June 2, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 3: wooden mountain

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Tonight was my biggest hope of getting some high-end kyo-ryori (京料理).  I knew I had no chance of getting into the most sought-after places since I didn't start planning my meals until about 2 weeks before the trip, but I still wanted to pick a nice place for kaiseki (懐石料理).  Thankfully I found that Kiyama (木山) - which is highly rated on Tabelog and on the OAD Top 100+ Japanese Restaurants despite having only one macaron - was still available via one of the paid concierge services, so I booked us in.  Maybe it's because the place has only been only for about 2 years.

We were led to a private room just off the entrance, so the 5 of us would be on our own.

Grilled eel with glutinous rice (鰻御飯) - kinda surprised that the chef started us off with rice, and even more surprising that it's glutinous rice.  Nice fragrance from the sansho leaves (木の芽) on top, and interesting to have chopped bits of pine nuts mixed in with the rice.

We were offered a welcome sake, which was dry and came from Fukuoka.

Kyoto 2019 day 3: Higashiyama

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I didn't get much sleep last night, as I woke up early and decided to update the firmware of my DJI Mavic Pro.  After going through the necessary steps and thinking I was ready to go, I began reattaching the propellers - as I normally have them removed before boarding a flight.  That was when I realized that I had brought the wrong combination of propellers... so I carried my drone to Kyoto for nothing...

We decided to get an earlier start this morning, and headed to Kyoto Station in order to board Raku Bus (洛バス) No. 100 - one of three routes designed for tourists.  We would be exploring the eastern side of the city today.

The first stop of the day is Higashiyama Jisho-ji (東山慈照寺), which is otherwise commonly known as Ginkaju-ji (銀閣寺).  The design of the main structure was meant to emulate the famed golden pavilion of Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺), and the pavilion was meant to be covered in silver foil, but the latter was never executed.

This was my second visit and took place more than 20 years after my first, and I think I finally gained more appreciation for this temple.  I can see why my friend Ninja likes it so much.  We enjoyed a stroll along the path up the small hill next to the temple, admiring the luscious, moss-covered surroundings which looked so green and serene. 

June 1, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 2: Karhu's hangout

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It was supposed to be perfect.  I had planned our day's itinerary so that we would end up around Gion (祗園) during early evening to try to catch any geisha (芸者) shuffling down Hanamikoji-dori (花見小路通り) on their way to dinner appointments.  Then we would have dinner nearby at a restaurant serving traditional kyo-ryori (京料理).

But due to our late start this morning and the need for my friends to check-in to the hotel - and our insistence to use public transport - we missed the golden hour to stroll down what would have been undoubtedly a tourist-filled lane.  So we ended up just strolling around the restaurant before getting seated in an upstairs dining room at the Sueyoshicho (末吉町) branch of Yagenbori (やげんぼり).

As we were removing our shoes at the genkan (玄関), I noticed a copy of Karhu@77 - the book featuring the works of Clifton Karhu published by my friends the Tolmans - was prominently displayed.  As we entered our private dining room, I saw that a Karhu print of the exterior of the restaurant hung on a wall.  And the cardboard coasters we got for our cold drinks - a different one for each of us - also featured drawings which are reminiscent of Karhu's annual calendars.

Kyoto 2019 day 2: an easy start

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MorgChop and family arrived in Kyoto this morning, and we would have the next three days together.  It's been a few years since I last saw him, but it's been more than 15 years since I last saw his wife and son.  In fact, the last time I saw the little kid was before he turned 2... and he's headed to Shrimp Buddha this fall.  How time flies...

Our first stop today was Nijo-jo (二条城), the castle that was the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shogunate. It's been more than a decade since my last visit, and they have since renovated the famous Karamon (唐門) which leads into the Ninomaru Palace (二の丸御殿) and gardens.  No wonder the gilded parts were looking so shiny under the sun...

May 31, 2019

Kyoto 2019 day 1: Kobe in Kyoto

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Tonight's dinner is arguably the most-anticipated meal during our short trip.  As I didn't plan my meals early enough, some of the most sought-after reservations in Kyoto were no longer possible for us.  As I scrolled through the offerings of one paid concierge service, though, I was kinda surprised to see Miyoshi (肉の匠  三芳) still showing as being available.  I've certainly seen enough people post about this place, and figured that Hello Kitty would enjoy having some good Japanese beef, so I took two seats and ordered up the menu featuring Kobe chateaubriand.

We were the first to arrive for our late seating, and we ended up getting stuck at the far end of the counter... which wasn't ideal for me to take pictures and videos.  I did, of course, ask for permission to use my big camera.

Given how so many people were posting pictures on Instagram from this place, perhaps it isn't surprising that out of 11 guests for our seating, only 4 were Japanese...

As we waited for the rest of the guests to arrive, we watched Chef Ito Tsutomu (伊藤力) prep for the meal... and this hunk of beef definitely got us drooling... The chef brought this hunk of beef around to show all the guests, and of course some of the Chinese guests immediately had to ask what grade the beef was... (It was A5)

Beef dashi with peas (豌豆) - the peas were still a little hard and crunchy.  The beef broth was very clean and pure, with shredded ginger on top.  Nice to have this to warm our stomachs for what's coming.

Beef tongue sashimi (牛タン刺身) - I was totally amazed at how thin these long strips of beef tongue were...  And they were soooo tender, sooooo beautiful...

Taken with ponzu (ポン酢) as well as some crushed dried kelp (昆布).  A pity we only got two thin strips each...

Aitchbone tataki (イチボたたき) - aitchbone (イチボ) is a really nice cut, and serving it as tataki (たたき) means it's just barely cooked on the outside while being mostly raw in the middle.

Served with some salt on the side, or with some oroshi (おろし) with minced ginger and soy sauce.

Braised beef with Kamo eggplant - the kakuni (角煮) was very, very soft and tender from braising.  Submerged in the broth below were "noodles" local Kamo eggplant (賀茂茄子), seasoned with kuro shichimi (黒七味).  Garnished with chiffonade of leeks as well as green yuzu (柚子) zest.  What a delicious bowl!  That fragrance from the yuzu zest was amazing!

Oshinogi (お凌ぎ) - traditionally meant to be served near the start of a kaiseki meal to quell the diners' hunger, this actually came in the middle tonight.  The steamed sticky rice - which came a little more wet than expected - was served together with sirloin tartare, sea urchin from Hirado (平戸) in Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県), swordtip squid (剣先烏賊) sliced into strips, quail egg yolk cured in soy sauce, and some wasabi and nori.  Pretty tough to not like this...

Chef Ito started to cut these big, long spears of asparagus from Yamaguchi Prefecture (山口県) - which had been breaded with panko (パン粉) and deep-fried in the fat of Kobe beef.

These were then draped with thin slices of raw Kobe ham - kinda like an ultra-premium version of the classic ham and asparagus roll (アスパラのハム巻き).  The asparagus was beautiful, and the Kobe ham didn't need any additional seasoning or salt.  Nom nom nom...

Palate-cleanser (お口直し) - the onion had been cooked and served cold with a sauce that was made with onions.  The consistency of the sauce was almost like raw egg white.  This was sweet with natural sugars, and very cool and refreshing.

Chef Ito then started slicing the sirloin, which looked absolutely gorgeous...

The white asparagus from Hokkaido were blanched in a copper pot in two stages, and were wrapped in cling wrap in between.  The sirloin was blanched for only a few seconds in the water that the asparagus had been dipped in.  Needless to say the sirloin shabu (しゃぶ) was very tender, but the asparagus was really, really sweet.

Kobe beef chateaubriand (神戸牛 シャトーブリアン) - dry-aged on the bone, I believe.

So tasty.  So good with the tare (たれ).

Hello Kitty thought the beef must have been aged to achieve this texture, and decided to ask Chef Ito... who immediately produced this certificate which presumably shows that the head of cattle was slaughtered less than two weeks ago.

It was finally time for the rice and pickles, but there was something extra that looked pretty interesting.  By the way, the miso soup came with watershield (蓴菜).

Beef fillet kobumaki (牛ヒレ昆布巻き) - the fillet was wrapped with kombu (昆布) and simmered.  Not bad at all.

For dessert, we had chunks of Miyazaki ultra-ripe mango (宮崎完熟マンゴー) along with a scoop of Marscapone ice cream... on top of which Chef Ito poured a few drops of 1997 Yquem.

I figured we should have a bottle of red to go with all the beef we were having tonight, so I tried to pick out something that was ready to drink from the wine list... while keeping to a reasonable budget.  There weren't many choices that fit the bill...

2007 Clos du Marquis - earthy, some sweet fruit, and smoky.

Hello Kitty and I were very, very happy.  Chef Ito created an entire meal with beef, and it was a helluva lot more sophisticated than just putting it on a grill.  I can certainly see why this is rated so highly on the OAD Top 100+ Japanese Restaurants, and its Tabelog Gold Award is well-deserved.  This is probably the best place I've been to in Japan when it comes to beef, and well-worth returning to.

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