This was a short trip to Japan, but that didn’t mean we didn’t make time for some quality dining. We initially had three things we absolutely wanted to sample. I wanted Kobe beef and a good bowl of ramen soup, and my wife wanted fancy sushi. Then, our flight attendant on our way to Tokyo suggested a fourth: tonkatsu, a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet. We also decided to restrict our options to restaurants with English menus. Yes, this reduced our choices, and likely meant paying higher prices. But Japan is one place I didn’t relish taking a chance on ordering “mystery meat”. After all, I really didn’t want to end up with a plate of offal, eel, or something. Our, um, plates now full of ideas, we set out to fill our appetites.
One thing that pleasantly surprised me – food is surprisingly reasonably priced in Japan, even in Tokyo. Based on hotel rates, I expected outrageous prices. But the prices we paid were comparable to a large U.S. city for upscale restaurants, and actually quite cheap at lower end establishments. Tip: if you want to try a more upscale restaurant for sushi, Kobe beef, Teppanyaki, etc., try going for lunch. We visited two such restaurants on this trip, and both places had very reasonably priced lunch specials, especially for the quality. Dinner would have easily been 3x-4x the cost, if not more.
Thursday, November 26 – Dinner
Restaurant: King of the Pirates
Location: Aqua City Odaiba 5th Floor, Tokyo
Price: 3,500 yen (~$33) for two persons
Now, this isn’t the kind of place I’d ordinarily go to. First off, the cheesy pirate theme really isn’t my thing.
Judging by the menu, it clearly wasn’t a purveyor of authentic Japanese cuisine either, with a mostly Western selection. Honestly I expected something pretty nasty. So how did we end up here? A) We were jet lagged, didn’t feel like going very far, but also wanted to walk somewhere so we wouldn’t fall asleep in the hotel room at 7 P.M.; and B) King of the Pirates was in the Aqua City Mall next to our hotel, and had English menus on display. So with expectations about as low as they could go, I ordered a chicken fried rice dish.
Though not the most appetizing looking dish of fried rice, it was surpisingly not terrible. The rice was cooked decently, the chicken was tender, and the presentation was pretty cool. Our waiter brought out the hot iron skillet, cracked the egg in front of us, and then prepared and mixed the dish tableside. It was, however, too sweet for my tastes. The best part of the restaurant, though? A large, open air deck in the back with amazing views of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo skyline.
Overall, definitely not as bad I expected. Would I come back here if I were in Tokyo? I’d say probably not, but then again, Mini-Me would probably find the whole pirate setup amusing in about 5 years. Plus, when the weather’s warmer, that outdoor deck would be a great spot to sip a drink.
Friday, November 27 – Lunch
Restaurant: XEX Atago Green Hills Tempura & Sushi An
Location: Mori Tower, Green Hills, Tokyo
Price: 10,200 yen (~$97) for two people
Full disclosure – I don’t like sushi. In fact, I’d go so far as saying I actively disklike it. But my wife loves it, and at the end of the day, it would have been really stupid to fly all the way to Japan without at least trying it. Thus, we sought out something extra fancy. Tempura & Sushi An is a short walk from Tokyo Tower and the Zōjō-ji shrine, and came fairly highly regarded, so we decided to head there for lunch. The restaurant is at the top of Mori Tower, and is a clean, elegant space, with a spacious bar before entering the actual dining room.
The dining room is an experience in itself. The kitchen is in the center of the room, with minimalist, low-slung tables along the windows. In keeping with formal tradition, you even take your shoes off before sitting down, and are served by waiters in traditional Japanese dress.
But the best part? Lunch with a view.
As far as food goes, I ordered the sashimi bowl (close-up at the top of this post), which features mixed sashimi, rice, and miso soup.
This was a ton of food for 1,800 yen (~$18). And I have to say, even as someone who doesn’t care for fish, I loved it. Especially the tuna, which was simply delectable (watch out for the big dollop of wasabi right in the center). Meanwhile Prita ordered the 8-piece mixed sushi special, served with miso soup, dessert, and coffee.
So was it good? She ate almost every last piece, which gives you a pretty good clue. I apparently forgot to take a picture of the dessert, so I forgot what that was.
Overall, yes, you can get equally authentic sashimi and sushi for a fraction of the price out on the street. But this place was worth every penny for the experience and the view (and honestly, less than $100 for two isn’t outrageous at all for Tokyo).
Friday, November 27 – Dinner
Location: Aqua City Mall 5th Floor, Odaiba, Tokyo
Price: 2,200 yen (~$21) for two people, including one bottle of sake
As we were walking back from King of the Pirates the day before, I found another cluster of restaurants on another part of the floor, which I apparently missed thanks to my jet lag induced haze. Several of these appeared to be local “food court” type places, including one with multilingual menus and tonkatsu. I made a mental note of its location for dinner the next day, and after returning from the cat cafe and freshening up a bit, we walked on over to the mall to check out Wakou.
Appearance wise, the restaurant looks like the typical restaurant you’d find in an Asian mall food court, and it was pretty busy when we walked in, so I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the seating area. But the food is more important, anyway, and on tap this evening was an order of sake in a neat little bottle, and the tonkatsu, served with cabbage, potato salad, and miso soup, along with a side of rice.
Yeah, this is a pretty ridiculous amount of food, especially for $20. And I must say, I’m eternally greatful to the AA flight attendant that recommended I try tonkatsu, because it was delicious. Granted, it’s hard to screw something up that involves deep frying Panko crumbs, but the crust was delightfully crispy, and the pork tender and juicy. I read later that cabbage is the standard way of serving tonkatsu, but there was just too much of it on this plate. About half as much would have been about right.
As far as the sake goes, I always assumed you drink it hot, but the waiter gave the option of hot or cold. I ordered it hot, though the last little bit got tepid before I could finish it off. Sake is distinctly sweet, and so I found it considerably more pleasant when hot. It develops an increasingly unpleasant mouthfeel as it gets cold, almost like a coffee that’s been accidentally left forgotten on the table for too long.
Anyway, this was quite a satisfying meal for the price, and the close proximity to our hotel.
Saturday, November 28 – Lunch
Location: Shin-Kobe Oriental Avenue Mall, Kobe (next to Shin-Kobe train station)
Price: 12,900 yen (~$123) for two people, including one bottle of sake
This, of course, is what I’d traveled all this way for – real Kobe steak. As I’d mentioned in my post covering Kobe, restaurants peddling Kobe beef are a dime a dozen in town, most of which are a good bit cheaper. But by golly, I’d come 6,700 miles for a steak, and I wanted the best. Wakkoqu seems to consistently rate at the top if beef is what you’re here for.
Be aware, the restaurant is a bit difficult to find, as the Oriental Avenue mall is something of a maze. Head up to the 3rd floor, and go in the general direction of the northwest corner of the mall. You’ll find several restaurants in this area. The door to Wakkoqu looks like this, hidden amongst a couple of others.
The restaurant is a typical Teppanyaki-style restaurant, where diners sit at long tables around a cooking station, where the food is then grilled to order in front of you.
Wakkoqu offers a special “Lunch Wakkoqu Course” for 5,880 yen, which includes 150g (a little over 5 ounces) of Kobe beef, six assorted grilled vegetables, soup of the day, salad, rice, dessert, and coffee. That’s actually not a bad deal at all for less than $60. Note that there are two other lunch specials on the menu at lower price points, but per the server, while these are cuts of Tajima beef from Hyogo Prefecture, these aren’t “official” Kobe beef. Whether you’d be able to tell the difference, I don’t know.
I ordered a sake to start, and then our soup and salad were brought out. The soup of the day was a leek soup.
The meal was off to a good start. The leek soup was actually cream of leek, and was nice and rich, if a bit bland. A little black pepper took care of that problem. That salad meanwhile was fresh, with a welcome assortment of vegetables. It’s really disappointing to order “salad” at an expensive restaurant, only to get a bowl of lettuce with maybe one piece of tomato and a couple of shreds of carrot, but this one had decent variety and had an appropriate amount of dressing. Once salads were taken away, the chef came by to show us our cut of meat, and begin the show.
If you’ve never been to a Teppanyaki restaurant, the chef cooks your food on the hot grill in front of your seat, usually starting with the meat, then moving on to the vegetables. Here’s a quick demonstration; apologies for the blurry quality at the end.
Here’s what the whole deal looked like as it was approaching completion.
The food grills pretty quickly, and before we knew it, our first serving of beef was ready. Also on our plate were a selection of condiments – salt, pepper, mustard, and garlic. Once you finish the first serving of meat, the grilled vegetables are plated, and then finally the second serving of meat.
A good Teppanyai chef will take the experience a step further by suggesting which condiments to dip the meat in, and in which order. Our chef did this for us, directing us to which combinations to try. After the second piece, diners were left to their own devices to mix and match the combinations they liked best. For me, the best combination was the mustard with a little bit of soy sauce. I’ll say this was the best cut of meat I’ve ever had, hands down – lean, tender, and a delectable melt-in-your-mouth feeling that you just wanted to savor forever – and a bit of spice and acidity from the mustard/soy sauce combo was just simply delightful.
The meal finished up with dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Ok, so there’s nothing extraordinary about a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, but given how much we’d stuffed ourselves already, this proved to be just the right amount of dessert, and it complemented the coffee nicely.
So was our lunch worth the 13 hour flight to Tokyo, and then a 3-hour train ride to Kobe? Oh yeah. No regrets at all. And it’ll be a fun story to tell Mini-Me someday.
Sunday, November 29 – Lunch
Restaurant: Ramen noodle station in Tokyo Tower Food Court
Location: Tokyo Tower, Minato, Tokyo
Price: 700 yen (~$7) for two people (CASH ONLY)
You may have noticed we skipped straight from lunch on the 28th to lunch on the 29th. Yes, we stuffed ourselves so much, and ate so late (lunch ended well past 3:00), that we both wanted to skip dinner. I had one last item on my food wish list on our final day in Tokyo, ramen soup. We ended up back at Tokyo Tower, primarily so Prita could check out the trinket shops, as we had struck out in our first couple of stops earlier in the day. Fortunately, we were able to kill two birds with one stone, as the food court down at the base of the tower had a ramen station.
The food court area was CRAZY packed (not a surprise on a Sunday at lunchtime), so I wasn’t able to get any pictures. It’s an efficient setup, though. You order and pay at a kiosk, deliver the ticket to the counter, where you receive a buzzer, then pick up your order once the buzzer goes off. Despite the crowd, it only took a little more than 10 minutes to get our meal, a bowl of vegetarian soup.
Man, this soup really hit the spot. Though sunny, it was a crisp day outside, so a bowl of hot soup was a welcome meal. The vegetarian option consisted of a soy sauce base with minced tofu and a few mixed vegetables, and wow, was it delicious. I expected salt overload, but the base actually wasn’t that salty. Perfectly done noodles sealed the deal, a firm-yet-chewy consistency that was neither too mushy nor rock hard. A great way to wrap up our time in Tokyo.
Now that you’re completely stuffed, stay tuned until next week for the next installment in this trip report series, a review of the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba.
Note: This post is part of my trip report series about our trip to Japan in November, 2015. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.