For our one traditional Kaiseki meal, my original preference was the Michelin 3* Ishikawa. However, efforts by my friend to get through to them were futile. For over a month, no one on their end answered any of his continuous phone call? Frustration sets in and we decided to change our venue to Kurogi, a Michelin 1* Kaiseki restaurant, run by Japan’s ‘ Last Iron Chef ‘! Since my friend, who helped with the difficult reservation, had previously dined there. He has first hand knowledge of the chef‘s liking in offering an excessive amount of food. Therefore, to take on this culinary challenge, we decided to opt for an early and extended dinner. Unfortunately, when he called, he was told that all dinner spaces are fully booked as far out as a year! Wow! That is mighty impressive! Anyways, with time a pressing factor, we have no choice but to settle for an early lunch instead and prepare ourselves for a heavy mid-day food onslaught….and paying the same whopping price as dinner!
Well, the full blown Kaiseki lunch I had must be one of the most filling luncheon endeavor I have ever undergone. So much food was left over, they were enough for the chefs to custom pack three bento boxes for each of us to take home!.....including a diced up charbroiled A-5 Wagyu beef and rice!
Known for featuring exotic, scarce and top notch extravagant ingredients on their menu. An impressive display of priced daily specials welcomed us at the dining area. The sight of them yielded muffed sound of ‘Wow’ and nods of approval! All the hype I read was correct!
Exorbitantly priced Tsuiyama ( Matsuba ) crab with tags showing the ‘ fishing boat ‘ that actually caught them stared at us with their big eyes! A huge chunk of pristine fresh, special high grade Blue fin tuna, labeled with the place of origin, together with a couple specimens of rare fish of unknown name and origin, lay side by side in front of us. Fresh Anago and thick pieces of Japanese Black ‘Ohme’ Beef were being prepped for the open charcoal grill by the master chef himself.
In addition to dishes created using the afore-mentioned ingredients, some other stand out dishes included the extravagant delicacy – Suppon ( soft shell sea turtle ) boiled in Nabe ( Japanese vegetable casserole ), Shirako or similar were adorned with generous amount of Osietra Caviar and a generous glass of Chateau D’Yquem Sauterne was offered to finish off our meal!
Since I still regard myself as a layman when it comes to sophisticated Kaiseki cuisine, I am going to once again refrain from making remarks on specific topics that are outside my comfort zone. However, based on comparison with previous experiences at other Michelin star Kaiseki establishment, I do have a couple of taste related comments I would like to share:
- The heavy handed use of scallions in the Suppon hot-pot overwhelmed and spoiled the otherwise delicate and umami sweet broth. A similar Suppon broth I had during my last trip at the 1* Hirosaku was cooked to perfection and tasted so much more delicate, refined and delicious!
- The quantity of charbroiled Ohme beef offered was more than generous for the three of us. The degree of doneness and cooking execution was impeccable. As expected, mouth feel and texture of the beef was super tender bordering buttery soft. However, the lack of seasoning and hence the flavor profile, somehow fell short, rendering the overall taste sensation a bit underwhelming.
- Last but not least, IMHO, I think the way the chef executed the highly anticipated crab dish was a waste of good delicious crab meat and brain! The carefully shucked meat and brain was mixed with a heavy dose of tart Japanese mayonnaise! The result of this culinary massacre naturally begged me to ask ’ Where’s the crab?' and 'What a waste!‘. I was also expecting to be offered larger chunks of hind crab legs than the two thin, stingy front ones!
For the amount of money charged for our meal, much finer cooking technique, seasoning and execution, that would commensurate with such admirable ingredients was expected?! Sadly, from my view point, this was not the case.
Lastly, a word about the helpful, professional and super-friendly service. One reason for this special attentiveness and warmth could well be the fact that our English speaking lady server happened to live in Toronto for six years a while ago! Upon knowing that I was from Toronto, she went into ecstatic joy and started asking me questions about Toronto and telling us her time working at downtown Kingyo!! Small world!
All in all a great experience from a culinary perspective, albeit a bit disappointing when it comes to the taste and degree of deliciousness of the food. For my next Tokyo visit, for Kaiseki, I will return to Hirosaku, assuming the old couple hasn't retired?!
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