This post is about two of my better experiences as a vegetarian in Tokyo: a lunch at Nezunoya restaurant and a dinner at Fujimamas (the author of the blog In a Fancy Glass on the staff).
Nezunoya is one block from the Nezu Subway Station on the Chiyoda Line. It is only open for weekday lunch, 11:30 to 2:30. The menu has just a few set lunches, each with side dishes that change through the seasons. I don't remember if they have an English menu. There is the daily set lunch (which I tried), a natto set lunch (for the daring), a vegetable curry-rice plate, and one or two more options.
The set lunch (1050 yen) served during my visit was simple and satisfying. It consisted of a bowl of brown rice and millet, a plate of pickles, a mixture of lotus root and carrot in a light soy sauce, sauteed tofu and bean sprouts, and some blanched potato topped with a dollop pickled plum (umeboshi). Brown rice is rarely seen in Japan, and also rarely seen in my kitchen, even though my pantry contains at least six kinds of rice (basmati, plain long grain, jasmine, arborio for making risotto, Italian long grain, and Japanese short grain). The lunch at Nezunoya reminded me how satisfying a bowl of brown rice can be with its pleasant toothiness and complex flavor. The pickles (in the center of the top photo) were thinly sliced cucumbers that had been quick-pickled and had a mild vinegar taste, almost like "fresh pickles." The lotus root dish (upper left in photo) consisted of sliced vegetables that had probably been simmered in a broth of water, soy sauce, sweet sake (mirin). The flavor of the vegetables came through the light sauce, and the topping of toasted sesame seeds added some brightness. The miso soup (lower right) was basic, with a few pieces of scallion and seaweed. The 'main dish' was the tofu saute (upper left), a jumble of very fresh tofu of medium firmness, mung bean sprouts, long pieces of scallion, and carrot, in a light soy-based sauce.
The interior is warm and comfortable. It has a traditional Japanese feeling, with wood floors, exposed wood beams, rough-hewn wooden tables, and some Japanese art hanging from the walls.
Location: 1-1-14 Nezu, near Nezu subway station. From the station, walk towards Ueno Park and look for it behind a health food store, below the Tea Shop Amber (see photo in this post).
Hours: Monday to Friday 11.30 am to 2.30 pm
Fujimamas Restaurant is located in the cosmopolitan and trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo, housed in a building that was originally a family home and later a tatami-mat factory. The interior is blend of old and new Japanese style with a variety of seating area shapes. The menu (printed in English and Japanese) has quite a few vegetarian options in each section, with little green leaves on the menu denoting the vegetarian dishes (example menus here). The leaves were very comforting to me after many meals in which I couldn't even read the menu (fortunately, I was with Japanese speakers/readers). Lauren Shannon, who is on the staff, informed me via e-mail that the vegetarian soups have vegetarian stocks.
We started with a Thai-style hot and sour soup and an seared asparagus salad. The soup was delicious, a thin tomato-broth infused with lemongrass, lime leaf, and chili with pieces of fresh tomato. The asparagus salad, featured wok-seared asparagus spears covered in a huge pile of onions and red peppers. The onions were mild, but still overwhelming to me (I don't really care for raw onion), but the asparagus was divine, with sweet and smoky notes from the wok searing. For our main course, we had hand made Chinese noodles with wild mushrooms and truffle oil, and a plate of spicy Asian noodles with bok choy. Both noodle dishes were flavorful and hearty, perfect for a cold winter night.
One of the desserts we ordered had a phenomenally delicious chocolate-nut waffle. It was topped with some ice cream and sauces, but the waffle was so good---crispy, bursting with chocolate flavor---that I forget the details. The other dessert was so-so, an oreo mousse with various sauces.
Location: Behind the Lacoste store on Omotesando-dori in Harajuku (map and directions).
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (last order at 10 p.m.), lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (11 a.m. - 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays) and dinner menu from 6 p.m. until closing.
On my next visit to Tokyo I will do my best to fit Nezunoya and Fujimamas into my dining schedule.
And finally, a local angle. If you live in the Bay Area and want to try Japanese vegetarian cuisine, there are (at least) two purely vegetarian Japanese restaurants around. Cha-ya in Berkeley is a tiny place with a big menu (and big waits for a table). Medicine Eat Station in San Francisco is inspired by the cooking of Japanese temples.
Indexed under Restaurants : Japan