Just got back from Tokyo for a quick trip to dine at Noma and did a few days in Osaka and Kyoto. Here is my quick run-down. If you ever get the chance to go to Japan, go. Food is amazing. It is clean. It is safe. The people are very friendly.
Sushi Yasuda "“ I'm honestly not sure why I booked this place. I think it was the combination of the lower price point and the possibility to have a conversation with a Sushi Chef who is fluent in English. In hindsight I should have skipped this. The Sushi bar clientele was all American. We did the omakase. I think it was 15 or so pieces and miso soup. The sushi was standard US quality and ok but very poor as compared to most anything in Japan. All of the sushi was pre-cut which detracted from the experience. This place was highlighted on Bourdain. You can skip it.
Sushi Iwa "“ One Michelin star "“ Lunch is a great value with 5,000 (12 pieces) and 8,500 yen (15 pieces) options. Quality was superb. 6 seats. All clientele was Japanese. No one piece stood out as compared to the others but the quality was excellent.
Takazawa "“ I describe this as seasonal dishes with french influences. Wine list is extraordinarily marked up - 300%+ on every bottle, something I saw at no other restaurant I dined at in Japan. 4 tables. Clientele was 50/50 US/Japanese. Chef speaks some English and his wife speaks perfect English. Wonderful service. The platings are very intricate and a bit crazy. For example, a grilled fish was served on sticks next to huge pieces of red hot charcoal which heated the room and placed at your table. The room is set up with a small kitchen to one side so it is a bit theatrical. Very good food. Very enjoyable meal.
Sushi Kanesaka "“ Ginza Branch. One Michelin star. We were the only non-Japanese there for lunch. Superb sushi and chef spoke great English and was very friendly. The chef liked us so we got around 18-20 pieces for the 10 piece price which was a steal. The 10 piece lunch normally is a great value, so even without the extra pieces lunch is a great value. This is a larger sushi counter with two sushi chefs working "“ maybe seats 12 or so. Quality was excellent and we had some very nice Uni.
Gen Yanamoto "“ Former bartender at Brushstroke in NY who moved to Tokyo. Superb drinks focusing on seasonal vegetables and fruits. Gen speaks perfect English. All guests were American. Bloody Mary cocktail was among the best I have ever had. I would drink dozens of these. Also had an interesting drink made of squash. He likes using rare or hard to find liquors. Quite tasty drinks. Gives the drinks at Eve a run for the money.
Noma "“ Noma. We dined in Copenhagen a few months prior and this was different but I think better. The setting and view was amazing. Service was outstanding. My wife had a sake pairing and I had the wine pairing. The sake pairing was amazing - tons of unique sakes and so delicious and pairs extremely well. One particularly interesting Sake was a red rice sake made by a female brewmaster outside Kyoto. The wine pairing was also quite good and had nice pairings. House Champagne was Prevost La Closerie, which is quite difficult to get in the US but extraordinarily easy to get in Japan (now I know where it all goes). All dishes were great and for me the tofu and walnut dish was a standout as was the aged duck.
Sushi Tokamai "“ Sushi Chef is wonderful and friendly and speaks perfect English. He has traveled in the US a bit. He talked to us most of the night. Loads of conversation and a very happy guy who clearly enjoys what he does. His assistants also speak English and chatted with us a lot. This sushi was rocking - the best we had all trip and it seems be firing on all cylinders. Every piece was good to excellent. It was also a good value at around $220 or so per person. All clientele was Japanese except us. He said he doesn't get many Americans or English speakers but supposedly Renee Redzepi was there the prior week to us. Omakase was great. Numerous cooked dishes, this night focusing on fugu every which way. Wonderful sushi "“ probably the freshest of all of the places we went to. Of note, his tuna is ridiculously good "“ easily leaps and bounds over any tuna we had on any trip to Japan. Life-changing good. I still remember each piece. So good. One Michelin star. Highly recommend it.
Sushi Sho Masa "“ I enjoyed this quite a lot and will go back on next trip. Quality was as good as Iwa and Kanesaka and a tiny step down from Tokamai. I think we had 30 or so pieces with lots of cooked dishes. Chef speaks English and other guests were from Taiwan that evening. The chef has a little book he brings out to show pictures of each fish. The meal was quite enjoyable - I liked how he served the same fish several different ways and did some unique pieces. Very good.
Rokurinsha Ramen - We hit it at 9 AM once and at 11:30 and had limited to no wait. This ramen is very heavy fish based "“ so if you don't like a strong fishy broth this might not be for you. It is hard not to like this, but many American palettes would not like this. Very good.
Kagari - Tori-paitan ramen. So good. Amazing chicken flavor. So good. We waited about 15 minutes near closing. There was something special about this place - the ramen was outstanding. Or maybe it was the cover of Sweet Child of Mine playing over and over again with the chef singing along. Or maybe it was the tiny closet of a place that seats maybe 8 at a tiny counter. Really enjoyed this a lot.
Fujiya 1935 - 3 stars - Probably the cheapest 3* meal I have had - great value ($120 for 12 courses). Very enjoyable space, great service and the food was good. Wine list is competitively priced. Had a very enjoyable pasta dish, a wonderful radish dish and a wonderful grouper dish. Solid food in a nice setting.
Hajime - Two stars currently - Beautiful space. Amazing platings. Extraordinary price for the meal - I think our most expensive meal. We did a wine pairing and a non-alcoholic pairing with our meal. Both were nice with very high quality wines/non-alcoholic drinks. Interesting the mark ups on wine were quire fair, with a few bottles prices less than I can buy them at retail in the US. The platings of the food are the star here - they are to another level I have never seen anywhere and intricate and a bit insane. Food quality was excellent - I particularly enjoyed how a different piece of bread came with each course. Of note, a lamb course was excellent as was a sous vide/grilled mackerel course. Food was excellent but a poor value. Also no pictures allowed - very annoying. It is not clear to me why this doesn't have 3 stars. Service and food was perfect.
Kani Doraku - We wanted crab for lunch. It is touristy. But it was quite good. We had crab grilled, steamed, in soup and sushi. All were tasty. We did a lunch sampler which was $20 a person which was a good value and filling.
Tako-yaki - We got them from one of the places with a long line in the Dontonbori area of Osaka. I didn't love them. I thought they would be denser like a hush puppy but instead they are creamy inside.
Daruma - Excellent kushi katsu (tonkastsu on sticks). Everything was perfectly fried. We picked a dozen or so meat and vege items which came perfectly fried and served on sticks. I liked the dipping sauce.
Mizuno - We wanted to try a okonomiyaki. Wait was short. We had one with shrimp and scallops. Tasty and filling but I would skip it in the future unless drunk.