Before leaving Niseko, there was one place I wanted to try out and eventually write about. And yeah, this place was a No Reservations kind of place. That didn’t matter though, I’ve read so much about the place that it warranted a visit. And as fate would have it, it was up the street, right next to Karabina, the place we went to the other night.
Rakuichi sat in the back of a set of three cabins. Not that they were actually cabin cabins. They were all restaurants. Who knew one of these restaurants housed such traditional excellence in creating soba. Yeah, buckwheat noodles. That very stuff that’s abundant in Japanese restaurants. However, you haven’t had soba the way it’s done here. It’s not the fact that the chef meticulously rolls out, cuts, and cooks each batch for you at the time of the order. No, he found a perfect mix. So perfect that he doesn’t mind showing you how it’s prepared, because I believe, the secret was in, you guessed it, the ingredients itself. Once cooked, it’s thin, yet somehow firm. It’s not the staple soba you may have had. No, this was what you didn’t know you were missing out on. Oh chef Tsutsuru Rai, you have officially ruined soba for me back in the states.
431 Niseko Nisekotyo
Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun Hokkaido 048-1511, Japan
Verdict: Yes, if you love soba. Get yourself here.
Oh and we went for an early lunch around 11am and they luckily had two seats available. Seems everyone else had the same idea of going early. They don’t take lunch reservations, but the menu was limited to soba and tempura.
What I forgot to put into these posts are the trips to the onsen. Our hotel was equipped with one and we even went to the one in the Vail hotel. And that’s because I wanted to go every day after boarding. Twice wasn’t so bad right? Good enough to keep the pain and aching away in order to get in three full days on the mountain.
It was storming once again so the top was once again off limits. However, there was no need to. We kept to the off limit areas, which for any Niseko veteran equals untracked powder. Sure, there’s a chance you can get stuck, but just plan appropriately and survey the area while you’re on the lift. Only then will you get the true reward. If not, stay on the trails and play in the trees along the routes. You’ll get some amount of gratification with the constant snowfall. Plus, it means less people in our areas. Woot!
Now on to the eating.
170-165, Aza Yamada, Kutchan
Hokkaido Prefecture 044-0081, Japan
Verdict: Yes. Go here.
This was a small restaurant in Hirafu. It gets packed but we were eating late and it was only the two of us. We decided not to eat with the larger group since they ate early and we were coming from Annupuri. The place looks to be run by a husband and wife team, with the husband being an expat. So English was not a problem here. These people know about quality and cater to it. Prices are a little on the high side. Though that didn’t stop us from getting a full meal. Dishes were big enough to keep us in check. I almost ordered one too many dishes. Damn you squid ink paella. Can’t you be a smaller dish! In any case, this was a good find for a small place that makes simply great fresh food.
Man, did I ever mention I love it here.
The morning started with a nice coat of fresh snow along with a constant dusting. So of course, my buddy understood why we couldn’t wait around to ride with his friends. Coordinating on the mountain would always be impossible. But hearing that it’s a big group, I had a feeling we’d run into them. And just like that, we saw them at lunch. This resort was big, but not that big if you only board the groomers and hit the lodges for lunch. Oh and the top was still closed, so the chance to cross resorts was pretty slim unless you like to take a bus. No thanks, there’s powder to be had.
Instead of doing a post for the various lodges we ate at throughout the week, I’ll sum them up here. Do note that these are the base lodges and may have a different name. I didn’t catch any but one specific name of a restaurant.
My least favorite lodge even though it was the newest one. It’s a bit too fancy from the home school feel I loved about Niseko. This place serves up Western style dishes while trying to be the high end apres ski location. No thanks, the place to drink is at the shops around Hirafu.
Nice little cafeteria. It’s a little on the uppity side, but I didn’t mind. They had a ramen station. Enough said. There was plenty of seating for us, but we tended to eat early. All warmed up we hit more of the tree runs until this side got blown out.
The classic of classic cafeterias. The ones where you order from the vending machine and hand it to the cooks. Oh it felt like I was eating at home with the large bowls of food they served. The staff was older and friendlier. We stayed at this place until the lifts lightened up.
And those were the basically the lodges we ate at.
Then the day ended with us finally meeting up with my buddy’s friends. Who would have thought their group was so large and filled with fellow foodies. They decided to hit a place that Anthony Bourdain went to, a place a little drive away called Torimatsu. Okay, so you have to know, it’s Bourdain and he gets star treatment. That doesn’t mean you will too. Sure the food was good, but we had the worse service. That was, the food came out slow, very slow. Within an hour and a half, our pack of fifteen had about five dishes. Sure it’s Izakaya, but these dishes were small. Sadly, it seemed that other tables were getting served more than us. I can’t imagine them unequipped to handle large groups. They wouldn’t have our seating area if that was the case. No it was a mystery why we got shafted. We even wondered if we somehow were rude or obnoxious. Not the case with our group. We’re too old for that. So all in all, I haven’t had an experience like that in decades.
North 3, West 1
Kutchan-cho, Hokkaido, Japan
Verdict: I’ll have to come back with a much much smaller group.
It was Friday and rather than waiting for my buddy’s friends to get into Niseko, we were off to the mountain to ride. There was no way we were going to pass up the powder that’s been dumping all night long. However, the temperature wasn’t holding up and the powder, dare I say, felt like California powder. Not that it was a bad thing but we came here for Niseko powder. You know the light fluffy kind which can get knee high yet still you plow down the runs like it were nothing. That’s the stuff we were looking for. Not bad though. We spent all of the day on the Annupuri area finding small stashes of powder in the trees. The top was closed so we couldn’t traverse over to the other resorts. Bummer. Day one and our All Mountain Pass was under utilized. Gotta make up for it by the only way I know how, by eating good.
We did a little Googling and found some tips, the best one being from this site Silverspoons & Chopsticks. They had a place called Karabina at the top of the list, which happens to be down the street from our hotel. We took a chance and scored. Thanks fellow bloggers/writers.
This little place was tucked right by the road leading into the Annupuri resort. Looks like a little cabin and its intention on making you feel warm and cozy worked like a charm. First you arrive down stairs in a little shoe area no larger than a big closet. You swap out your snow dredged shoes for some house slippers. Ahh, amazing how good that feels. Then you walk upstairs into the fireplace warmed room. Take a seat in the various make shift tables and be prepared for some great food. Yes, it’s izakaya but no, it’s not all about skewers. Only simple well crafted dishes that compliment this cold climate. What might that be like? Well, check out the pictures. I wanted to cover how local this shop was in relation to the big fancy ones around Hirafu. There’s only a small team running the place. And they care about their customers. Dishes came out one after another with either the waiter/waitress or the chef explaining the dish. We were never left wondering what to do. Yes, some foods do need instructions. And it’s a little worrisome that most of the time they are in the back preparing your food. Something you’ll have to accept being such a local shop. However, the most memorable thing was our ride home. We were less than a mile away from the hotel, but it was storming. We asked to see if they can call us a cab, but they said no need. They can drive us back. How awesome is that?? Now that’s good people.
Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, Japan 048-1511
Verdict: Definitely coming back here even if I’m staying over in Hirafu.
At the beginning, it was apparent getting to Niseko, Japan was going to be arduous. I was recovering from a very bad sinus infection. It was a week in and all my symptoms got worse. Mental note, see the doctor early when there’s a vacation involved. Stupid me thought I’d be over this in a week. Unlikely. What’s been going around this season has been brutal. And this “sinus infection” was of course, my own self diagnosis. But let’s move on, onto other issues you’re more interested in. Here are things I found out on my journey to Niseko for snowboarding:
- The time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is crowded. Book a hotel early and be prepared for crowds.
- Late December is when the consistent snow starts. We were lucky to get the amount of snow and quality that we got. It started off as heavy powder, then became lighter and fluffier. Though not a light as February snow.
- If you want to reserve a shuttle from Chitose to Niseko, you need to book it at least seven days in advance. Not to worry, there are some shuttle companies at the airport that do take you for around the same price, but depends on available seating. White Liner Ski Shuttle Bus were the ones I went with. ¥2300JPY was the cost per person.
- Getting the All Mountain pass gives you access to the Niseko United shuttle which does stop one too many times, but takes you between resorts when the top isn’t open.
- If you have a board, bring it. There’s a demo place in Hirafu, but it’s super crowded. Bring your board and get first tracks on the mountain.
- Out of bounds equals great snow. Just pay attention to where you’re headed so you don’t get lost.
- Niseko is getting popular. Get here before it becomes a madhouse.
From the airport at SFO though, all things were pointing to a good time in Japan. They had some Japanese comic display going on. From Speed Racer to Ultraman to even Hello Kitty, they must have known I was coming down the corridor. Great way to kill off an hour before my flight. I was ready to be in Japan. Only I had over twenty more hours to go. But once I got to my hotel at midnight, I was ready for some pampering. And oh boy, was One Niseko Resort Towers, the place to do it. I’ll let you read up on the amenities, like the wonderful onsen (it smells sulfuric, so it’s got to be legit right?) to the rather large traditional rooms meant for families. No, what I’d like to point out are the small things. Like how helpful the staff reacts to situations. For instance, the morning bus was full and left a minute before several of us got there. They got a second shuttle ready for us within half an hour. Like I said, it’s a busy time of year for Niseko. Then there’s the extra pillows and blankets you’ll find stashed in the room. It’s like I have my second bedroom in the tatami area, where I’m writing this article. Oh it’s so warm and fluffy in here with all these comforters lying around. That’s how you sleep on these tatami mats right? On top of layers upon layers of these blankets. It’s going to be hard leaving this place.
One Niseko Resort Towers
Abuta District, Hokkaido Prefecture 048-1511
Verdict: I’d definitely come back with a larger group. It’s expensive.