Kaika (Tokyo, Japan)

Kaika
Kojun Building 4F
6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 11/13/12

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Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine centered around an iron griddle, where chefs prepare a number of courses right in front of the diner. It’s not exactly a style steeped in tradition (it began in the 20th century), often incorporating a number of Western ingredients into the cooking. The most famous teppanyaki restaurant in America has to be Benihana, which introduced the style; as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve been to a teppanyaki meal outside of Benihana. Well, until now.

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Often nicknamed “Japanese steakhouses,” a teppanyaki restaurant was an ideal place for me to get my hands on some wagyu – Japanese beef. The super-marbled breed of beef has been almost impossible to get in America, given it was banned from U.S. imports almost three years ago (though the ban was recently lifted!). I’ve only had true Japanese wagyu a handful of times (the most memorable being at CUT on my college graduation day), and it’s unmistakable richness really differentiates it from high-grade USDA Prime or even cross-bred American wagyu beef.

Kaika was selected by a few Tokyo locals for a dinner in Ginza. Expectantly, a meal centered around this type of beef wasn’t cheap with set menus ranging from ¥12,600 to ¥25,200. I would’ve been content with some steaks and a bowl of rice, though the prix-fixe menus didn’t really allow that. I went on the low-end of the range and elected to upgrade my beef option to the highest one available – a sirloin from Kagoshima.

madai (red snapper) sashimi

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The first course was a sashimi course of red snapper marinated in kombu (kelp). It had a very mild flavor, complemented by seaweed and the earthiness and texture of small kernels of popcorn, still on the stem.

At this point, the raw beef came out to be displayed at the counter. It was quite a sight, displaying the rich veins of marbling characteristic of the breed. Even the filet (on the right) had fantastic marbling.

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sweet potato puree

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A sweet and creamy sweet potato soup arrived next, nicely displaying the in-season root vegetable.

A seafood course was next.

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tiger prawn in brain sauce; suzuki (sea bass) with tomato and couscous

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I enjoyed the prawn with the crunchy head, though found the brain sauce to not be as flavorful as expected. The dense, meaty sea bass was cooked pretty well, and I enjoyed the tomatoes and what I think was Israeli couscous that came along with it.

onion chawanmushi

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The delicate sweetness of the onion came through in the light custard.

Awaiting the next course, we could see the meat being cooked on the teppan.

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salad of cherry tomato, burdock root, lotus root

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Refreshing cherry tomatoes, romanesco and some root vegetables came with a sesame dressing, plain and simple.

wagyu sirloin with sauteed vegetables

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Finally, the pièce de résistance. The meat was as I remembered from years ago, exceedingly fatty and rich though still with a good beefy flavor. It was kind of ridiculous how rich it was; I could only eat this in relatively small portions and definitely not a big steak of it. Marbling-wise, it was truly a step up from New Zealand wagyu or any of the American wagyu found domestically. Texture-wise, it was similar to a seared foie gras in its succulent melt-in-your-mouth richness.

fried rice with fish; japanese pickles

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The final savory course was an under-seasoned fried rice with tiny dried fish served with miso soup.

azuki bean ice cream, black sesame chiffon cake

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Lastly, we enjoyed a pretty solid dessert with a subtle sesame flavor in a light and airy chiffon cake. The ice cream was a little overly icy, but had good red bean flavor. The fruits were pretty tasty too.

I’m glad I was able to experience the over-the-top fatty richness of the beef; food-wise this was one of the highlights of my trip in Japan. The rest of the courses were pretty decent though nothing special (not that I was expecting them to be). Similar to the sushi/kaiseki/tempura meals I had, the counter experience was exciting. It was fun to be able to watch everything in action, and the chef spoke pretty good English allowing us to have some dialogue.