- Danielle Belyeu
JAPAN IS RICH WITH LUXURY GASTRONOMIC EXPERIENCES
Few nations — heck, few high-end restaurants — can compare to the culture of meticulous care that Japan brings to its culinary endeavors. From individual ingredients to the final dish, every step of the way is steeped in centuries of artisanal excellence. While you’ll find sumptuous dining options any which way you look when visiting, we’ve taken the liberty of curating three of the more luxurious options for your consideration below.
While you’ll undoubtedly find fine spirits all across the isle, few can match the prestige of Urakasumi. Founded in 1724, this prestigious, multi-award-winning brewery located in Shiogama has not only been family-owned and operated this entire time, but it has also gifted the world significant contributions to the craft of sake. Namely, master brewers Sagoro and Junichi Hirano ushered in the premium sake craze with the creation of Urakasumi Zen — the brewery’s signature masterpiece, known for its rich umami flavor, lightness on the palate and smooth texture.
While the star of your visit to this brewery is certain to be the sake itself (a sake tasting pairs wonderfully with Shiogama’s other delicacies: fresh oysters and tuna), a brewery tour is the gift that keeps on giving — a finer appreciation for some of Japan’s best sake.
While you’re no doubt aware of sushi, there are lesser-known variations of the dish that discerning palates would be wise to seek out. At the northern tip of Lake Biwa sits (tiny) Lake Yogo, and on its shores sits Tokuyamazushi — one of the few remaining practitioners of the art of narezushi. Here, fresh fish is caught from Lake Yogo before being packed in steamed rice and fermented for months on end. At the end of its fermentation, it undergoes the typical sushi preparation: a cold spring-water rinse, thin slicing by master-chef hands before being plated with fresh rice. The resulting flavor is a eureka for taste buds: bright(!), clean, and shockingly mild with the subtlest note of cheese.
If you hunger for more than just narezushi, Tokuyamazushi provides a master class in sustainably sourced eats. Herbs and mushrooms are foraged from the surrounding forest, wild duck and bear are sourced from the nearby mountains, and of course — freshwater eel and sweetfish are pulled from Lake Yogo.
There are some delicacies that have earned their place in collective consciousness as decadent luxury; kobe beef — sourced from a wagyu cow that has been pampered on a diet of corn, grasses and beer in addition to enjoying daily massages — is certainly one of them. You’ll find kobe on menus across the country, but for a truly blissful meal, seek it out at Setsugekka Hanare, located in Kobe.
Setsugekka Hanare employs teppanyaki (the style of cooking directly on a hot iron griddle). The menu also offers scallops, prawns, octopus and vegetable dishes, but beef is by far the star of the show. Slicing into this golden-seared, tender, umami heaven while gazing out over Kobe's city lights from its eighth-floor perch, you will be hit by an epiphany: this is the good life that everyone is always talking about.
Hungry to get to Japan and try these gastronomic delicacies for yourself? Just as you’d expect a professional chef to create a better meal than an amateur, you can expect a travel professional to put together a better vacation experience than anything you could book on your own. The reasoning is two-fold: Not only am I a walking encyclopedia of hard-earned wisdom and recommendations, but my coveted place within the industry also unlocks perks and amenities you didn’t even know you were missing!
By Justin Gibson