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Posts posted by Cornellrob

  1. All,

    Having been in Japan for a little over one year now, I thought it might be useful to put together a little primer on the best way that I have learned to go about finding, learning about, getting into, and eating at great restaurants to eat in. Once you use this method, and practice it a little bit, I think you’ll find it quite easy (though perhaps a little time consuming).

    Finding Restaurants

    When I first came to Japan, I would simply go into any restaurant which was crowded and/or smelled good. While this seems obvious, and did work for a while, none of the truly great restaurants that I have been to so far were found this way. Specifically, it did not work particularly well for the following reasons: 1) just because something is crowded doesn’t make it a great restaurant (how many times have you passed by a crowded Pizza Hut?); 2) there are many restaurants in Japan, and many people who like to go out to eat – as a result, many restaurants will naturally be crowded; 3) the restaurants your most likely to see are those on the main streets, which undoubtedly require higher rent – as a result, these are more likely to be chain restaurants (which are never as good as the mom and pop shops); 4) most restaurants are not actually on the main avenues, but are located on the upper floors of non-descript buildings or in a narrow side streets – so your likely to never ever encounter them; 5) many restaurants in Japan do not have see through windows, but rather, have frosted glass – making entry very intimidating. In short, if you go this route, while you will undoubtedly have good food (almost all restaurants in Japan are good by U.S. standards), you will rarely have anything better than that.

    After being in Japan for approximately 3 months I discovered a website called Tabelog. It changed everything for me, and I honestly don’t think I have had anything less than a very good meal since. For those of you who don't know, Tabelog is a Japanese website used by Japanese people to find restaurants (kind of like Yelp or Citysearch). This site allows users to see ratings of restaurants (which are determined by the users of the site), view pictures of the food (Japanese love food photography), view the exteriors of restaurants (which is enormously helpful in finding them).

    Ratings on Tabelog appear to go from around 2.0, which is on the low end of the ratings scale, to 4.5, which is on the high end. If a restaurant has at least a 3.0, it will be good. If a restaurant has a 3.5 or above, it will be very good. If a restaurant has a 3.8 or above, it will likely be excellent. If a restaurant has a 4.0/4.1 or above, it will likely be incredibly good. By considering the score, price, and pictures I see in combination, I have eaten at a number of really excellent restaurants without spending an exorbitant amount (more than $100 a person) – side note – most of the best restaurants are not in the Michelin guide.

    The one problem with the Tabelog website is that its in Japanese. The problem with this is that I do not read Japanese. The easy way around this problem is to view Tabelog through Google Translate. To do this, I suggest you simply type the word "tabelog" into the Google search browser and click on the translation of the first site that pops up from the search. Once you are on the translated version of the site, its pretty easy to navigate. You can search by location, style of cuisine, etc. I recommend first finding your location (or anticipated destination), and then narrowing the search by price, style of food, lunch/dinner, etc. It really is very, very easy. Then it’s a matter of going through the search results and seeing what looks good to you (this can be somewhat time consuming, but worth it). If you need more pointers on this, PM me.

    Another great source for locating interesting restaurants is the magazine Meets Regional, which is a magazine largely devoted to food. One of the things I like about this magazine is that every month it either focuses on a different type of food (i.e., Udon, Yakitori, Soba, Oden, Sushi, Yaki Niku, etc.) or on a different theme (i.e., Great Kansai Restaurants, Great Lunch Spots, etc.). Like Tabelog, this magazine is also in Japanese. So, given that I do not read Japanese, I use this magazine as a picture book. If a picture of a dish looks particularly appealing (there are many food pictures in this magazine), then I make note of the phone number which accompanies the picture, and enter it into a Google search, along with the word “tabelog” and then see what pops up (usually a rating, more pictures, etc).

    Once I find a restaurant through either of these methods, if I want to learn a little more about it, I will simply copy and paste the phone number of the restaurant into a Google Blog Search. If a restaurant is particularly highly rated, you can bet on the fact that there will be at least a handful of blog reviews. While all of these reviews will almost certainly be in Japanese, it really doesn’t matter – you can get a better sense for the type of food by looking at the pictures. Moreover, blogs will often times be the only place that have pictures of the exterior of a restaurant, which again, is essential to finding it if you don’t speak Japanese.

    Making A Reservation

    Once you pick the restaurant you want to go to, you will likely need to make a reservation. If you have a Japanese friend, this will be a pretty easy process. Alternatively, if you are unable to make a reservation, you are likely to stand a much better chance of getting in if you show up at the restaurant slightly before it opens, or slightly before the last order time (most restaurants have a last order time which is about 30 minutes prior to closing time). Finally, you can try to make the reservation yourself, and while this is not overly complicated, it does require some knowledge of Japanese (PM me if you need additional details).

    Ordering At Restaurants

    If you find your way to an interesting restaurant, based upon Tabelog or Meets Regional, you have likely discover that it does not have plastic food outside (as is typical of many restaurants in Japan) or a picture menu. The reason is that the best restaurants never do seem to have these things. To order, I suggest you simply be adventurous, name a price, and ask for the chef to serve you food. This is very easily done with some very basic Japanese, or at worst, could be done in English if you speak slowly or write it down (again, PM me for further detail).

    Hope this little primer helps in your eating adventures in Japan!


    p.s. If you go to Kobe or Osaka, and want a few recommendations, let me know.

    • Like 1
  2. Thank you for the tips! We'll definitely talk to locals to get their recs. Izakaya Toyo sounds really interesting, and will be on my shortlist of places to check out during my first couple of weeks there.

  3. All -

    I was hoping to get some restaurant recommendations for Osaka and nearby areas. Essentially, my employer has asked that I go to Japan for one year, starting in July. I would be based in the Osaka area (precise address to be determined). So, since I am obsessed when it comes to food, I figured I'd start investigating.

    I'll be going with my girlfriend, and both of us have wide-ranging tastes, and will eat almost anything. Since we'll be there for one year, we'll have a good amount of time to check out any recommendations you might have -- so don't hold back! In that regard, while I certainly welcome any suggestions regarding higher-end places, i'd would particularly like to hear about any place that may be more moderately priced, but are nonetheless really good at what they do and provide good value (i.e., good mid-range sushi places).

    Thank you in advance for your help. Feel free to send me a private message if you prefer.


  4. SS.  Have you come and gone?  What did you decide?

    Yes. My girlfriend and I went to Vancouver, and just returned last week. Generally, I would say that we ate pretty well. We went to a combination of restaurants that were higher end places, and more local, ethnic places. I've included ratings below -- ratings are only relative to other similar places (i.e. hot dog places or thai places or very high end/splurge places, etc,), so take them for what you will -- they are primarily indicative of the level of enjoyment I got from eating there. I appologize in advance for ommitting details regarding the particular dishes we ordered. Places that we went to included:

    1) Japadog - Went for late lunch snack while walking around town. I liked this place a lot. Good quality sausage and interesting toppings. Had the Oroshi and a Kurobata Terimayo. 8/10.

    2) Guu w/ Garlic - Went for lunch. Very limited lunch menu. Had Kobe Beef rice bowl dish, whcih was interesting, flavorful and well prepared. Kind of like a hamburger with a fried egg on top, with rice, and various toppings. 6/10.

    3) Boneta - Went for dinner. Interesting dishes, fairly complex preparations. Started with the Bison Carpaccio and Gravlax, both of which were very good. Then moved onto Wild Salmon and Lamb Shank Dishes. Only the salmon dish is still on the menu at this point, from what I saw on the website. Ingredients were nicely prepared, enjoyable, and really nothing wrong with it, but neither of us were wowed. 6/10.

    4) Ajisai - Went for lunch. Sushi is arguably my favoriate thing to eat, and this place was Great. I had the standard dinner 8 piece selection, and augmented with 4 special pieces of the day. Compared quite favorably to places costing 3x as much in New York. 9/10.

    5) Vij - Went for dinner. I love indian food, and go for it with some regularity, including nicer places in NYC. I have never had food like this. Both my girlfriend and I loved it. If you go here, make sure to get a dish involving with grilled Kale. 8/10.

    6) Phnom Penh - Went for Dinner. Again, I love vietnamese food (what food don't I love?). This place was superb. The wings were easily the best wings that i have ever had, with not even a close second (2nd best - Wings from a Korean Fried Chicken Place - UFC - in Queens). Other food was also fantastic (crepe, rice noodle dumplings w/ meat roll). 10/10.

    7) Fuel. Went here and had the 5 course tasting menu. The chef actually gave my girlfriend and I two completely different set of courses - nothing repeated - which was a really thoughtful thing to do. We had a lot of food, I did not take notes. I liked the food here a lot, well prepared, interesting, and the best of the higher end dinners we had - by a lot. Quality of the ingredients really shined through, from meats to fishes, to strawberries at dessert. Only problem is that the portions were huge!!!!! I purposefully ate a really light lunch, and scheduled a late dinner, and yet, we could only manage to eat about 4.5 of the 5 courses (leaving over half of the second to last dish). 9/10.

    8) Pho Hoang. Went here for lunch. Place was good, though not great. We each had Bun, and though the menu promised grilled beef, it was actually more of a sauteed beef, which was unexpected, and not as good. Spring rolls, while tasty, were incredibly greasy. 4/10.

    9) Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant. Went here for dim sum lunch. Far superior than anything available in New York (that i've tried). Simply awesome. Had a variety of dishes which I am not recalling right now, but heavy on different types of dumplings. Wait for table was 30 minutes. 9/10.

    10) C Restaurant. Went here for splurge dinner. I liked the ambience and service here a lot. Food was another issue. While quality of ingredients were very high, and dishes were interesting, the overall outcome missed the mark. I ordered the potato crusted scallops. Scallops were nicely cooked. Only problem is that they weren't seared -- rather, the potato crust was seared. The crust, which was overcooked (giving it a slightly acrid taste), fell off fairly easily, leaving a scallop, which was in effect, took on a baked kind of taste (not good if you are a fan of scallops). My girlfriend ordered the lobster special, which while interesting, was slightly overcooked - enough to be noticeable, but not enough to really do anything about. For apps, we had the grilled sardines, and the smoked trout salad. Both were good, but did not have any sort of wow factor. I personally would not go back to this place. We thought our dinner at Fuel was far superior, and at a more reasonable cost. Interestingly enough, one of the dishes at Fuel was a seared scallop dish that also involved Potatos. I enjoyed this dish far more due to the fact that the scallops themselves had been expertly seared rather than the potato -- something my girlfriend agreed with. 5/10 (this rating is relative to a comparably priced restaurant).

    11) Dix BBQ - went here to check out the brewery and have dinner. Food here is definitely an afterthought, as it was barely passable. The dish of fried ribs was positively horrible. Then again, beer was OK, and free pool was nice. 2/10.

    12) Toshi Sushi - Went here for dinner. Thought it was good, though not great. prices were good. 5/10.

    13) Campagnolo - Went here for dinner. We liked this place a lot. Good, simple, rustic preparations using high quality ingredients. I would recommend this place to anyone visiting Vancouver, though the area is somewhat sketchy. 8/10.

    14) Kirin - Dim Sum. Wait was horrendous. Make a reservation. Food was amazing though. I didn't think it could get better than Sun Sui Wah -- but this place was better (by a hair). I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients, generous portions. Interesting flavors. 10/10.

    I'll try to refine the descriptions a bit further when I have some more time. Thanks to everyone for their advice.


  5. All -- I need your assistance with dining recommendations!

    My girlfriend and I will be in Vancouver for 9 Days. I will be eating out every meal (except breakfast, since I usually sleep fairly late when on vacation). I am very interested in hearing everyone's top 5 or 10 places to go to in Vancouver. There are really no boundaries in terms of type of food -- i like everything. I tend to gravitate towards interesting ethnic restaurants (of any type), or market-oriented restaurants with frequently changing menus. However, I am up for anything.

    Chances are that I will only pick one place that is very expensive (i.e. $100 or more per person), will pick 2 or 3 places that are moderately expensive (i.e., $60 per person), and will pick 3 or 4 that are more reasonable (under $50 per person).

    Thanks so much for your help. I'll keep you posted on what we decide, and how it turns out!

  6. go to a place called "vietnam restaurant" on dryden street in Cornell's collegetown. get number 23. i think i use to eat that dish twice a week when i was up there.

    also, although a shell of it's former self, go one night and get some hot truck . . . located on stewart ave behind the dorms. they also serve the hot truck food now at short stop deli. although it's not quite the same thing, you can approximate hot truck food by asking them to run it through the conveyer heater twice.

  7. i grew up in livingston. went to bill and harry's many times. in my recollection, which could be fuzzy, bill and harry's use to be owned by two guys named bill and harry. that was back in the day when that was a really, really good restaurant (think mid 80's to early 90's). they sold the name, and decided to get out of the business. at that point, the restaurant branched, out, and opened up several take-out sites (including the one on south livingston ave., which caused one particular shopping complex to go up in flames -- and hence, no more chicken nest in livingston). some time after selling and getting out of restaurant business, bill and harry (the individuals) opened up another restaurant using their fairly well known recipes, only because the "bill and harry" name had been purchased, they had to use a different name. that's when they came up with "mr. chu" which is on route 10. they also opened up "noodle chu" which was designed to cater to a chinese crowd. at this point, i'm not sure if both bill and harry are affiliated with the restaurants, although i know that i still see either bill or harry (i forgot who's who) at mr. chu's when i go there from time to time.

  8. The staple noodle dish is Pad Thai.  I tend to judge a Thai restaurant by whether they make this dish well.  If they can't make this well...run.  The curries have different tastes of course.  Ask the server to suggest their milder curry and ask for it not to be spicy.  Enjoy.

    i love pad thai... unfortunately, brookside thai makes a very poor rendition, in my opinion. it's usually a coagulated mess, and not very flavorful. on the other hand, brookside has excellent "special" dishes - such as their prawns in yellow curry - which may be my favorite thai dish of anywhere i've ever been to. also good are their fried whole fish dishes.

  9. can someone please tell me what happened to my post? was it deleted again by an administrator? i know i wrote one.... jwjojo even quoted it in first paragraph of 6:54 am post.


  10. To get Syd's hot dogs, just go to the factory on Avon Ave. and Jeliff St. I think once or twice in 9 years they didn't have them when I went, so depending on how far you're travelling, you might want to call to make sure they have them. Years ago, you could order as little as a pound (5 hot dogs). After 3 people died from lysteria poisoning eating tainted Sabrett hot dogs, a law was passed that hot dogs purchased from the factory had to wrapped in cryovac or otherwised sealed.

    The Syd's dogs as well as the other sizes available are sold in 2 lb or 5 lb packages. The dog served at Syd's was a 5 to a lb natural casing all beef dog. Just ask for the Syd's dog. And if you want to enjoy your dogs like Syd's prepared them, simmer (or boil) in water, then finish them off on a gas or charcoal grill.

    thank you. this was very helpful!

  11. I spoke with the plant manager at Best. They will continue to make the dogs. Jimmy Buffs uses them as do many walk in customers. I was told that there are distributors and wholesalers who also purchase them.

    how do you go about ordering the "syd's" hot dogs from best? do you need to call ahead? can you just go there? how much do you need to order when you do order them? what are the specifications of those particular hot dogs?

    sorry for so many questions. thanks.

  12. for outdoor bars, i personally like the bamboo lounge (or grille). it's located on the grounds of the basking ridge country club, but is open to the public. i wouldn't say it's a major culinary destination, but for a nice, outdoor area that's comfortable, with a bar as well as tables, i think it's pretty solid. they also have live music several days a week.


  13. went to bailey's for dinner tonight. basement area was open for business - and has a separate entrance allowing you to bypass the bar area upstairs if you want.

    i ordered the pulled pork sandwich, and my girlfriend ordered the trio of mini-sandwiches, allowing a taste of the pulled pork, brisket, and pulled chicken. overall, i thought the food was outstanding. my favorite pulled pork is at daisy may's, and this was extremely close, better in some ways, not as good in other ways... but far better than any other pulled pork i've had elsewhere. brisket was also good - but we may have gotten lucky there.... it seemed like almost the entire sandwich was the "burnt end" portion... had a nice crispiness -- really delicious, and probably the best brisket i've had in the nyc area.

    highly recommended, and with new seating, should provide a comfortable ambience for anyone looking for a good, relaxing meal.

  14. i am also going to be in birmingham area in mid march ... specifically to play some golf on the robert trent jones trail.  will be based out of birmingham for a few days, with a day in gadsden area...

    any other suggestions are greatly appreciated.  i am not interested in high end dining - but rather, prefer "roadfood" type stops.... great bbq (my preference is for good pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken), great seafood shack type places (think fried clams/oysters po' boys, etc.), or anything else.

    also, any good bar recommendations - comfortable place to have a beer after playing a round, possibly in combination with above dining suggestions.

    After you finish playing golf in Gadsden, go to Anniston at eat at Classic on Noble

    The owner's, Cathy and David Mashburn are friends of mine and their food is very good. Tell them Michelle Kemp sent you.

    thanks for the tip. we will definitely try to do that.

  15. i am also going to be in birmingham area in mid march ... specifically to play some golf on the robert trent jones trail. will be based out of birmingham for a few days, with a day in gadsden area...

    any other suggestions are greatly appreciated. i am not interested in high end dining - but rather, prefer "roadfood" type stops.... great bbq (my preference is for good pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken), great seafood shack type places (think fried clams/oysters po' boys, etc.), or anything else.

    also, any good bar recommendations - comfortable place to have a beer after playing a round, possibly in combination with above dining suggestions.

  16. not sure if anyoen else has noticed, but from looking at the menu, it looks like fatty crab has raised the prices of most dishes by 4-5 dollars... roughly 30-40%. maybe it's just me, but i hate it when a restaurant knows that they're so popular, that they can implement a price increase of that kind of magnitude and know that people will still come. although i have always enjoyed fatty crab, now it appears a meal will no longer be at a price point which justifies going there, at least for me that is.

  17. i second the nomination for Taro for best sushi in that area. i discovered it a few months ago after doing some online research. for the money, i have not found a place that i enjoy more... since the first time going there, i have gone approximately once a week, even though i need to drive an hour to get there.

    if you go though, make sure to get the omakase. it's twice as expensive as a standard sushi platter, but still well worth it. you can order omakase either at the bar or at a table. if you sit at a table, you'll get an appetizer (monkfish liver), and then a platter of about 12 pieces and a roll. depending on the selection, the price ranges from 25 to 35 dollars. i've gotten the omakase there probably 4 times at this point, and at least half of the pieces have been completely different each time.

    virtually the entire assortment you receive will be great, and you will only have a couple of typical sushi pieces, such as salmon or a piece of tuna. by way of example, i've had all kinds of mackerels (gizzard shad, horse mackerel, halfbeek), shellfishes (raw octopus, giant raw prawn, baby raw shrimp, king crab, giant clam), different types of uni, etc.... all pieces are very, very fresh, and cut to a size that is standard sushi size, not too small (yasuda), and not too big (yama). the selection has typically been nothing less than fantastic. for a roll, you usually get half a spicy shrimp tempura and half real crab california roll.

    if you sit at the bar and get the omakase, it's a different experience, although not necessarily better. you'll get approximately 10 pieces of sushi, for 35, except it'll be given to you in series of twos or threes, each time variations on a theme... like 1 piece of tuna from japan, along with one piece of toro, with one piece of seared toro.... or 1 piece of yellowtail, along with one piece of yellowtail with an onion sauce. this is certainly very interesting and for the money, is still great value, but at least half of the pieces may be ordinary (salmon, tuna, yellowtail), and not the more exotic stuff that i have seen on the platter you receive at a table.

    this is a place that i think about all the time... i'll probably go tonight now.

  18. Iirc, it's in the former Marc & Eric's space, across Bloomfield Ave from Sesame.

    Went to Gaucho Steakhouse with my girlfriend tonight. Overall, we were very, very impressed. I would probably put this in my top 3 or 4 favorite montlclair restaurants, along with Blu, Indigo Smoke, and Little Saigon.

    This does not appear to me to be the type of restaurant that was inventing dishes just to appeal to customers, but which really have little authenticity (think Mexicali Rose or Cuban Petes). Gaucho scores high in terms of ambiance, the quality of ingredients, and the creativity and execution of the dishes, which seemed sophisticated yet homey. IMO, this is the type of restaurant that could survive in an NYC market, and that's about the biggest compliment I could give a NJ restaurant. (As a side note, I heard the manager/owner discussing with a neighboring table that he is involved in several restaurant projects, and that he formerly owned Chimichurri Grill in nyc)

    For food, we started off with several appetizers, including an empanada combo, grilled octopus appetizer, and a tamale w/ shrimp. I then had the grilled combo, which was a combination of short ribs, hangar steak, and sweetbreads. Everything we had was delicious, perfectly cooked (not overcooked or dry), large portions. We followed this up with a great dessert - some type of carmelized pancake/crepe filled with caramel sauce.

    This place really was excellent, and I would not hesitate to go back or recommend it.

  19. Todd, who's their main competitor?

    My wife and I ate there shortly after they first opened and we thought the soba was not particular remarkable, so I was interested to read that Meehan agreed, too. We'll have to make a return trip. I like that Takahashi sources his own buckwheat from local organic sources.

    my girlfriend and i both love sobakoh. i think it's definitely better than sobaya - and very close, if not as good as honmura an. i don't know enough about soba noodles to back that up with comparisons of specific noodle-making or broth-making techniques. i can only say that we've had about half the menu there, and have always enjoyed the experience immensely. from the food, to the service. it's really great. at this point i've had about half their menu, and no duds. great uni-ikura soba. great hot soba w/ mushrooms (forgot what this is called). also a very interesting one with eggplant and ground duck.

  20. Rachel Ray - what can one say? She's just annoying and I hate what a lousy tipper she is.

    15% across the board. regardless of service, apparently. although, it's just a TV show and i have no idea how generous she is in real life. nor do most people.

    i only really watched her $40 on a day show a few times, but i recalled in one episode, a new york episode i believe, she went to a restaurant with live jazz music, asked the waitress a ton of questions, took a table close to the band, used the table for probably at least 1.5-2 hours, and then tipped 15%, which i believe worked out to about $2. in another situation, Rachel Ray went to a very high end restaurant just to have dessert (for the experience...) and again, tipped about $1 for amazing service and for using the table for over an hour.

    although her tips were technically within the bottom end of the acceptable range, being an exact 15%, it just doesn't seem fair to the restaurant or the wait staff to engage in those kinds of practices. if most customers followed her lead, my guess is that the places she visits would soon be out of business.

    sorry for the rant. the tipping thing has always bothered me. it sets a terrible example for those who actually use the show for information purposes and don't really know any better. (i know i'm preaching to the choir here - and that very few on this board would use that show for information purposes)

    p.s. my favorite hosts are colameco (although he seems to pander to the restaurants that will allow him to shoot), lidia (although she gets too preachy on family-related matters), charlie trotter (although too pompous), and of course, Anthony Bourdain...(no complaints on that one).

  21. As far as my experience with walk-ins. We were told that the bar opens at 5pm, and that seating starts at 5:30pm. When we arrived, promptly at 5pm, there was already a line that had formed outside the restaurant! There were about 7 people in front of us - not a huge line, but still, a line. The doors opened up, and each party presented themselves to the host as walk-in groups. They took our names, and told us to have a seat at the bar while we wait for a table. There were 6 tables reserved for walk-ins. 4 of those could seat 2 people. 2 could seat 3/4. You can also eat at the bar, which 3 people were doing. If you arrive after 5:45 or so, you may have some difficulty as a walk-in. Many of the walk-in tables were doing the tasting menus, which means that those tables would be occupied for at least 2.5 hours.

  22. please disregard my previous post. i had several gift certificates that i needed to use by june 8th, and wasn't sure if i'd be able to use them...so i was hoping that someone would buy them off of me who would be going anyway. i solved the problem by going to babbo this evening as a walk-in with my girlfriend. we both got the pasta tasting - which was excellent. if you do the tasting there - be ready to eat a lot.

  23. Does anyone have reservations at Babbo before June 8th? If so, could you please send me a personal message? I have a personal request (no, i'm not going to ask you for your reservation slot).

    Thank you.

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