It is possible to have fabulous sushi in Paris, and by the transitive property, equally delightful French cuisine in Kyoto. This bistro specializes in classic French comfort food, and attracts an international clientele seeking a break from traditional Japanese cuisine, as well as top chefs in the city (Kazuomi Nakamura of Nakajin says Bistro Cerisier is his personal favorite). The plate takes center stage, as the atmosphere is bare and Spartan, with white walls, simple wooden tables and a wood-burning fireplace that crackles all winter.
A short walk from the Ritz-Carlton, this izakaya (Japanese tapas) restaurant is true farm-to-table. The head chef has a farm outside the city from which he sources all the ingredients on this seasonal menu. While casual, this popular restaurant has a trendy, upbeat vibe; the fresh produce sits out on the counter in front of the chef’s grill while pop music streams from the speakers. If you’re not comfortable with both a Japanese-speaking staff and Japanese menu, skip this local spot.
Kyoto Kitcho Arashiyama
For over three hundred years the same family has served homemade soba noodles, attracting generations of patrons to revel in this warm comfort food. Misoka-an Kawamichiya is around the corner from Tawaraya Ryokan, and offers a short menu of hot and cold noodle dishes, and a specialty of the house called hokoro—which is a hot pot of chicken, vegetables and fish stock served for two with noodles on the side. Locals giggle and brag that Steve Jobs declared this to be the noodle experience of his life. Reservations are not required, and this is a great choice for a quick lunch.
My favorite meal in Japan was from the hands of soba and tempura master, Kazuomi Nakamura, at his intimate 10-seat restaurant. Generally I don’t like tempura, though my guide suggested we visit Kazuomi son for lunch, and was thrilled when our request was accepted (even though we were two of five patrons). Highly regarded among the soba masters of Kyoto, the chef hails from the nearby mountain region of Takayma, which is famous for pure buckwheat noodles. Organic vegetables are hand-selected; the rice is from his friend’s organic farm; the miso paste is made in the mountains by a friend of his father; and even the ceramic service is handmade by friends (and by the chef himself). There is no English menu, although it is possible to select your set menu choices via your hotel concierge prior to arrival (or allow the chef to choose, the route I recommend).
Sushi Gion Matsudaya
Tempura Endo Yasaka
Lovers of tempura will have some of the best deep-fried dishes of their life here. The batter is light and perfectly crisp, and it’s served kaiseki-style, meaning you will only have one or two of a particular item that’s spaced out in courses. Reserve a seat at the 10-seat bar to see the maestro at work in this restaurant that’s renowned as the best tempura restaurant in Kyoto. Yoshikawa is a ryokan, or a traditional inn, and its century-old restaurant is perhaps more famous than the inn itself.