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MAMMA MIA! WHAT A MEAL AT MAMMA LUISA’S TABLE

When my Tuscan friend Gabriella feels enthusiastic about something she rolls her eyes toward the heavens and exclaims, “Mamma mia!” No, she’s not an Abba impersonator.  In this particular case it was an apt reaction to finding Mamma Luisa’s Table, a tiny Tuscan gem of a restaurant tucked away in the backstreets that fringe Tokyo’s vibrant Shibuya shopping district. It was just cooling down on a late summer evening and definitely time for a chilled glass of wine as we… Read more »

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Narukami – A Franco-Japanese Blend

It cannot be easy running your own restaurant as a solo venture. Many chefs do it, of course, and I’m always amazed at their ability to prepare multi-course meals for groups of diners, each eating at their own pace, ordering different drinks and often asking endless questions about the dishes served. Such were my thoughts when I visited Narukami, a chic Japanese restaurant serving innovative cuisine in a minimalist setting. Housed in a concrete complex in the heart of Tokyo’s… Read more »

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Feeling Footloose and Bohemian in Kichijoji

When visiting Japan from abroad, style-conscious friends frequently ask to visit the “Brooklyn” of Tokyo, hoping to find a myriad of alternative clothing boutiques and stellar dining. I always have to resist the urge to tell them there is no Brooklyn, because there’s no Manhattan nearby. Instead Tokyo is a fascinating urban sprawl with no focal center. There are instead 23 wards being “modernized” by the large corporations that operate the train stations along lines intersecting and connecting the vastness… Read more »

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Vegan Cafe : simple, healthy fare for eclectic tastes

The name, with its connotations of strict rules against dairy and meat products, may not thrill carnivores. But the newest addition to Hiroo’s diverse array of eateries and shops may  pleasantly surprise even the meat eaters. Vegan Cafe is perched up several stairs just two minutes walk from Hiroo station, on the right-hand side of the road leading from Hiroo crossing to Arisugawa Park. Inside you find a light, airy room, with wooden furniture and potted plants. At lunchtimes, the… Read more »

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SEEING STARS IN KYOTO

We couldn’t resist the email invitation that heralded the arrival of summer: “Come join us in Kyoto for hanabi fireworks this June.” Within a day, we had booked our shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and a hotel near Kyoto station.  The invitation had come from Makoto Fukuda, a charismatic former rock’n’roll impresario who had managed some top Japanese bands in the 1990s. He retired from the music scene some years ago and began producing hanabi, or fireworks extravaganzas, throughout Japan,… Read more »

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Restaurant Asai – innovative Japanese haute cuisine

Japanese haute cuisine is an art form that takes many years to master, so it is heartening to see young chefs trained in this rigorous tradition using their well-honed skills to come up with contemporary takes on time-honored dishes. One of the best of these inventive chefs I encountered recently is Taichi Asai, whose eponymous kaiseki restaurant is located on a quiet back street off Roppongi-dori in the Nishi Azabu neighborhood. Restaurant Asai, as it is called in English, is… Read more »

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Haseshige – a culinary gem in Tokyo’s outer suburbs

For determined gourmets, part of the appeal of Haseshige is its improbability – its exceedingly drab location in a no man’s land between Tokyo and Yokohama; its unexpectedly stylish yet cosy surroundings, and above all, its excellent food and reasonable prices. We were reluctantly coaxed to undertake the trek from central Tokyo to the distant suburb of Higashi Hakuraku by an enthusiastic friend who had been a Haseshige regular for years. The packed commuter Toyoko line train ride from Tokyo… Read more »

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Oshima – Sophisticated Kaga Cuisine in the Heart of Shinjuku

When it comes to the total number of eateries concentrated in one neighborhood, few places are likely to beat Shinjuku. Whether it is along an underground passageway to the subway or amid the vast forest of high-rise buildings, every available space in Shinjuku seems to be inhabited by a noodle shop, izakaya, café or fast-food joint ready to fill an empty tummy. Many of these eateries cater to the busy commuter or harried shopper, eager to tame their hunger pangs… Read more »

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Creative Vietnamese Cuisine and More at Ăn Di

Given its abundant use of fresh herbs, its relatively delicate yet complex flavors and French-influenced refinement, Vietnamese cuisine would seem to be a natural favorite of Japanese foodies. So, it is seems somewhat surprising that while there are many restaurants in Tokyo that serve Vietnamese dishes, there are few that offer Vietnamese haute cuisine or venture creative interpretations of Vietnamese staples, such as fried and fresh spring rolls or pho noodle soups. Many years ago, we were able to enjoy… Read more »

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Hakone – a Mountain Refuge for Weary Urbanites

The mountain resort of Hakone is to Tokyoites what Long Island is to New Yorkers – a tranquil refuge for work-weary urbanites in need of physical and spiritual restoration. Just a two-hour drive from the Japanese capital, Hakone is celebrated for its panoramic views, therapeutic hot-spring baths, diverse cultural institutions and abundance of luxurious accommodations – although its range of more modest inns, hostels and day-visit baths also makes it a popular choice for those on tighter budgets. In past… Read more »

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We are the Farm – an organic restaurant run by farmers

There has been a flurry of building activity this past year in Tokyo’s Azabu Jyuban neighborhood, where long-time mom-and-pop stores have been steadily replaced by flashier outfits. But it is not just the small, family-run businesses that are being pushed out – in the past year, one of the few, local supermarkets in the area was replaced by upscale French frozen and organic foods stores and a Tully’s coffee shop turned into a Dean and Deluca outlet. Among the more… Read more »

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Maru Aoyama – izakaya comfort with kaiseki roots

Tucked away on a side street off Aoyama-dori, a few blocks from Omotesando subway station, Maru is a rare combination of casual yet sophisticated dining, serving high quality izakaya or bistro fare with a refined kaiseki, or haute cuisine sensibility. We discovered Maru and its warm, stylish basement premises well over a decade ago, and have kept returning over the years. While its style in both food and presentation is consistently high, the most surprising thing about this chic yet… Read more »