What is Going On with Tabelog…?

The one resource that has never let me down in Japan is Tabelog. To quickly sum up why, here is a bit from a previous post:

Forget Michelin, the Japanese all rely on Tabelog, the Japanese equivalent to Yelp or Trip Advisor. Unlike Yelp or Trip Advisor, though, Tabelog’s rankings are accurate — any place rated 3.5 or higher (out of 5) is 99.99999999999999% of the time excellent.

The reason Tabelog is accurate, is because Japanese are passive. We do not complain directly to establishments when we have bad experiences. We do not tip to show appreciation of places we love. We return to our favorites and become jyōren (regulars). Places we dislike, we tell all our family, friends, colleagues to avoid and… rate on Tabelog. Tabelog is very accurate.

Lately, people have noticed the ratings changing and have asked me why. I didn’t think too much of it — assumed it was the algorithm re-calculating or the English site ratings are now included effecting the overall ratings or some other ‘valid’ or somewhat ‘normal’ reason.  But out of curiosity I googled and what do you know. In Japan Land, locals are upset by some changes.

  1. there is speculation that Tabelog’s parent company (Kakaku.com) is forcing business owners to use their online reservation system. Those not using the system, are docked points. Kakaku has denied the allegations but, restaurant owners are on Twitter complaining how sales people are trying to strong arm them into signing up or their current statuses get negatively docked. 
  2. starting from October, they are rolling-out a more aggressive ad model, where businesses that buy ad units will float to the top; regardless of ratings
  3. Tabelog scores establishments based NOT on the average of total scores but, average of super users (who are usually paying members) source and a chart from their site (it’s in Japanese but it’s laid all out in the chart). This apparently hasn’t changed since 2015 (from their help page) but business owners are claiming otherwise, stating their scores have dropped.

l_yx_tabelog_02

I guess Kakaku is now focused on monetization and soon, the one site I trusted more than any other review site will be going down the drain.

Gotta hurry up and make my rounds before the reviews get skewed by the new faulty scoring method. Oh well. So it goes.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Source

*Edit: added 10/22

A chef from a restaurant in Kyoto Tweeted: 


Wow. Seriously, Tabelog???? 👎🏻👎🏻👎🏻

Secret to Shinkansen (Bullet train) Eats

Shinkansen (bullet trains) in Japan are wonderful and as most visitors already know, it’s all about purchasing a JR Rail Pass for unlimited Shinkansen rides to get about Japan. Japan looks small but is actually pretty big and Shinkansen rides are super pricy. Like really pricy to the point where it’s cheaper to fly from Tokyo to another country. 

Anyway. The point of this post isn’t going on and on about Shinkansen because I know nothing about them except I love them. Ride them. Use them to see Japan. Even if flights are cheaper, I still choose a Shinkansen over an airplane because they are really that great. The point of the post is to rave about Shinkansen eats. One of THE BEST things about Shinkansen is you can eat and booze. In fact, it’s the only thing  people do. There are food carts that roll up and down the aisles with beer and sake and High Balls and Chu-Hi.

As much as I love the carts, I only use them to purchase booze and always, always, hunt around train stations for bentos. My personal favorite and addictions are katsu sandos (deep fried pork cutlet sandwiches). I normally never eat them, only when I ride the train.

And here’s the big, huge secret. Big Shinkansen stations are usually attached to mega department stores. And in the basements of big department stores are rows and rows and rows of tasty to-go food. Read: it’s not your typical, sad, dried out supermarket sushi.

So if you’re ever in Japan, do please find the tastiest Shinkansen eats by ignoring the train station / cart bentos and hunt in the department stores. Hopefully this tip will make your trip better. 

Love, your friendly neighborhood Japanese.

PS: The ‘best’ katsu sando are the pork fillet katsu sandwiches. Just look for the characters: ひれかつ・ヒレかつ・ヒレカツ (or simply point down to the sandwiches and ask: “hire-katsu?”)

Random Japanese Factoid: Plastic Food

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source

Ever wonder who and how the infamous plastic foods of Japan came to be? Well, 121 years ago on September 12th, 1895, Iwasaki Takizō was born. Though he didn’t invent plastic food, he was the first one to bring to plastic food to mass market, when only high-end department stores made and displayed them.

The very first plastic food sample he made was an omelette and following the success, he opened up a factory with the help of his wife in 1932. Thus, saturating Japan with plastic food in all shop window fronts.

Plastic food became such a global phenom, in 2016, there are now plastic food tchotchkes like plastic food fridge magnets, cell phone straps, keychains, etc.

You can find plastic food for purchase in the following locations (industry plastic food cost A LOT. Like thousands of dollars)

Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands is like a Target, Spencers (random junk store that used to be in every single shopping mall in the US back in the 90’s that sold lava lamps, edible underwear, gag gifts, etc.), Bed Bath and Beyond, Container Store, Home Depot and Ikea all in one!)
Find the nearest location here: http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/shoplist.html

Kappabashi aka Kitchen Town
It’s the area in Tokyo where restaurant supplies and such are sold. Just Google Kappabashi.

Super Duper Insider Info: New Sushi Mitani

original

Sushi Mitani is notorious for having an impossible waitlist (currently it’s at 3 years). Earlier this year, Mitani-san suffered from a heart attack and was out of commission for a few months. Sidetrack for a second and imagine waiting two and a half — possibly longer — years for a booking only to find out he isn’t well. Man, I don’t know how I would feel and what kind of person that makes me…

Anyway.

So Mitani-san, the man himself, is okay and back making sushi. His first apprentice Takano-san (who was standing in while Mitani-san  was recovering) opened a new shop in July. The other day, it was announced Mitani-san is closing his shop in Yotusya, moving to Takano-san’s shop, making sushi in the private room.

To sit in front of Mitani-san, the wait is still 2.5 years, as Mitani-san moved all the existing bookings from the original Mitani to the new Mitani. But, seats in front of Takano-san are still available.

As I keep repeating, sushi is personal preference and I’ve enjoyed Mitani-san’s sushi once and since I’ve found my favorite go-to sushi spots I will not be booking. But if you are planning a visit, I would recommend eating at Mitani at least once. The man is a legend. And if you’re into Michelin and stuff, he has two stars.

Hurry and make bookings at the new one while you still can! It will FOR SURE become another place where it is impossible to get seats.

Side-note: Mitani-san’s shop was a 2.5 year wait even when Takano-san was making the sushi. Frankly it doesn’t matter if you sit in front of Takano-san or Mitani-san as you will be able to enjoy the same neta (fish) that Mitani-san has access too, which is equally as important as skill.

Kioichō (I hope I’m spelling this correctly in roma-ji but it’s 紀尾井町 三谷) Mitani
03 6256 9566
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都千代田区紀尾井町1-2
Open for lunch and dinner (same price, unfortunately. Around $300 USD before tax and drinks); open 7 days.
http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1308/A130801/13198197/dtlphotolst/1/smp2/

$500 Grapes

The other day I was in Ginza Mitsukoshi which is the equivalent to Barney’s or Harrod’s in Japan to pick up some fruit to bring to Takahashi-san (my favorite sushi chef) and his staff. (I bring presents every time I dine there.) I got them three perfect peaches — which cost $50 but that’s another entry — from this famous fruit store inside Mitsukoshi. In the far corner, I noticed a windowed room with spotlights like in a wine or designer store, where all the special super duper expensive items are tucked away.

I walked into the glassroom out of curiosity and what the hell.

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That above are grapes. A single bunch of grapes. In wooden boxes. That cost between $3-500 USD. FOR A SINGLE BUNCH OF GRAPES. I mean. I like grapes but not enough to pay a sushi dinner’s worth…

So of course, I had to ask a fellow working there: “Have you ever tried the $500 grapes?

Him: “Yes, I have.

Me: “YOU HAVE?! 😳  What do they taste like…?

Him (matter of factly): “Exactly like the hundred dollar grapes outside of the glass room!

Me: “Oh. Okay. Thank you.” …in my head, I was wondering who in the F buys $100 grapes?! but instead, asked”do people actually buy $500 grapes…?”

Him (again, matter of factly) “No.”

And we both had a laugh. Japan is so ridiculous on all sorts of levels but $500 for a single bunch of grapes is just out of control. Part of me wants to work in that fruit shop just to see if I can sell $500 grapes to gaudy new-money tourists who swarm Japan as of late😉

Japan endlessly entertains and delights. If you’re ever in Tokyo and feel like having a huge laugh, check out the silly fruit corners in high-end department stores. I don’t think there is anything like it elsewhere.

Here are the $500 grapes.

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Kaikaiya – Shibuya

 

Kaikaiya in Shibuya is one of my favorite places and I bring all out of town visitors here. It’s great for groups, the servers speak English, the vibe is great most importantly: the food is good. Their menu is mainly seafood. Wait, the menu is mainly approachable seafood, meaning it’s not weird with like eyeballs hanging off the fish heads or live shrimp dancing while hot liquid is poured on the spot. (They do have both on the menu, by the way. But there is a ton of ‘safe’ seafood. Like the ones you’d find at some European or American hotel cafe.

The sashimi plate is also legit — one of the neatest things is the piece of wasabi that comes and diners can grate their own. (Like in the photo up top.)

The flavors are Western / SE Asian, with a lot of Western / SE Asian spices like cilantro, Vietnamese fish sauce, Chinese chili sauces. The aromas and textures are familiar; but very, very, Japanese. For example, there is a carpaccio that is Vietnamese inspired but the fish sauce is so subtle, shrimp cocktail is ‘fishier’ than the amount of fish sauce used on the dish.

Then there’s the one dish that blows people’s minds:

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Maguro no kama (tuna collar) spareribs. It’s not very pretty but omg it’s so delicious. It’s spicy and tangy and acidic and the fish just melts in your mouth; easily one of my favorite dishes in all of Tokyo!

Another that I always order:img_6960

Crab ‘dip’ with rice crackers. It’s like the Japanese spinach and artichoke dip (LOL)… and tons and tons and tons and tons of other fantastic dishes that range from adventurous to even a kindergartener who’s never eaten seafood can eat it without being queasy.

Kaikaiya is also excellent with two people (request counter seats). This place is so on-point, I make sure to take all my favorite people!

Kaikaiya
Address (drop this into Google Maps)↓
東京都渋谷区円山町23-7

Calling at least two to three days in advance is recommended
http://www.kaikaya.com/index.html

Gen Yamamoto – A Tokyo Must

Bar Gen Yamamoto is one of my favorite places in Tokyo and I recommend everyone and anyone coming to Tokyo to visit. He is beyond a ‘mixologist’ and more a magician, a flavor savant, a true genius of his craft. I’d even argue he may quite possibly be the best in the world when it comes to surprising and delighting with his cocktails.

People seem to freak out over a four or six cocktail tasting in fear of getting trashed but the thing is, his drinks aren’t boozy at all. The spirits he uses are activators, pulling forth the deepest, richest flavors from the fruits and vegetables he pairs them with. So it’s basically a splash or a touch of alcohol. I don’t think anyone could get drunk off Gen-san’s cocktails.

These days I visit him at least once a month — sometimes more if there are people in town. Here are a few highlights from August:
– peach and wasabi with Hakushu single malt
– pineapple sorbet with shochu topped with diced bell peppers
– tomato with gin
– white corn and filtered sake, a touch of milk (this one was also a sorbet)
– edamame cocktail (this one is so creamy and smooth; almost tastes like a breakfast cereal)

All of his cocktails are next level but the top five blew me away. His tomato and gin cocktails are always phenomenal. The first time I had it was in March with a tomato from the Kochi prefecture. Yesterday was with a tomato from Hokkaido paired with a Japanese gin (KO-ON IP-02 produced by Hombo Shuzo Co.,) that’s made with: Juniper berries, yuzu, green tea leaves, ginger, lemon, bitter lemon, sansho pepper and Saigon cinnamon leaf. He gave me a shot of it and it was the weirdest gin. It smells like gin but tastes like an infused spirit. There’s a peppery note but combined with the tomato and a splash of soda water, the flavors blend then become prominent one by one.

This is why Gen-san is so incredible. He knows how to bring out flavors layer by layer and his tomato cocktails are the quintessential example.

The peach and wasabi, pineapple topped with bell peppers are probably the best cocktails I’ve ever been served by Gen-san. All the elements of surprise are there: from palate stimulation to engaging textures, they were extremely memorable.

For people who love and appreciate food, Gen Yamamoto is definitely a must. One huge bummer is the overload of annoying Instagrammers and food blogging tourists who unnecessarily snap a trillion photos with their mega cameras. You have been warned!

Oh and it may seem as though it is uneasy to talk during his tasting but Gen-san is super friendly and extremely generous with his knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or strike up a conversation. He is the best.

Gen Yamamoto
Drop this into Google Maps↓
〒106-0045 Tokyo, Minato, 麻布十番1-6-4 アニバーサリービル 1F
Reservations required: http://genyamamoto.jp/bar_tokyo/Menu.html

BONUS:
I have been on the hunt for a Japanese whiskey that isn’t Yamazaki or Nikka. I noticed this bottle on his shelf and asked if I could take a photo. I’ve yet to try but considering it’s a Gen-san pick, I bet it is legit. He recommended drinking on the rocks.