THE BLOG
08/30/2011 08:14 am ET | Updated Oct 30, 2011

A Chef's-Eye View Of Tokyo

Tokyo is just one of those places that makes you feel alive. On any given day, millions of people are walking the streets. The movement in the city is really unlike any other. The minute you get off the plane, the place is buzzing. It's really exciting and that excitement is exactly what makes me come back time and time again. That, and the amazing food Tokyo has to offer.

You can have anything you want at any time you want it, but the key is knowing where to find it. Some of the best restaurants, bars and grocery stores in Tokyo are hidden gems.

On any given trip to Tokyo, I usually start the day with a trip to the local 7-Eleven. It sounds crazy, but, believe me, the 7-Elevens in Tokyo are very different from the ones in the U.S. They're known for excellent service, professional demeanor and delicious food — think steamed tofu and sushi instead of hot dogs.

I usually pick up the aloe vera yogurt; it has a refreshing, soothing taste and a unique texture. After a brief stop at 7-Eleven, I typically head towards Higashiya for one of the best tea experiences I have encountered. This spot has a cool, hip, modern design, and the counter is made solely for serving tea — they have a huge eclectic selection of teas available. The bartenders have a jeweler-like precision when it comes to brewing. It is all about the preparation here.

Those who know me well know that my weakness is soba, followed very closely by yakitori. And where else to get the best soba in the world than Tokyo, specifically Honmura An in Roppongi Hills. Honmura An also has a really cool, modern design and it's a great spot for house-made, hand-cut traditional buckwheat soba that you can order cold with grated mountain yam. One of my favorite aspects of this restaurant is that they have hung a shredded Al Merrick surfboard on the wall, which creates this funky design element in the restaurant.

To satisfy my need for yakitori, it's without a doubt Toritama. Here, they specialize in rare and unique parts of the chicken and have an incredible boutique shochu and sake list.

But it wouldn't be right to visit Tokyo and not indulge in the sushi. Tokyo has it all, from cheap to high-end places. For a one-of-a-kind, great high-end sushi experience, Shin is the best you'll find. It's tiny, with just 12 seats, but the seasonal menu features one of my favorites, ika, a ribbon-cut of squid with salt and sudachi. The salt is from Okinawa and comes only from the bottom of the sea floor as opposed to the top of the wave. The sudachi, a local fruit, provides a beautiful aromatic citrus flavor to the squid. But be sure to start with tsumami (appetizers), as well as sake. Shin lets their guests choose from a variety of handmade sake cups in different sizes, shapes and materials.

It's a very intimate experience, but if it's 5 a.m. and you're craving a quick bite, Sushi Dai at the Tsukiji Fish Market is your go-to spot for the freshest (and most affordable) sushi. It's a popular place, so you have to be in line by 4:30 a.m., but you'll definitely be entertained by the underground language specific to the fish market.

Sushi Dai is usually the last stop on a night out in Tokyo. The nightlife in the city is incredible and there's a wide variety of things to do, depending on what you're looking for that night. Two of my favorite bars are Star Bar in Ginza and Wodka Tonic. Star Bar is located in a historic location and it's not unusual to see people walking around in kimonos. Here, it's all about the fruit cocktails and using what's in season. If whiskey is your poison of choice, Wodka Tonic is the bar for you. This bar has more selections of scotch than you can ever drink and the bartenders can make just about any drink you can think of.

It's easy to over-indulge in Tokyo, but everything from the sushi to the cocktails are moments not to be missed. Every time I visit, I see, taste and experience something new, which increases the emotional tie I have with this truly unique city.