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Tradition Meets the 21st Century in the World of Wagashi Confectionery

At first bite, there is a distinct flavor and aroma of raspberry. Then there are strong hints of lychee and rose as the smooth, sweet jelly dissolves in the mouth. The ingredients and flavors, as well as the name, Ispahan, suggest that this block of dark magenta confectionery is an exotic Middle Eastern delicacy. In fact, Petite Yokan Ispahan is a Japanese sweet made by a traditional confectioner, Toraya, founded in the early 16th century, which built its reputation on… Read more »

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Ristorante Honda – An Italian Take on Japan’s Seasonal Fare

As we walked through the front door of Ristorante Honda, an elegant Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo’s Gaienmae neighborhood, I was struck by the realization that eating out may never be quite the same again. Inside the restaurant’s stylish dining room, with its neutral tones and white table linen, stood two men wearing face shields over their masks, looking like characters out of a Star Wars film. “Some customers are quite concerned about contagion,” explained the maitre d’ from behind his… Read more »

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Gourmet Bentos for the Homebound

When I was growing up in Japan, ordering meal deliveries from restaurants was a common way for housewives to take a break and for families to enjoy professionally cooked dishes in the comfort of the home. These deliveries, known as demae, were typically from local eateries that served casual food, such as udon and soba noodles, donburi, or bowls of rice topped with various ingredients, from pork cutlets (katsu-don) to stir-fried chicken and egg (oyako-don). Young delivery men (I have… Read more »

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Narisawa – Cuisine Inspired by the Japanese Countryside

Before the coronavirus put a virtual halt to dining out in Tokyo, we visited Narisawa in Tokyo’s chic Aoyama neighborhood on an unseasonably warm day in early March with a cloudless sky and a light spring breeze. I had not been to chef Yoshihiro Narisawa’s innovative restaurant for several years, partly due to the frustrations of trying to get a table at this expensive yet highly popular establishment with its 2 Michelin stars and partly because I was not confident I could… Read more »

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Hanare, basement haven in Ebisu

With its fine balance between contemporary and traditional home-style Japanese cuisine, Hanare, a cosy yet refined izakaya in Ebisu, was an ideal venue for a small, casual dinner on a chilly autumn night. While rooted in traditional concepts, this low-key establishment echoes the quality of its more creative and western-oriented big sister, Au Gamin de Tokio, which is two flights up on the second floor of the building they share. Trattoria Mode, a casual Italian eatery in the same Au Gamin… Read more »

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Tenoshima – Contemporary Japanese Cuisine in a Relaxed Atmosphere

The casual, stylish atmosphere and friendliness of the staff mask a seriousness and dedication to a mission of modernizing Japanese haute cuisine that is at the core of Tenoshima, a promising, newish kaiseki-style restaurant in Aoyama. On meeting the affable chef and co-proprietor, Ryohei Hayashi, it is hard to imagine that such a seemingly easy-going person could have spent many years training at one of Japan’s most prominent kaiseki restaurants under the grueling tutelage of proprietor chef Yoshihiro Murata.  In… Read more »

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Konpeki No Umi – Fresh Seafood in the Heart of Roppongi

If you happen to be in Roppongi at lunch time, looking for a high-quality yet reasonably priced lunch in comfortable surroundings, try Konpeki No Umi in the Piramide Building just behind the Roppongi subway station. Loosely translated as “deep blue sea,” Konpeki No Umi is a Japanese restaurant that highlights seafood and serves both traditional and contemporary dishes in a minimalist setting of light wood and white walls decorated with ceramic art work. Although the restaurant’s promotional brochure says it is… Read more »

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Mamianazaka Honoka – Traditional Cuisine Meets Contemporary Cool in Azabu

Tokyo has no shortage of high-end restaurants but sometimes a simple meal of sophisticated but unpretentious dishes served in stylish yet comfortable surroundings is preferable to an elaborate multi-course kaiseki meal, meticulously prepared and painstakingly presented. So, it was a great joy to discover Mamianazaka Honoka, a Japanese restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Higashi-Azabu. In a reminder of what the area used to be like, the unwieldy name literally translates as badger hole. Honoka is hidden from street… Read more »

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Tantansai – Delicious Fare in Beautiful Wares

Japan can elevate the simple form of counter dining to lofty levels or turn it into part of the entertainment. Whether a rowdy izakaya bistro, rarefied sushi bar or a top-end kaiseki restaurant serving traditional haute cuisine, the counter (if available) usually affords a ring-side view of chefs plying their trade. It is a place where diners can interact and chat with the chefs, watching them slice, grill or assemble ingredients into the dishes of the day. At Tantansai (full… Read more »

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Jean Georges’ Asian-Inspired French Cuisine

I was thrilled when invited to the “soft opening” of the newly revamped JG, the Tokyo outpost of New York’s celebrated Jean-Georges restaurant. I’d been a fan of French-born chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and his Alsatian-inspired cooking for perhaps  25 years and gladly accepted the summons I received from new General Manager (and old associate) Takenori Nakazato. I reminded myself that a “soft opening” is when the restaurant isn’t officially open and friends and family are invited to dine so… Read more »

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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 »