“Fearless” is one word that describes Tokyo’s epicurean landscape. Just set aside its crown for having more Michelin stars than any other city, and consider how it earned that status in the first place: through a reverence for high-quality ingredients, boundless innovation, and a determination to perfect both Japanese and international culinary techniques—sometimes within a single dish. It’s these characteristics that make Tokyo one of the best food cities in the world.
Photos by Sam Horine |”Temari” Tiger Prawn (Kumamoto) & Kurakakoi Kombu (Rebun Island, Hokkaido), NARISAWA
Flying ANA, photographer Sam Horine was well-primed for his upcoming assignment in Tokyo with an exquisite kaiseki-style meal and sake pairing at 30,000 feet. While the inevitable jet lag was one ingredient unwelcome on his plate upon landing, a surprising encounter with Michelin-star chef Yoshihiro Narisawa produced more than a photographic study, but the chef’s personal recommendations on where Horine could experience the best of Tokyo’s dynamic restaurant scene.
Whether you’re flying from Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City, all nonstop routes on ANA provide a stellar start to any Japan food pilgrimage, with a 5-star dining experience that leverages the expertise of master chefs and beverage specialists from Tokyo and beyond.
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa
According to chef Narisawa, every plate dispatched from his kitchen is rooted to the earth. That means any meal at his eponymous restaurant will be as grounding as a barefoot stroll through the forest. Narisawa sources nearly every ingredient from the Japanese landscape, a commitment that makes him the creator of innovative satoyama cuisine. It’s a word that joins sato (living place) and yama (mountain), referring to “an embodiment of sustainable living where people and nature coexist in a symbiotic relationship,” says Narisawa. Given that Japan is an island, this super-sweet spot has sustained local culinary tradition for centuries. While Narisawa doesn’t know of other chefs adapting this approach to cooking, he hopes more will, “as it’s good for human beings.”
Spanish Mackerel, Yamaguchi, NARISAWA
Nothing is stopping this chef from importing ingredients from the farthest reaches of the earth; Narisawa simply finds no need to do so. He reckons that the future of Japanese cuisine lies in the connection city dwellers have to their natural environment. Despite the indelible influence of Robuchon, Girardet, and Bocuse, under whom he worked for years in France, Narisawa has earned his own iconic status—and two Michelin stars—by turning inward to his native land. “I learned from those chefs the spirit of perfecting ingredient choices and that nobody should accept compromise,” he says.
“Bread of the Forest 2010,” NARISAWA
Chef Narisawa prioritizes ingredients that can be foraged at the current moment, which renders a hyper-seasonal variance to his menu. You can, however, always count on something mind-blowingly original coming your way. Take the emblematic “Bread of the Forest,” a bread course which is fermented, then baked for 10 minutes, tableside, in a stone bowl under an oak lid. And with every course, you are led deeper into the woods. Take the signature plate “Essence of the Forest,” which arrives like a mossy sliver of earth. Composed of herbal tempura, artichoke skin, and kumquat, then sprinkled with soy pulp and tea powders, it’s all brought together by oak-infused water served from a cedar cup. One of his most daring dishes features fugu, the notoriously poisonous pufferfish that, if prepared incorrectly, is more toxic than cyanide. Japanese chefs require a license to prepare it, which Narisawa has possessed for some time. Deep-fried and partnered with tart sudachi citrus, the fish is served unadorned on blank butcher paper. “I would like guests to feel the roots of Japanese food culture through my own unique expression, not in the formal representation Japanese kaiseki dishes,” he adds.
Taraba crab & Kutchan Jaga potato in Ichiban Dashi, Ubuka
The very next day, Horine set off to try Narisawa’s recommendations.
Many of Tokyo’s restaurants specialize in a particular dish, ingredient, or cooking technique, and that’s usually all they have on the menu—that is, if there even is a menu. In the back alleys of Arakicho is Ubuka, where the spotlight is on hardshell crustaceans. This is the spot where Tokyo chefs, including Narisawa, flock for seafood. “This young chef does everything by himself, purchasing ingredients, preparation, cooking, cleaning—everything,” says Narisawa about Kunihiro Kato, whom he first met at a dinner event several years back.
Expect utterly exquisite preparations of rare bottom-feeders sourced from the waters around Japan, like the elusive deepwater Paralomis multispina king crab. “I opened up this restaurant six years ago simply because I love crustaceans,” confesses Kato while sharpening a palm-sized blade on his favorite whetstone, “and new recipes just flow.”
Chef Kunihiro Kato, Ubuka
After training at a ryotei (a traditional Japanese high-end restaurant) in Kyoto, and a brief stint in New Zealand, Kato ended up at crab restaurant chain Kani Doraku, where crustaceans were always on the menu. At Ubuka, crab dishes are accompanied with their shells to draw a deeper connection with the star ingredient, like snow soup with shrimp, ostrich fern, and sansho bud. With about five tables and unpretentious decor, the soul of the restaurant revolves around its tiny kitchen, especially when it sends out an expected seasonal dish. Kato’s most exotic find? “Blunt slipper lobster, which was prepared as sashimi and tempura,” he says. “Everyone loved it.”
Dining room from above, Il Ristorante Luca Fantin
Another one of Narisawa’s recommendations to Horine was Il Ristorante Luca Fantin, located in Bvlgari’s Ginza Tower. The Italian jeweler’s influence is clear upon arrival with a glitzy dining room: “One can feel an extraordinary atmosphere,” says Narisawa, who often dines there. “Even better, chef Luca knows very well how to use Japanese ingredients in Italian dishes.”
Il Ristorante Luca Fantin is at the helm of Michelin-star chef Luca Fantin, who relocated from Italy to Tokyo nearly a decade ago, determined to elevate the perception of his cuisine to a Japanese audience. “They tend to think of it as ‘mama’s food,’” he contends, which influenced him to initially ship ingredients all the way from his home country. Still sensing like something was missing on the menu, Fantin eventually immersed himself deeper into Japan’s underground restaurant scene. “I started traveling the country searching for ingredients. Visiting different regions, I found traditionally European items that locals were rarely exposed to, like porcini mushroom, caviar, and artichoke,” recalls Fantin.
He learned that spiking his traditional Italian dishes with a Japanese twist enriched them even further. The chef does not deny being an Italian culinary purist at heart—“but I would say that I am influenced by locally produced ingredients [that are traditionally used in Italian cuisine] and Japanese conservation techniques, especially taking care of fish to serve it in a better way. I feel like, here, I am encouraged to focus more on the ingredients.”
Carpaccio with puntarelle & scallop, Il Ristorante Luca Fantin
At Il Ristorante Luca Fantin, those superior ingredients easily outshine the sparkle of the ornate chandeliers overhead. Whether you’re twirling organic Monograno Felicetti spaghetti with uni (sea urchin) or sliding scallop carpaccio with puntarelle chicory onto your tongue, know that Fantin’s menu always evolves with the seasons. “Seasonality is our holy bible when creating our menu,” he says. “We create dishes based on the ingredients, not the other way around.”
Truffle eggs with chicken, king crab, and French black truffle, Ruyen
Narisawa describes his third pick as “simple in appearance, but with very sophisticated cuisine.” After serendipitously sitting beside Ryuen’s chef Kazuyuki Suhara at a local sushi bar, they became fast friends, and now often dine at each other’s establishments. Like many other chefs, Suhara believes he was always destined to work in the kitchen, with his childhood greatly influencing his culinary perspective. Suhara recalls his father taking him to the long-shuttered Dai Ichiro, one of the few Chinese restaurants at the time, which eventually led him to training in a local Shanghai-style kitchen for several years. In 1993, then-28-year-old Suhara opened up his own Chinese-inspired restaurant in Asakusa, the neighborhood in which he grew up.
For seven years, Ryuen had primarily focused on Chinese noodle dishes, but as its clientele became more international, which included esteemed chefs like Il Ristorante’s Luca Fantin, Suhara began to consider more diverse techniques and flavors. Today, his rich nine-course menu changes almost monthly, with a distinct attention to seasonal, mostly handpicked produce from local farms. However, there are two highlights that diners keep coming back for: the chef’s signature sweet and sour pork, made with three vinegars and two kinds of tomato, and his truffle eggs with chicken, king crab, and French black truffle. While many of Suhara’s dishes still reflect his affinity, and perhaps nostalgia, for traditional Chinese cooking, it’s all graced with his experimental touch and a clear affection for Japanese ingredients.
Sashimi dish aboard ANA Business Class
Chefs around the world agree: When it comes to cooking the perfect dish, quality ingredients matter more than anything else. Inspired by the world’s most admired culinary icons, ANA aims to perfect each ingredient of its own culinary experience, from delectable multi-course meals to attentive service. On nonstop flights to Tokyo from various cities in the U.S., you’ll have the choice of a Japanese menu crafted by a kaiseki master or Western-style service by a celebrated French chef, along with an extensive selection of drinks to wash it all down. To create a flight experience you’ll always remember, ANA brings fine dining to your seat with flavors you’ll never forget.
Originally published by Conde Nast Traveler, Paul Jebara. Photography by Sam Horine