Japanese Fine Dining
Most people are pretty content with eating what they normally eat every day. After all, we have habits and we get used to them. There’s nothing wrong with that. Travel tends to shake our habits up though. All the usual places we’d go to are no longer available and sometimes we’re not even in the same country anymore. For the West, eating Japanese food can frequently be seen as a treat. The sad part is that most of the option in the United States are, in effect, Americanized versions of the actual cuisine. What you may have tasted before potentially isn’t the real thing even if you ate at a high quality restaurant for it. That isn’t to say it wasn’t mostly Japanese cuisine, but if you want true Japanese fine dining you’ll need to go to Japan to get the true experience most of the time. Admittedly, you may find that the Japanese like to blend various cuisines as much as the United States does and find yourself enjoying fusion cuisine while there. Let’s look at some of the best options for Japanese fine dining both in the States and in Japan.
Yamakase, Los Angeles
If you’re looking for extra exclusive and authentic experience in the States, the Yamakase restaurant could be just the place. There is a rather big catch to all this though: you need to apply for an invitation to the restaurant. The sushi bar is relatively exclusive and highly private for that very reason. Yamakase’s chef, Yama San, specializes in both sushi and fusion cuisine to ensure that guests can get a true taste of Japan even in the United States… and have a taste of just what the world could be with a bit more Japanese spirit behind it. If you’re interested, the restaurant has a website complete with a form to request an invitation. You may have to wait a while though as the restaurant freely advertises that it has both low space and only serves one seating per day. Yamakase is also only open five days of the week as of writing this. Food this good is worth the wait though.
Those of us who enjoy our world travels have the luxury of being able to spend a little time in Tokyo when we want an actual taste of Japanese cuisine. The many chefs of Japan do still have varied opinions of what exactly can make cuisine great though. RyuGin is a smaller restaurant that manages to garner a lot of attention though. The chef, Seiji Yamamoto, is a very traditional chef in many ways. He specializes in traditional Japanese cuisine with a focus on using seasonal ingredients to their best effect. However, he also strives to innovate on traditional cooking practices without altering them beyond recognition. This leads him to play with flavors all while showing you the deepest roots of Japanese cuisine. It provides a window into the culinary soul of an ancient country that seems to eternally quest towards a unknown future. You can even just show up to get a seat here if they aren’t full, but you’re better off asking your hotel to make you a reservation in advance if you truly want to ensure you get a taste of this restaurant.
Exploring the lighter side of any cuisine means you inevitably run into a cultural comfort food or at least a less formal style. Tempura is the specialty at Kondo, but all that fried food is certainly fine dining given the restaurant has received its share of Michelin stars. In keeping with the style of many of these restaurants, you can clearly see the kitchen has the chefs work behind it to prepare your meals. There’s plenty on order from vegetable to seafood to various kinds of meat. Tempura may seem simple, but Kondo elevates it to an art form. You can expect to get most of the dishes one at a time as they’re served to you. Freshness is an important standard for the restaurant as well. Seafood in particular will generally be kept nearby for preparation on order, but left alive until then. Tempura may have once been seen as fast good, but Kondo and similar restaurants show there is always room to elevate almost all cuisine with enough dedication.
Japanese fine dining is technically available in most major metropolitan areas. You do need to do your research if you want to be sure you’re getting something authentic though. That’s a good deal harder than most people think. We’ve highlighted some of the excellent restaurants available to get the proper fine dining experience at, but keep an ear open for anything word of mouth might bring you. You might just find a hidden gem of your own.