Travels


Food and Food: Asia and Travels14 May 2011 07:29 am

High tea was definitely on my list as an experience to have in Hong Kong. I enjoy that it is relaxing, provides a nice light snack and feels…historical.

Corniness aside, Hong Kong has a wide selection of places to enjoy high tea, with some hotels even offering two high teas at two different dining establishments on the property. With all this selection, I am really sad we ended up where we did.

Sigh. Oh well.

Hullett House is located near the largest shopping center in Hong Kong, making it a perfect post shopping break for us. Mike and I arranged to meet our parents at Hullett House later – a mistake. I thought it would be easy to find. I suppose it is, if you are coming from the right angle or have a map, but from the place we were coming from it appeared to be hidden inside another building. That is the case, in a matter of speaking, as it is located in 1881 Heritage, a high end historical shopping area. My parents were unable to find the building, but both my dad and I groaned when we drove past the location the next day in a cab and saw a huge sign (think 10 foot letters) advertising Hullett House on the opposite side of the complex.

 

The building Hullett House is in was the former Marine Police headquarters, and is one of the oldest buildings in Hong Kong. As such, it is colonial in style and is very different from the sleek glassy Vuitton and Gucci outlets just across the street. It is quite charming, actually, and as we finally found our way in and ascended the steps, I was looking forward to the atmosphere.

 

 

We arrived minutes before the last call for high tea, and the hostess seated us with a comment about it being last call. Yeah, thanks lady, we’ll hurry. Just the way I like to enjoy high tea.

The patio of the Parlour restaurant was quite empty, save for another couple, and there did not seem to be a lot of staff. Something that become painfully clear when we sat…and sat…and sat. Maybe they were not in such a hurry for last call after all?

Finally we got a server to come over and ordered the high tea set. A three tiered silver server came out with scones and sweet treats, and a plate with savoury sandwiches. The food was okay, with most of the highlights being on the dessert tier, including an airy lychee, fruit curd and whip cream heart cake, a crunchy praline finger and warm flaky scones.

My tea was fine, but Mike said he thought his tasted a bit off. I had to ask for cream, and was brought ice cold milk. At the end of the meal would could not find any servers to bring us the bill, so we went to the front podium where the hostess stood with her back to us, rifling through papers. I think I finally said excuse me and she turned and gave us a blank look/stare, then said “Good bye.” I actually had to ask for the bill.

So despite the key location, high quality pastries and a beautiful patio, the experience was, well, bitter. We should have gone to the Peninsula instead. I would have gladly braved the zoo there if I knew better.

Food: Asia and Travels07 May 2011 02:59 pm

A week in Bangkok was good for my soul, stomach and photo skills.

 

Okay, maybe not that last one so much.
 

 

Food: Asia and Travels29 Apr 2011 09:51 am

Haha, yeah right. They do have an English menu. Also when we returned a few days later, there was no menu, just carts.

The terrible side of being sick in Hong Kong was not that I was exhausted most of the time, it was that I had no appetite. I had hours of research put in to places to visit for BBQ pork, noodles and dim sum. And back ups for if those places were closed or busy. It still pains me as I write this a month later.

After an underwhelming meal the night before, the four of us headed out for an early dim sum at Luk Yu. Most places start serving at 10 or 11am, but the legendary Luk Yu opens at 7 am. I chose Luk Yu for a few reasons, but the early hour for a meal was the main one.

I’ll take half a teacake, please!

Oh god. Perfect baked cha siu bao. The pastries at Luk Yu were out of this world. The filling was delicious too.

It was not until our return trip the day we left that I noticed how insane the egg tarts were. They were layer upon layer of pastry. Probably 25 or more, filled with the eggy custard. So flaky. So good.

Meh. The beef balls were the only item that did not do much for me. Too big, too gelatinous and too tasteless.

Luk Yu is so classic. It opened in 1933 and really retains a lot of the same ambiance. It is reminiscent of a French bistro in decor (no, seriously!) with wood and stained glass and brass everywhere. White table cloths and tile floor complete the feeling. The service was excellent considering how badly people bash on it online. We felt welcome and enjoyed it so much we returned the morning we left. As I mentioned however, even though both visits were on weekdays at about 9am, one was menu and one was cart.

Luk Yu can get busy; I think there are at least two floors above the main that fill up. Tables are full of men sipping tea and reading the papers. The prices were great considering the work that went into the pastries. One of the best meals I have had ever had in Asia, for sure, for company and for food.

Food: Asia and Travels27 Apr 2011 01:32 pm

Our trip did not start off well. I had been looking forward to seeing Hong Kong and my parents for months…and I came down with a pretty desperate case of the flu Friday night. I dedicated all my energy to getting better, and even as I scraped myself out of my bed to pack a few hours before our flight left on Sunday, poor Mike was fighting off the bug.

 

This pile of blankets is Mike.

At the airport, I encountered something I have never had to contend with before in my time in Japan…only one vending machine to choose from. I settled for this aloe cube and white grape drink. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly good or what I was looking for either. Sigh.

We got food on the flight – I think. This grey stuff is supposed to be Japanese chicken. Hong Kong Express was otherwise a pretty great airline. Food on a flight under three hours is pretty amazing. Even if it is inedible.

After rendezvousing with my parents at the airport (their flight from Bangkok landed a half hour before ours) and heading for the hotel, we went out for food. We went to one of Hong Kong’s many cooked food markets. Sadly, it was kind of underwhelming.

 

It reminded me of the Singapore covered food markets, but a less awesome. We ended up at a BBQ meat stand and after a lot of miming got some goose. Or maybe it was duck. We are still not sure. English was not very rampant in this place, despite being pretty common in other areas.

My mom…my poor mom. She braved some sort of Hainanese chicken rice. It was cold. It was salty. It was bloody.

But, in a very brave food front, she ate it. She has gotten really amazing about trying different kinds of food, especially since visiting us in Japan. I am so proud of her.

End of day 1 ended with a tour of Langham Place shopping center and a stop in at a pretty great little candy shop … with one of the bitchiest clerks I have had the displeasure of dealing with. Guess all the sugar goes on the treats.

Day two was a bit better…

Food and Food: Asia and Travels16 Apr 2011 05:20 pm

Hong Kong update to come soon.

 

 

japan and Travels08 Feb 2011 07:44 am

I find myself weeks behind in food blog posts, but can sit down and crank out a (admittedly shoddy) video in an evening or two. Just more into that at the moment I guess.

japan and Travels24 Jan 2011 09:29 pm

I am experimenting with processing more video while I live in Japan. It is a very slow process as I find I am really bogged down with stuff everyday still, but I am trying. I do not want to lose the skills I picked up in the newsroom, either.

Anyhow, here is a fun video I did about some of my favourite parts of the Osaka aquarium. It is not food related, but it is still of interest perhaps.

Food: Asia and japan and Travels25 Nov 2010 09:20 pm

After our meal at Wagokoro Izumi, Mike and I were not quite ready to return to the hotel. The previous night we had visited a (very hard to find!) sake bar and enjoyed the experience, so we thought we would try another one while in the Kyoto region.

Sake in Japanese is the general word for booze, so when you tell a Japanese person you like sake, you are effectively saying “I like alcohol.” Nihon-shu is the correct term for rice wine, or what we call sake in the west. For the sake of simplicity I will just use the term sake in this post.

The sake bar we ended up at was a small place up several floors in a rather plain looking building. When we walked in, the only person there was the proprietor and he was on his computer at one of the tables. Anytime that happens I fight the urge to just turn around and bolt. Even though I am so inept at Japanese, I still want to enjoy the pleasures that come from living here, so that usually takes over any fear I have. I am very glad we stayed.

He confirmed that we were there for sake, and invited us up to the bar. The bar was quite stylish given the scary building it was in. There was a small stone garden, low lighting and a lot of wood. Of greatest interest was the huge cooler holding many, many kinds of different bottles of sake however.

Jizake specializes in local sake, which is why we were there. I guess it would be comparable to visiting a microbrew beer bar…only stronger!

Sadly most people have had pretty terrible experiences with sake, I think.  POOR FOOLS. They need to give namasake a try. Namasake is unpasteurized so must be kept refrigerated. It offers a complex flavour profile that would rival most wines. It can taste fruity, smell fragrant and floral and will most likely blow any poor opinions you have of sake out of the water. It can be hard to procure outside of Japan because of the difficulty transporting it, so if you ever make it over here you should seek it out.

The man running the show (his nickname is Punch) did not know much English, but that was okay as we did not know much Japanese. Thankfully, he took charge and poured us each a different kind of sake which was exactly what we had hoped for. In return, I used his website on my phone to help steer things and find out what we were drinking.

Punch likes to super age fresh sake, which is not the normal practice. People normally drink it quite quickly after it is bottled. What we drank was very mellow, crisp and delicious, and really excellent. They went down really easily, which explains why Punch puts the turmeric drink up front and center when you grab a seat at his bar. (Turmeric drink is a popular preventative precaution against hangovers here in Japan.)

We had three rounds, the first two being Furosen brands I believe, and the final was the “custom” round. No, seriously, that is what he called it. It was extremely pleasing to drink such amazing sake, made all the more special by the likelihood of what we drank we may never drink again. Okinawa is very much awamori central, whereis Kyoto is very sake based, which is a shame since we really love sake. You can still get it here on Okinawa, but it is difficult to find the quality refrigerated fresh stuff.

Although I thought I would remember what we drank that night, my sake brain must have forgotten. Perhaps someone can help me remember? The menu is online if it helps…

And then the “custom” round. This one I have an easier time recalling.

The glass of my tinged pink 2006 Nipponia nippon sake from Toyama prefecture. This is a daiginjo sake, or a very premium offering. Daiginjo sake must use rice that is at minimum polished 50%.  This creates a very fragrant, a bit sweet and soft drink with a very full flavour. This sake in particular is hard to find I came to find out, which makes it even more amazing that he let me polish off the bottle AND keep the label.

This looks and smells like a rosé wine which is NOT what you think of when you think sake if you are from the west. The pink colour comes from the rice, which is actually red. Crazy, right?  Special, for sure.

Punch poured Mike a glass of Etoile de Hietsu. This is a sake from Toyama Prefecture, and is made from sake stored in barrels of Burgundy wines, and is very sedimented. Again, a very different, unusual experience. I am totally pleased we braved our anxiety and charged into Punch’s peaceful palace.

The very missable entrance to the five floor building Jizake Bar lives in.

Special nods to Eating Out in Tokyo with Jon and KyotoFoodie for their assistance (although they do not know it!) for the suggestion of Jizake, as well as the directions and the post drinking help, both in explaining a bit about Punch and why his bar is different, and in identifying some of what we had. I would definitely like to return there in the future.

And finally a special thanks to Punch himself, for being a very kind host and for featuring us on his blog. (You should go check out the picture!)

パンチ: ご親切なおもてなしありがとうございます!  お疲れ様です。また会いましょう!



Jizake Sake Bar

Kyoto
Open 6pm to midnight, roughly
Map

Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels21 Nov 2010 11:28 am

Eel is delicious. Sure, it is creepy as all get out, but it is fatty and fluffy (some say like pate), delicious with sauce and has a skin that crisps up. It is no wonder there is a designated eel eating day in Japan. It is said to increase stamina and help you deal with the heat.

In Kansai (Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto regions) the eel is just grilled – in other areas, there is a steaming step that helps remove excess fat. So eel from this area is especially prized for its flavour and texture differences. Many things play a role in the eel grilling; the charcoal type, the way the eels are sliced (in Kansai they are opened from the stomach, not the spine), the sauce that is added.

At a speciality eel restaurant, the eels are kept alive until you order them, and all parts of the eel are served in a multi course meal where you taste all the organs and bits and bobs. So it is worth a visit to one of these places if you love eel.

Our last full day in Kyoto we chose to have lunch at an eel restaurant called Gion U in the ancient cultural district of Gion. Again, we relied upon our concierge to make a booking for us, partly as we heard it was a busy lunch restaurant and mostly because we wanted a special set menu that had to be ordered a few days in advance.

Again, we chose a restaurant from the Michelin guide, just for ease of picking. They serve their eel in special wooden tubs, which impart a particular flavour to the rice and eel. So they say. I am just going to come right out and say I was disappointed.

I am never sure what to do when I have a bad restaurant experience. I usually just do not blog about them, to be honest. The internet does not need any more negativity and besides being my creative outlet I am still unsure what kind of information, valuable or useless, my blog provides to the world at large.

In any case, I feel compelled to write about this restaurant because, for one, I think it was horrible value. Secondly, it does not deserve its Michelin star, in my opinion. Lastly, there is not a lot of information about this place in English online.

Initially, there was a lot to be excited about. The freshwater eel (unagi) used is locally caught, it is served in special cedar tubs made by a Japanese national treasure in woodworking, Kiyotsugu Nakagawa. In certain seasons this restaurant even hand catches eel with bamboo.

When we arrived, we were asked to take our shoes off, as is the custom at many Japanese restaurants. The floor was wet from just being sloshed on, and I curled my feet up as I tried to stop them from getting soaked and cold. It made for an awkward moment as both Mike and I wobbled, shoeless, trying to make it up the stairs to the dining room.

When we were seated in the empty room, we were shown the menu which I did not expect, as we had purposely placed a special set menu order ahead of time. I am not sure exactly where the ball was dropped; maybe the concierge did not communicate our desires to the restaurant. Maybe it was forgotten about during the booking on the restaurant’s end. Who knows! But, it was then that we were informed we could not have the “hanami” eel set course for two as it had to be ordered ahead of time…which we … well, you get the idea. There was not going to be a special lunch that day.

The server did her best at accommodating us and helped recreate the hanami course, but right from the start I felt like we were a huge inconvenience. This is the first and only time I have felt this way at any restaurant in Japan. Even with our ordering blunders, mispronunciations and downright inability to read menus, people have gritted their teeth into a smile and atleast been able to hide their disdain, making me feel even partially welcome as a diner. I felt like a burden to this woman, and this is not how you should feel at a Michelin starred restaurant, in my opinion.

What was even more strange was that we the only diners in the restaurant for the first thirty minutes of opening, right at the lunch rush. Even as we left two hours later, there were still only four other diners who came during our time there. And they all got unagi don bowls.

Our makeshift hanami courses started to arrive, beginning with shirayaki. This is unadorned grilled eel, prized by eel enthusiasts for its lack of other flavours save for eel, but full on texture. It was light, fluffy. But there was something lacking; I found it a bit bland to be honest.

Next, umaki, or eel wrapped in egg with daikon. This was really delicious, and an omelette I would never turn down, even though I probably can count the number of eggs I eat in this style in a year on one hand.

Then, eel sashimi. Surprisingly tendonous and crunchy, from all the bones the eels have. It is not like most sashimi that melts in your mouth. Kansai style sashimi is made in a “yu arai” method, which is dipping it into hot water then blanching it by putting it into ice water. This removes slipperiness that eel can have.

The next dish was the speciality, the kabayaki. This is eel with sauce on rice. At Gion U, this dish is served in handmade cedar wooden tubs. People make a big deal out of these tubs. It was a beautiful presentation, for sure, but I kind of feel like it was all hype. Maybe the fact that we had a make do set meal where the rice was not baked in the tub like it was supposed to.

The eel was grilled on bamboo skewers over charcoal and very delicious.

The “secret” sauce was fine; maybe a bit thin. Normally at many lower grade sushi restaurants here you get a very thick, sweet tare, or sauce on the eel. It masks a lot of the flavour of the fish, so I was happy to find something a bit lighter that did not hide the flavour of this very expensive meal.

This also came with some of the strangest pickles I have had in Japan. Very sour, funky tasting pickles. Odd.

To close out the meal was a bowl of kimosui, or a clear unagi liver soup.

The Tub of Which Many People Have Spoken

Cute rabbit themed ceramics

Wooden tubs waiting to be filled

The exterior of Gion U. Fun fact: the Japanese hiragana letter for the “U” sound is う, which is the white symbol on the wooden board, and on their menu. It looks rather eel-like, so it is often used in restaurants serving eel.

So when it was all said and done, and I had to ask for the rest of my eel to be packed up (after dropping off our last course we did not see our server for atleast 35 minutes) and we paid our truly exorbitant bill, I kind of felt let down. Some might say it is because my palate does not appreciate fine eel. I think that is a faulty argument. Some might say it is because the Michelin guide has ruined dining, and is especially unwelcome in Japan. Many restaurants in the Kansai region guide refused to be photographed, as they did not wish for the notoriety that comes from being in the book and did not want to swell their already impressive reservation lists.

I am not sure what the case was with Gion U. Has it has turned into a tourist trap, did we just got off the wrong (wet) foot there, or were we simply not welcome? Either way, if I return to Kyoto, I will be looking for another place to get my eel fix.



Gion U
Kyoto
日本, 〒605-0074 京都府京都市東山区祇園町南側570−120 (祇園う)
Closed Mondays
Lunch: 12:00 to 14:00 (last order: 14:00)
Dinner: 17:00~21:00(last order: 20:30)
Map



Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels20 Nov 2010 03:00 pm

Most people say a  trip to Kyoto is nothing without doing two things. That is visiting a shrine or temple and the other is eating Kyoto ryori. Ryori is the Japanese word for “cuisine.” Kaiseki is a special style of ryori famous for being born in Kyoto and is primarily when a meal is served as a series of small dishes that keep with seasonal ingredients.

Wagokoro Izumi is a Michelin starred restaurant that specializes in Kyoto kaiseki. Fall is a great time to visit for this. There are particularly special components of the meal that peak in autumn, just like the leaves around Kyoto. These include matsutake mushrooms, conger eel and new rice. Many of these ingredients do not make it out of the Kansai region let alone Japan they are so fragile and so high in demand. So you must travel to them.

Once again, we used the hotel concierge to help book our meal, and to communicate my food allergies. The restaurant was fairly easy to find. It lacks the pizazz that many kaiseki restaurants have – many have private gardens for contemplating while you dine. This was a simple affair. During the day it could have doubled as a doctor’s office or licence/registry office back home in Canada. When we arrived we were shown to a small private room, and waited for service to begin.

Although there was most definitely a language barrier, the hostess (chef Izumi`s wife) did her best to engage and entertain us. That is very much a part of the experience. We could hear her gently laughing and interacting with the table next to us, and I honestly felt bad that I could not have a conversation with her. I am certain her social skills were second to none.

In the privacy of a closed off room, I was given an opportunity to shoot each course as it came in. I will go in order here. Forgive the lighting; it was really odd. (n.b., comment about doctor’s office earlier)

There are two things to learn from this dinner; presentation and seasonality. It was beyond shocking to eat a meal of this calibre, with this much thought behind it. It is not an overstatement to say that nearly everything had a meaning during the meal, from the dishes used to the look of ingredients to the way they were placed.

We were at first given a small cup of light yellow tea. It was savoury and slightly fragrant; smelling something like popcorn. Which is fitting as it turned out to be genmaicha tea, which is sometimes called “popcorn tea.” Genmaicha means brown rice tea, in the most direct of translations. It is also known as the “people`s tea” because it was originally served in lieu of dinner to stretch out rice supplies. It is made by roasting rice kernels, giving them a toasted scent, and imparting the flavour to the tea. The kernels are very puffy and light and a bit chewy when you eat them.

I am embarassed to say that I am not sure if Wagokoro Izumi follows traditional kaiseki dish order, but it seems to fit, so I will try to slot dishes into the courses I think they are meant to be.

Sakizuke course (a starter, meant to awaken the palate): Ginko nut with a piece of soft shelled turtle, wasabi, yuzu and dashi aspic gelee
Ginkgo nuts are strange. The night before at a small izakaya we got a bar snack of roasted ginkgo nuts and were hooked. If you have ever had boiled peanuts, the texture is somewhat like that. Chewy, very nutty. They have a very starchy texture and are surprisingly filling. They were a nice counter to the gelee.

When I was looking at these photos, I told Mike I could not remember what fish this was. He said he thought Izumi-san said it was suppon, or soft shelled turtle. I was sure he was wrong, and wanted him to be, but when I looked up photos of the meat it seemed he was right. It was so tender that it could pass for a whitefish to be honest.

Along with the dish, we got a small saucer of Niigata nihon-shu, or sake. Niigata rice is said to be some of the best in Japan, so it makes sense that the sake made from it is delicious.

However, we also got a decanter of some local sake, and it came in this beautiful bottle. It seemed almost Turkish in style. Normally when dishware does not match, it drives me crazy, but I really appreciated every single piece that came out at Wagokoro Izumi. Probably because I knew the thought that went behind the choosing of each piece.

Futamono: (lidded soup course) matsutake mushrooms, yuzu and hamo eel
Next up was a soup made with matsutake mushrooms, piercingly clean tasting yuzu peel and a piece of hamo, or the locally famous pike eel which was just on its last seasonal legs – it is a very summery food here. Hamo is a very complex dish to serve, as it is riddled with coarse, thick bones and it takes skill to slice around them. The meat arrives like a puffy cloud of eel that blooms in the broth and is very beautiful. Matsutakes are almost meaty in their texture. Very dense, tasting and even when simmered in broth, smelling vaguely of pine. It is no wonder they sell for upwards of $2000 a kilo.

The broth itself was earthy and savoury, the very dictionary definition (if dictionaries were taste indexes!) of umami. The chef is said to think broth is very important and makes it a big component of his cooking.

Normally I am not a fan of laquerware, but if all my own personal dishes came inlaid with mother of pearl, I am sure I could come to love them. The dishes arrive closed, so that when you are ready, you open them and are enveloped in a cloud of scents and warmth, and get to see the elaborately decorated inside of the bowl lid. It is a delightful way to take in a soup.

Mukōzuke (sashimi): squid, young salmon, toro (fatty tuna)

A large ceramic “basket” was delivered next, full of crushed ice with pieces of sashimi sitting on top, hovering on a wire basket to keep the pieces from falling into melting ice. Fresh wasabi root and a fine salt accompanied the pieces, which were delicate and delectable. We were told to either combine wasabi and salt or wasabi and soy with the fish. Both had equally pleasing flavour enhancing qualities, but I think I prefered the salt and wasabi combination.

Hassun (seasonal main, means “Of the sea and mountains”, combines a variety of items): Kyoto style pressed mackerel oshisushi, salmon roe, chestnuts, seasonal vegetables, egg custard, fresh edamame, persimmon leaves

The pinnacle of the meal was the hassun course, which was the most autumnal dish, I thought. It consisted of pressed sushi, salty Hokkaido salmon roe in carved out young yuzu fruits, chestnuts, little pots of seasonal vegetables topped with bonito shavings, fresh edamame in their furry pods, and two pieces of baked (for 6 hours!), orangey eggy castella sponge cake (of Portugese influence) set amongst imperfect persimmon leaves. Pressed sushi is very much a Kansai-region style dish. This was mackerel layered onto rice and pressed.

When going through the photos I said to Mike, “I cannot believe they picked such ratty looking leaves to plate,” but then he reminded me of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. This is that imperfect things provide greater contemplation when meditating and are more visually interesting than perfect things.

From Wikipedia: “Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy and the suggestion of natural processes.”

In this case, I believe the leaves were chosen to highlight the changing of the seasons, which was very apparent during our visit to Kyoto, and is a very important part of the city’s identity.

Yakimono (broiled seasonal fish): Broiled ayu fish, locally harvested from Lake Biwa
The most fantastically presented dish, I thought, was the ayu fish “swimming upstream.” Like the sushi, they also came on a large ceramic basket, which was painted to look like waves were on it. The fish themselves were skewered and grilled in a swimming position and placed amongst pine. They came with a simple vinegar based seaweed sauce for dipping, and were eaten whole.

Unfortunately I thought this dish was the most disappointing in terms of flavours and textures. Crunchy and salty, sure, but I kept dipping and redipping the fish in the vinegar hoping to glean some more flavour from these little guys.

Naka-choko (palate cleanser): yuba with a dollop of ginger and shiso blossoms

Yuba, or curd of soybean, is a precursor to tofu and is best described as the “soymilk skin.” It is kind of slippery, like a thin yogurt. Very fresh and light. This was topped with tiny shiso blossoms and ginger.

Takiawase (vegetables with fish): abalone with leafy greens, yuzu peel and red pepper.

Rice pot

Gohan (“rice” course), Kō no mono (pickles) and Tome-wan (miso soup): Fine rice, roast beef, pickles, miso soup and mochi

Finally, our last dish was rice, served with a delicate roast beef and tsukemono, or pickles. The rice was really fantastic, and they left the entire “pot” with us to eat until we were full. We also got another lidded soup, with miso and mochi balls in it.

Mizumono (dessert): Seasonal fruits with sesame pudding
Dessert was a simple presentation of fruits, including three kinds of figs, melon and pear with a piece of sesame pudding. It had a great texture, somewhere between soft pudding, gummi candies and tofu.


And finally, the culmination of the meal, and supposedly the reason kaiseki exists; to be able to take in the strong matcha tea, which can be difficult on an empty stomach (so I am told.) Kaiseki was a way to help fill the stomach to consume the tea.
The tea service consisted of whisked thick matcha tea along side a matcha dusted okashi, or sweet. The matcha we got was some of the best tea I have had. I suspect this is because it was actually koicha; matcha made with more than normal amounts of powder to thicken it and also made with a higher grade, older matcha.
The sweet was a custard style filling, rolled in matcha. Sort of a petit fours service to close off the evening.

Shortly after we finished, Chef Izumi came in to visit and we said “gochisosamadeshita” many times or “thank you for the feast.” He was very humble. His wife and him followed us out into the street as we strolled away into the Kyoto night. We looked back one last time, and the couple bowed in unison, thanking us for taking part in their evening.
Here are some non food details, mostly pottery and serving ware photos

A rather stark arrangement in our dining room.

Individually wrapped toothpicks

Serving ware for the gohan course

Chopsticks

Pine plate for the ayu fish course

Adorable dancing man on the matcha tea cup

Beautiful tea pot for our mid dinner tea service; one of three kinds of tea we took in that evening.

The lampshade reflected on the table.

A scroll in the room we were seated in.



Wagokoro Izumi
Kyoto
京都府 京都市下京区四条新町下ル四条町366 四条敷島ビル 1F
Map

Closed Wednesdays, open for lunch (11:30~14:30, last order at 13:00) and dinner (17:30 ~ 21:30, last order at 19:30)
They do take credit cards

Food: Asia and japan and Travels18 Nov 2010 09:59 pm

This is a mini tour of Nishiki Market, a pretty touristy but very functional market in Kyoto.

Kyoto is known for its kyotosukemono; locally grown and produced pickles.

More pickles, this time to sample.

Unagi or anago; freshwater or saltwater eel, I cannot remember. Maybe someone can read the signs?

This is the season for chestnuts. The smell took me back to when I was first living overseas in east England when I was 10. My dad took me to Norwich on a particularly snowy day and everywhere, they were roasting chestnuts. It was something out of a Christmas card.

Lots of bubbling tanks keeping many creatures alive for purchase.

A single mushroom for about $25. These were not even the expensive matsutake (pine) mushrooms. The ones that were 30,000 Yen were not for photographing.

There are two kinds of matsutake, the best quality that are grown locally in Japan, and other that are grown in Taiwan, Korea or other countries and imported. These ones in the photo are the “real thing.”

Real wasabi root

Grilled mochi. It takes on a completely different texture when grilled, I hear.

Awesome beer ads

Overview of the covered market

Oden pieces steaming up

Lots of produce and various other Japanese ingredients. Despite all the people clicking photos, life was very much business as usual here as little grannies pushed through to get their items.

Mike got a home brewed ginger soda

Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels16 Nov 2010 10:11 pm

I realized the other day that I have yet to blog about what may be the most well known Japanese food in the world: sushi! It is not because I have not eaten it. In fact, I eat it atleast once a week, if not more. It shows up all over; at staff parties, izakayas, kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi joints, supermarkets… but we made a special point to eat it in Kyoto. We used the Michelin guide to steer us in the right direction, and it did no wrong. Using the hotel concierge`s help (which I highly recommend if you are coming to Japan for a visit) we booked a dinner reservation for omakase at Sushi Imai.

Sushi Imai is a bit special. So special there are no photos. This is not due to a technical malfunction, forgetting my camera or because we were asked not to take photos. It was a conscious, albeit difficult, decision.

I always feel somewhat bashful when I pull out my camera at any restaurant. Even more so at very intimate places where you stick out like a sore thumb to begin with. I have felt the same at Guy Savoy, Joël Robuchon’s Mansion and most very tiny, very busy restaurants here in Japan. It is a hard decision to make, because naturally these are the places I want to blag (blog + brag) about the most. I just could not bring myself to shoot the beautiful pieces of art chef Tomotaka Imai was putting out on the counter. While places like this beg to be blogged about, I still think it is one of the places best visited in person. And going to Sushi Imai can never be a bad decision.

So, I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the experience. Mostly I was mesmerized watching chef Imai with his knife and sharkskin grater. We ate many kinds of sushi that night: octopus boiled in cherry blossom broth (VERY Edomae style, but with a Kyoto twist from the sakura), fluffy fresh freshwater eel, abalone, gizzard shad, sea bream, egg stuffed with rice… We also made friends with the other eight diners there, including a family of three, a set of three friends or work colleagues and a couple compromised of a writer and a chef who took the bullet train from a few prefectures away just to eat at Sushi Imai. We all bonded over fish. And booze.

We all groaned when Mike hit his head on a low hanging rafter, we shared a bottle of champagne, we all ate our sushi right off of the counter with our fingers, we ooed and awed over the monkfish liver carved up infront of us. (it was turquoise green!) We all felt guilty after eating that.

Yeah right. Pretty sure only Mike and I felt bad after eating it. (Seriously, I wish I had communicated to the hotel concierge we did not want to eat certain kinds of fish.)

Sushi Imai is a Michelin starred sushi restaurant, one of a few in Kyoto. The other diners told us there was no other place better for sushi in Kyoto. Of course the sampling is probably a bit biased.

Perhaps this place is special because it serves Tokyo style sushi which is quite different from the famous pressed Kansai style sushi (which we also had.) Perhaps it is special because of the rice. The service. The thoughtful preparation of the fine fish.

Perhaps there is no “perhaps.” It is special because of all of these things. Go check it out, and remember to take photos with your mind. And tongue.


Omakase (chef’s choice) at lunch is 2100-4200 yen. Evenings, 8400 yen. A la carte will rack up to 13000 yen both times.

Sushi Imai
Map
Sushi Imai is the basement of a rather unremarkable white tiled office building. Look for the noren and entrance, below.
lunch from 12:00 to 14:00
dinner from 17:00 to 22:00
Closed Wednesdays. Make reservations; there are not many seats.

The one photo I took, of the exterior

This is the noren, or curtain to look for.

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