Have you ever had the experience of having an amazing meal at a restaurant and having no particular need to go back? That was my experience at Matsukaze Restaurant in the Narita Hilton in Japan. The food was amazing. I had the shabu shabu beef and enjoyed every bite of it. I also left unimpressed by the whole experience, and on balance am not sure I would go back.
Let’s start with the obvious question- Why would someone with international travel experience eat in a hotel restaurant? On this occasion, I was simply tired. It was the end of a two week jaunt through Asia, and I did not have it in me to go out for one last meal. As luck would have it, one of the things this hotel apparently does well is authenticity in restaurants. When I accidentally went into the Chinese restaurant, the waitstaff and I appeared to be the only non-Chinese people in the place. When I went to this restaurant, I believe I was the only non-Japanese person in the place until another foreign family showed up at the end of my meal.
When I got my menu, I was not sure what I was looking at. While the print was in English, I had questions. That is where the problems began- it was hard to flag down the host or a member of the waitstaff. When I did, they were incredibly gracious and helpful. However, I got the distinct impression there were not enough people working for the crowd they had this particular night.
I eventually ordered something called the “shabu shabu beef,” which was a super premium cut of wagyu steak. Brought to the table raw, these thin slices were likely the best beef I have seen in my life. I grill for fun most weekends, so that is saying something. However, that brought about the next odd moment of the meal: I had slices of super-premium beef, someone how brought out a small stove and some boiling water to my table, there were some side dishes, and I had no idea what to do.
So I sat there for a while having no idea what to do. I acknowledged to myself that I was the outsider in this situation, and as such it was my obligation to go with the local flow and figure things out. This competed with the thought that this was a Hilton, and it is improbable that I was the first American who had ever been there. Fortunately, someone came by after a while. Unfortunately, they added to my confusion by bringing me uncooked food that I had no idea what to do with.
Soooo…. I had the most exquisite beef I have ever seen, some yummy looking vegetables, a pot of boiling water, and some sauces. And nobody coming by. No mention of the rice which was supposed to come with my meal (which would be delivered later, with apologies for the oversight). So I did what seemed natural to me and dipped a slice of the beef in the boiling water. It was in fact quite delicious, as you would expect for something that looked that nice. Apparently, however, I was doing it wrong. The maitre’d eventually came over and showed me the correct procedure, and I enjoyed more delicious beef. We then resumed the routine of nobody speaking to me until I tracked someone down and demanded a check.
I am still trying to decide what to think of this place. The food was amazing. The prices, while very high, weren’t out of line with what I was eating. The service, however, was horrible. Having someone about to make requests of is pretty standard fare for a highish-end restaurant.