Kohaku 虎白 (2016.01)
I had an impressive dinner at Kohaku last May, when it was still two-Michelin-starred. Well, it is really good but i never thought it would earn its third star this year. As a sister restaurant of Kagurazaka Ishikawa which has been honored three star by the red book since 2008, Kokaku serves more modern dishes compare to the boss Ishikawa. I went there last time because of my love of Ishikawa. Kohaku is always on my revisit list but it wouldn't happen so soon if it didn't raised one more star. Now i am intensively curious how much it improved over the year.
The menu at Kohaku won't hurt your wallet much compare to other kaiseki restaurants at the same level, currently running 15000, 17000 and 19000 sets, the price is similar to its mother restaurant Ishikawa. All sets come with same amount of dishes but the ingredients varies. We had the premium menu at 19000 yen and the bill came around 24500 yen with 2 diffrent sake.
A week ago i visited Kyoaji, one of the best kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo and it was my first time having such sweet and creamy white miso soup in my life, which is only served during new year in Japan. Fine Japanese restaurants like these would serve this soup for the new year month. This bowl of warm and hearty soup from Kohaku was delicious, with a taro ball made of shrimp-shaped taro, topped with Karasumi (dried mullet roe). The taro was smooth and the umami Karasumi nicely enhanced the flavor of the entire dish, however the white miso soup based was not that creamy as the one i had in Kyoaji. In comparison this is like water. And overall much below what i expected. At least based on this dish, Kyoaji is definitely at Michelin 10 stars leverl.
This was actually my first time having cripy-sclale Amadai n a Japanese restaurant, only had it at western restaurants before. Even the component of this dish was similar to Ishikawa's - deep fried main ingredient, gingko nuts, and home blended salt. Loved its crispy scales and delicious flesh underneath, while the more impressive part was definitely the home blended salt which has a oceanic twist.
The dish impressed me the most last time was the steamed sticky rice with firefly squid. This one with Nodoguro (black-throast sea perch) was quite delicious as well. The fish was wonderfully grilled, a cirspy skin and succulent center. The scallions was very aromatic and matches well with the flsh. Great.
A simply plated Shirako with a lovely burnt and chewy skin, very creamy and delicious inside. While most dishes served at Kohaku are too hot, and to be honest i expected to see some other ingriedents for pairing in my dish, such as the one i had in Kyoaji. (Sorry for mentioning Kyoaji so many times, because Kyoaji and Kohaku are the only two Japanese restaurants i have been visited in 2016). I loved shirako but this dish didn't impressed me much.
The soup base was clean but simply delicious. Snow crab dumpling was moist and soft, with a burst of umami and sweetness.
I still remember the unique and refreshing sauce from Kohaku last time, it is a signature of Chef Koizumi which works well with sashimi. Kawahaki itself was fresh and clean, the sauce was umami and a bit sour which enhanced the flavor of the entire dish. Not bad.
Char-grilled Sawara was more impressive compare to sashimi, the aromatic black truffle was really good with Sawara. On the back was a cube of lotus cake, similar to the texture of Konnyaku but more on the sticky side, loved its texture and mild sweet flavor. I think both Kohaku and Ishikawa like to play with 'secret sauce', and the super delicious sauce again made it up.
The texture of Kinmedai was perfect for my liking, the skin was slightly burnt and the rest part was still raw. Shiitake mushroom was aromatic but didn't cover the flavor of the fish, topped with plum-flavored seaweed to boost the flavor the another level.
The last dish was a hot pot of Shirako and turnip from Kyoto, called 'Shogoin turnip'. The soup was mildly sweet and very hearty, with a burst of umami flavors of shirako. The freshly harvested bamboo shoot was smooth and delicious.
By far, all the dishes were enjoyable but lack some surprises. The more impressive dishes were Grilled Nodoguro with mochi rice, next comes the dish with black truffle. We didn't expected much on the rice dish but it was to be remembered. The rice was cooked with two kinds of crab: the meat was from snow crab while the roe was from queen crab, mixed with Kyoto turnip to give a juicy and sweet flavor.
The crab was very delicious and sweet, we couldn't stop refilling our bowls. Of course, for me, more rice crust please!
Dessert is always a strong part of Ishikawa, thus Kohaku won't be too bad on this neither. Rum mousse and jelly are a classical one at Ishikawa, pleasant to have it here again. The interesting part was the fried tofu skin on the top, never thought of this combination but turns out very good.
I didn't see anything much improved after my first visit, the food was still good but not really impressive. Definitely cannot compare to those intoduce-only kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo, but let's say, compare to Ishikawa which is also a three-michelin-starred and offers similar dishes at similar price, i would definitely pick Ishikawa. I am not saying Kohaku is not good, but just much below what i expected for a michelin three star restaurant like Ishikawa. In short, pretty worth of value a safe choice (or maybe an alternative choice for Ishikawa's fans who cannot get a reservation at Ishikawa).