December 7, 2018

Japan 2018 day 7: sticker shock

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I had no lunch plans today.  Or so I thought.  Hello Kitty was off visiting her old friend, and My Birdbrain Cousin was off doing her own thang... so I was left to my own devices.  I was planning on strolling over to grab my favorite ramen later, and still lying around in the hotel bed, when The Dining Austrian ping me.

It was 11:10 a.m. or so.  Would I be able to join him for lunch at 12:00 p.m.?  I thought about it... and as I hadn't actually cleaned up, I figured I may be about 10 minutes late to lunch.  As it turns out, due to unforeseen circumstances, my friend was going to be about 40 minutes late himself.  This, of course, would be a cardinal sin at Japanese restaurants...  and today we would be reinforcing the stereotypes of rude gaijins who show up late.  Thankfully we have a third person, who would be on time...  As I would find out later, the restaurant's website specifically reminds foreign guests that they should be on time.

I showed up at Kimoto (紀茂登) between 15 to 20 minutes late, apologized to Kimoto-san for my tardiness, and sat in front of the 8-seat counter with 9 place settings for this meal.  I was trying to be respectful and kept my Sony A9 in my bag at my feet, and made sure to keep my phone on my lap so as not to scratch the beautiful (and incredibly expensive) Japanese cypress counter.  Well, as I found out later by reading the restaurant's website, they specifically ask people not to bring their SLRs...  Strike two.  So it appears that I am that annoying gaijin, after all...  But hey, at least my A9 was silent and didn't make any noise disturbing other customers.

As I had arrived late, Kimoto-san has already started service.  The welcome drink of cold-brewed Oolong tea (水だし烏龍茶) had already been put aside for me, and we were now on the first course.

Female snow crab with rice (せいこ蟹飯) - YASS!  I've been having this seasonal delicacy at just about every single Japanese meal on this trip, so I wasn't surprised to see せいこ蟹 on the menu.  I was, however, rather surprised to see it served with rice at the start of the meal.  In any case, this was absolutely delicious, because how could it not be?!

Interesting that there were three little propagule (零余子) on top of the rice, which probably came from either Japanese yam (山の芋) or Chinese yam (長芋).  I had never seen them before, but they certainly had a texture that was similar to yam or potato.

Bottarga tempura with ginkgo nuts (生カラスミ天婦羅  銀杏) - I'm not sure I've ever had mullet roe served as a tempura (天婦羅) before.

The texture was very soft and wet, which means this was relatively fresh and not seasoned/dried. 

Japanese snow crab dumpling with wood ear (ズワイ蟹の真薯  生キクラゲ) - whereas many other shrimp and crab dumplings are made with lots of shrimp or crab paste, this one was almost entirely fresh snow crab meat... And that was one big piece of fresh wood ear!  I also love that the turnip was so tiny compared to the leaves growing out of it...

I really do love the お椀 course in kaiseki meals, as it always showcase very delicate and pure flavors, and almost always features the beautiful fragrance of yuzu (柚子).

Wild blowfish sashimi and milt (天然河豚のお造りと白子) - I would have had no problems eating the blowfish from Awaji (淡路), except for the fact that there was also fish cum underneath.  Of course this was a big FUCK NO for me, so I offered my bowl to the others... and The Dining Austrian was only too happy to inhale it.

Charcoal grilled horsehead tilefish and Ise lobster (白甘鯛炭火焼 伊勢海老炙り) - the horsehead tilefish (白甘鯛) was served as a really thick cut, and it was incredibly tender.  The chargrilled skin was amazingly fragrant.  This was meant to be taken with wasabi.  The Ise lobster was lightly grilled so that it was partially cooked on one side while still raw, and the lobster had already been seasoned.  I gotta say... this was a damn good dish.  Top ingredients, flawless execution, delicate and pure flavors.

Charcoal grilled snow crab leg (ズワイガニ焼き) - served with a dashi (出汁) on the side for dipping, although I didn't think the dashi was necessary.  We were also advised to add 2 or 3 drops of sudachi (酢橘) juice to the dashi and to drink it.

Simmered snow crab meat with tomalley - I'm not sure that a more awesome dish could be made from crab.  The shell of the snow crab - with all its tomalley - was placed on the charcoal grill so that a mix of tomalley, crab meat, and what I suspect was dashi could be simmered.

Soooooo, soooo awesome.

When we were done, we were given a little bit of dashi as well as a tiny bit of sake, so we could drink up all the leftover tomalley...

Roast Mallard duck (真鴨の焼き) - the Mallard duck from Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) came with a big pile of green leeks on top, which were incredibly delicious.

The execution on the duck was pretty nice, even though I would have also been happy had it been a little more rare.  Absolutely delicious combination with the jus and the leeks.  Oh, and the fatty skin... Slurp!

Turnip simmered in konbu dashi (昆布出汁蕪) - this was just beautiful in all its simplicity.  An almost perfectly-shaped turnip, peeled, and simmered in konbu dashi (昆布出汁).  There was nothing else to the dish, as the chef's intention was to showcase the purity of the turnip's flavors.  The dashi actually accentuated the sweetness of the turnip.

Miyazaki beef chateaubriand (宮崎牛のシャトーブリアン) - lovingly grilled ever so gently.  Very soft and melt-in-your-mouth. But the most amazing thing was the salt-marinated black peppercorns (胡椒塩漬け) that came as a condiment for the beef.  These tasted fucking amazing, and we even put a few peppercorns on the bowl of rice we were enjoying with the beef.

Marinated napa cabbage and salt-dried kelp (白菜の漬物  塩昆布)

Blowfish porridge (ふぐの雑炊) - very lovely and comforting towards the end of the meal.

At this point, Kimoto-san suddenly pulled out a bottle of 1980 Yquem, popped the cork, took a sip, then stuck the bottle back into the fridge. The three of us decided that we would have a glass, so we each enjoyed a small glass of the nectar.

1980 Yquem - obviously botrytized nose, very ripe with lots of honeydew melon.  A little astringent on the back palate, with a long finish.

Milk pudding with vanilla and salt (バニラと塩の牛乳プリン) - with almond crumble on top.  Yum.

Chestnut kinton (栗金団) - very warm and tasty with bits of sweet chestnut inside.

Matcha (抹茶)

Konpeito (金平糖) - comes in both salt and ginger flavors. 

It was time to move on, so we asked for the bill.  It's not unusual for a restaurant in Japan to hand you a piece of paper with just a single number written on it, and today at number was JPY 225,000.  For the three of us.

I stared at that number for a few seconds as the sticker shock hit me.  OK, so I didn't ask The Dining Austrian how much lunch was going to cost, and I was in such a rush to get here that I didn't do any homework.  The others realized that the price included alcohol - most of which I did not touch - so I was in effect subsidizing them.  But even taking out the alcohol portion, lunch today probably cost on the order of JPY 60,000 or so - which was the most I have ever paid for a meal in Japan... by a very wide margin.

Granted, I'm a total amateur and this was my first experience at a top end kaiseki restaurant - whose level came in above even ones with three Michelin stars like Kanda (かんだ), Yukimura (幸村), and Ishikawa (石かわ).  I have not yet had the pleasure of dining in kaiseki temples like Kyoaji (京味) or Matsukawa (松川), or Kitcho (吉兆) honten in Arashiyama (嵐山)... so I guess my past experience - none of which involved winter dining with the seasonal delicacies I had today - placed my expectations for a bill roughly half the size.

To be fair, the ingredients we got today were top-notch and featured a lot of seasonal specialties.  There were four courses featuring Japanese snow crabs, and two featuring blowfish - including expensive fish cum.  So purely from an ingredient level, I figured it was entirely reasonable to be charging these prices.  I just didn't know the meal was gonna be so luxe... and ever so thankful that the restaurant takes credit cards.

But in the end, I was very happy with lunch.  This was undoubtedly the best meal I had on the trip, and with the price I paid... also the most memorable.

After bidding the others farewell, I rushed over to Ueno Station to meet up with Hello Kitty.  We wanted to check out the Munch: A Retrospective exhibition at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (東京都美術館).

To be very honest, I knew almost nothing about Edvard Munch other than his iconic work The Scream - and one of the four extant versions is here at the exhibition.  It was interesting to find out how his career progressed, and how drastically his style changed once he received some help for his mental issues.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was undoubtedly my purchases of goodies featuring Pikachu posing as the protagonist in The Scream...


Anonymous said...

Also went the the Munch expo recently. All I can say is what a depressing bastard he was.

scubagolfer said...

Reminds me of the stick shock I got at Kawamura, 80,000Yen per person sans matsutake, crab nor puffer fish. And only 1 glass of beer...


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