The youthful yet accomplished Chef Kanesaka
The youthful yet accomplished Chef Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
The master at work.
The master at work.
Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka

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Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka

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Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka

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Sushi Kanesaka
Sushi Kanesaka
Spit-roasted doughnut loaves?  I'm not sure, but they look delicious!
Spit-roasted doughnut loaves? I'm not sure, but they look delicious!

Well, that’s that.  Today marks the end of my culinary expedition to Tokyo and, last night, I closed it out in fine style with a return visit to Sushi Kanesaka.  As I was heading in, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was heading out, flanked by a security team that whisked him into one of two waiting cars and away.  Chef Kanesaka again did the honors on this night, carving up his mouth-melting creations for us and happily chatting throughout.  One of the things I most appreciate about the man, besides his mastery of sushi, is that he is almost always smiling, ever upbeat and personable.  Jessica and I struck up a conversation with the two couples seated beside us and discussed food, travel, and the perils of eating mochi (a glutinous Japanese rice cake) that, the way they tell it, sounds even more dangerous than fugu.  At the end of the night, we were heading up the stairs, talking about how much we enjoyed the restaurant and Chef Kanesaka  in particular when, upon reaching street level, we turned and found Kanesaka-san standing behind us.  He thanked us for visiting and presented us with gift box  containing what he termed his “special seaweed”.  A short walk to the subway and Jessica presented me with yet another going away gift box, this one containing colorful Japanese desserts before heading off for the last time.

I packed, made arrangements for the departure, then sat back and took stock of my trip, and my special dinners in particulars.  All told, I visited some Michelin 3 star restaurants, some Michelin 2 star restaurants, and a couple of places recommended by the hotel.  So, how did everyone do?

BATTLE TEPPANYAKI: UKAI-TEI VS. MORIMOTO XEX
Décor: Ukai-Tei’s “classic” interior made me feel as though I was having dinner at my eccentric aunt Gladys’s home, while Morimoto XEX captured the chic sterility of a German techno dance club.  Verdict: Tie.
Food: Both very good, especially when it came down to the big ticket Kobe, but some of Morimoto XEX’s appetizers were so small they were downright miniscule.  Verdict: Edge to Ukai-Tei.
Service: Good service but while Morimoto XEX was fairly austere (in and out with minimal contact) and our chef barely spoke two words to us (he probably didn’t speak English), the service as Ukai-Tei was a little friendlier due, in no small part, to our affable chef who was more than happy to discuss the various ingredients that went into the dishes (and, no, he didn’t speak English either).   Verdict: Edge to Ukai-Tei.
Price: Egads!  My meal at Ukai-Tei was the most expensive I had in Tokyo!  Still, even given the portions and the quality of the meal… Result: Morimoto XEX.
Winner: Ukai-Tei.
Final Verdict: Sorry, no return visits to either.  I enjoyed myself, especially at Ukai-Tei, but at the end of the day the price point would be enough to make me set my sights (and wallet) elsewhere.

BATTLE FRENCH: L’OSIER VS. CHATEAU JOEL ROBUCHON
Décor: Joel Robucon’s majestic chateau offers a truly one of a kind dining experience while L’Osier’s comparatively smaller room offers elegance and charm in its upscale setting and fun, almost playful décor.  Verdict: Both were beautiful but I have to give the edge to Robuchon here.  You’re eating dinner in a chateau!
Food: Robuchon had some mighty spectacular-looking dishes even if some failed to impress, but L’Osier’s plates were all winners, taking home the awards in both taste and presentation.  Verdict: L’Osier.
Service: Some missteps at Robuchon where the service was cool and unobtrusive whereas L’Osier boasted the best service I received during my trip.  Prompt, professional, and personable.  Verdict: L’Osier.
Price: Clearly, these prices aren’t for the faint of heart but, that said, both restaurants were comparable.  Still, for quality of the meal… Verdict: L’Osier.
Winner: L’Osier.
Final Verdict: To be honest, I would return to Robuchon not for the food but for the place itself which provides a wonderfully romantic setting (should I ever convince Fondy to join me).  Otherwise, I’d save myself the trip and go back to L’Osier.  Twice.

BATTLE KAISEKI: HAMADAYA VS. RYUGIN VS. KIKUNOI VS. KANDA
Décor: Both Kanda and Kikunoi offer counter seating, although Kikunoi does have the added bonus of a rock garden vista through the bay window directly behind the working chefs.  Ryugin offers a more modern table setting in keeping with its contemporary spin on the traditional kaiseki.  Hamadaya, meanwhile, approximates the look and feel of a Kyoto ryokan.  Once you step through those sliding doors, it’s as if you’ve left the frenetic city for the placid countryside – the perfect kaiseki setting.  Verdict: Hamadaya.
Food: Hmmm, this one is a tough one.  Hamadaya offers clean simplicity, which is nice – but, in comparison, the other three fairly blow it out of the water.  Looking back, there were some stand-out dishes at all of the remaining three – the blackthroat perch at Ryugin, the grilled crab at Kikunoi, the hairy crab meatball at Kanda.  Verdict: Let’s call it a three-way tie.
Service: Excellent at all four.  Ryugin’s table service was pleasant and professional while, at Hamadaya, we were served by the owner’s daughter who would slip quietly into our private room to see to our needs and then slip away just as quietly.  Chef Kanda was a pleasure to chat with while I loved the fact that the Kikunoi staff took the time to pull out the English-language version of their cookbook and inform us on what, exactly, we were eating.  Verdict: Four way tie.
Price: Kaiseki is expensive and when it comes to Tokyo kaiseki, these four places are as expensive as they get.  Verdict: Another four way tie.
Winner: It’s impossible to pick a winner here.  Although…
Final Verdict:  While I enjoyed the setting offered by Hamadaya, it was atmosphere over food and  so I honestly don’t think I’d make a return visit.  Kikunoi, Kanda, and Ryugin – yes, I would.

BATTLE SUSHI: MIZUTANI VS. SUSHI KANESAKA
Décor: Both are fairly tiny basement restaurants offering counter service only.  Verdict: Tie.
Food: Mizutani was very good, but Sushi Kanesaka was out-of-this-world.  Best Sushi Ever!  Verdict: Sushi Kanesaka.
Service: Again, service was good at both places but Chef Kanesaka’s warmth and open disposition made both visits here truly memorable experiences.  Verdict: Sushi Kanesaka.
Price: Mizutani was about two-thirds the price of Sushi Kanesaka and yet, I would happily pay extra for Chef Kanesaka’s sushi.
Winner: Sushi Kanesaka.
Final Verdict: While I did enjoy Mizutani, I don’t think I’d make a return visit simply because I’d probably like to check out any of Tokyo’s numerous other fine sushi restaurants.  As for Sushi Kanesaka – it will no doubt be my first stop on my trip back.

Finally, in closing, I’d like to thank the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made over the course of my stay here in Tokyo, those who took the time to join me on some excursions, filled me in on the local scene, and accompanied me to dinner: Yuka, Mahesh, Richard, Kaori, Mark, Sayeh, Valentine, Claire, Tomoko, Moro, Keiko, Kay, and, especially, Jessica my more-often-than-not partner in culinary pursuits.  And an extra special thank you to the Tokyoites who helped make my stay most enjoyable by either helping to facilitate restaurant reservations, allowing me to photograph and pet their dogs, or simply chatting with me despite my suspect Japanese language skills.  Finally, thanks to all you readers who came along and kept me company by posting comments.

Sayanora and see you on the other side!

Of the world!

51 thoughts on “December 4, 2008: Tokyo Travel Day #12, The Sayanora Wrap-Up

  1. Safe travels, Joe. And thanks for the write-up and pictures, they were a lot of fun to read. See ya when you get back!

  2. Thank you for posting all of these pictures and descriptions! It was fascinating. A friend of mine went on a world tour last year and stopped in Japan and really loved it.
    I’m not very familiar with Japanese culture and have never been there, but I’m really surprised at the French influence in their food. Do you happen to know why that is? Or does it just look like French influence?
    You should try out pastries and chocolate in Belgium, if you’re ever in that corner of the world. In winter, you can smell roasting chestnuts in the street and buy them hot, you can also smell warm “gauffres de Liege”. It’s very hard to resist! It’s no 3-star Michelin food, but it’s tasty nonetheless.

  3. Hope you’ve arrived safely to your lovely wife and “kids”, I’m sure they’ve all missed you terribly. I’m exhausted just reading your adventures and need a good holiday! Looking forward to Friday night, but geez, every time I turn SciFi on lately, there’s that reminder that there are “only three episodes left until the finale”. Damn.

  4. Thank YOU, Joe for taking us on your culinary and scenic tour of Tokyo. It was amazing and often hilarious.

    Have you tried getting on Iron Chef America as one of the judges – because, seriously, you should. I mean, you’re already an expert at gourmet-food tasting. And you know the Chairman, Mark Dacascos… 🙂

  5. 🙁

    I’m gonna miss your overseas adventures. I must admit that I didn’t expect to enjoy your vacation posts, but I did – more than anything… exceptbehindthescenespicsofTodd. 😉 Thank YOU for sharing it all with us!

    Have a great trip home! Tell us who kisses you first – Fondy, or the pups! (If it’s anything like our house, the pets will greet you, while the wife hands you a bag of trash to take out to the curb… 😛 )

    das

  6. Hey Joe!

    Let me just say, these past 12 days have been amazing! You literally brought us, the readers, through word, video and picture, into the city known as Tokyo. We may not have been involved in your journey, but you give us complete descriptions to give us the feeling that we have (especially, food, which I’ll discuss later). You made us feel like we were part of your journey, and it was a darn blast! I’m sure many of us, including myself, want to check out Tokyo due to your blog entries. 🙂

    Thank you very much for keeping up your blog during your journeys in Tokyo. They are always a neat read, and looking at your culinary photos and descriptions make you want to reach into the screen and grab a big bite of your meals. The desserts, all of them, though some are unusual, looked absolutely stunning, and the main courses you had had a great drool-factor. I am extremely glad you got to enjoy all of these different cuisines.

    You definitely deserved this vacation after your hard-earned work on Stargate Atlantis. This season has been totally beyond expectations, and you really earned this vacation! It has been a blast to be able to read your blog these past 12 days, and I am glad to be a part of your adventure! 😀

    Thanks, as always!

    – Enzo Aquarius

  7. Can’t believe you’re heading home already!
    Safe journey home Joe.

    I hope Fondy doesn’t faint when the VISA/AMEX/Mastercard bill arrives and that it doesn’t say at the bottom, “Tune in next month for the remainder of your bill”.

    Sayanora!

  8. Thanks for the great blog entries and photos about your trip. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading about your adventures in Japan and to tell the truth, I’ve enjoyed them a little more than the Stargate related postings. (Wash my mouth out with soap!)

    But then again, I may be one of the few people on the planet that actually *does* enjoy looking at someone else’s holiday photos.

    I also meant to comment on an earlier blog entry about the joys of traveling alone. I’ve always traveled by myself and actually, I think it’s a far better way to go. The only caveat being that female travelers (such as myself) should exercise a little more caution when going out at night.

    Anyway, thanks again for the great entries!

  9. Gorshk! I am wasabi green with Sushi envy.

    It all looked mouth-watering at Sushi Kanesaka. I want to try one of everything. (Well, maybe except for that mustard-colored offering. What was that?) Would draw the line only at what we normally would not eat raw here, i.e., anything that’s considered a pet or a health hazard. Goll! At the first opportunity, I am so pigging out on sushi! (Is that possible? I might get thinner, LOL.) And must find one wacky restaurant, complete with kitchen kitsch.

    And after that delicate, virtuous food, I’ll be off to at least one pastry shop or bakery. Or better yet, to make the dough go farther ( rim shot ), I’ll make some almond-flavored puff pastry bow-tie cookies that I made last Christmas.

    Then I’ll have to go look at the Christmas lights downtown after dark, especially The World’s Tallest Christmas Tree™, sort of. And visit the art museum, with its outdoor sculpture. And a high-end boutique selling fun, but ridiculously expensive accessories. And meet new people and dogs and polish up the ol’ foreign language skills. And MUST take gorgeous photos, tons of them!

    See what you’ve done, Cap’n Joe? Explored another world and made us hungry for more.

    You’ve gone and given us our Christmas present early.

    You gave us Tokyo.

    Thank you…

    Sécu voyage (safe travel) et Godspeed.

  10. I’ve been tickled at every one of your Tokyo entries. I am thrilled you enjoyed yourself and hope your travels home are swift and safe.

    If you ever come to Dallas, we’ll have to eat our way through all the BBQ, Mexican food, and steak places in town. We may not speak French or Japanese here, but Texan can be a language all its own if you find the right folks to talk to.

  11. And THANK YOU JOE for the cultural education! Hope you’re bringing back treats for the rest of the class?!

    Anyways, get some rest before you head out for home as it’ll likely be a zoo when you get back here in Time [that International Date Line is a temporal SOB!]. Hope you managed some inspiration on the SGA movie between snacks!

    AND are bringing home something *really* special for Fondy…? As in more than what your meals cost… You know, a *good* string of pearls *never* gets old!

    Whatever, “go safely” on your trip home!

  12. Hi, Joe.

    Thank you so much for all your blog entries while in Japan. That is one of the countries I always wanted to visit, and never got the chance to go. It was great seeing another glimpse of Japan through your eyes. Glad you had a great time!

  13. These last few blog entries have been so awesome. Have a safe trip home ^^
    NeKo
    P.S the dog story made me soooooooo sad.

  14. You are amazing. Have been spell bound for your vacation writeups and really am a bit surprised that it is over. Got lulled into your daily stories and photos and whoosh, time flew.

  15. After that holiday I think I need another 😛 Thank you for taking us on a vicarious vacation, its been a real eye-opener not to mention a blast. Safe trip home

    Shiningwit

  16. Odd that while I’m up in the middle of the night that your blog is the “sayonara wrap-up”. In the weirdness that is serendipity online, I’m awake and restless, in limbo waiting for the world to wake up and turn, because my brother has left us, moved on, gone just like that. Cardiac arrest just after midnight.

    “see you on the other side” Right, spooky.

    Ah crap, life’s short, people. Far too short.

  17. Oh, your vacation is already over. It seemed you had a great time and I enjoyed reading your blog and viewing the pictures.

    I’ve never been a fan of Asia. However, all those fantastic desserts almost change my mind. 😉

  18. Well, your final blog post of your trip is certainly worth bookmarking. So many insights and so much information, all nicely summarized. But how are you ever going to make it to Iron Chef America as a judge if you keep insisting on giving out tie scores? And please let us know about the special seaweed. What makes it so special? Thanks for giving us a fantasic virtual tour of some of Tokyo’s best food establishments, and have a safe trip home.

  19. Oh, I like the breakdown of the dining! It was interesting to see your report card on everyone. You pay such close attention to all the details!

    Safe home! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your culinary journey!

  20. Joe,

    Glad you had a great trip! The food looks fantastic. You’ve had me craving sushi all week.

    My aunt while I was growing up was Japanese. (She has since passed) I owe her for my love of Japanese food and culture. It was great to be exposed to that at a young age. Kind of wish she was still around.

    Welcome back to North America! Ready for a burger yet?

  21. Thanks for sharing your holiday with us, maybe I will never have the chance to visit that infamous city but I’m glad I got to experience varcariously! 🙂

  22. Glad you had a nice time there. No major earthquakes.

    Estimate how much total you spent on dining out? 😉
    DD

  23. Love reading about your adventures & seeing the amazing cuisine. So glad that you had a great trip!

  24. Have a safe trip home. Be sure to give big hugs to the dogs, and, of course, your wife.

    Also, thank you for sharing your trip. I’ll probably never see Tokyo, so it was fascinating to see it from your perspective.

  25. former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was heading out

    Ohhhhhh… did you steal a lock of his hair?

  26. *bowing and clapping* That was marvelous. You made us feel like we were right there with you during your whole Tokyo adventures. So sad, and quickly, it has to end. Thank you so much, Joe. I especially enjoyed your pics of the object ‘d art and city scenes. I’m not into sushi or much of anything weird or raw from the sea but it was still interesting to hear your take on the fine or not so fine cuisines of the places you dined. Safe and happy travels home. Now your true big adventures begin…..work.

  27. First, those Piere Hermes macarons aren’t sold within five thousand miles of where I live! Is there something like it that is sold in North America? Or is there a website where us westerners can buy those yummy macarons without a passport and visa? They look crazy good.

    And second, after seeing the pics of the trim and fit Japanese pups that you snapped, does it make you want to put Jelly and his cohorts on a diet so they can have more energy? The Japanese pups looked like they could bench press 200.

  28. Oh man, I just made one of my best comments to your blog and my browser quit on me. Damn! Well anyway, it must be bittersweet to be heading home to the other side of the world after such a wonderful (I assume) trip.

    I withheld any comments because, well, frankly, I know less than nothing about Japanese cuisine. From your words and photos I lived vivaciously through you and I feel I’ve been educated a bit about Japanese culture (or food anyway). Hopefully your wife will accompany the next time you take off on your next excursion.

    After a day or two of rest perhaps you’ll be in the mood to talk Stargate again. While I thoroughly enjoyed your posts I’ve missed the Stargate stuff. I wonder how Stargate does in Asia, hmmm…

    I’m happy you had such a marvelous time Joe, and I am sure you’ve made many great memories to pull out and review time and time again.

    Rest up, stay well, and take care.

    jem

  29. coucou Joseph =) Vous allez bien?

    Ohh vous devez être triste de quitter ce pays fabuleux =(..mais vous allez retrouver tous vos chiens, votre maison et vos amis de Vancouver =)!!

    Rentrez bien !!

    je vous adore!! gros bisou♥

  30. Joe,

    Apparently, I have 50p for you and some demands. I’ll wait for the jetlag to wear off first though. And the dogs.. Fondy.. Those calories that are probably busting for freedom.. The Visa bill.. Oh, and of course, Carl.

    @ Maggiemayday: *hugs* Sorry to hear. Thoughts and prayers are with you and the family.

  31. me revoila Joseph.

    Ofaite un ami ma demander si vos dents téllement belle était des vrai?

    mince question étrange?

    ..alors ..

  32. Watch those headwinds on the journey home Joe!

    Thanks for all the vicarious Japanese tripping. Learned a lot, saw a lot and enjoyed your trip immensely, the least costly way there is, through your eyes and senses via the magic of your blog!

    I bet the “kids” will yip-yip and grunt waves of happiness over you upon your stroll through the doorway… no wait… that was a scene from a USA Network show last night.

    Well, I’m sure Fondy will be happy to have you back and will smother you with hugs and kisses… no wait… now that was a TCM movie of the week. Hm-m…

    I’ve got it! 💡

    *
    *
    *
    *
    We fans welcome you home Joe. Thanks for the virtual ride.
    😀

    Carol Z
    chill’in in New Jersey

  33. Many props to you Joe for putting yourself out there an meeting so many new people, thereby making a fantastic vacation! It has inspired me not to be reluctant to travel alone. I did so around a business trip to Italy years ago, and even though my Italian was passable, I was too shy to speak to anyone! It was a lonely few days, I have to admit.

    You’ll have to share your secrets as to how you found your companions and how you convinced them you weren’t a Canadian axe-murderer.

    Safe travels home!

  34. @ maggiemayday – I am so very sorry to hear! My heart goes out to you and yours. So true, life is just too short.

    I was just thinking about life today…how fragile it is. The neighbor’s dog, an old lab, comes every day for ‘treats’. She’s old, her health is failing, but she still has this little pep in her step and wiggle in her rump. Well, when I got to work, she was waiting for treats by the back door of the house, doing her little old lady happy dance. I wasn’t going to the house… I was headed for the office… but I looked at her, and thought, ‘she might not be here tomorrow, and this is all she has – this makes her happy.’ I just couldn’t say no to her, and she got her treat. 🙂 If I can feel that for an old dog, how much more so should we cherish each moment we have with our family and friends, focusing on the things that make us happy and bring us together, because…well, you just never know…

    My thoughts are with you.

    {{{{{hugs}}}}}

    Deirdre

  35. Safe travelling Joe.

    Thanks for the Japan tour.. kinda felt like I was there.

    Now comes the family slide show.

  36. @maggiemayday: I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    Joe, thanks so much for sharing your vacation. You are incredibly dedicated — blogging every day without fail so we could enjoy Tokyo vicariously. And I’d love to know, too, how you made your connections and found people to share your culinary adventures. It would certainly make solo travel more fun. I hope you’ll share your secret with us.

    The dangers of mochi! One of the people I met in Japan mentioned that there are a lot of injuries and some deaths every year from mochi (sticky rice cakes) especially the little ones that come on a skewer. Definitely more dangerous than fugu. But darn tasty! Especially with the sweet soy glaze they put on them. And now I’m craving sushi again. Those pictures were amazing.

    Have a safe trip home!

    Sparrow_hawk

  37. I just wanted to thank you very much for the pictures. I and my husband still miss living over there now 10 years on and your pictures helped to refresh our memories of life in japan.
    *bows*

  38. Perhaps your dinner companions mentioned how mochi is eaten in huge quantities at New Year? It’s the first thing eaten for breakfast in a soup called ozouni. Sadly, many old people choke on the oozy (because they are heated and softened in the soup) gelatinous-like lumps and every New Year they publish the figures for “Death by Mochi”.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your trip entries. Thanks.

  39. Bonjour Joseph!
    Sayer! Notre convention prend de jour en jour de l’ampleur!!
    Qui aurez cru un jour que des jeunes français a peine majeur soient capable de faire cela??
    Il y’aura + de 1000 personnes, elle sera gratuite avec de nombreux standes et jeux!
    De plus nous avons de plus en plus de proposition de guest! c’e’st génial!!
    je vous laisse écouter ce que les doubleurs français de la serie nous on fait:
    http://atlantisfannew1.skyrock.com/player_music.html

    Ce n’est pas super??

    Mais nous avons toujour besoin de plus de sponsor et il faudrai que cette convention ce face connaitre, avez vous une solution pour cela?
    Pouvez vous en parlez autour de vous?
    Voici l’adresse du site:
    http://www.stargateconvention.com/index.php

    a trés bientot!

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