Kyoaji 京味 (2016.03)
Right after my first meal at Kyoaji in Janurary, i made a reservation for this visit, it is so worth of flying to Tokyo again. Here i'm going to skip the background of Kyoaji and Chef Kenichiro Nishi because food aficionado must know about these, otherwise kindly refer to my previous review (link). Both my partner and i were so excited and we even dreamt about it the night before. It was such a pleasure to be there again on a lovely sunny day during Sakura season (cherry blossom).
Started with a small bowl of soup of spring bamboo shoort and Wakame seaweed, clean and simple.
Next comes three assorted appetizers. The dried butterbr buds tastes bitter-some but left a unique and mild sweet aftertaste; sushi is also quite special, the shari (sushi rice) is rolled with prawns and Sayori (Japanese halfbeak);Bachiko, or dried sea cucumber ovaries that had been extracted, salted and sun-dried. It was served raw, chewy and umami.
Another small simmered soup dish of Ebi-imo (prawn-shaped taro) and Iwatake mushoom and Japanese parsely. Compare to my first visit and Kyoaji in Janurary, there are actually few similar ingredients such as the taro stem here, Bachiko in the appetizer platter, prawns, and crab as well as Tai sashimi coming later. But i didn't feel boring about them at all. I cannot say the flavors are amazingly good, but really homey and hearty.
Followed by Japanese snow crab from Japan sea. I rarely see crab with so many juicy meat outside Japan, and Kyoaji no doubt get the premium quality snow crab as always.
I thought this is just a cube of tofu but no, it is actually a bamboo shoots sumpling which has a elegant sweet flavor by itself, the texture is acutally similar to firm tofu but quite moist too. The best part of this dish is definitely the Kinome sauce mixed with white miso and sugar. Last time i was very surprsied by the creamy white miso soup, same as this time. The sweet flavor of the creamy miso sauce works so well on the simple bamboo shoots dumpling.
One of my favorite dishes of the meal is the grilled Anago rolled with Gobo. Anago itself was wonderfully grilled, loved its crispy skin and tender flesh inside. It was grilled with few soy sauce to bring a sweet and savory twist which matches well with the sweetness of Gobo. Textural and flavorful.
Next we were served a lovely sandwiched tempura made of bamboo shoots and Wakasa Guji (tilefish). The outside (bamboo) is perfectly deep-fried, the tilefish inside was still succulent and umami. Side with the bitter Taranome (the sprouts of Aralia elata) tempura to cleanse the palates.
It is not hard to find that the chefs at top Japanese restaurants in Japan love to serve Tai (snapper) for the sashimi part. When i came to Japan to eat for the first few times, i didn't really like Tai because it is too boring. But once you have much better food and once you have really good Tai sashimi, you will love it as i do now. Look at those shinny white flesh with a mouth-watering transparent looking, it is actually tastes much better than it looks. I especially love Tai rolled with seaweed which has a more umami flavor.
Dashi (Japanese clear broth) is the spirit of Japanese food, the quality of Dashi decides the flavors of all the dishes a restaurant serves, and the most direct way for testing is definitly by Owan (soup). Kyoaji serves the top two Owan on my list, the first is no doubt Matsukawa. The broth is clean like pure water but once you taste it, you will know 99% of other Kaiseki restaurants has been beated, no matter how many stars they were honered - it is so simple but so delicious, it is full of oceanic flavors and soaked the essence of the prawn dumpling, with a mild sweet aftertaste. The prawn dumpling is as smooth and creamy as you see from the following picture, with some prawn chunks to give a crunchy and chewy texture.
My parnter was almost cried when he ate the grilled Wakasa Guji. Chef uses different techniques to cook the skin and flesh part. The skin was dried and grilled to create a super crunchy texture, while for the flesh he grilled it directly to make sure it is tender and juicy. I especially love the skin, the sweet flavor of outside of the skin (because of sauce) and savory flavor of the inside (from the fish itself) was so well-balanced, and it did taste as crunchy as crackers.
Yuba (tofu skin) is one of my favorite vegetarian ingredients in Japan, it is almost impossible to find fresh yuba outside Japan. Fresh Yuba itself was well cooked, creamy and best kept its sweet flavor. Another enjoyable part of this dish is the cooked squid head with its eggs inside, sweet and so delicious.
In Japan, spring is the best season to eat clams. Both the Akagai (red clams) and Torigai (surf clam) here were very fresh, Akagai is more on crunchy side while Torigai is also crunchy and becomes richer after chewing.
One of the best rice dishes on this planet - Kyoaji's grilled salmon belly and collar rice.
I don't want to bring this out but it is a truth that veryKaiseki retaurant in Japan serves salmon, i noramlly don't eat salmon even i'm oversea, and this is an exception. The salmon belly was soft and deep in flavors, its grilled skin was crispy and aromatic, simply a dreamy bowl of rice. Well to be honest, i don't like Kyoaji's rice that much because it is a bit dry for my liking, and the portion of rice is 2x compare to other top Japanese restaurants (and seems the server squeezed the rice so it is probably 3x).
We were asked to choose between Kurukiri and Warabimochi for dessert, both of us picked Kurukiri, again. The homemade flat noodbles made of Kuzu-powder was thin-sliced in front of us, it is as thin as tissue paper. It was served with homemade black sugar syrup on the side. Always enjoy this sweet ending by dipping the thin Kuzukiri into the Kuromitsu.
Thanks for Chef Kenichiro Nishi for another satisfying meal. He doesn't like guests taking pictures but, sincre pologize for my 'obsessive-compulsive disorder' (just kidding). As mentioned, the food here is very traditonal Kyoto-style, the best ingredient, simplist flavors and unique dishes that you won't find anywhere else (as a lot of restaurant in Japan serves similar dishes). I also enjoyed the warm and relax ambiance, all the people at Kyoaji are incredibly patient and friendly. Anyway, still one of my favorite Kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo, booked my next visit and will a trip for Kyoaji again...yeah, till the next time in Kyoaji.