I almost literally stumbled into this one on the infamous first night in town, just walking in random direction from the hotel with no idea what kind of neighbourhood I was in, whether there were any restaurants nearby, how far I might have to go…
The second likely-looking one I peeped into had a long counter with tables beside, a warm busy atmosphere with a bunch of well-dressed Japanese people chowing away, and a name rendered only in Japanese characters. Guidebooks say that the back streets of this neighbourhood, Ginza (which is the haute couture Robson Street of the city) is full of good places to eat, and I imagined I had found one.
There were six chefs behind the counter, and I sat straight in front of the main cooker which was a 18 inch by 3-foot rectangular tank full of stock, sunk in the work surface, presided over by a fast-moving elderly maitre de cuisine. In the tank floated a couple of dozen varieties of different delicacies: fish balls, daikon, shrimp rolls, tofu, wilted greens, and quite a few unidentifiables. The old guy who sat me down said quietly “beer?” as soon as I was in place, and then a younger fellow came over and asked in English if I wanted him to recommend some things, or whether I wanted to just point.
I elected to point, and ended up with half a dozen delicious things, enough to feel like dinner. The middle-aged diner next to me picked up his bowl and drank the soup, so I did the same, and then a family to my right asked where I was from and said they had been skiing at Whistler several times. I felt quite chummily included.
But then the bill came and it was about $50, neither credit card worked, and the delightful lady just took the 4000 yen I had (probably about two dollars short) and indicated not to worry about it. I was embarrassed.
Overall could have been a lot worse first-night experience. I would recommend trolling the back streets of Ginza, applying the crowd and sniff tests, and taking your chances.
Food 8.2, service 8.0, ambience 8.6, value 6.6.