Itinerary Inspo: Delving into Japan’s Culinary Scene
Exploring the culinary arts one bite at a time, food is at the center of Sal DiBenedetto’s itinerary. In addition to learning about vegan Buddhist cooking and attending masterclasses on soba noodles and sushi, Sal will be tasting his way through some of Tokyo and Kyoto’s most unexpected dining establishments. Less of a traditional itinerary and more of a dining guide, Sal has curated selections with strong contrasts. Follow along to see how tacos and Italian fare somehow fit seamlessly into his plans, as do street food and meals by Michelin-ranked chefs.
Snagging a reservation at Hakkoku is like getting a golden ticket into a world of exceptional sushi. Chef Hiroyuki Sato believes in okonomi (à la carte) ordering rather than omakase (the chef’s choice). Each piece is expertly crafted with exquisite ingredients. Even the rice receives special attention — Chef Hiroyuki uses a blend of two different kinds of red vinegar for an aromatic base. The chef’s signature dish is tossaki, which features a rare cut of tuna carefully rolled in his specially crafted rice and then wrapped in seaweed.
The Jade Room + Garden Terrace
Located in the sophisticated yet unexpected Tokyo EDITION in Toranomon, The Jade Room + Garden Terrace considers the hotel’s aesthetic and beautifully pairs it with refined yet diverse cuisine. Each season, Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens curates the best produce to create a four or six-course tasting menu. Each visit will yield something entirely different, making it a refreshing experience even for repeat diners.
Website: The Jade Room + Garden Terrace
One ally, countless vendors. To find Japan’s most simple, classic food, make your way to Omoide Yokocho. Food stalls serve up soba noodles, seafood, coffee, hot pot, stewed offal and more. Looking for a drink? There are plenty of izakaya, or bars, which also serve tasty bites like kushi-yaki (grilled skewers). Omoide Yokocho is a great place to try yakitori, a deliciously savory type of skewered chicken.
Website: Omoide Tokocho
Taco Tuesday, in Kyoto, served by a Michelin-ranked chef. Yes, you read that right. Chef Wes Avila, who gained acclaim for his Los Angeles-based Guerrilla Tacos, has opened a new kind of shop in Japan inside Kyoto’s Ace Hotel. At PIOPIKO you’ll find handmade tortillas, a unique approach to taco rice and a panache for street art. A twist on tradition and a truly unexpected fusion, Chef Wes’ rotation of unexpected flavors are destined to be a delicious pit stop.
Italian fare might not typically top a Japan-based itinerary, but Mr. Maurice’s is not to be missed. Also part of Kyoto’s Ace Hotel, the restaurant serves up the works of Chef Marc Vetri in a beautiful, modern setting. Discover unique dishes like spaghetti with snow crab, scallops and kujo leeks, or sardines with citrus seaweed butter. In addition to breakfast, brunch and lunch service, the dinner menu offers prix fixe and tasting options.
Website: Mr. Maurice’s
Dining at Cenci’s is more than a meal, it’s an experience. Upon arrival, guests walk through a brick tunnel that was built by chef-owner Ken Sakamoto and his team using materials that were displaced by the building’s construction. Chef Ken’s attention to location doesn’t end there. The menu itself is a hyper-seasonal 10-course tasting menu and features only the best native produce. The result is a truly unique melding of Italian and Japanese cuisine. Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include the Kyoto pork with porcini mushrooms and Tasmanian grain mustard, as well as the matsutake mushroom spaghetti.