Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward
Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0825 Japan
Dining date: 10/29/16
One of the most notable dining styles in Kyoto is a kaiseki meal, a traditional dining experience featuring individual small plates using local and seasonal ingredients (not unlike a western tasting menu). The presentation are often as intricate as the foods – everything is thoughtfully presented and made to look beautiful. While in Kyoto, I visited one of the most well-known examples of kaiseki at Michelin three-star Kikunoi.
Each party that dines here sits in one of the 11 private dining rooms with a view of the grounds’ scenery, creating a very unique experience. It felt, at first, kind of weird being in a private room as a party of 2 but I quickly got used to it.
Poached monkfish liver, mibuna and shimeji mushroom, karasumi (dried mullet roe), kuwai (arrowhead root) chips, duck liver pate with white poppy seeds, maple leaf-shaped cuttlefish with egg yolk and pickled sea urchin; pine needle-shaped tea noodles, sake-glazed gingko nuts, edible kombu seaweed basket
This beautiful opening plate signaled autumn with a myriad of earthy flavors and textures. The creamy monkfish liver and the edible seaweed basket were my favorites.
Yuzu tofu, yuzu miso sauce, diced yuzu
Here, a warm tofu was topped with a miso and yuzu zest, creating bites that were both creamy and rich, yet still a little bright.
Sashimi of tai (red sea bream) and managatsuo (silver pomfret), ponzu jelly, wasabi, vinegared chrysanthemum petals, mixed sprouts, curled udo stalk and carrot
Sashimi was next, featuring two kinds – tai (sea bream), with a bit of a chew and clean flavor, and managatsuo (silver pomfret) with a more tender bite.
Sashimi of koshibi (young bluefin tuna), mustard, soy-marinated egg yolk sauce
Rich slices of bluefin tuna were bathed in a very savory egg yolk soy sauce. Delicious.
Red tilefish steamed with chestnuts and millet, baby daikon radish tied with kintoki carrot, yuzu peel, chrysanthemum sauce
Warm tilefish was comforting amidst the chestnuts and millet in a creamy chrysanthemum sauce.
Mandarin orange-wasabi sorbet
A palate cleanser, featuring a really interesting orange-wasabi sorbet, was very refreshing.
Barracuda grilled in cedar, sudachi lime
Brought to the table still smoking, the barracuda carried much of the imbued smoke flavor while fresh squeezed sudachi provided fresh acidity to the bites.
Duck breast grilled with sansho pepper, candied walnut
Duck breast was paired up with mouth tingling sansho pepper and candied walnuts. I thought the sweet walnut pairing worked very well with the duck.
Salad of persimmon, daikon radish, carrot, chrysanthmum petals, mitsuba herb with vinegared sesame dressing, yuzu, marinated macherel, ginger
A light salad was next, featuring marinated mackerel and a yuzu-sesame dressing.
Hot pot of spanish mackerel, poached turnip, ebi taro, kintoki carrot, baby field greens, tofu, yuzu, ponzu, grated radish with red pepper, green onion
Tender slices of mackerel were bathed in the hot pot with some root vegetables and tofu. Each piece was dipped into the ponzu before eating, while the resulting soup was just as savory.
Mochi rice with salmon roe, fermented black bean paste skewered on pine needles, napa cabbage soup, pickled thistle root and turnip greens, green gourd pickled in sake lees
The rice dish featured fresh salmon roe atop warm rice – a simple pairing.
Brown sugar and roasted green tea ice cream with persimmon cake
A delicious brown sugar and roasted green tea ice cream, paired with persimmon cake, and yuzu jelly provided the sweet part of the meal.
Finally, a bowl of matcha completed the meal.
The dining experience at Kikunoi was one of the most memorable I’ve had. The food was good, very good, though perhaps not quite at the level of some of my favorite kaiseki meals that I’ve had in Japan. Experiencing Japanese hospitality here was something else. From the moment we removed our shoes and were escorted to the private dining room, the service was so gracious, courteous and respectful. We felt like VIPs for an evening.