#2 (of 25) NEXT >>
Follow the chefs. This year, they’re madly in love with Japan—as if you couldn’t tell from New York’s current bout of fusion profusion. From Geisha to Sumile, everyone’s turning Japanese. Even, surprisingly, His Royal French Highness Daniel Boulud, who spent an eye-opening week last fall eating his way around Tokyo when he wasn’t guest-cheffing at the Park Hyatt (the scene of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar-nominated ennui). “To me, it’s the best food city in the world,” says Boulud. “People are committed to the quality of ingredients and respectful of tradition.”
Thanks to a whirlwind eating tour masterminded by globe-trotting food writer and rabid Japanophile Mitchell Davis, Boulud experienced that quality and tradition firsthand, from an early-morning sushi breakfast at Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji fish market (81-3-3542-1111) to Japanese-style “fusion” at Gonpachi (81-3-5771-0170), which Boulud describes as Iron Chef cooking with a Matsuri vibe. Davis also introduced him to the uniquely Japanese chicken restaurant Toritake (81-3-3461-5475), a mom-and-pop yakitori joint where the shochu flowed so freely the night of their visit that the idea of eating the house specialty, chicken sashimi, became relatively easy for Boulud to swallow (or at least, he confesses, “touch to the tip of my tongue”). Davis has spent enough serious eating time in Japan that he’s able to reel off his favorite restaurants in every arcane category: Kyushu Jangara Ramen for ramen noodles (81-3-3779-3660), Katsukura for “perfectly fried pork cutlets with the juiciest black-pig pork” (81-3-5361-1878), Chibo for the grill-your-own savory pancakes called okonomiyaki (81-3-5424-1011).
Throughout his stay, it was the little things that impressed Boulud most. Like the pickles at a department-store food section: “You go to Isetan (81-3-3352-1111), and there’s like 50 feet of them.” He had an olfactory epiphany (and that sushi breakfast) at the world-famous Tsukiji fish market—the only one he’s ever been to, he marvels, where you don’t smell fish. “They had these amazing scallops,” he says. “They were basically the shape of a mussel but about fourteen inches long.” It’s such a local landmark that one restaurateur, Koji Imai—who just opened Megu in New York—replicated it on the lower level of his Tokyo flagship, Ginmi Ogon-no-Shita (81-3-6215-9667). When Boulud and his entourage finally finished feasting there on edamame on the branch and Yamamoto beef cooked on hot lava stones at 3 or 4 in the morning, the entire staff filed out and bowed.
But the best thing Boulud put in his mouth, bar none, was a piece of toro topped with uni at Sukiyabashi Jiro (81-3-3535-3600), the renowned sushi restaurant located, as most are, in the basement of a nondescript office building. “It was the most incredible experience,” he recalls. “The flavor, the purity, the melting texture. Everything was so perfect.” And, as Boulud knows so well, perfection costs. “I was glad not to pick up the bill.”