April 15, 2023

Japan Michelin tour 2023 day 1: Kyoto in Fukuoka

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Less than a month after we took our first trip to Japan in more than 3 years, we're back... and again starting in Fukuoka. We're here to hang out with some friends and, of course, to eat our way through the city. The weather is a little warmer this time around so we have slightly less luggage...

The first thing I did after checking into the Grand Hyatt Fukuoka was hitting the Family Mart just across the street. Needed to get my fried chicken fix! I decided to get the aromatic chicken with burnt soy sauce flavor (香ばしチキン 焦がし醤油風味) to try it out.

Dinner was at Imoto (井本), which serves up kyo-ryori (京料理) over a counter seating 10. As I love kyo-ryori but didn't manage to taste some despite being in Kyoto last month, I relished the opportunity to try this well-regarded place.

One surprise here is that they seem to treat their non-Japanese guests better by putting out the full menu written in both Japanese and English - with background info on some of the ingredients - while the other Japanese guests only received oral introductions. This made my job a little easier...

Appetizer: grilled bamboo shoot (先付: 焼き筍) - this was pretty straightforward, just showcasing the fresh, sweet flavors of the bamboo shoot. With sansho leaves (木の芽) on top.

Appetizer: boiled spring vegetables dipped in irisake (先付: 春野菜の煎り酒のお浸し) - we've got butterbur (蕗), wild hosta grass (うるい), bracken (蕨), aralia sprouts (たらの芽), ledebouriella root (防風) [actually beach silvertop (浜防風)], and inflorescence of perilla (穂紫蘇). We've got some acidity here from the irizake (煎り酒) thanks to the umeboshi (梅干).

Soup: fat greenling, myoga ginger (お椀: 油目、茗荷、針ウド、木の芽) - this was... just an amazing bowl. As usual I first sipped the dashi (出汁), which was just so, sooo light. There was almost no salt there and just barely a touch of the smoked fish. The fat greenling (鮎並) was basically unseasoned, designed to showcase the freshness of the ingredient and purity of flavors. The topping of finely shredded myoga (茗荷), spikenard (独活), and sansho leaves simply added their fragrances without additional salt. It has been some time since I have last tasted a dish so pure.

Sashimi plate : sea bream, giant clam sashimi (お造り: 鯛と本ミル貝) - the red sea bream (真鯛) was so spring and soft, and very crunchy on the edges. The Japanese gaper clam (本海松貝) was perfect with a touch of salt and a drop or two of sudachi (酢橘) juice, as they bring out the sweetness of the shellfish. The texture was, of course, very crunchy.

Sashimi plate : cutlass fish sushi (お造り: 太刀魚の棒鮨) - the cutlass fish (太刀魚) has been lightly torched so that the fat has melted a little, which then gets absorbed into the rice once this was in the mouth. So, so tender... and so beautiful. Worked really well with the woodsy notes from the Champagne.

Deep-fried dish : cherry salmon fried rice crackers and seasonal onion pureed soup (揚げ物: サクラマスのおかき揚げと新玉ねぎのすり流し) - the cherry salmon (桜鱒) was covered in a thin, crunchy batter made of rice, and this was really nice. The purée made of onions from Saga Prefecture (佐賀県) had only a tiny bit of salt, and this was so sweet and tasty that I wanted to lick the plate clean.

Seasoned vegetables : bamboo shoot miso mixed with a leaf of Japanese pepper (和物: 筍の木の芽あえ) - the bamboo was so tender and so nice.

Seasoned vegetables : sea bream roe and soft roe with fresh ginger jelly (和物: 鯛の眞子、白子と新生姜のジュレ) - this was a FUCK NO for me. I had indicated clearly to the concierge service that I don't eat fish cum, but I guess the Imoto-san just wasn't gonna change this dish for one diner. As it turned out Foursheets wasn't a fan, either, because of the presence of sea bream eggs.

Simmered dish: simmered Japanese spiny lobster and white asparagus with white miso and a leaf of Japanese pepper (炊き合わせ: 伊勢海老とホワイトアスパラ、木の芽の白味噌の炊き合わせ) - the white asparagus from Sagano (嵯峨野) was really sweet. The Japanese lobster was fine, and we got some lobster tomalley along with the white miso sauce.

Grilled dish: fillet steak and tomato (焼き物: フィレとトマト) - the beef from Kagoshima (鹿児島) was nice and tender, as expected.

Japanese flower pepper and soup of soumen noodles in a dashi sauce broth (花山椒煮麺) - the somen (素麺) came with sea bream dashi, and I'm very grateful to get little sansho flowers (花山椒). These were definitely more fresh and fragrant than what we get in Hong Kong. But I just wished I had gotten more of this...

Seasonal cooked rice : sakura shrimp and fresh ginger rice (桜エビと新生姜ご飯) - I really, really love sakura shrimp, and very happy to get this.

The rice was more wet than I had expected, but that didn't matter. If only I got twice the sakura shrimp than what was given... Still love it, though!

Pickles included myoga, cabbage, wasabi stems (花山葵), and leafy mustard.

Seasonal dessert: cherry blossom rice cake (桜餅) - very nice with the salted cherry leaf. Not too sweet.

I picked a bottle of Champagne to go with our dinner:

Agrapart 7 Crus, dégorgée septembre 2022 - nice with a mild fragrance of flowers. Medium-bodied and definitely not light or diluted. The palate developed with time. This opened up to show more sous bois and almost Japanese cypress.

We were very happy with our first meal in Fukuoka. I loved how Imoto-san really tried to showcase the ingredients' own flavors without doing too much, and Foursheets was really happy with all the spring vegetables we got in the meal. Definitely worthy of a return visit.

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