Tofu is not the heaviest food in the world—but seven courses of it is no joke, so I skip breakfast today in anticipation. Lunch is at Tofuya Ukai, a two-year-old paean to artisanal tofu that has become one of the city's toughest reservations; weekday lunches tend to be the easiest to book and are less expensive than dinner. Of all the Japanese-cuisine genres and subgenres that have been finding their way to the States lately, handmade tofu has, to my formerly tofu-indifferent sensibility, been one of the most revelatory. I love the soft, pillowy tofu that has been appearing at restaurants like En Japanese Brasserie and Kyotofu in Manhattan.
The path to Tofuya Ukai, housed inside an old sake factory that was shipped in from the Yamagata prefecture and rebuilt here, leads through what's basically a tofu theme park: A wooden bridge goes over a koi pond and passes through a garden and past a tofu retail shop and an outdoor stand where a chef grills the bean curd over coals for one of the courses on the set menu. The walk is somehow magical and transporting, despite the slight kitsch factor. We've booked our lunch in a private room, for a bargain 5,500 yen (about $50) per person. Once we settle in on our tatami mats, a kimono-wearing waitress brings out the first course: unbelievably creamy, handmade walnut tofu. We linger over it, but the courses that follow are just as outstanding. There's luscious deep-fried and chargrilled tofu with sweet miso and egg custard; namafu, an ultradense wheat gluten, served with persimmon and sesame sauce; and tofu nabe, a hot pot of soothing, fresh, snowy-white tofu simmering over coals with soy milk.
- Tokyo Now: Restaurants and Hotels in Japan
- Tokyo, Day 1: Breakfast Sushi, Buddhist Lunch, Spicy Cod Pancakes
- Tokyo, Day 2: Japanese Éclairs, Perfect Ramen, Sake Fix, Soba Heaven
- Tokyo, Day 4: Japanese Pasta, Prehistoric-Shrimp Sushi
- Tokyo, Day 5: Pasta & Fried-Pork Feast
- Tokyo, Day 6: Classic Pork, Hipster Hub
I'm ready for something a little scruffier now, so before dinner we stop in at Yamariki, an 85-year-old izakaya (a pub serving food) that's beloved by local salarymen for its chargrilled pork and its long-simmered pork-innard nikomi stew. The fragrant, intensely meaty broth goes down a little too easily with my sake shots, and I know I'll be revisiting this place in my food fantasies for weeks.