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Kai: Pleasant but not transcendent.

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Kai: Pleasant but not transcendent.

Porthos | Mar 30, 2002 11:20 PM

I just returned from a highly anticipated trip to Kai tonight. Unfortunately, I feel a little bit let down. On one hand, one could say that it was unfair of me to expect a mind-boggling meal. However, after requesting the $110 omakase kaiseki, a day in advance, I walked away with a feeling of “is that it?” Our meal was as follows:

Firm homemade tofu with unagi and daishi sauce: The sweet unagi was like the tofu in texture but distinct in flavor. An excellent and delicate pairing.

Tea #1: A light brown tea to start. Probably the least distinctive of the three served that evening.

Clear soup with crabmeat and fish cake and a marinated plum flower: a very clean soup with a tasty crabmeat fishcake cube as the center piece. The marinated plum flower, which I ate at the end, served as a sort of palate cleanser.

Beltfish with chives and shiso: wonderfully succulent and precious pieces of beltfish served with chives and shiso. The shiso leaves came through every 3rd-4th bite to keep the dish interesting.

Tea #2: A dark and wonderfully fragrant tea that I remembered smelling somewhere in my past but could not quite put my finger on it. Definitely my favorite tea.

Silken homemade warm tofu with bonito, wasabe, and scallions: looked and tasted like a custard. Very good.

Kumkuat granita

Duck with Japanese radish, shitake mushrooms and truffle: sounded amazing, but fell flat. The duck was a touch big to eat with chopstick and we had to tear at them with our teeth...not that I have problems with doing that, but the duck meat was a little tough and overcooked. The Japanese radish was delicately spicy. The shitake mushrooms were fresh and flavorful. The truffles were hardly fragrant.

Golden Eyed Japanese Snapper grilled with salt: The snapper came with a wedge of lemon which we sprinkled over the fish. A simple but excellent dish. The simplicity of the dish allowed us enjoy the flavor and texture of this “rare Japanese treat.”

Fresh soba with fresh bamboo, daikon, scallions, and wasabe: Having watched one too many shows on the food network, and checked Chowhound too frequently, I’ve been having a soba craving that was finally satisfied. It was served with a Japanese vegetable that looked like a fern and was crunchy in texture. Excellent.

Trio of desserts: sesame crackers with sesame foam, fruit cake, macaroon. The macaroon tasted like it had shiso in it, but the flavor was too elusive to decipher.

Tea # 3: a light, and delicate tea that tasted like it had a hint of peanut.

Petite Fours: Almonds with green tea, and orange marmalade muffin.

Like I said, a very enjoyable meal, but I was actually eyeing the $85 kaiseki and craved a little sampling of sushi (actually, really bummed that I didn't get any sushi), the salt crust baked fish, and the yuba. The decor was pleasant, and the utensils and dishes were adorable. However, the wine list was short and the offering of sake limited. There was only one daiginyo sake at $104. We went with a delicate but not so flavorful junmai for $54. The meal was pleasant enough...my favorite items being the grilled snapper and the soba. Unfortunately, I left feeling that I would have had a better meal if I went with the $85 kaiseki.

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