Tasty Tokyo


Savoy Pizza in Azabu Juban
Savoy Pizza in Azabu Juban


The pickle and dried fish course at Kamiya in Roppongi
The pickle and dried fish course at Kamiya in Roppongi

Foodies around the world know that Tokyo has more Michelin rated restaurants than any other city, but you don’t have to eat high-end to experience the euphoria of sublime food.  $10 and the knowledge of where to go, can bring you pretty close to food heaven.  My father and step-mother visited last week and I chose the places we ate with care.  There was a different place for lunch and dinner and the price and cuisine ranged from under $10 per person to over $100.  We started off the culinary journey with a trip to our local ramen shop.  This is a place that Tom scouted out before I arrived here with the kids.  You slide open the wooden doors, duck under the linen noren curtains and place your 1000 yen note into the vending machine.  Each item on the menu is shown with a photo, a price and the brief description in Japanese.  You make your selection, a coupon pops out along with your change.  You hand the coupon to the man at the counter, sit down at one of the 10 small tables and wait for your bowl of steaming noodles to arrive.  I always choose the ten ten men (which I’m not even sure is the name) but its a bowl of ramen noodles with a peanut flavored spicy broth served with ground pork and fresh spinach.  You eat the noodles with chopsticks and you drink the soup with a big Japanese soup spoon.  And I never forget to order a plate of the fresh gyoza dumplings that I dip into a mixture of soy sauce, white vinegar and spicy hot oil.  Wash it all down with an Asahi or Sapporo Beer and it’s one of the best things around for less than $10.  Sophie has been raving about a pizza place that she went to with a friend’s family and I have tried several times to locate it, to no avail.  But with my parents in tow, we forged ahead, found Savoy Pizzza in Azabu Juban and ate our way through 10 pizzas in less than 1 hour with only 7 people.  The menu was pretty straightforward:  pizza margherita or pizza marinara.  We ordered 8 margarita and were offered two special pizzas that were not on the small menu (margarita with fresh cherry tomatoes).  Each pizza was made in front of us by the young Japanese pizza guy and then he threw a handful of rock salt into the brick oven which sizzled on impact and in went each pie.  Within moments, it was bubbling and oozing and plopped down in front of us.  The restaurant is more of a bar with exactly 9 seats.  We were told we could come for dinner at 6:30 but had to be gone by 7:30.  We ate fast and frantically and were very happy on our way out. Bill for 7 people with a bottle of red wine and several sodas, about $200.  A favorite Japanese cooking style is Teppanyaki.  A very westernized version is Benihana.  In Tokyo, places like Benihana are an insult to Teppanyaki restaurants.  In Tokyo, these dining establishments can charge between $100 and $200 per person and sometimes more.  Obviously, this is not an option for a large hungry family so I asked my friend Donna who has raised 6 kids here where she takes her kids for teppanyaki.  She recommend Panic Cafe.  Panic Cafe is located close to Azabu Juban.  It is located down a long staircase in the basement of an office building.  It also has a counter that seats about 10 with two tables.  Most of the food is cooked in front of you at the grill, but without the fanfare and drama of the typical Benihana.  They have perfected  a dish that is popular in Tokyo called Taco Rice.  The dish consists of rice, beans, meat, cheese, tomatoes and LOVE and when they serve it to you at Panic Cafe, you think you have eaten manna.  My father said it was one of the best things he ate in Tokyo.   Another lunch time found us at Rice Terrace in Nishi Azabu.  A small two storied shuttered house tucked away behind the traffic of the main street.  The red and green curry lunch set is one of my favorites and they serve it with soup, salad and a dessert of rice pudding with coconut milk and sweet potato.  Add a beer and the total for lunch is about $10 per person.  Sushi Sushi Sushi.  You can’t get it any fresher or more authentic.  We ate sushi three times while my dad and stepmother were here: the first time was around 10:45 a.m. after visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market, we stopped in for a tuna lunch set which included all kinds of different grades of tuna in all types of forms (sashimi, sushi, hand rolls…) There are a few famous spots for eating at the fish market but I’m never standing in a line for an hour for lunch and its pretty hard to go wrong anywhere you eat in Tsukiji.  Price for lunch with beer around $12.  The second place we ate sushi was at our favorite kaiten sushi restaurant (or conveyor belt sushi).  On the main strip in Omotesando, there is a little sushi-go-round with about 20 stools and you sit and watch the small plates of sushi come around and your pick up the plates you want to eat.  At the end of the meal, they count the plates and the colors of the plates (the colors designate the price) and you are presented with the bill.  Hayden can eat about 14 plates himself.  At the end of the meal, we had at least 40 plates and the bill was $85 for 7 people – less than $10 per person.  The last sushi meal made up for that one in terms of price!  The night before my dad and step-mother left, we went to Fukuzushi, a sushi restaurant in Roppongi.  We had a combination of raw and cooked food – several orders of cooked yellowtail collar (my step-mother’s favorite) and at least 4 orders of softshell crab along with sushi rolls and sashimi.  The bill that night was over $600 for 7 people.  The food was great but I’m not sure I will be taking the kids there again!  One night we went to Kamiya for dinner.  A small restaurant that seats 10 people upstairs at a communal table and 10 people downstairs in the basement at a counter.  The menu includes several courses and changes each week.  It is presented, hand-written in a book for you to look at.  Since it is all in Japanese, we smiled and gave the book back and told them to just go ahead.  The meal started with a seaweed and raw egg shooter and continued with course after course of sashimi, pickles, dried fish, fried shrimp summer rolls, beef, fish ball soup and probably a few other courses I can’t remember.  The meal ended with a small dish of cherry blossom ice cream.  Most of us tried everything, some dishes were unbelievably good and others more on the interesting side.  Each course is served in a unique piece of hand made pottery and the service is unique.  The restaurant is owned and run by all women, a unique experience in Tokyo.  Dinner costs about $80 per person.  A very nice price for the level of service and the quality of the food.  One day, while visiting the Tokyo-Edo Museum, which happens to be located in the area where the sumo stadium is and the wrestlers live and train, we stopped in for lunch at a restaurant that has served sumo wrestlers chanko nabe for over 100 years.  Chanko Nabe is a big pot with broth and vegetables into which very thin strips of beef are added.  As they quickly cook, you pull them out with chopsticks and spoon some soup and vegetables into your bowl and eat them together.  When the meat has been eaten, they throw in some thick udon noodles to cook with the vegetables and soup.  Its very good, especially on a chilly spring day in March.  A week in Tokyo would not be complete without a tempura meal.  I have never been a fan of tempura.  To me, Tempura was what you ordered in a Japanese restaurant if you didn’t eat sushi.  But in Japan, it is an art form.   Each piece is made individually, in front of you and served one at a time.  The ingredients used vary depending upon what is fresh but when we were there included shrimp, small white fish, eggplant, edamame, mushrooms, asparagus, to name a few.  You are given several dipping options.  One is a bowl of broth at room temperature that you add freshly grated daikon (radish) to.  This cools the tempura and makes it ready to eat.  The other is a good old dish of salt – nothing is better than a fried shrimp dipped in salt!  And freshly squeezed lemon juice which combined with the salt is the perfect addition to the seafood tempura.  We went to Tensei, the only Michelin starred restaurant on the itinerary.  Lunch is a bargain as they serve you the same multi-course meal as they do at dinner except they charge about half at lunch (about $50 per person).  Worth every yen.  Most of the restaurants we went to were Japanese which makes sense as most visitors really want to eat Japanese food when they are only here for a short time.  But I can assure you that you can eat almost any kind of food in this city and most of it is off the charts…When my dad and step-mother left, I went right on a diet.  Visitors can be fattening!

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