In mid-February — what now seems like several lifetimes ago — I packed a mask and went to Tokyo and Kyoto for a week. Here’s hoping that you can put these spots on your list for visit to the 2021 Olympics.
EAT + DRINK*
The Blind Donkey Confession: Because of the nature of my assignment, I only went to two Japanese-Japanese restaurants while in Tokyo. Here, a 25-year Chez Panisse veteran has gone deep on regional ingredients, serving them in comforting, deeply flavored preparations that only appear familiar. (Beans! Greens! Mole?!) Excellent natural wine list and super-relaxed room.
Inua The Noma comparisons are inevitable (the chef stayed on after the Copenhagen restaurant’s residency a few years ago), but the Japanese ingredients and techniques that are being intensively researched and expanded upon here make it worth the splurge. The fact that it’s genuinely delicious helps.
Shinji the Fixer My former Paper Magazine boss, Kim Hastreiter, raved about Shinji Nohara, the man who knows everything about Tokyo food and can make your food dreams, however obscure, come true — albeit for about $800 a day. (Everyone from Sofia Coppola to Anthony Bourdain has hired him to show them the ropes.) Though a friend, I was lucky to spend an evening with him, being led from an off-the-radar yakitori spot to the perfect record bar. DM him through Instagram and take it from there!
Sushi Kimura Dry-aged sushi didn’t sound good to me, either, but my friend Emilien insisted that Kimura is life-changing. (Listen to the late Jonathan Gold’s rave here.) It turns out that a month or two transforms fish into something rich and complex, more like Wagyu than funkytown. If you can get one of the eight seats here, I promise it’s worth the expense (and taxi time). Book at least a month ahead through your concierge or Tableall.
Train stations The food in pretty much any Tokyo train station is excellent (and cheap!), so fling yourself downstairs and start eating your way around. I was mad when my only option en route to Kanazawa was vegan ramen (vegan? ramen?), but…holy cow. And at the Kanazawa station, the randomly chosen soba place served delicious buckwheat noodles topped with spicy fried chicken. Another win.
Winestand Waltz Tokyo has one of the world’s best natural wine scenes. This miniscule Ebisu wine bar, hidden off the path to an apartment complex, is one of the most charming, filled with francophilic paraphernalia (of the Tati school). Let “wine professor” Yasuhiro Ooyama guide you through the deep list of French and Japanese bottles.
Bricolage Bread & Co. I went out of my way to get some airplane snacks at this posh Roppongi bakery, a collaboration between the chef-owner of the celebrated restaurant L’Effervescence and a coffee roaster. It wasn’t until I was back in NY that I unpacked the flaky sweet potato–chestnut pastry and the cardamom and milk chocolate cake I’d scored, and they tasted even more incredible.
* Look for a complete list in my story on new Tokyo restaurants in Departures this fall.
Laila The perfect mix of 70s French, 80’s-90’s Japanese, and 21st century Margiela, Helmut Lang, Gaultier for Hermès, first season Phoebe Philo for Celine, etc. Dizzying, actually. The store selection is less modern than online, so be sure to stop by.
Marugo I happened to catch a glimpse of photographer Lotta Jorgensen’s pony fur split-toe tabi flats in an IG post. She directed me to this all-tabi-all-the-time emporium. For someone who still wears her late-90s Margiela camel-toe boots, this place was heaven.
Toraya The Paris branch of this 16th-century Kyoto confection maker to the imperial family was exquisite, but it couldn’t prepare me for their new Tokyo HQ, a multistoried universe with a shop selling not only their delicate seasonal sweets but also a well-edited ceramics selection, a tea room, and an exhibition space, all in a building that could easily be an Hermès boutique.
Kohoro If the Roman & Williams founders give this almost-suburban ceramics shop the thumbs up, it’s worth the cab fare! (It’s walking distance from Sushi Kimura, so if you can swing a 6 p.m. reservation…) I stocked up on rough-hewn but elegant bowls and platters of all sizes. Be sure to look at the site first: What you see is pretty much what they stock in this small shop. Afterwards, check to see if the adorable Bonnie & Fried hamburger truck is parked a few blocks away.
J’Antiques The most focused vintage store I’ve ever been to, J’Antiques is its own dimension. The buyers delve into Americana, military and workwear in a way that makes you rethink, say, British cross-belted khakis or dead-stock thermal tanks. Give yourself time — and a budget.
Taka Ishii Gallery and Akio Nagasawa I asked the NYC photography dealer Steven Kasher where to find the best modern and vintage Japanese photography in Tokyo, and he sent me to these two. Highly recommended.
Aman This is the first and last time I will suggest such an insanely expensive hotel. But I really did not want to leave this room. Or the pool. Or the lobby. The modern Japanese design and significant yet subtle bells and whistles were just heaven. (Fun fact: Designer Yvette Adams also did Swyft restaurant in Kent, CT.)
Hoshinoya Hidden in an office building near the Aman but a world away, this modern retreat is more ryokan in its look and feel, not to mention more affordable-ish. The rooftop soaking pool is a must. A great tip from the travel team at Prior!