September – October, 2017
While staying in a ryokan is a great way to experience Japanese culture and cuisine, sometimes you just want a normal bed and a place to hang out in the afternoon other than on a tatami mat. The business-type Hotel Premio Vista, centrally located near the Sanjo station, the transfer station for the Keihan train line and the Tozai subway line, fit the bill. There are also tons of restaurants and retail in the area.
The rooms are a bit larger than most of the business type hotels we’ve stayed at in Japan but still small by Western standards. The rooms are clean, in good shape and include all the usual Japanese amenities with the added touch of coffee as well as the usual tea with the water boiler. The bed is comfortable and topped with a down comforter.
We didn’t try the 1600 yen/person breakfast. The boulangerie on the corner of Sanjo and Kawabata-dori , Shinshindo, has a Western breakfast menu as well as a good selection of pastry and rolls if you are tired of Japanese breakfasts.
The hotel also includes a small laundry room, 2 washers and 2 dryers, on the 6th floor. Instructions in English, no detergent needed, 400 yen to wash, 100 yen to dry. Staff is friendly and efficient.
Kyoto has numerous quality Japanese restaurants as well as international choices.
Okonomiyaki, Japanese stuffed pancakes
For a lunch or a casual dinner try an okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is a sort of shredded cabbage pancake with various proteins added. Truly more delicious that it sounds.
Having wanted to try this Kansai specialty I found an okonomiyaki place not far from the Seikoro ryokan our first night in Kyoto. Okonomiyaki Kiraku is a casual establishment with an open kitchen griddle where they fry up the pancakes and other egg and noodle dishes.
The okonomiyaki are ordered kind of like a pizza with various fillings or toppings. We tried the mixed meat, just a single, as the doubles are enormous. The special sauce really makes the dish.
Along with the okonomiyaki we ordered gyoza. Although smallish they were served fresh off the griddle, crispy on the outside with a tasty meat filling, most likely pork. With a couple of beers and green tea ice cream for dessert it made a perfect introduction to Kyoto.
Shabu shabu, Japanese hotpot
Walking along Shijo street looking for a dinner option we stumbled on Shabuzen, a shabu shabu (Japanese hotpot) restaurant. With an English menu with a 3700 yen special for a shabu shabu or sukiyaki dinner this turned out to be a great place to try this Japanese specialty.
Albeit light on beef this is a nice introduction to the concept of boiling your own meat and vegetables at the table. The server happily demonstrated the order and how this should be done.
I imagine there are better restaurants but this was not a bad option. Not a ton of food for 3700 yen although we did decline the noodles and rice cakes offered at the end.
Pizza Salvatore Cuomo and Grill serves pizza, of course, and other Italian specialties in a casual setting.
Although not well rated on Tripadvisor, mostly because they charge a cover charge, typical in Italy but not in Japan, and their service seems to break down when they get busy, we found the restaurant a welcome change to eating Japanese every night. The food was exceptionally well seasoned and prepared except for the soggy pizza center. Service was efficient and spoke good English.
We tried the popolo pizza with salami, ham and mushrooms (minus the cheese). It was somewhat spicy had great flavor but unfortunately the center was soggy.
Mackerel pasta with garlic oil and mustard potherbs.
Linguine pescatore with shrimp, calamari, mussels and clams.
Great tiramisu for dessert
China Café Ryu-ka has one of the prettiest, most elegant interiors I’ve seen in a Chinese restaurant. Dimly lit and decorated in medium gray woods with just a hint of the kitchen visible through a large shelving unit of neatly arranged dishes that become more decoration than practical storage. Upholstered chairs and booths add to the upscale atmosphere.
With such an interior you would expect high-end pricing and small portions. While you can get shark fin soup for 3,000+ yen most of the dishes were around 1,000 yen for decent size portions. We got a small dumpling order plus 3 larger dishes and rice. We could have easily just ordered 2 and not left hungry. The menu seems long but for a Chinese restaurant there isn’t a huge selection.
All the dishes we ordered were served fresh hot, one was still bubbling, and were well seasoned. For our tastes the spicy dishes could have had more heat. We arrived just after 6 on a Friday evening and only one other table was occupied, but many of the tables had reservation cards on them so it is best to come early or make a reservation.
Sichuan baked eggplant – That oh-so succulent Chinese eggplant dish. Although, I don’t know that it is really baked.
Tile fish with black pepper in a sauce with mushroom and bok choy
Ma po tofu – called spicy bean curd on the menu
For a small atmospheric place, try Pontocho street, a narrow alley of bars and restaurants located along the river south of Sanjo street.