Above: Communal table, The Flats Wine Bar / Restaurant - ANDREW HARPER EDITOR

Hokkaido Dining Discoveries

Communal table, The Flats. Wine Bar / Restaurant - Andrew Harper editor

Because all but one of our hotels included dinner with the rate, we had only a handful of opportunities to dine out in Hokkaido. We made the most of them. The options below are upscale, but it’s easy to find tempting casual spots as well, including pub-like izakayas serving unfussy comfort food and ramen shops cooking up delicious local variations on the noodle soup. A certain stick-to-your-ribs version tops the broth with creamed potato.

Potatoes are a specialty of the region around the town of Niseko, in fact, and the town of Kutchan even holds an annual potato festival. Hokkaido has large tracts of agricultural land, and its restaurants incorporate local produce, pork, beef and dairy products into their menus, in addition to the expected seafood. We had a refreshing ice cream snack at the picturesque Niseko Takahashi Dairy Farm one afternoon, a place we might have confused for a bucolic corner of Wisconsin, had it not been for the sight of Mount Yotei rising in the distance.

The Flats Wine Bar / Lounge

Our bento box-style lunch, The Flats Wine Bar / Restaurant, Niseko Hirafu - Andrew Harper editor
Bar, The Flats Wine Bar / Restaurant - Andrew Harper editor

A reservation system glitch allowed me to book lunch here during our summer visit, even though the restaurant was closed for the season. The sommelier emailed to apologize for the error and, quite unexpectedly, offered to open the restaurant just for us, since he and the chef would be working down the street on the incipient debut of The Flats Restaurant / Bar. With minimal signage indicating the location of the chic third-floor space, it felt like we were entering a sunny speakeasy (push the unmarked glass door opening to a wood-lined hallway). The charming sommelier greeted us as we arrived and led us to the communal table at the minimalist dining room’s center, facing a great wall of windows that perfectly framed the cone of Mount Yotei. The chef cooked up a delectable bento-box-style lunch, favorite components of which included subtle sea bream sashimi with sake and ponzu jam, long-cooked pork shoulder with sweet leek and bright green beans and hearty natto-potato croquettes with crunchy panko breading. Our experience here was atypical, but the quality of the food and drama of the view were unquestionable. And now that it’s open, I wouldn’t hesitate to visit the larger sister restaurant down the street.

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Above: Communal table, The Flats Wine Bar / Restaurant - ANDREW HARPER EDITOR

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