When it comes to New York restaurants, the Gobbler’s views on the addled Mandarins at the Michelin Guides are well known. But when news came, the other day, that the first-ever Michelin Guide to restaurants in Tokyo had awarded our distant sister city a mind-boggling total of 191 stars (compared to 65 in Paris and 54 in New York), the Gobbler had to admit that those crazy fools might be on to something. Not long ago, we spent a week rampaging through Tokyo in a kind of epicurean daze. The Gobbler still isn’t sure exactly what he consumed (fugu sperm sacks, possibly; grilled chicken uterus, definitely; a very nice chocolate éclair flavored with bamboo), but one thing’s for sure. It was all pretty damn good. Here are a few rules for eating yourself silly in that great restaurant mecca, Tokyo, Japan.
Eat That Madeleine! Or that cassoulet, or that tarte tatin! Unlike in New York, all the grand French chefs (Ducasse, Michel Troisgrois, Paul Bocuse) have flourishing restaurants here, and even local pastry chefs are treated like rock stars. You won’t find better French cooking anywhere outside of Paris.
Eat That Osso Buco! There are 2,000 Italian restaurants in Tokyo, which is twice as many as you’ll find in New York City. In this noodle-crazed town, the Gobbler didn’t encounter a single strand of pasta that wasn’t perfectly cooked.
Eat That Sperm Sack! Or that grilled pig’s fallopian tube or what one of my hosts politely referred to as “squid guts.” Sure, New Yorkers enjoy the odd sweetbread now and then. But in this golden age of offal consumption, Tokyo is king.
Eat at the Bar. “The rule in Japan,” one local gastronome told the Gobbler, “is if you can’t see the chef cooking, you’re in trouble.” Japanese are masters at the art of counter dining, and the best place to see the chef work is at the bar.
Go to a Department Store. In terms of variety, quality, and obsessive level of service, the polished food halls at a department store like Istean or Mitsukoshi make Dean & DeLuca look like a sandwich stand at JFK.
Find a Guide. The finest restaurants in Tokyo are hidden down obscure alleyways, and they’re filled with lots of people who don’t speak English. Without a knowledgeable guide, you will spend an awful lot of time dining at McDonald’s.
Find a Guide With Lots of Cash. $500 bucks for a few shreds of raw fish at Masa?!? That’s the norm in Tokyo. The Gobbler always dined best when his well-heeled host led him by the nose to some obscure little restaurant, then discreetly paid the bill.
Confusion Is Good. Forget about menus when dining in Tokyo. You won’t be able to read most of them anyway. And if you’re at the bar, where you should be, you should always be ordering the chef’s-choice omakase.
Stand in Line. The current wait for a Krispy Kreme doughnut at the newly opened store in Tokyo is an hour and a half. The Gobbler stood in many lines during his trip. Invariably, the smaller ones were worth the wait.
Come Back to New York. In terms of over all craftsmanship, and the kind of snooty, upscale quality that Michelin values, Tokyo is the best dining city on the globe. But there are no cheeseburgers worthy of the name, and no inventive mid-range joints like the Spotted Pig or Momofuku. And after a week’s hard eating, you’ll have to come home, just like the Gobbler did, because you’ll be broke.