if your kids are allergic to seafood, you are out of luck. At least if you were planning to go to a really cool restaurant. But if you have kids who like seafood, and can afford going there, Kani Doraku is a great place to go to.
I have written before about finding food for small eaters and about family restaurant menus, so let me be clear: This is not a family restaurant. But it is very family-friendly. At least around lunchtime (they open at 11:30). We went there a Sunday which turned out to be a perfect choice, although you have to be early for lunch since it gets crowded fast.
Mechanical Crabs Outside
The restaurant is known for its brand, a huge mechanical crab sitting on the outside of the building. It is the same type that they serve you, flown in directly from the northernmost island of Hokkaido, where the water is a lot cleaner (and colder) than around the main Japanese islands.
To get to the original shop, honten (本店) in Shinjuku from JR Shinjuku Station is surprisingly easy. If you go out through the central east exit, cross the plaza to Lumine Est, and go out through the East Plaza exit, you go to the right to the elevator and take it to the fourth floor. If you are coming on the street level, this is the same building as the Zara stores.
More Than Eating Crab
"Kani Doraku is about much more than eating crab, despite the name. The first part, "かに" pronounced kani, means crab. Any kind of crab. The second part of the name is composed of two characters, 道楽, where the first means road and the second pleasure, amusement, or having fun together. The road to having fun together eating crab, it is hard to think of a better name for a restaurant. And it also is true - while the crab is certainly a centerpiece of what Kani Doraku has to offer, the ambience is no less a piece of the experience. The ladies of the staff wear kimono (the men three-piece suites). And even at lunch, there is live music (at least on Sundays).
The live music when we visited was played on a koto, a traditional Japanese (originally Chinese) string instrument. You may have heard it as background music without thinking about it, the traditional tunes are slow meditative pieces with a tone here, a tone there. It is more like the Gymnopedies of Erik Satie than what you may be used to hear on the radio, and many people find it irritating rather than meditative.
But if there are children in the audience, the koto player will take out another book of sheet music, and suddenly be playing the theme songs from the Studio Ghibli classic anime. It is allright for your children to sing along as long as they do not disturb other patrons.
Everything For The Experience
Kani Doraku is actually a chain with stores all around Japan, not just in Tokyo, and while Japanese people generally are suspicious about big chains since small mom-and-pop stores put more effort (if not love) into the preparation of the food, there is no mistaking the dedication of the staff when it comes to the level of quality they are working towards. A Japanese restaurant experience is about the ambience, the staff working to make the customers feel good, and the food. Food really comes third, because visiting a restaurant in Japan is about the experience, much more than ingesting nourishment.
This is why the Kani Doraku stores look like a small Japanese town, and the experience is geared to making customers hark back to a bygone era. If this was a show restaurant you could easily imagine ninjas running on the roofs throwing shuriken or shooting invisible arrows, but this place is about the food.
There's Crab In Everything!
The food is great but if you are allergic to seafood, stay away. Kani Doraku is a speciality restaurant, and that speciality is crab. Longditudinally and laterally. Crab salad, crab gratin (highly recommended for toddlers, but it is burning hot when it comes to the table, so be careful), crab croquettes (succulent but the same warning as for gratins).
The piece de resistance of Kani Doraku is the crab dishes. They can be a little hard to stomach for toddlers, and adults as well. Crab butter, the goo from inside shell, looks very unappetizing but tastes fantastic. Even ordinary crab dishes, except the "kanimeshi", rice with crab meat, can be hard to eat for children. They need the help of an adult to get the crab meat out. That is where you use the third chopstick, the one with the hook at the end.
Facts & Where To Find It
Kani Doraku is a chain with restaurants all around Japan. There is country map with restaurant listing. Look for "Greater Tokyo / Kanto area". There is a page for the "Tokyo Honten", the main store of the Tokyo area. The phone number is 03-3352-0096.
They are open 11:30 to 23:30, with the last order at 22:30. They are closed on New Years Eve, like most other Japanese businesses.
There is a separate smoking area, but most of the seats are smoke free. Try to get a seat in the main hall, it looks like traditional Japanese sits where you kneal, but there is actually a hole under the table where you can put your legs.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning four and a half - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.