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Best New Restaurants 2007

John Kernick Kobe-beef sliders at Cut

Photo: John Kernick

Tokyo

Even in Tokyo, where jaw-dropping dining palaces outnumber ramen dives, Tofuya Ukai (4-4-13 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku; 81-3/3436-1028; lunch for two $110) has a serious wow factor, ensuring that its 550 seats are booked weeks in advance. Announced by a lavish Japanese garden and built to resemble a vast Edo-period mansion, Tofuya Ukai sprawls at the foot of the Tokyo Tower, a replica of the Eiffel. How much expense and political muscle were required to construct this extravaganza, smack in the middle of Tokyo’s latest prime real estate—until last year, the site was occupied by a bowling alley—is anybody’s guess. A kimonoed hostess will usher you past the antique sake-brewing equipment to a light-filled tatami room with views of pebbled pathways, waterfalls, and 100-year-old fruit trees. Sit back, sip your sake, and dutifully contemplate the kaiseki-style meal. A fanciful appetizer set—jellied duck slices, a salmon-sushi bonbon—precedes a pillowy crab dumpling afloat in a yuzu broth. Twice-cooked tofu is followed by an earthy, rice-studded matsutake mushroom, all of which comes artfully arranged on handmade ceramics and lacquerware. After lunch, take a look at the kaleidoscopic carp in the ponds outside. In Tokyo, even the fish make a design statement.

Shunju Tsugihagi (Nihon Seimei Bldg. B1, 1-1-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku; 81-3/3595-0511; dinner for two $100) is another visual tour de force by the hip Super Potato design firm (known for, among other things, the swaggering interior of Tokyo’s Grand Hyatt Hotel). The mysterious labyrinth of partitioned nooks plays like a conceptual art installation. It’s a mind-bogglingly eclectic mishmash of allusions and styles—Eastern and Western, Zen and zany—that puts carved Balinese screens against blond Scandinavian furniture, backlit glass bottles against Japanese fabrics. Such a setting makes it perfectly natural to order foie gras or grilled ibérico pork (Tokyo’s current "it" swine) alongside a tofu cloud. Among the other standouts are chewy grilled jidori chicken, the sparkling offerings from the sushi bar, and a baked parchment package of delicate fish, sweet potato, and hon-shimeji mushrooms.

Craving primal warmth and sake-fueled bonhomie? Head to Hinokiya (6-19-45 Akasaka, Minato-ku; 81-3/6808-6815; dinner for two $120), a faux-rustic grill house, or robatayaki, patronized by diplomats in the Akasaka neighborhood. Here, fish, meat, and vegetables are slow-grilled over aromatic bincho charcoal. After you take off your shoes and settle around the kotatsu table, a waiter appears with a still life of produce and seafood. Choose some leeks and sweet little tomatoes to start, follow with a giant clam or Hokkaido sea urchin, and proceed to the lavishly marbled slices of Wagyu beef from Kagoshima Prefecture. If Mr. Shigehara, the manager, takes a shine to you, he might even treat you to a tasting from his formidable sake collection—which is how you’ll end up sleeping through your business meeting the next day.

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