March 27, 2024

50 Best and then some day 7: Gaijin kaiseki

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I woke up stupidly early this morning for my flight out of Seoul, as I finally bid farewell to my tropical hotel room at Shilla Stay Samsung. The saving grace was that the bus to the airport picked up right in front of the hotel, and I had an uneventful trip as I tried to catch some Zs.

I arrived at Incheon a little too early, so I had plenty of time to get in some breakfast before checking in. After strolling around and finding many options less appearling, I finally got myself some seolleongtang (설렁탕). One last meal of having kimchi with my meal...

My short flight on Peach got me into Terminal 2 at KIX, and I had the chance to take Hello Kitty Haruka to Kyoto again.

Meanwhile, it was past lunch time and I couldn't have a proper lunch, so I grabbed myself a shrimp katsu sando from the 7-11 on the platform. Always satisfying.

I've really gotten into the habit of booking hotels that are next to major train stations whenever I travel in Japan, and this time as I'm taking the Haruka from/to KIX, I chose somewhere that is just a few minutes' walk from Kyoto Station. Having enjoyed my stays at the Miyako in Fukuoka last year, I figured I would give Miyako Hotel Kyoto Hachijo a try. Despite the very dated structure, they had renovated the interior and the room was actually pretty nice.

Dinner tonight was at Wagokoro Izumi (和ごころ 泉), a kaiseki (会席) restaurant with 2 macarons. I had initially booked a single seat here as I was traveling solo, but tried to get them to add another seat when I found out 2 days ago that Ro Ro is also in town. Unfortunately they didn't have any more seats at the counter - or in the rooms - so I became to last one to be seated at the small counter of 6.

The evening starts with a serving of sakura tea (桜茶), despite the fact that, much to my dismay, cherry blossoms are not yet in bloom in the city. This definitely showed the salty profile from preserving the flower.

We were also offered a sip of the house sake.

Sakizuke : Japanese tiger prawn, sea urchin, Chinese yam somen (先附: 車海老, 雲丹, 長芋素麺) - the sauce was surprisingly acidic, which was good as it helped to whet the appetite, and worked well with the thin strands of crunchy Chinese yam "noodles".

Owan : mugwort shinjo, fat greenling (お椀 : 蓬真薯, 油女) - the fish came with a very soft and fluffy, springy texture. The shinjo (真薯) was also very fluffy and bouncy, and I childishly used my chopsticks to squeeze it because it was so fun to do so. The flavors of the myoga (茗荷) and sansho leaves (木の芽) were pretty strong, as a sign of their freshness.

Mukozuke (向付) : the season dish of raw seafood included 4 different varieties.

Golden cuttlefish (ハリイカ) - these came thick-cut but very, very soft and tender.

Medium fatty tuna (トロ) - very fatty and a little on the chewy side.

Red seabream (鯛) - from Awaji Island (淡路島). This has softened but still got a little crunch around the edges.

Splendid alfonsino (金目鯛) - lightly torched to deliver some smoky flavors.

Noresore egg-drop soup (ノレソレの玉汁) - well... the texture of the egg is closer to chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) and very fluffy, but the stars here really were the baby conger eels (ノレソレ). They were soooo fluffy and tender. Lovely fragrance of yuzu in the egg. I was so, soooo happy that I got to taste these babies, and they were so fresh!

Hassun (八寸) - I always love kaiseki for this course, as there's always a myriad of little nibbles.

Baby cucumber (花丸胡瓜)

Japanese tiger prawn (車海老)

Red seabream eggs (鯛の子)

Konjack ball (玉蒟蒻) - this was marinated and came with more flavor than your box-standard konjack.

Broad bean (空豆)

Firefly squid (螢烏賊)

Ark shell teppai (赤貝のてっぱい) - this is a whiter, sweeter miso mixed with tree onion (わけぎ).

Duck breast (鴨のロース)

Mizuna with mustard dressing (水菜の辛子和え) - the spicy kick was noticeable.

Caramelized Japanese sand lance (玉筋魚の釘煮) - love these tiny ikanago that have been simmered with soy sauce, sugar, and ginger.

Chirashi (ちらし)

Webfoot octopus (飯蛸) - loved the tiny octopus, which came with eggs, I believe...

Egg castella (玉子カステラ)

Yakimono : grilled cherry salmon (焼物 : 本鱒塩焼き) - the 桜鱒 came buried under a mountain of greens, which included some hosta (ウルイ), and a dressing made with honey, vinegar, dashi, and lemon.

Hiyamono : white asparagus, tomato, ark shell (冷物 : ホワイトアスパラガス, トマト, 赤貝) - the cream didn't seem like a classic hollandaise but it did have acidity and tasted like ponzu (ポン酢), while the jellied vinegar (煮凝り酢) also provided acidity. The tomato came from Kochi Prefecture (高知県), famed for their fruit tomatoes with high sugar levels. Also garnished with canola flower (菜花).

Takiawase : bamboo shoots, butterbur (炊合せ : 筍, 蕗) - fresh and sweet bamboo shoots, with some wakame (若布) and stems of butterbur (蕗).

Shokuji : rice with Usui peas (食事 : 碓井豌豆ご飯) - of course the leftovers from the pot was wrapped up as onigiri (おにぎり) for me to take away.

The soup was made with hatchomiso (八丁味噌) and had little balls that were pretty soft and fluffy.

And the pickles (漬物)...

Mizumono (水物) - orange, buntan (文旦), Crown melon (クラウンメロン) from Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県), Marihime (まりひめ) strawberry from Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県), amazake blancmanger (甘酒ブラマンジュ).

Okashi : sakuramochi (お菓子 : 桜餅) -

Matcha (抹茶)

I went easy on the sake, just taking something from one of my favorite breweries:

Kokuryu Ginfu (黒龍 吟風), 2021 - seimaibuai of 40%. A bit more depth than expected, and starting to show a slight hint of fermented flavors thanks to some aging. Initially this was dry on the palate but the mid-palate became sweeter with time.

This was a pretty delicious meal, and having kaiseki in Kyoto is always a special experience, and in spring, too!

But looking around the place made me wonder... EVERYONE at the counter was Japanese. NO ONE knew much of anything about most of the ingredients they were being served. I spent some time explaining the ingredients - and how special some of them were - to the two Europeans seated next to me (who turned out to be mother and son, and not husband and wife!) Some, if not all, of the customers seated in the rooms were also not Japanese speaking. I wonder whether it's because we are in peak tourist season, thanks to the sakura, or whether high-end Japanese restaurants - at least those that can be booked online by foreigners - now see tourists crowding out the locals.

Ro Ro was in town and wanted to drink sake. Unfortunately Geruhage only knows wine bars in town, so they found a place that none of us had been to before... in a dark alley called Asakura (あさくら).

I decided to do a slight of three sakes and asked for recommendations.

Sisora Junmai Ginjo Snow Label (紫宙 純米吟醸 スノーラベル), 2024 - seimaibuai of 55%. Sweet on the palate, but also got some depth, with a decent finish.

Shirasugi Nue (白杉 鵺), 2024 - seimaibuai of 60%. Made with 4 different koji and 4 different yeasts. The nose was very fragrant, nice, and elegant. Pretty thick and viscous on the palate, with good depth of flavors. Turns drier on the palate with time.

Tamagawa Spontaneous Fermentation Junmaishu Yamahai (玉川 自然仕込 純米酒 山廃)
, 2023BY
- sweet but almost a little dry on the palate. The nose showed really high levels of alcohol, sharp and approaching what a paint thinner smells like...

Ro Ro was clearly not happy with the local stuff that she didn't know, so off we went to find ourselves a wine bar to finish the evening. Geruhage led us to emme by retracing his steps from memory...

2001 Bibi Graetz Testamata - a little burnt rubber on the nose at first, but really good fruit and still very concentrated. The tannins have been smoothed out already, but this was certainly not a light wine by any chance.

2001 Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva Moccagatta - nose of stewed prunes, leather, animal, slightly pungent. Very big nose with some fruit here.

It was finally time to call it a night, so I took a taxi back to my hotel next to Kyoto Station. However, I wanted to do some shopping at the convenience stores, and hit 7-Eleven, Lawson, AND Family Mart all in one go. In between those stores, though, was a 24-hour Yoshinoya (吉野家). It was now just a few minutes before 3 am, but I couldn't resist walking in and ordering something.

Beef bowl with egg and spring onions (ねぎ玉牛丼) - I love it when they put all the cut spring onions on top, and with a raw egg, too!

OK, time for bed... It's been a LONG day from 5am to 4am...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, the cheap yen certainly hleped attracting a lotnof tourists


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