Osaka has a central wholesale fish market much like Tsukiji in Tokyo, with its own 4:15am Tuna auction. Had we known that Tsukiji would be so restricted (we should have known and watched for this after the earthquake), we would have made more of an effort to make it to Osaka's version, which seems more welcoming to tourists.
But the real reason we journeyed to the Central Fish Market was in order to visit a tiny sushi-ya that's been around for over a hundred years (est. in 1907) we had read about from Chubby Hubby, and really, how could one go wrong having sushi for breakfast right on the grounds of a fish market?
Ok, I’ll admit it, Wakuriya only hit our radar after it received its first Michelin star. I have a horrible fault of usually turning a blind eye (with a few exceptions) to anything south of San Francisco, preferring to focus on wine country or Oakland/ Berkeley instead. DD had tried to get reservations before, but had called too late for a birthday dinner.
We wish we had gotten to Wakuriya sooner. I’d go every month if we could.
Sushi Kazu has got to be one of the more underrated sushi-yas in the tightly packed and well-curated commercial area that is the best part of my neighborhood in the Inner Sunset. Restaurants and shoppes are thickest between 6th and 10th on Irving, and in that radius there are no less than five sushi restaurants, and further down on Irving and 15th, there are exactly three Japanese restaurants (not necessarily sushi, though) located within one block.
This hundred-year-old restaurant is smack dab in the middle of Arashimaya in Western Kyoto. Although we stayed at a Zen Temple, meals were not included as part of our lodgings. We were, however, able to sample a delicious vegetarian yudofu - boiled tofu - meal at Takemura.
We didn't go into this blind; we found Takemura via one of my favourite Japan bloggers (Blue Lotus) and decided that we were definitely stopping by when we went to look at the beautiful bamboo groves.
In the dark, walking on the sidewalk towards the restaurant, it can be easy to miss Halu's door, if not for the small bench outside, groups of folks milling about, the shoji screens covering up part of the windows, and the numerous items plastered on the door and windows - most are old concert flyers and menu pages, advertising the bill of fare; others are clearly warning notices - unless you're truly, awfully oblivious - you'd see that Halu definitely does not serve any sushi in any form, nohow, nowhere. "No Sushi Today (or Tomorrow)," the signs proclaim; and "Sushi Free Zone" just for good measure.
Halu's popularity a good sign that the lack of sushi is clearly not a problem.
We arrived in Kyoto in the evening, as dusk was just starting to fall. We’d been travelling all day, from Kanazawa in the North, by the Sea of Japan. It was too short a visit, but we wouldn’t be making the same mistake while were in Kyoto – planning a good 5 days in Japan’s ancient erstwhile capital. We didn't have any definitive dining plans, so once settled at Shunkoin Temple, we decided that ramen made for a fast and easy meal option. For many of our food recommendations, we relied on Kyoto Foodie’s blog and headed out to the other side of town in search of Takaraya Ramen on Pontocho, near Gion.
Hideki had pointed out Ichiran from where we met on the Ebisubashi bridge, telling us that it was a pretty good ramen place, possibly the best, in his opinion. So on our last night in Osaka, after drinks in the Umeda Sky Tower at Sky Lounge Stardust, we headed back to the Dotonbori to check it out. It’s along the Dotonbori canal, near the Nihonbashi bridge, which flanks Ebisubashi. Like Ippudo, Ichiran serves a Tonkotsu Hakata-style ramen made with pork broth.
In Europe, we knew better than to ask for take-home boxes or doggie bags if we somehow were not able to finish the food on our plates. And in Japan, we rarely encountered a meal wherein we might have been compelled to take food home. We were really surprised then, that at the end of our first fancy-schmancy meal at Kichisen, the chef presented us with a “take away” (their term, not mine) bag for asa-gohan (breakfast) the next day.
"For whatever reason, modern Japanese have maintained their deep emotional linkage with the annual shifts in climate, ingrained from ancient times whether cultivating crops or fishing on the coast. So much is this connection the heart and soul of a cuisine, that when I am asked, "What is kaiseki?" I often have a very simple answer.
"It is eating the seasons."
-- Yoshihiro Murata, Kikunoi
Roan Kikunoi, according to the 2011 Michelin Guide for Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, was created by Chef Murata as a somewhat more affordable option for the younger set as compared to Kikunoi Honten, his flagship fine-dining restaurant that's garnered 3 Michelin stars. His other outpost in Akasaka, Tokyo, won 2 stars and admittedly Roan Kikunoi has 2 stars for itself. Though quite a high bar, lunch here is also possibly one of the best deals for sampling kaiseki in Kyoto. Chef Yoshimi Murata has been something of an international celebrity, recently receiving accolades from Noma's Rene Redzepi (best meal), providing consulting advice to Singapore Airlines for in-flight meals and releasing a gorgeous English cookbook that garnered him a James Beard nomination. He also appears to somewhat controversial in Kyoto, as evidenced by this discussion string on Chowhound.
To my delight, and cautious anticipation, we returned from Japan to a number of Izakayas opening in San Francisco. We loved these establishments in Japan, known for providing beer, sake and small noshing plates to their patrons. Roughly translated, the kanji for Izakaya 居酒屋 indicates sake-selling establishment (酒 - sake-ya). We already have Nombe in the Mission, Bushi-Tei Bistro and O Izakaya in Japantown, Halu in the Inner Richmond and Izakaya Sozai in our neighborhood, the Inner Sunset.* And perhaps because Izakayas are the New Big Thing, there appear to be a number of these bar-and-small-plates restaurants opening in our area over a fairly short span of time. And I of course want to check them all out. Kasumi is in the Outer Sunset on Ocean and has, thus far, received some somewhat tepid reviews. Chotto, in the Marina, is in a part of the city we don't much like to frequent. So Nojo -- in our old stomping grounds of Hayes Valley -- won out. Chef Greg Dunmore reached the Bay Area by way of Atlanta, a graduate of the CIA in Hyde Park, NY. Dubbed a rising star chef in 2006 by the SF Chronicle, he first worked at the Michelin-starred Terra with Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani who mentored him in Japanese cuisine. Sone soon asked him to become executive chef of Ame (Asian fusion at the St. Regis Hotel), where he stayed for 4 years and also earned a Michelin. After realizing he had a passion for Japanese yakitori and izakaya-style cooking, he's now opened his own Izakaya-style establishment. Nōjō, the japanese word for farm (農場), brings together this passion and reflects his commitment to small farms and seasonal ingredients. It's important to note however, that the food at Nojo seems to be distinctly Californian and heavily influenced by Japan, not the other way around.