the outer edge was just barely cooked -- a quick dip in hot stock, I"m guessing -- before being chilled and sliced to serve. And it was like fine sashimi, cool and creamy and sweet, with a little more chew than your average fish, but still very, very tender. In fact, I think this was the breast tenders, though I'm not certain. A little fresh wasabi (the real stuff, of course), a little slivered young ginger, just a tiny dip in soy... wow, was this good.
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Kashiwa (Chicken Breast with Wasabi)
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Of course, most of the chicken came hot, though this breast was also quite pink in the middle (the rest were what we'd consider "done" all the way through), and served with just a little salt and wasabi. God, I love fresh wasabi.
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Neginiku (Chicken Leg with Japanese Leek)
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The dark is more my speed, served here with charred negi, which are a type of small Japanese leek. It was immediately evident that this place was everything that Keishoan was not. There was fire and smoke in the food. There was char and Maillard reaction aplenty. There was sizzle and drippy fat and all of that stuff we associate with the grill, and it was all done so perfectly.
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Tsukune (Chicken Meatballs)
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I love tsukune. And this was one of the best I've had. They're these delicious seasoned meatballs made with ground chicken (or other meats, but most often chicken), and these were tender and juicy and full of flavor. And it didn't hurt that each skewer coming off the grill would go for a dunk in an enormous earthenware pot of a thick, sweet (but not too sweet) soy-based glaze before going out.
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Tebasaki (Chicken Wings)
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Yeah. Our wings are okay. These are better. No sauce necessary or wanted. Just a celebration of chicken skin. It was at this point I regretted not ordering the chicken skin.
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Tori-Reba (Chicken Liver)
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I was curious to see how they'd do these, and they left them pretty creamy in the center. This also got a good shot of the sweet glaze.
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Seseri (Chicken Neck)
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I love the use of more... esoteric parts. Yeah, I was going to try chicken neck. And it was awesome. It was crisp and chewy -- very, very flavorful -- and topped with a massive pile of what I believe was finely chopped cabbage and scallions. Why don't we use these parts for things other than stock? They're delicious!
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Bonbochi (Chicken Tail)
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Chicken butt. Well, tail to be precise. I knew I had to have this one. Whenever I roast a chicken at home, there are three pieces that don't make it to the table -- the flats of the wings, the oysters, and the tail. Again, I love this. It had some texture, it had some bite. Not that there's anything wrong with plain chunks of meat, but there's a whole beast to be used. One of my favorite pieces of the night.
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Asparagus with Bacon
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It wasn't all chicken. We worked in some vegetables. Wrapped in pig, yeah, but vegetables.
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Ko-Tamanegi (Pearl Onions)
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Heavy seasoning, and so, so sweet. Give me a bowl of these.
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Nasu (Eggplant)
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You'll have to trust me that there's eggplant under there. Some of these were topped really aggressively. I'm not complaining.
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Shishitos
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Well, yeah, of course, right? Here they got a little dash of a miso-based sauce. But so, so little... it's about the vegetable, you see.
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Yaki-Onigiri (Grilled Rice Ball)
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I saw one of these going by and had to get it as well. It's onigiri -- a seasoned rice ball -- cooked slowly over a cooler part of the grill until the exterior turns into this deep golden, crunchy crust. And it's yet another example of how wonderful rice can be all on its own.

Stellar meal. Ramen adventures aside, unquestionably my favorite of the trip. And relatively inexpensive, too. For the chicken items, depending on the part, an order of two skewers ran ¥200-300 (almost an exact 1 yen to 1 cent ratio while we were there, so $1-1.50 per skewer). I want to go back and have every single thing on the menu. I regret not getting more of the esoteric chicken parts, like gizzards and hearts and cartilage (if it had been just me...). But I could have kept going for a couple more hours. This will be a repeat visit whenever I get back.

Incidentally, if any industry people are reading, can we please do this in Phoenix? Seriously, we talk about trying to bridge that gap between doing things right and doing what will sell, and what could be more perfect that a yakitori joint? Here's something that you could do right -- do it the way it's supposed be done -- and everybody would love it. Who doesn't like smoky grilled meat on a stick? You grab the less adventurous crowd with items like the breast, thigh, and wings, and you make the food nerds happy with things like gizzards and livers and chicken butts (I'm sorry, I can't stop saying that). And those that start with the basics can get more adventurous as they return. The complaint is that people don't want to dine, they want to graze and drink? What's better drinking and grazing food than this? A few sets of skewers, some beer or sake... this is exactly how people are eating right now. And you need a very minimal kitchen to support it. The whole restaurant -- that one grill in the first photo. Somebody please do this because it's a perfect candidate for introducing a fabulous traditional ethnic food to a city that is sometimes hesitant to embrace foreign foods that haven't been all tarted up and Americanized. Book it.

Fuku Yakitori
3-23-4 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
03-3485-3234
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Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
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5 years ago

Hi PFN...excuse my long absence, been too busy on the beach ;) .

I'm in the very early stages of planning a honeymoon (!) and Tokyo will be the first stop. Not even accommodations, or area, are decided yet but everyone keeps talking about how incredibly expensive the city is. Can the PFN Tokyo gurus give some input? Are we thinking $500 for a nice fine dining dinner (let's say 1-2 michelin stars)? Is it possible to have a decent sit down dinner where there aren't too many language issues for $100 or is that ridiculous? Lunches will probably be casual so hopefully in the $30 for 2 range.

Any sense of general pricing for food, or booze, would be great! Googling is getting me a HUGE variety of results.
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Skillet Doux
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5 years ago

PHXeater wrote:I'm in the very early stages of planning a honeymoon (!)...
Congrats! :-)

Tokyo IS expensive, but like any other big city, y'know... not everybody who lives there is wealthy. There are scads of inexpensive dining options. Midrange tends to be a little more expensive than what you're used to for what you're getting, but it's not insanity. And also, no tipping, so basically, whatever you see on a menu online is what you're paying (can't remember if there's restaurant tax). The yakitori joint I wrote about above, for example, is a great example. Fabulous food, very comfortable room, and two should be able to feast for $100 (or get out of there more cheaply, if you're so inclined). I think it's less that everything is substantially more expensive, and more that everything is maybe a little more expensive, while the upper end can get heartstopping very quickly. I'd have to check, but as a point of reference, I think Zezankyo was probably about in that $500 range for two. Maybe a little less? And, y'know... ramen's one of the best things you'll eat and that's an $8 lunch.

I'm headed back in March. I'll try to pay closer attention and give you some concrete numbers for what I see.
Dominic Armato
Dining Critic
Arizona Republic | azcentral.com
PHXeater
Moderator
Posts: 598
Joined: 7 years ago

5 years ago

Skillet Doux wrote:
PHXeater wrote:I'm in the very early stages of planning a honeymoon (!)...
Congrats! :-)

Tokyo IS expensive, but like any other big city, y'know... not everybody who lives there is wealthy. There are scads of inexpensive dining options. Midrange tends to be a little more expensive than what you're used to for what you're getting, but it's not insanity. And also, no tipping, so basically, whatever you see on a menu online is what you're paying (can't remember if there's restaurant tax). The yakitori joint I wrote about above, for example, is a great example. Fabulous food, very comfortable room, and two should be able to feast for $100 (or get out of there more cheaply, if you're so inclined). I think it's less that everything is substantially more expensive, and more that everything is maybe a little more expensive, while the upper end can get heartstopping very quickly. I'd have to check, but as a point of reference, I think Zezankyo was probably about in that $500 range for two. Maybe a little less? And, y'know... ramen's one of the best things you'll eat and that's an $8 lunch.

I'm headed back in March. I'll try to pay closer attention and give you some concrete numbers for what I see.
Thanks, that definitely reassures me!! NYC type prices would be fine for us (even somewhat more) but people give these very ominous warnings that are a little scary! We're happy to have a splurge $500ish dinner, and in fact are planning at least one, but need to put together somewhat of a budget to not start out as poverty stricken newlyweds...

I have a million more questions, but not quite at detail stages yet. So I'm sure I'll be around more in the next year :)
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ScottofStrand
Posts: 624
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Location: Mesa, AZ

5 years ago

If it's reassuring at all, I was trying to be as cheap as possible during my visit. Even with a couple of nice sushi splurges, I managed to spend under $1200 during 3 weeks, including lodging, food, lots of bars, and transportation(minus the plane ticket to get there). It is possible to be a cheapskate and have a great time. I used the TokyoCheapo podcast to prep for my journey.

All that being said, not everyone wants to stay in hostels and eat at lots of Ramen/Izakaya joints their whole visit. When I go back, i'm going to splurge a bit more for some proper meals and better lodging. But i'll definitely still hit up lots of Ramen/Izakaya because they rock.
PHXeater
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Joined: 7 years ago

5 years ago

Thanks, Scott! All my previous international trips have been the hostel/cheapo meals types so it's interesting to be approaching this from a more high end perspective. Although we'll definitely need a good mix of those cheaper type meals thrown in. I'll definitely make a note of that podcast.
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Dapuma
Posts: 567
Joined: 7 years ago
Location: Scottsdale

5 years ago

Headed to Japan in June...Tokyo and Kyoto

What are my cant misses there? Should have 6 days in Tokyo and at least 2 in Kyoto and Akita

Will try for Jiro but will need to get lucky

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/1007525
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Dapuma
Posts: 567
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Location: Scottsdale

5 years ago

Does anyone have any advice for the top sushi places in Tokyo

It seems like Saito Yoshitake and Sawada wont book for June until May 1st

Does anyone have anyone in Tokyo that goes there that has the ability to make further advanced reservations ? I have heard that many clients book their next reservation after dining there and they allow them to book further out. I have the hotel I am staying at already...kind of a tall ask, however figured i would give it a shot

I have booked Kitcho Arashiyama Honten in Kyoto - unless someone has a better Kaiseki dinner to go with, Mizai is already booked the two nights we are there
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4 years ago

Still a couple months away but really getting into the planning! Picked Sushisho Masa for our splurge sushi dinner after stumbling across it somewhere on the internet and reading fantastic reviews about the number of courses, experience, and it not being $500 for a 30 minute dinner like Jiro. Our hotel concierge has already promised to call and make a reservation for me the first day reservations open (December 1st for any January reservations).

Also have Gogyo (Nishiazabu location, not Roppongi) on our list for some of that burnt ramen that SkilletDoux and ScottofStrand have raved about! Luckily it's just a little over a 10 minute walk from our hotel so we figure it will be a great place for night 1 to be easy to get to, with a an English menu.

We're still determining the rest of our plans...my fiance's response to describing the time we'd have to wake up to go to fish market is about as expected: :shock:. In non food related plans we happen to be there for one of the few sumo tournaments a year in Tokyo so are going to check that out. Should be really interesting!
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