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Japan trip report in late Sep '15


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A couple of years ago, I was visiting Tokyo without having a single meal at Tempura restaurant. I intended to ‘correct’ it this time and Kondo was the natural choice – one of the most notable places and relatively easy to find and reserve. Kondo was a very popular place without a doubt. When we’re visiting during weekday lunch, it was full in both 1st and 2nd seating (at least true for the main counter). These days, international clients were common in any Tokyo’s fine restaurants. In earlier seating, I noticed 6-7 people from US and Hong Kong while during our slot, there was a family coming from South Korea. At least, we don’t feel as “minority”. Similar to sushi-ya, at tempura-ya, all guests are seated at the counter while (only) the master himself, Fumio Kondo-san, is allowed to cook/fry each item.     

 

My spouse and I ordered the tsubaki menu, but we picked different kakiage dish. The sweet and crispy prawn head was a good choice to start. In total we ate about 10 successive pieces and my favorite pieces are

-lotus root: crunchy texture and inherently sweet

-shiitake: woody, a bit chewy yet tasty

-anago: moist and flavorful inside in contrast to the crispy batter outside

I was not too fond of Kondo’s onion (the inside part was not cooked enough) on the contrary. IMHO, the tempura is best to be consumed with a bit of salt and/or sudachi. That being said, they also provide the regular tentsuyu (dipping sauce) as well as grated daikon & ginger

 

The rests of the pieces were good but nothing memorable. I’m referring to the prawn’s body (served twice at the beginning), asparagus, eggplant, kisu, megochi and some kind of Okinawan flower that I forgot the name. Additionally, we ordered uni tempura wrapped in shiso leaf. It still had the distinctive sea urchin’s smell and flavor but nowhere near the level when served at sushi restaurant. The unfortunate part was that the elusive sweet potato was not in season when we visited Kondo.

 

After this, we had the rice dish that somehow I really liked. Mine was Ten don with crispy seafood (mostly sweet small prawns) tempura and tasty sauce. My wife’s Ten cha was equally delicious. The tea soup was warm and full of umami flavor – I often avoided tencha (generally I’m not a fan of any rice/porridge with ‘soup’) but this one was awesome. On the sides, we also had pickles and miso soup with clam. Lastly, the dessert was peach – watery and sweet, possibly the best one I’ve ever had. I think Kondo’s fruit was underrated. I also read that Kondo serves amazing orange and mango too when in season.     

 

My meal at Kondo ranked as the best tempura experience I’ve ever had, albeit it’s only marginally better than the tempura I had at Kyoboshi Kyoto and Yotaro Honten Osaka. Essentially, when one eats tempura in Japan, it’s a sure thing that he/she will still be able to savor and distinguish the vegetables and seafood ingredients since the batter was usually delicate and never overwhelmed. Given his vast experience, (sometimes) Kondo-san seemed to be ‘bored’ doing the routines. He was rather quiet and only smiles when he had some eye contact with clients; he did not usually began a conversation. The décor and service are casual. The staffs were helpful and doing the basic right (re-fill the ocha, changing the paper and so on) 

 

The food here certainly merits Michelin’s 2* rating (I gave 91/100 in my note). That being said, I saw a very slim chance it will ever be elevated to a 3-star level. Well, given its current reputation and high volume, Tempura Kondo would care less about getting any awards since the customers seem to be happy and keep coming. It was so busy daily that (if the rumor were correct) even Japanese PM Abe failed to secure seats here to entertain Obama.

 

Pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157659937297066

 

 

 

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Part of my habit during Japan foodie trip is to have a meal at one French restaurant prepared by Japanese chef. French gastronomy, after all, is still my favorite food in the world (though Japanese cuisine is closing to perhaps one day ‘overtake’ it). Furthermore, it’s no secret that Japanese chefs have strong respect and regards towards French cooking. Last time we went to L’Effervescence (it was not bad) and this time, to my surprise, we managed to secure a table at Quintessence, helmed by the gifted Chef Shuzo Kishida. It was supposed to be one of the most difficult tables to reserve but the hotel concierge had no issue to book it about 1.5 months before. And during my stay in Japan, I casually checked Tokyo’s tabelog and found in that particular week, Quintessence returned at the top of the list “beating” Sushi Saito and Matsukawa. Not that the ranking matters that much; just to give some perspective about the restaurant. Thus, my expectation was high coming to this lunch. Even, initially I had asked whether we could have the dinner (bigger) menu as to sample more variety and the best of Kishida-san’s cooking, but it was refused. Apparently unlike L’Astrance, the kitchen here does not have the flexibility and capability to cater both the lunch and/or dinner menu to guests during lunch period.  

 

The lunch consisted of 7 courses. It opened with a balanced and not-so-intense flavor of French mussel soup with sea shells stocks and some saffron. Then,

-the signature dish of Kishida-san: goat milk (delivered daily from Kyoto) bavarois with Provence’s olive oil, French sea salt (having high mineral content) and macadamia nut. A dish that’s technically stunning and perfectly executed. The goat milk bavarois was fresh and velvety; you can decide to vary each spoon with the fruity olive oil, macadamia nuttiness, lily bulb flake or ‘seasoned’ it with fleur de sel. Each byte was a pleasant experience and savory. I think if you ‘hate’ yoghurt flavor, you may not like this dish. The (odorless) goat milk bavarois was more like a refined form of unsweetened yoghurt

-After this, the waitress explained the 3rd dish was Chef Kishida version of traditional “salted cake”. In addition to the rather coarse cake, you will have parmesan oregano, brown mushroom, capers and bafun uni. The only tasty element for us comes from the sea urchin while the rests would generally generate acidic and salty taste. An interesting and unusual dish for French cooking but not that delicious

 

After a few small appetizers, the kitchen delivered a fish dish. It was a grilled hata fish (a high quality of grouper) from West of Japan. Some part of the meat was pink and soft in contrast to the crispy skin. It’s served with some roots and dried tomato. The sour sauce contained some vegetables, yuzu and ginger. The fish looked lovely with a nice texture. However, similar to the theme of previous dishes, sour and salty (sauce) dominated the dish’s flavor. I tasted the fish flesh by itself, it was quite tasteless and my wife concurred. The fish was perhaps not (or minimally) seasoned. Another well-prepared dish but lacked a punch of delightful flavors

-The main course, thankfully, was really good. It was a kurobota pork roasted at low temperature for 3 hours (an alternate of 1 min roasting and 5 min resting, repeated several times until ‘perfect’). This process allowed the pork to be pink yet fully cooked resulting in delectable and moist meat as well as seductive and heavenly pork’s fat. The crispy and tasty outer part was seared. The dish is served with fried beets, some mushrooms (girolle and awabitake), and herbs. The delicious sauce was a blend of mushroom sauce and some pork jus. Without knowing the intensive labor to produce it, this dish looked deceptively simple. Overall, it was a tender and very delicious dish, full of pork’s umami flavor. An amazing pork dish – one of the best I’ve ever eaten     

 

Pre-dessert: baked cheesecake with concentrated apricot sauce. It was flaky while the custard was flavorful and a bit sour. Finally, the dessert: another Kishida-san’s specialty. The famous Meringue ice cream was covered by translucent concentrated sea water. It was an elegant dish with ‘complex’ flavor. The classic egg-white flavor was still there with ice cream smooth texture plus some refreshing salty taste and a hint of ginger. Excellent!

 

Pictures are not allowed here although we’re seated on the ‘sofa’ near the corner and a table next to us was empty (yes, the restaurant was not full – perhaps explain why our reservation was relatively easy). Theoretically, without flash and sound, we didn’t think taking pictures would ‘disturb’ other guests but the staffs still insisted of no pictures and we complied. Thinking about it now, perhaps I could lend my camera to staffs and asked one of them to take picture for us in the kitchen – anybody have done it before? Quintessence offered several kinds of sparking waters (trying to be over the top I guess). We picked the Italian one named Ferrarelle since we’ve never had it before. Perhaps, it’s not a popular choice and by the time it’s opened it had no more ‘gas’ and our lady maître d’ profusely apologized and seemed embarrassed. Actually, their whole stocks of Ferrarelle might be ‘spoiled’ since she told us to select from other brands and we settled with French Badoit. Take this small incident aside, our maître d’ delivered a wonderful service – kind and responsive. She loves eating as well. It’s always nice to be served by someone who is passionate about food, not simply limited by his/her knowledge towards the cuisine/dishes that served at the restaurant only.  

 

The restaurant was small (30 people at most) with plenty of staffs so it’s not difficult to catch anyone’s attention. I had a chance to walk around and observe other table’s dishes. I noticed that all tables eat the same dishes as ours – probably it implied that all guests were first time visitors? Half of them were non-Japanese. At Quintessence, Shuzo Kishida-san served modern/contemporary French with his own interpretation of nouvelle cuisine (in this case light cooking using fresh products with intensive cooking process and attention to details in seasoning/saucing). You will even unlikely find classical dishes prepared in modern ways. It was a pure and clean cooking yet sophisticated. Despite a high level of cooking techniques and execution, as you may notice above, I find most of the dishes here lack the delicious-ness which should be the most integral part of any dining experience – the pork and meringue dishes were the only exception. For me, the meal here was 93/100 (2 ½*) – only about the same level as Maison Pic and Le Pre Catelan; nowhere near the top levels of French cuisine I experienced in Paris/France. But the food here was certainly better than our meals at L’Effervescence. That being said, I don’t really mind returning here in the future, perhaps for dinner. However, it won’t happen on my next trip to Japan

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This year’s Japan foodie trip actually marked a decade long of my adventure in the world of fine dining – possibly my longest and most consistent hobby (I still played console games and often watched movies, but not as intense as it used to be). It all began in the Fall of 2005, when I, along with 2 friends, had a fantastic dinner at Alain Ducasse Essex House. Like many have said, the rest is history. In addition to some ‘serious’ restaurants I’ve reviewed, we also did some more ‘casual’ breakfast and brunch.

 

Brunch at Peter

 

I was not sure why, but I just wanted to try one Sunday brunch in Japan this time. After a few research, we decided to visit Peter at the Peninsula. It was a semi-buffet style with some a la carte items, mainly steak. We opted for a menu with no alcohol and only ate from their basic menu. Generally, it was ok. The best part was the desserts. My spouse and I loved the smooth tiramisu; the mango pudding, green tea mousse and chocolate cake were decent. The fruits were incredible especially the Japanese (purple) grapes and muscat; we ate more than 2 dozens and they’re quite big, watery and sweet. The melon, though not musk, was also very good. The ‘real’ food that I liked was just stir fry sweet corn with a few bacons. The rests such as scallop, duck or black pork cooked in small portion were ordinary. The atmosphere was layback and staffs were approachable; glad that none of them trying to upsell us for any alcohol or steak. The view was great; we’re seated at the corner facing the Imperial palace and garden.

 

Breakfast at Oriental lounge

 

My wife ordered the Zen (Japanese) breakfast set whereas I had the more ‘traditional’ American one. It turned out that mine was better than my wife’s despite the fact that we’re in Japan. The Japanese set was huge – except the white rice, nothing in that set stood out such as a big portion of salmon, tamago, tofu, pickles and so on. It’s not at the level we had at Gora Kadan. The American set began with the free flow of freshly squeezed orange juice. The yoghurt was also nice and balance, but the wheat bread was so-so. My main course, as per lounge’s assistant manager recommendation, was egg benedict served with poached Canadian lobster and its jus - serious and heavy stuff for breakfast. These traditional items (both egg and lobster) were well executed though did not blow us away. I was quite struggling in the end, maybe due to the large portion and the rich flavor of the yolk and the sauce. The service at Mandarin Oriental was professional and smooth as expected. Staffs were sincere and able to engage and adapt during the conversation.    

 

French toast at Okura

 

I ate and reported this couple of years ago. It was really good and still was when I ate it last month. It’s very rare I return to the same place for a meal in Japan albeit this one was just a breakfast. Okura Tokyo main building has undergone a significant renovation to prepare for the 2020 Olympic. Hence, this time I had the breakfast at the hotel’s French restaurant – La belle epoque, located in the South building. The French toast was consistently delicious: light and a bit crisp outside while soft and velvety inside with fragrant vanilla flavor. It might seem rich for the first few bytes, particularly when the maple syrup and butter still ‘flowing’, but after half way, without realizing it, you would keep eating the toast until all is gone – somehow not cloying. I consumed two pieces this time, because my wife could not wake up that early. I had pre-ordered (2 pieces) the French toast to be prepared at certain time as we had a tour to Nikko that very morning.

 

Among these 3 places, strictly from the food perspective, I would recommend the latter one. You will not lose anything if you never try the first 2 meals above. The French toast at Okura is not only the finest in Japan, but probably also in the whole world. There’s likely a 3rd visit for me in the future. 

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The tale of two Kitcho(s).

 

Kitcho has been identical to refined kaiseki restaurants in Japan. After a wonderful meal at Arashiyama a couple of years ago, I was curious to visit another ‘serious’ branch of Tokuoka’s Kitcho (this time was Nagoya) as well as the ‘most legendary’ honten at Koraibashi. They became reality when we had lunch in both places separated by about one week this year. I may not go over every single dish as it will be laborious. I will let readers see the pictures and their descriptions from the link below for more details

 

KITCHO NAGOYA

 

Nagoya Kitcho is relatively young; only established in 2007. Although it’s located near the top floor of skyscraper of Midland Square (also known as Toyoya Mainichi building), it still preserved its tradition by providing Japanese-style private rooms. For our case, we enjoyed our Kaiseki at room with horigotatsu seating. In addition, Kitcho also had western-style floor area as well as private rooms. The sequence of our Kaiseki closely followed the traditional routines.

 

We opened the meal with refreshing vegetables and some zuwai kani.

-Then followed by excellent clear soup, a typical of early autumn creation: grilled hamo with matsutake. It was tasty, aromatic with good textures from both the pine mushroom and eel though slightly below the level of similar dish offered at Kyo Aji.

-For the sashimi, we had high quality produce of Tai, Kinmedai and Ise Ebi. The hassun presentation was almost as beautiful as the one we had at Arashiyama. The best item was steamed beef cheek (clean and tender) with onion and miso sauce, a bit too intense for my taste.   

-Yaki: 1st part was a whole Matsutake put on hay and then grilled slowly and meticulously on our side. Simple preparation was the best way to display Matsutake unique qualities. Ours were moist & meaty in the middle and a bit crispy outside. The flavorful dish was also accompanied by light dipping sauce & sudachi. The 2nd part was charcoal grilled (larger and plump) Ayu with distinct red lines in the Fall. It was tasty and served with tangy flavor of tadesu sauce

-Kitcho had the habits to present the dish and served/did the plating in front of customers which I think was an awesome idea. For the mushimono dish, the staff brought the whole white gourd melon filled with tofu, vegetable and mushrooms – good and pleasant combination; we managed to consume most of it.    

-The rice dish at Kitcho was always special in particular when you had a chance to eat Koshihikari gohan. This time was served with sea bream and shredded eggs + miso soup and good pickles. The short-grain rice was slightly sticky, sweet & a hint of nutty flavor. The Tai was delicate while the Kinshi tamago served well as garnish with its flavor and vibrant color

-We loved the dessert a lot even though it’s “only” a fruit. We had delicious grape jelly as well as the ethereal pawpaw. We’ve never had pawpaw (the staple fruit of autumn) before; the taste was fantastic – creamy with custard-like texture, sweet and simply heavenly. To simplify, it’s like a mixture of ¾ mango and ¼ banana.

 

The service standard at Kitcho (under the guidance of Kunio Tokuoka) has always been high. Our female maître d’ was gracious, friendly and passionate in doing her job. She would go the distance to make sure all of our questions were satisfactorily answered. Her English might not as refined as the staff who served as at the flagship ryotei in Kyoto, but outside that we concurred that she did a great job. I would rate my meal at Kitcho Nagoya to be 94/100 (at least 2 ½*). If Michelin ever came to Aichi prefecture and following its tradition to have at least one 3-star place, this could be a strong candidate.   

 

KITCHO OSAKA

 

Not many people have discussed about Kitcho Osaka honten – the flagship of non-Tokuoka Kitcho (If not mistaken, the Koraibashi Kitcho is run by either Toshio Yuki or Junji Yuki). The obvious reason is because this Kitcho is one of those introduction-only restaurants in Japan. We’re lucky with the help of a friend to have a meal here although the experience we had at the end was quite the contrary of our lunch at Kitcho Nagoya.

 

I forgot to mention that prior to any meal at Kitcho, they always pour the in-house sake as well as ‘salted corn tea’. The set meal began right away with hassun – rather good actually.

-There were 6-7 different kinds of small appetizers. We kind of enjoyed the kamasu sushi, sweet cooked ebi and ika with caviar. Yes, this traditional restaurant took advantage of some foregin ingredients as you will find out some more in other dishes

-Soup with thick cut and earthy Matsutake but the dashi was a bit too plain. Moreover, the other main ingredient lotus mochi was soggy (fried first then put in the soup). It would’ve been better had they not fried the ren mochi.

-The restaurant redeemed itself from mediocre dishes earlier via its sashimi. We had thinly slices Engawa (‘Fluke fin’); at first we thought it was an empty plate of some colorful stuff in the middle. The fish was delicate with nice fat content; a right balance of taste and texture (slightly crunchy in a unique way). It was served with the usual condiments

 

-Grilled Sawara was overdone (neither tender nor juicy) and intensified by not so smooth duck liver. The side dishes such as sudachi squeeze, leeks, bell peppers, and even matsutake could not redeem the dish overall flavor. The kitchen failed at the crucial part – get the fish right and other elements could be ‘forgiven’

-Yuba. The ‘tofu skin’ was of good quality; it was mild with pleasant texture (tender and a bit chewy). Underneath it, there were a few items that somehow disrupted the enjoyment of eating this fine yuba. The dashi could not elevate the soy’s flavor. Furthermore, the anago with sweet sauce interrupted the initial clean flavor – cooked anago’s natural taste without the sauce would’ve gone along better. Then the lily bulb was too starchy

-We probably had the most ‘luxurious’ matsutake rice here because they put the most pine mushrooms as well as 3 pieces of hamo (prepared as kabayaki – grilled with sweet soy sauce). The rice was a bit sticky, but that’s still ok since it’s covered by the matsutake fragrant and flavor. The hamo, similar to the anago problem case above, was kind of coarse/rough in texture and the sweet glazed did not go too well with the matsutake. We would prefer mild & light flavor without the sauce.    

 

-Desserts – Japanese fruits. When the kitchen did minimal effort, we got better dish. We ate top qualities of pear, grapes (purple and green) and some light jelly. Following this was chestnuts with potatoes (decent kuri kinton)   

 

I’m not sure where to begin about the ‘problems’ here. Kitcho Osaka lacks of the perfect execution that’s usually associated with (high-end) Japanese cuisine. Additionally, some variations were just unusual – I almost never saw it in any traditional kaiseki before such as sawara with foie gras, yuba with glazed anago etc. and they turned out did not work well. The only ‘redemption’ it had was that the kitchen often put plenty of extra (luxurious) ingredients (though may not be necessary) to cover up their average cooking skills. Looking back, I should have known about what to expect the moment the 2nd dish arrived – when the soup dashi was not ‘right’. When you’re charged nearly as high as the price of Kyoto Kitcho main place, you would expect the similar kind of performance. Perhaps, my problem was the wrong expectation. It was not the same kind of restaurant people used to praise. The closest analogy I could think of is that at this moment: Koraibashi Kitcho to Nihon ryori is the same as La tour d’Argent to French cuisine – a nice piece of history that somehow still exists.    

 

The restaurant was huge. We were shown to its main banquet room that could fit in more than 50 people comfortably and it had a stage for geisha or (simple) Noh performance. Since it’s in the city, the garden was relatively small but quite pretty. Our private room was big and private. The service was not as enthusiastic as the Kitcho restaurants under Kunio Tokuoka. However, we’ve been warned that the staffs would speak no English. She did the essential things well and perhaps the language barrier might make her hesitate to communicate more with us. If you wonder why we did not ‘complain’, well getting a chance to eat here was like winning a lottery so my wife and I decided to swallow it and would not return here again. Unless you want a right to brag to ever dine here, I really could not think a good reason to recommend someone to have a meal here. At the end, my meal experience was 91 pts (at most 2* by Michelin standard)

 

Pictures:

Nagoya – https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/KyotoKitchoNagoyaJapan#

Osaka – https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157660379125149/with/22548774067/

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Osaka is often referred to as “Kuidaore no machi” and supposedly known for its delicious cuisine. It has several Michelin 3-star restaurants. Despite this, I don’t find it that easy to decide where to eat – not because lack of choices, but more due to nothing truly stand out. The 1 day trip to Osaka took place because we want to re-visit Kyoto and it’s nearby. After some consideration, I decided to go to Kahala – a former small steak house with a teppanyaki grill located not too far from the Osaka station. The food at Kahala is truly unique and quite difficult to describe; it was creative and innovative with international influence (noticeably by French and Italian) but still distinctively Japanese.

 

Owner-chef Yoshifumi Mori has been running this place for more than 40 years. This ‘kappo-style’ restaurant was small, only seated 8 people and had 2 seating (It was full on both occasions).  We managed to secure the late one and all of us entered the place at 8:40 PM. The dining place was not too bright with minimal decorations such as flowers and some lacquer ware (It was Mori-san’s passion and some of these art works were used to serve some dishes to guests). There’s only one menu: 10 courses and 2 desserts. Everybody ate the same stuffs.

 

Before the 1st course arrived, the restaurant provided an excellent ice wine – crisp and sweet to whet our appetite.

-  We began with a bowl containing ginkgo, dry sea cucumber (minimal taste with decent texture), dry morels (not as good as during spring) and okra

- Selection of small appetizers, there are 6 of them. Some items that I liked were mozzarella cheese with horse radish as well as fresh and delicate 5-month baby oyster. Chef Mori also created unbroken inter-locking chain of carrot; pleasing to the eye but not so in the palate

- The kitchen stepped up its game by providing fried (until golden) caciocavallo cheese with grilled nori. The texture was smooth and a bit firm with mild salty flavor; I liked it a lot. The cheese was not pungent and it worked well with the crisp seaweed. The closest comparison to this  describe this caciocavallo is that it’s a refined form of provolone   

- The curry beef puff was alright; authentic and rich. The interesting part was the addition of the fragrant coffee oil as soon as we finished the curry. Any potential cloying and unpleasant flavor was quickly dissolved by the oil, smart combination

- Pan fried hamo with some kind of miso sauce on top served with kabocha and red paprika. Nothing really memorable

 

-Handmade soba with grated karasumi. The soba was a bit soft for my taste while the dried mullet roe was savory and not overpowering. I slightly prefer the Yukimura’s version

-One of my favorite dishes at Kahala: a combination of abalone and shark’s fin.

The awabi was cooked inside a boiling cheese ‘fondue’ (a mixture of gruyere, emmental and blue cheese). It was rather heavy but delicious including the hardened & crunchy cheese at the bottom of the stone pot – eaten after cooling off

The fukahire was of top quality. It was lightly braised, then cooked inside the mini stone with shiro miso and chili oil. This way the shark fin became tastier and tender

-Soup with slices of Matsutake and egg tofu. The most ordinary matsutake soup I ate during this Japanese trip. The egg tofu was soft and unusual, but my spouse and I were not impressed  

-Signature dish of Kahala: beef millefeuille. At a first glance, it was not easy to see that it was indeed 5 really thin layers of Kumamoto beef stacked together beautifully. The beef was sparsely seasoned and each side was swiftly seared so that the outside was cooked but the middle part was still ‘rare’. The result was a scrumptious dish even though Kumamoto beef was generally leaner with moderate marbling thus “healthier”. Chef Mori cooked 3 portions of this

Part 1: served with grated wasabi, fried garlic and soy sauce

Part 2: served with ponzu, radish and garlic

Part 3: served with awayuki salt and wasabi (my favorite, the crystalized salt was not overly salty)

As side dish, there were fried gobo (burdock root), pickles and some salad (watercress, slice of onions, sesame etc.). A well-deserved signature item by Mori-san; I wish the portion were bigger

 

-The rice dish/donburi was better than I expected. The presentation might not be that appetizing, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and had no problem finishing the medium portion + ¼ of my wife’s. We ate rice with mountain yam, dried nori and ‘caviar seeds’ (vegetables) – all elements blended well and revealed texture and some flavor contrasts

-There were several desserts. First, we had fresh figs and grapes. Following that, we had ‘panna cotta’ with chestnut, honey caramel, sugar reduction and coffee syrup – it was not too sweet with some tasty bitter flavor, quite elegant. Lastly, we ended the meal with chai milk tea. I might prefer something not milky actually

 

It was a very good meal. I respect the chef does not stuck with ‘status quo’. Chef Mori is probably around 70 years old now, but he was always enthusiastic doing his work and still diligently searches for new and fresh ingredients to create new dishes. Not everything was successful; nevertheless it was an adventurous dining experience with some of very high quality and delicious dishes. The service was amicable and relaxing. The young assistant chef/maître d’ spoke good English (the most fluent one we encountered during this trip) and rendered excellent service. He patiently explained dishes that often had some ingredients we’re not familiar yet. Osaka was lucky to have Kahala, a favorite of Tatsuya Wakuda (perhaps his teppanyaki style Waku Ghin was inspired after the visit here). Overall, it was 94/100 (about 2 ½* by Michelin standard)      

 

Pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157661764015165/with/22733278993/

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Located in the quiet street of Azabu Juban area, restaurant Kadowaki gained its “fame” among international people when in 2008 the chef-owner Toshiya Kadowaki publicly refused his cooking to be assessed by “French people/foreigners” from Michelin. Little did he know that the inspectors were mostly Japanese for the Tokyo guide; perhaps he eventually noticed it and agreed to be included in the prestigious guide in the following year in which his restaurant was bestowed a 2-star, quite an achievement

 

As a fan of Japanese traditional kaiseki, you would notice that my spouse and I have been to several of them. For variation for this visit, I would also like to dine at more modern places but still clearly using Japanese cooking technique. That’s why Kadowaki fell into this category; Kadowaki-san is known to prepare some ‘fusion’ dishes using non-Japanese produce. Similar to other kappo kaiseki-style places, the menu was omakase however what diners actually have totally at the Chef’s discretion. I meant unlike my experience at other places, comparing what we had to other diners at the counter, only 3-5 dishes were the same. Also, what the chef provided to diners at private rooms; about half of them were different from what he cooked for people at the counter. Note that the rice dish was the same for everybody: the famous rice truffle. The positive part from this was that Kadowaki had lots of different dishes he can serve even in the same season

 

Including the dessert, the tasting menu at Kadowaki consisted of 8-9 courses. There were some dishes that I was impressed by, for instance:

-Both of us loved the creamy and ‘sweet’ puree of yurine. It was accompanied by the chewy yet still tender awabi and some fragrant black truffles

-During Fall, Kadowaki was quite known for its beef shabu2 served with matsutake dashi. Since Kadowaki-san used the top Matsusaka beef (soft, marbled and rich) + the aromatic & earthy Matsutake, it’s pretty much a guarantee that this dish would be a heavenly pleasure. The only ‘drawback’ was that the onion soy sauce was too intense for my taste

-Rice with black truffle is the most well-known dish at Kadowaki. When I mentioned to fellow diners at other restaurants that we would dine here – the first thing he mentioned was this dish. It was indeed live up to its reputation: The rice (mixed with shoyu and goma abura) was perfectly cooked and served with Australian ‘black diamonds’; each grain was a joy with savory. As usual, it was served with nori and tsukemono. I could easily go for the 3rd bowl if possible …   

These were the kind of dishes that could elevate this place to 3-star

 

However, there were a couple of dishes that might hinder it such as:

-I was not too impressed with the “age” dish – it was ‘burnt’, bitter and the batter was ordinary (perhaps I expected it to be as good as the items at tempura restaurant). I referred to deep fried taro root and sweetfish served with red paprika and ginkgo

-For the deep fried fukahire, Kadowaki managed to keep the texture and its pure flavor. The batter was better and crisp but it had too much oil stick to the ‘surface’  

 

The other dishes were consistently good but nothing really wowed us. We enjoyed the sashimi dish; it was hirame wrapping matsutake with some lime – subtle and exuded the contrast of the sea & the earth. Possibly even better, Kadowaki-san prepared tai with some shavings of white truffle for other guests. I was somewhat tempted to ask for it, but for a 2nd thought it was very early October – not the peak of the alba truffle & it was very expensive … You could see the pictures (from the link below) for the complete dishes that we had.     

   

I would rate my meal as 94/100 (2 ½*) – the current Michelin rating was about right. The use of ‘foreign’ ingredients were actually spot on; the creative ‘fusion’ dishes was original and actually worked well most of the time but still faithful to its authentic Japanese root.

 

The service was good but not outstanding. Except for a new staff that used to work in the US, nearly all of them barely spoke English but of course they’re friendly and helpful. They just cleared dishes and re-filled our tea since most of the interaction was with the chef. Kadowaki-san was easy going and had decent command of English. He may not be as warm as Ishikawa, but pro-actively tried to engage a conversation with his guests in spite of the fact that we’re the only foreigners seated at the counter. Business-wise, the restaurant seemed to be doing very well. Both the counter and private rooms accommodate for 2 seating each night were fully booked. Even there was a couple next to us (dressed like a celebrity) didn’t come until around 9:30 PM

 

Overall, it was a nice and satisfying meal. You can see the pictures here: https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/KadowakiTokyoJapan#

 

 

Edited by Bu Pun Su (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

When travelling to Nagoya, my spouse and I managed to try a few of Nagoya traditional food (“signature dishes”). Some of them were …

 

Miso katsu (Yabaton)

 

This was our first meal during our Japan’s trip last year. We ate at yabaton - somewhere in the basement of a mall located not too far from Nagoya station. There’re lots of yabaton throughout Nagoya as you explore the city which was a good thing unless you would ‘insist’ to dine at its honten (less than 10 min. walk from Yabacho station). Although it’s during lunch time, the queue was relatively short – at most 10 min. waiting time

 

Nagoya people really love miso, especially aka-miso (usually fermented for 3 years). Many locals even the female had no problem to finish the katsu with plenty of aka miso sauce and rice by herself - not sharing. We had the katsu set (rosu) as well as pork fillet cutlet don in red miso sauce. Essentially, it was similar to the normal tonkatsu we usually eat except the sauce. The deep fried pork was alright but nothing special. Both of us were not a big fan of the acquired taste of thick and rich taste from red miso; we would rather eat it with the usual (Worchester-style) sauce. To “minimize” the strong aka miso, we ate plenty of cabbage and put yellow mustard on our breaded pork. The fillet one was tender and not fatty but nothing truly special.   

 

For us, it was simply one of must-do things in the check-list when visiting Nagoya; we did not really disappoint to have lunch here, but had no intention to eat another katsu with red miso in the near future …

 

Hitsumabushi (Maruya Honten)

 

For the Nagoya’s famous eel, we ate at the 9th floor of Meitetsu dept. store. Reservation was not allowed, so we had to wait for about 45 min (translate to almost 30 people ahead of us, and majority of them was Japanese) despite we reached there nearly 8 PM. The interior was modern and slick dominated by brown color. We shared a larger portion of premium hitsumabushi unagi set. The charcoal-grilled unagi was nicely cooked, crispy outside and marinated with right amount of sweet sauce.

 

Among the 3 methods to consume hitsumabushi, my favorite was still the ‘normal’ one – eat it as they are with minimum/hardly any condiment as I can taste the combination of rice and delicate sauced eel at its most natural form. The 2nd method was the one I liked the least; you would put all condiments (spring onion, wasabi, seaweed and leaves) on top of rice with eel. For me, they kind of provided ‘distraction’ to the already tasty unagi. Perhaps the condiments were good if the sauce or the eel was too rich. The last step was better than I expected since I usually was not a big fan of eating rice with dashi. Essentially, from step no 2, (when you’re ready), the waitress would pour seasoned hot soup. The dashi was not bad at all, and it reduced the strong flavor of condiments to the extent that all elements inside my bowl blended well.   

 

Unlike the miso katsu, I liked this hitsumabushi and would not mind eating it again even outside Nagoya when available.  

 

Nagoya cochin chicken (Torikai sohonke La chic)

 

I did not really have any intention to eat here to be honest. As we strolled in the La chic area and came dinner time, we opted for something that can still be considered as Nagoya-meshi. Of course, you can easily find any restaurant serving miso katsu and hitsumabushi in this part of the city too. This time we did not really have to wait, but inside was crowded.

 

We ordered a big a la carte portion of chicken with raw egg & rice served in a bowl. The ‘messy’ presentation was pleasant in orange color. Compared to the usual chicken served in Japan, the Nagoya cochin meat was more flavorful and chewy in a positive way. As you mixed the sauce and the egg yolk, the flavor was still relatively light. In addition, we also had the tebasaki (not as good as we expected, it had little meat and a little too oily) and karaage (crispy outside, juicy inside and flavorful). It was a satisfying meal.

 

Generally, I’m neutral on this place yet would eat the cochin chicken anytime over miso katsu :) 

 

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Honestly, having a meal at Wakuden (Kodaiji) was not a priority when I began to scramble my Japan trip last Fall. Initially, I would rather try Ogata or Suzue but the concierge told me that both restaurants were fully booked on that Sunday; hence I pushed for Wakuden on the following day. Prior to the visit, all I know was that Wakuden was simply another old dining institution in Kyoto (similar to Kitcho) famous for its traditional kaiseki but it’s pretty much ‘under the radar’ among foodies. At first, it might seem like “redundant” since we ate at Yukimura a week earlier but our lunch meal here turned out to be really good.

 

After taking a bus and getting off near the Kodaiji temple, Wakuden was about 10-15 min walk. The weather was nice and it’s always fun to walk along the small road around Kyoto. As it’s the flagship restaurant of the group, the restaurant was big in pretty setting with plenty of private rooms. We were greeted with a deep bow from several waitresses and escorted to our ryotei. It was spacious as later on we found that they would use that extra space to cook/prepare several dishes in our room - almost like the ‘old-style’ of Teppanyaki. I suspected in one way or another, Tetsuya Wakuda designed his Waku Ghin following this “style”: first, guests will be shown the ingredients to be used for their meals, and then a chef will be assigned to cook live exclusively for us. Note that this was one of Wakuda-san’s favorite places to dine in when in Japan.

 

As I looked back of my meal, the dishes that I loved here were mostly the (char) grilled dishes. For instance,

- An outstanding yaki awabi (tender texture and inherently sweet) with its thick and rich but smooth liver was truly delicious. "Simple" dish with perfect execution

- Barely seared (medium rare) Tamba beef served with grilled figs & light sauce. A superb dish with minimal preparation; simply let the ingredients and their combination to shine. The rich & marbled beef was nicely balanced/countered by sweet figs; truly umami.

- Matsutake rolled in pike conger with lime - A moist, fragrant & tasty Hamo beautifully wrapped the aromatic, meaty & delicious Pine mushroom with some twist from the sudachi. The portion was right, the execution was meticulous; a terrific dish. I like it slightly better here than the one I had at Yukimura

 

The soup here ‘suffered’ the same issue with the one we had at Yukimura. There were too many ingredients that dominated the dashi’s clean flavor. Or perhaps, I was mistaken and it’s their intention all along to create owan with more complex tastes. Some other dishes that I thought was also good (but not necessarily outstanding) were the early appetizers:

-Ise ebi sashimi with komatsuna and namakono – top quality produce, tasty and well complemented; bind together by ‘jelly sauce’

-The kamasu sushi was well executed. The shari was al dente with vinegar tasted on the stronger side. Didn’t expect this come from a Kyoto kaiseki place

For the rest of the dishes, I will let you see the pictures from the below link.

 

As far as the food was concerned, I found this meal was better than the kaiseki I had at Chihana and Nakamura. It’s more sophisticated and delicious with splendid execution. I bestowed 96 pts for the food (2 ¾* by Michelin standard). Not only that, the hospitality was also outstanding. It was not inferior to the service we experienced at Arashiyama Kitcho despite the fact that our main waitress was junior and did not speak English that well. She was really polite, helpful and friendly. For any questions that she could not answer and we told her not to worry about them; somehow she refused to give up. She kept coming back with answers either with notes written in English or for more complicated inquiries, she would invite the senior staff who spoke better English to explain to us. The head chef appeared at the end and bid us farewell. He tried to engage us in a conversation and checked whether our lunch was fine. Although not very likely, I hope this place will get 3-star in the not-so-distant future (within 3 years).

 

The detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2016/01/wakuden-kodaiji-kyoto.html

The dishes’ pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/WakudenKodaijiKyotoJapan#

 

 

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