Travelers to Naqua's Epinard Nasu onsen resort in the mountains of northern Tochigi are spoiled for choice when it comes to assuaging their appetites. The hotel complex boasts four restaurants, each with its own distinctive cuisine but all dedicated to using the freshest food available. Given Tochigi's reputation as a top producer of vegetables and dairy products, diners are guaranteed a good meal no matter which restaurant they choose.
For visitors arriving around lunchtime via the shuttles arranged by the hotel from nearby prefectures, the perfect midday meal option is Lemon Balm. This casual restaurant offers efficient and friendly service while still treating guests to local specialties. Although options like Nasu ramen always feature on the menu, a special selection of five or six dishes varies based on the seasons. Soba with butterbur (fukinoto) tempura and fresh herbs and locally-sourced chicken topped with one of Nasu's famed eggs were a highlight at the end of winter.
For many guests, dinner and breakfast are eaten in the buffet restaurant Herbage. Talented chefs at a host of stations offer up such delicacies as Tochigi beef, delicately-battered tempura, famous local miso, salads composed of copious farm-fresh vegetables from the surrounding area, both seafood and vegetable sushi, and tasty homemade puddings and ice creams, a nod to the region's dairies. Breakfast covers a range from Western favorites (French toast or pancakes) to rice porridge and Chinese-style dishes to Japanese miso soup and fish. One popular station makes fresh omelets to order.
For guests looking to spoil themselves a bit, the hotel offers two stand-out restaurants. Nasuno focuses on washoku (Japanese cuisine), available to order in either course menus or as individual plates, izakaya-style. The menu is an homage to Tochigi's top quality produce and meats, with dishes changing based on what's in season. A recent course meal in the waning weeks of winter featured cloud mushroom "sashimi", daikon and mackerel simmered in sake lees, a unique vegetable-only shabu shabu and cubes of Nasu beef served with powdered shiitake mushrooms.
Arguably the resort's most memorable dining experience can be had at its Meli Meli'anges restaurant on the 13th floor, a French eatery featuring both Nasu products and breathtaking views of the nearby mountains from the lobby entrance. Meli Meli'anges offers all-day dining and there's no better start to one's morning than by savoring the hotel's specialty French toast topped with Tochigi strawberries while overlooking the Nasu Highlands.
Guests who want to take a taste of Tochigi home with them can visit the resort's gift shop in the lobby. A small section offers packaged local specialties while a few mornings a week, local farmers and food artisans set up stalls selling vegetables, miso and homemade jams.