To say that Japan is a culinary adventure is an understatement. We got to try a great cross-section offerings, but it still feels like we only scratched the surface. I was super excited for Nathan to try sushi for the first time in his life and the best part is that he LOVED it! From all of the kawaii snacks to pieces of sashimi, here’s nearly everything we ate:
We arrived late Monday and were too exhausted to venture out in search of our first great meal, so we decided to hit up our local Natural Lawson convenience store for some ready-made sushi and microwave noodle bowls. To nobody’s surprise, the convenience store food was really good. I filled a basket full of snacks for the apartment, including some questionable powdery shrimp crisps, the best vanilla shortbread cookies (one cat and one owl per package), cheese and Champagne. Also, I was desperately trying to get Google translate to tell me which of the many milk cartons on the shelves contained cream or half and half for my morning coffee, but learned that the app is not great when packaging has more stylized fonts; the simpler the better. I ended up with whole milk, which worked out great for making café au lait.
We went to the Imperial Hotel for breakfast and were not at all daring in our ordering. i got a berry bowl and croissant, and Nathan got a pile of French toast and “breakfast potatoes”, which turned out to be French fries. It was a very western-friendly atmosphere, and a good way to ease into our first day of touring.
Later that day, we decided to check out Tokyo Food Show to pick up some food to take back to the apartment since we were ready to crash but knew we’d be hungry later. I couldn’t wait, so I made myself a sample plate of sushi and the most delicious pork dumplings that I swore we would go back to get more of (but didn’t 🙁 ). i joined Nathan for a marathon nap session, waking up several hours later when we decided to go see the lights around Shibuya crossing while the Metro was still running. While there, we tucked into an inconspicuous (but delicious) ramen shop for a late night snack.
The first thing we did this day was head to the Imperial Gardens East and walk around for a few hours. Nathan grabbed a quick bite at a ho-hum burger spot close to the gardens, which was also around the corner from our apartment, I looked up and saw the Peninsula Hotel right across from us! I was so excited that we were so close because I have a personal mission to visit each Peninsula location in the world (if not to stay, at the very least for coffee service) and here it was right around the corner from us. My breakfast this day was the Peninsula’s signature coffee and a delightful hazelnut chocolate cake.
We then headed to the Harajuku neighborhood to explore. I insisted on ordering the most obscene cotton candy of my life from Totti Candi Factory. It was almost too pretty to eat, but I was especially glad they included a disposable hand towel for sticky fingers.
For dinner, we were back in our Ginza neighborhood and after yet another long jet-lag nap, we were nearing closing time for many of the restaurants we would have liked to try in other neighborhoods (about a 20 minute Metro ride away), so after a quick search, we found a really good Neopolitan-style pizza place within walking distance which was perfect.
Instead of making pour-over in our apartment, we were craving espresso, so we did a quick search and of the many, many third-wave coffee recommendations for Tokyo, we landed on Downstairs Coffee. It was exactly what we hoped it would be.
At this point, we had been in Tokyo far too long without a proper sushi dining experience, so in the afternoon, we got serious about looking for a good (but not impossible to get into) option. I HIGHLY recommend the place we found: Sushi no Midori. It is a chain, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it because the quality is supreme. They have just a handful of locations. The medium fatty tuna sashimi was so incredible, and was Nathan’s first sushi he’s ever tried EVER, that I’m afraid he’s ruined for life. We were nervous about the long line waiting outside, but it actually moved quite fast. We were lingering awkwardly around the entrance for a while, trying to learn how the ticketing/line process worked, and finally, we figured out we just needed to enter the number in our party on a touch screen, indicate our preference for bar, table or either, and the kiosk printed out a number ticket. Since there were only two of us, it was pretty quick to get in.
For our last night in Tokyo, we wanted to check out the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt. We splurged on a bottle of Champagne and bar snacks, including a beautiful cheese plate and burger, while we enjoyed a jazz trio and vocalist. It was a perfect place, full of atmosphere to end this leg of our trip and enjoy fabulous views of the city!
We packed up our things at the apartment and headed to Tokyo Station to catch our 8:58 am bullet train to Kyoto. There was a little food stand on the platform, and not knowing what our on-board options would be, we grabbed some sandwiches, Pocky, and coffee for our morning ride.
When we got to Hotel Kanra, we checked our bags at the bell desk, enjoyed lattes and pastries at the lobby coffee bar, then headed out to Fushimi Inari-taisha. At the end of the hike once we were back down in the town, there was a whole row of food and souvenir vendors. We tried these fried squid dough balls which were a little undercooked/doughy, but the squid was good!
Our hotel had two restaurants: an Italian kitchen and a traditional Teppan Yaki restaurant, Hanaroku, where the chef prepares your meal before you on a hot grill. We were lucky to get a reservation that night for the most unique dining experience of the trip. As soon as we were seated, we were offered a warm towel to clean our hands (as was the case absolutely EVERYWHERE. We each selected a different menu (which we got to keep!) for our multi-course meal created from local, seasonal ingredients. The chef went straight to work and it was fascinating to watch him pull out all of his prep containers out of hidden drawers and cabinets to create simply beautiful dishes which he presented to us, one course at a time. I am not exaggerating when I say that the finishing/garnish details took as long or longer than the cooking process. Everything was done with such deliberate care. This was such a fun experience and I was in awe of our chef’s spatula skills!
Outside Kinkaku-ji is a little ice cream stand with the most magical ice cream cones I have encountered, not only for the sprinkling of gold flakes in honor of the golden temple across the street, but for the fascinating and addictive green-tea flavor that I learned I love! I am already experiencing extreme withdrawals knowing I am thousands of miles away from being able to enjoy this again. At this point in the trip, ice cream was plenty to tide me over until dinner, in spite of all the walking.
The Italian kitchen was closed for a wedding, but room service was still an option (and it just sounded like fun) for our last night in Japan. We ordered a lemon vinaigrette salad and two wood-fired pizzas. We figured the dining area in our room was too cute not to use!
We headed to the airport via train, but not before grabbing one last iced coffee!