Since it was my travel companion's first time to Japan, I was determined to help her sample as many types of Japanese cuisine as possible - omurice, curry, takoyaki and ramen were ticked off (along with ubiquitous bento and onigiri in our morning convenience store runs - and breakfast foods). Next up: udon, okonomiyaki and, of course, sushi.
Located at the very end of Shinjuku's Kabukicho, you have to go down a narrow flight of stairs to reach Tsurutontan, to then be greeted by a long queue of people stretching up the stairs if you're unlucky. Once you make it inside the black leather couches of the 'official' seating area, you can admire the classy, dark furnishings with hints of that exuberant kabuki-inspired colour and design. They also look like they had an excellent bar - though neither of us were up to drinking at that point. This was a long wait but definitely worth it.
The place specialises in gigantic bowls of udon of all flavours. And I mean - gigantic. Bibs were provided, if that gives you any idea. On a freezing winter night, the vivid flavours of the hayashi (hashed beef) udon (a winter special) and the warmth of the udon and broth hit the spot in an indescribable way. It wasn't bad value either - one serving was only about 1500Y. You can also buy prepackaged udon flavouring and noodles at the checkout counter.
Again, this was a situation where each customer must order at least one item on the menu, though thankfully we could order dessert (which were of the 'traditional Japanese' variety). I got Cissy to try the warabi mochi that I ate too much of in Kyoto last year. It will be a long time before I eat it again but I still recommend it (in sparing quantities).
Restaurants in Roppongi Hills have to match the upscale vibe of the place, as you might expect. Arata is all dark, glossy wood and dimly lit interiors - a great place for a date - and the chefs and waiters have a cute custom of shouting 'irrashaimase' in chorus with every new customer's arrival and departure...and then periodically shouting something incomprehensible (which another chef would shout a reply to). It was probably a signal that the food was ready for the waiter but Jenny and I joked he was yelling out updates about his grilling process, to which the waiters would reply with 'WELL DONE!'...because that was what it started to sound like. We were seated at the counter and could therefore see our chef work at Arata's distinctive robata grill.
The okonomiyaki was really good - creamy because of the cheese but the charred bottom added crunchiness and a bit of textural interest. This did take a long time to arrive - around 20 minutes - but we were warned about this beforehand and so had plenty of time to chat and for the huge chunks of ice in our drinks to melt (my Yuzu squash was unexpectedly fizzy...though I'm not sure what I expected. I definitely preferred the sip of Cissy's Momo Ringo I had).
The casserole rice of crab and salmon roe somehow managed to be both bland and salty at the same time - specifically, the rice was bland and crab pieces were very salty, even after being mixed. The creamy salmon roe mellowed out the flavours somewhat and gave it a fragrant seafood taste but still...a strange dish.
A little nook on the bottom level of Tokyu Shopping Centre, with rows upon rows of fresh food vendors right behind you may not seem like the best or most romantic place for an 'authentic' sushi meal (which you may associate with a tiny one-lane shop...usually accompanied by a three hour queue and TripAdvisor sticker on the door) but a small sacrifice of ambiance is rewarded with amazingly fresh sushi (even late in the day) at a great price in a much more convenient location than Tsukiji itself.
Apparently, the bulk of Uoriki's business is supplying fresh seafood to supermarkets...from Tsukiji, so you may be stumbling upon the gems of the fish markets anyway. Not being a sushi connoisseur or a huge fan of seafood, everything tasted fresh and was made on the spot with deft speed by our chef and, unlike a certain sushi place in Tsukiji, there is no 1.5 hr queue to get in (that being said...if you haven't visited 寿司大 Sushi dai and you love fish...it may still be worth the wait just so you can compare). Watch out for the wasabi bombs hidden under the fish though.