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
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.
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)
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