During my recent month-long stay in Japan I didn’t do a lot of adventurous eating out in Tokyo–we were busy, I was trying to save a bit of money, etc. And in a few days I’ll have eleven whole months to discover and re-discover Tokyo’s best dining spots, so there wasn’t much of a sense of urgency. Kyoto, on the other hand, offered up quite a few mouth-watering options. So without further ado, here are some mini restaurant reviews.
Mother’s Organic Lunch Buffet
Location: Jimbocho, Tokyo, on Suzuran-dori near the Hakusan / Yasukuni intersection, in the basement below Mother’s Organic Market
Cost: 1050 yen (a bargain!) for six portions of steamed & grilled veggies & pasta, plus three kinds of rice & miso soup. It’s not all-you-can-eat, but I always felt full at the end.
Summary: I was SO relieved to find Mother’s after searching desperately in Jimbocho for food that wasn’t fried or meat-centered. I think I ate there five or six times in a week. The miso soup is rich and flavorful, the brown rice delicious with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and the steamed corn & pumpkin really hit the spot. The fried pumpkin and carrot might not have been as light and healthy, but they were yummy too. And the staff encouraged me to pile everything high onto my rather small, compartmentalized dish. Great for lunch and dinner, and the little organic market above the restaurant has a great selection of healthy snacks.
(Note: Sometimes it’s difficult to know in Japan whether the food you’re getting is really organic [rules seem to be kind of lax]. So while I can’t say for certain that all the stuff here was organic, I do know that it was vegetarian and delicious.)
Location: Nara, just down the road from the main entrance to Todai-ji.
Cost: main dishes 800-1500 yen
Summary: Tried this one out on Lonely Planet’s recommendation and wasn’t disappointed. Shizuka serves kamameshi, a kind of baked rice dish cooked in a stone pot. You can get it vegetarian or with fish, shrimp, or meat. It takes a little while to cook, but it’s worth the wait. All the veggies and meats steamed together have a soft, light texture, with an equally light (but definitely not bland) flavor. The best part is scraping off the crispy brown bits of rice at the bottom and on the sides of the pot. Those pots are deceptively deep, and I didn’t think I’d finish my whole pot of mushrooms, greens and rice, but I ate up every last bit of it.
Location: Kyoto, connected to Karasuma-Shijo station, in the Cocoon building.
Cost: 2600 yen for all-you-can-eat at dinner
Summary: Who says all-you-can-eat has to be about large amounts of so-so food? Sara is a deservedly popular local spot that serves up a dizzying variety of really high-quality stuff. Fresh sushi rolls, soba noodles, miso soup, beef bourginon, rigatoni with tomato sauce, grilled chicken, salads, and excellent desserts. There’s a self-service bar with a draft beer machine and plenty of bottles of liquor for those who want to pay 1000 yen extra for the all-you-can-drink option. Maybe not the most authentic experience for those who seek out “real” Japanese food in Kyoto, but damn good. Come hungry.
Location: Kyoto, Ponto-cho
Cost: I have no idea, because I was kindly treated to a meal there, but most likely not cheap.
Summary: Wow. Tosuiro definitely falls into the “food as art / whole experience” category (see photos). Located in the wonderfully atmospheric old alley of Ponto-cho, it’s one of many restaurants that in summer build temporary decks extending out over the Kamo River, giving patrons the opportunity to enjoy an evening meal outdoors under paper lanterns. Sadly, we weren’t able to get an outdoor table, but the indoor section of the restaurant is just as beautiful. Tosuiro is a tofu specialty restaurant (Kyoto’s famous for its tofu, something about the quality of the local water). We ordered a seven- or eight-course dinner, and each course was like a tiny work of art. Fresh sashimi, different varieties of baked and grilled tofu, excellent plum wine. And topping the evening off with a stroll down Ponto-cho makes the whole experience that much more memorable. Reservations recommended (some Japanese ability would be helpful too).