Sunday, August 5, 2018

Kyoto Kappo Dinner

Thank God Jiki Miyazawa wasn’t that far away from the metro station when I had to brave the rain to walk to the restaurant for my dinner on the second night of my Kyoto trip this time. I made the reservation at this Michelin-starred restaurant just a few days before my trip and glad that they could accommodate with such last minute notice. The restaurant was just tucked away right behind the main street of Shijo Dori and the shopping district (and not far from the Nishiki Market too) so it’s very easy to find.

Walking through the entrance on the side street, I was led into the dining area and seated in front of the kitchen counter, joining another group of 4. I love the setting of the restaurant, cozy but not tight, with the light wooden theme completed with the long hinoki counter that can seat up to 10 in full capacity. Behind the counter was Chef Takatomo Izumi and his team working.

I went for the deluxe omakase set which was only a couple thousand yen more than the regular one, and after picking my drink (I start with a small carafe of sake), the dinner service began. First up was a cold appetizer – a palate cleanser of sort – served in a glass bowl, with squid topped with tomato granita and shiso flower, and watermelon and vinegar underneath. The dish was served with a small glass of sweet sake as welcome drink. The nice balance of sweetness and acidity worked just fine for this hot weather.

Summer is Hamo (Pike Conger) season in Kyoto and it’s the main ingredient used in my second course, which was served in a lidded lacquer bowl, with a couple piece of boiled hamo served with togan (winter melon), dashi, and a light brush of sudachi zest which was a great touch to the otherwise mild-flavored dish. Overall it has a clean flavor and tastes from individual components came through in harmony. It worked well with the sake I picked as well, floral, slightly sweet and crisp.

A couple of seafood dishes were then served, each on an antique porcelain deep dish. First was nodoguro (blackthroat sea perch), slightly grilled on the skin and served with uni (sea urchin) from Aomori, finely chopped onions and a splash of sake and vinegar dressing. The chef explained to me that the fish went through aging for 6 days which intensify the flavor. The fatty fish plus the creamy uni rounded up the overall texture nicely, and worked well with the other ingredients that accompanied the dish. Next was thin slices of tuna that went through 6 days of aging and then served with finely-chopped chives, and a thick, gravy-like, kuzu and soy sauce. Chef then showed me a note written in English explaining the special way of aging called Shinkei-jime which involved killing the fish instantly upon catching and severing its nerves (and drained the blood and removed all inner bodies plus the tail) to prevent/delay rigor mortis and allow the fat changed into umami flavor in the aging process without affecting the meat texture. Of course they are not the only one that used this aging method but I was glad the chef took time to explain to us the process of preparation which he’s very proud of. And both dishes were excellent, showing good pairing of ingredients with the fresh, and rich umami tastes from the fish.

The next course was almost like an intermission, with goma tofu served as a savory course. But instead of the custard-like dish in the dessert version, this one was toasted in open fire for the crispy crust, then served with sesame sauce and grounded sesame powder on top. I loved the mellow flavor from the sesame in various shapes and forms, and the creamy bloc of goma tofu with the texture resembling mocha more than regular tofu. It is quite something using such a straight forward combination of ingredients, and no wonder this is the signature dish of the restaurant.

I continued with a few more seafood dishes – first a mochigome (sticky rice) roll with unagi (freshwater eel) and edamame (and a brush of soy sauce ifnside) wrapped in a piece of nori. “It’s not sushi”, as reiterated by Chef Izumi. It has a good hint of smokiness from that of the eel and the sticky rice gave it a good bite. Then it was a couple pieces of grilled sawara (Spanish Mackeral) which has been aged for one week, served with a burdock puree and deep-fried burdock on top. It has a smoky flavor with a hint of bitterness from that of the burdock.

My next course was grilled baby ayu with diced cucumbers and grated kurasumi (dried mullet roes). The fish was perfectly cooked, and the cucumbers gave it a refreshing touch with the crunchy texture, and kurasumi added to the umami taste. It’s followed by the chilled corn soup served in a Ming Dynasty mini tea cup, topped with deep-fried husk. Despite the creamy texture, Chef Izumi explained there’s only one ingredient in the soup: corn, and nothing else. It’s just pure sweetness from the corn which is right in season.

I barely passed halfway through the dinner at this point, and many more courses were on its way. A grilled manganji pepper was served as whole, and inside was stuffed with hamaguri (clam) and the pepper trapped in all the juices from the clams – like a “xiaolongbao”, as chef said, referring to the famous Shanghainese dumpling with the soup inside. It’s the first time I had this combination using one of the in-season Kyoto vegetables (Kyo-yasai) and it’s enjoyable, combining the grassy flavor of the pepper with the umami burst from the clams. The presentation of the next course was interesting, with Hokkaido hairy crab (kegani) served with dried edamame yuba and egg sauce on a burnt wooden dish. The crunchy yuba sheet and the creamy egg sauce on top seems to bring out the best of the umami flavor of the picked crab meat.

The Wagyu is one of the few dishes where no seafood was involved. A piece of grilled wagyu ribeye was cooked medium-rare and served with a dab of baked orange sauce. With most of the seafood served went through delicate aging process, Chef Izumi cheekily told me that while the wagyu was not aged, the orange was aged for one month this time. Don’t know what aging do to the orange, but it did has a very intense color and taste. And the last course was prawn served with broiled kamo nasu (Kyoto eggplant) with drizzle of shrimp essence sauce made with all the shrimp “trimmings” (head, shell and all). I could live with a richer sauce but this one has a very clean flavor which maybe worked better with the eggplant.

Chef Izumi brought out the large clay casserole from the kitchen with cooked rice inside. But he only gave us a small dollop of rice each time in a bowl, and told us that it’s going to be served in multiple servings and each time the taste’s going to be different, despite this being the same pot of rice. My first bowl resembles the texture of porridge with distinct sweetness, and the subsequent bowls seem to be grew in richness and complexity in flavor – amazingly. And chef also passed us the plate of pickles and pot of whitebaits for the rice as well. It’s a very interesting experience trying rice in different stages with changing tastes.

To end the meal, it’s a plate of mango with white wine jelly, and bowl of matcha (prepared by the chef himself) with a small monaka (with azuki bean paste inside) as “petit fours”. As in any Kyoto kappo meal, choice of tableware played almost as important a part as the choice of ingredients and cooking, and I was impressed with the fine ceramic pieces that were used throughout the meal, especially the wood-fired rice bowl, and the matcha bowl of Oribe-style in dark glazes. Some of them looked like they went back to as long as early Edo period or even older - that's a few centuries ago. It’s so good to look at and felt warm to hold and appreciate them up close.

More pictures on my Flickr album:

When? July 4 2018
Where? Jiki Miyazawa, 553-1 Yaoyacho Nakagyo-ku Kyoto
じき宮ざわ 京都市中京区堺町四条上ル東側八百屋町553-1
Menu Highlights? Yaki-gomatofu
Drink? Zaku Megumi no Tomo Nakadori Junmai Ginjo - Shimizu Seizaburo Shoten, Mie Prefecture
作 恵乃智 中取り純米吟醸 三重県清水清三郎商店

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