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Two recent visits to Kyo-Ya in SF

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Two recent visits to Kyo-Ya in SF

Vincent Lo | Jul 11, 2003 07:05 PM

I went with my friend JB to Kyo-Ya in the Palace Hotel in the city twice
recently. Everything was pretty good, but Kyo-Ya is definitely not the
super-fabulous place it was a few years ago. The place was almost dead
after 9 on Saturday nights.

The web site lists their hours as 6 to 10 on Saturdays. The first time we
were there, we were 20 minutes late for our 9 PM reservation and our polite
server informed us that we couldn't order the kaiseki dinner any more. At
10, she came out and said all orders (including drinks) had to be in by that
time. So we had to order all the alcohol we wanted to have by that time.
It was just unpleasant. The food was okay. The fact that I forgot what I
had tells you that it was neither really wonderful or terrible.

We went back this past Saturday at 8, determined to try their 6-course $60
kaiseki dinner. The first dish was an assortment of fried octopus, spicy
chicken, rice rolls with shrimp, crab, and wasabi mayonnaise, and something
I forgot. The cold spicy chicken breast was just odd in this combination,
in terms of texture, taste, and (mild) spiciness. The rice rolls were
tasty, BUT there was just too much wasabi. I was no stranger to wasabi,
using it multiple times each week. I commented to JB it was too strong in
the first roll. By the time I finished the second roll, I had to wipe tears
from my eyes with my napkin. And there were three pieces of these pretty
big rolls, and each course in a kaiseki dinner shouldn't have so much of one
thing, especially in a assortment dish.

The second dish was maguro, hamachi, and hokkigai sashimi. Very good, but
not unexpectedly good.

The third dish was basically chawanmushi, with uni on top, and mochi and
some green custard inside. As expected, JB mentioned it was too bland, but
I told him chawanmushi was always like that. I asked our server what the
green stuff was, and initially she said green tofu. I said that was not
tofu, though I understood, from living in Japan, that many tofu products
sold on the shelves in a supermarket do not contain any soybeans (e.g. black
sesame custard). She came back, and said it had edamame. That was nice of
her to ask the kitchen, since I hadn't asked her to, but her limited English
made it hard to understand what she really meant.

The fourth dish was cold tofu, with pieces of Japanese pickles (eggplant,
etc.) and some dressing. Nice but it would be nice to have something "meaty
or fishy."

The fifth dish was inari (tofu skin) sushi, with some wasabi on the side.
More tofu?!

The last dish was the dessert, some crepe with sweet white bean paste
inside. No sauce. That was very good, but something from a Japanese
grocery store would have done the job. OK as a friend said, Asian desserts
tend to be simple.

By 10:45 the hostess came to us and said the restaurant was closed (i.e. we
had to go). I talked to her about their web site listing their hours till
10 on Saturdays, so 10:45 seemed way too early to kick people out. She was
very polite, but I had the feeling she didn't understand what I said,
because she didn't even try to apologize.

Actually the entire experience was pretty good. After all, it's still in
Chronicle's Top 100. It's just not the same when crowds were busting in the
old days. I won't go back for a while.

Grade: B

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