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If you only have time for one fine-dining experience in Tokyo (after you’ve already gotten your high-end-sushi fix), make it a kaiseki meal. Kaiseki-ryori, which originated in Kyoto, is traditional Japanese haute cuisine: a series of dishes served on exquisite ceramic and lacquer ware, in a particular sequence. These elaborate meals, which can sometimes take up to three hours, begin with an amuse bouche followed by the hassun, the dish that expresses the theme of the season.
While some naysayers argue that you can only have an authentic kaiseki experience in Kyoto, few can fault the precision and elegance of Tokyo’s top kaiseki restaurants.
At Azabu Yukimura, chef Jun Yukimura walks diners through a subtle palate of seasonal flavors, and then dazzles with dishes like wagyu beef shabu-shabu, thinly sliced and flash-cooked in dashi broth seasoned with tongue-tingling sansho (Japanese pepper) flowers.
Toru Okuda of Koju never fails to impress with his pristine ingredients, many of which arrive at the restaurant daily from all over Japan. Cubes of grilled wagyu beef and crispy-skinned mackerel are served simply with a dab of wasabi. For a more casual meal, you can try his second restaurant, Ginza Okuda, located in the same building.
Chef Hideki Ishikawa of Ishikawa in Kagurazaka takes an exacting but inventive approach to the kaiseki form. Deep-fried ayu sweetfish, paired with matsutake mushrooms and ginko nuts, leaves a lingering taste of early autumn.