It’s easy to get a good meal when you’re paying a lot for a renowned chef to prepare your freeze-dried foie gras, but perhaps a bigger challenge is finding casual and affordable food that’s done well. Above, pork belly ramen that my brother refers to as “crack cocaine” at Hashigo near his office in downtown Tokyo. I can see why: the flavors we could pick out of the rich broth were sesame, yuzu, garlic, and soy sauce, but Hashigo likely guards its recipe closely as “the best ramen” is always of great debate.
Michelin stars don’t always mean a fancy experience. The buttery (often aged-for-tenderness) fish we enjoyed at Sushi Saito—which has three Michelin stars—was served up in quick succession in an austere room. You could be paying the check in less than an hour. But the two-star Édition Koji Shimomura and one-star à nu retrouvez-vous deliver the traditional white-linen experience. Both Chef Koji Shimomura and Chef Shohei Shimono, respectively, trained in high-end French restaurants, and each brings a personal approach to the cuisine by using Japanese ingredients and honoring local taste preferences, but—as you’ll find—their interpretations are distinctly unique.
More than once during my trip to Tokyo my brother Matthew would point to a drab building with no signage and tell me it was one of the best restaurants he had tried in his two decades of living there. Just as it took us 10 minutes of circling a nondescript office building to find the three-Michelin-starred Sushi Saito, yet another unadvertised delight was tucked inside what looked like someone’s home in a residential neighborhood.
I thought I had reached a sushi pinnacle when I dined at Kyubey the last time I was in Tokyo, but Chef Takashi Saito—who once worked at Kyubey—has taken it to another level at his seven-seat Sushi Saito. While Kyubey has a warmer atmosphere more conducive to lengthier meals (if desired), Sushi Saito serves what could be considered a “quickie lunch,” albeit an extremely high-end one delivered with the utmost care.
Our first time in Cabo San Lucas, situated on the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula, we knew it would be more margaritas and less Mayan ruins. This is a sun-and-fun getaway for Americans: you can use dollars interchangeably with pesos, you’ll find both Costco and a luxury shopping mall, and it seems almost every visitor we spoke to owned a time share. And if you don’t own a time share, there is someone with a clipboard who would like to speak with you.
In case you haven’t heard, Tijuana is the next big thing in food. Not only have people in the know been frequenting Baja for years, but the media finally caught on, too. Anthony Bourdain, Rick Bayless, and Andrew Zimmern made recent trips with camera crews in tow, and media darling Javier Plascencia was profiled by the New Yorker and the New York Times for innovative cuisine served in a modern glass box above the city’s rainbow-colored bungalows.
Of all the restaurant reservations we had in Paris, Le Chateaubriand was the hardest to get, and the one I was most looking forward to. It’s the darling du jour in the food world: Anthony Bourdain called Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte a “genius” on “No Reservations”; any Paris article from the New York Times in the last year mentioned it in the first few sentences; and the restaurant was ranked 11th in the world in 2010 (skyrocketing up from 40th the year before), beating New York’s Le Bernardin (15) and (say what?) Napa’s the French Laundry (32). Adding to the fever pitch was the general consensus that Chef Aizpitarte is part of a new food movement among French chefs who are looking to cook Michelin star–quality food, but in a relaxed bistro environment. We were reserved for the first night we arrived. And then it started to snow in Paris. And then the airport started canceling flights. And, yes, then our flight—sob—from Los Angeles.
Once in a while I did look up from my dinner plate and photograph some other scenes of Paris. Here, “experimental cocktails” at the Curio Parlor. On my first real trip to this city (passing through with a backpack at age 20 didn’t count), I found a lovely and welcoming place that I hope to visit again soon (of course, my Québec-born hair stylist will tell me it’s because all the real Parisians were on holiday vacation!).
Passage 53 was our last major reservation of the trip. We had been buttered, basted, and foie gras’d the past week and thought we had seen all the tricks. But we were about to be blown away. As mentioned, it was all hands on deck with my family making sure we found the best eateries in Paris. We sifted through magazine top 10 guides and newspaper write-ups, consulted friends, compared notes, and honed the list (you may have realized food is a blood sport in my family by now). This one came highly recommended by my brother’s colleague working in Paris: “A Japanese chef who has worked in France for many years; in one of Paris’s most charming covered galleries; one of the city’s best-kept secrets.”
Besides the fancy French landmark restaurants we had on our radar, we also hit up some good (and not so good) casual eateries in Paris. Here, two of my favorites: Le 404, a cozy Moroccan place recommended by my Paris-based friend and her Moroccan husband; and Café de l’Alma, recommended by our hotel on New Year’s Day (hair of the dog, anyone?)