Monday, October 10, 2016

Ki-sho Singapore - 3rd & 4th visit

After a couple of years since my last visit, Ki-sho (whose name means "Aristocratic Craftsmanship") seems no longer to be a hidden gem among foodies. For instance, during my 3rd visit that fell on Friday, the counter was fully occupied (12 diners max). Moreover, the two private rooms upstairs, comfortably accommodating 20 people or so, were also full and often noisy. Several Italian and German sport cars (nearly 10 of those) were found at the Ki-sho's relatively big parking space. Despite a very busy & crowded evening, the affable and capable Head chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto did not look panic at all. He looked totally in control of the whole situation; he still managed to engage with every single guest in the sushi bar more than once. At the same time, he was also preparing several plates of nigiri sushi himself for diners in the private rooms. It's always fun when you can have a great meal and concurrently you could observe how the chef(s) preparing the food.

This report was a delayed report of my last 2 meals at Ki-sho. Both of them, as expected, were excellent. In these subsequent visits, I had a chance to savor plenty of new savory creations by Chef Hamamoto (including sushi variations). The omakase at Ki-sho truly fits my Japanese cuisine taste: Kyoto-style & seasonal kaiseki dishes; Edomae + sometimes innovative sushi (serving arguably the best "kai/shell" morsel in the island); lots of uni & toro, Japanese wagyu beef and western high quality / luxurious ingredients. I'm not sure where I could find all of those combinations in one place, not only in Asia but also in the whole world. Although Michelin Singapore guide decided to 'ignore' this place this year, I doubt it would change my view of Ki-sho. This will remain my main dining destination when I visit Singapore. Given Kazuhiro-san's passion, skills and drive for excellence, I expect every meal(s) I will have at Ki-sho in the future will consistently still be exquisite. In the mean time, these were my other omakase reports ...

3rd meal - Nov '15        


Appetizer 1: Home made yuba, black pumpkin and shaved white truffle - Served with tonburi, gingko and wasabi. A vegetarian dish introducing several different layers of textures and flavors. The yuba was creamy & nutty; the pumpkin was delicate; the dark color seed had caviar-like texture. The alba truffle added decent pungent aroma & flavor while the wasabi put a little kick. There were so many things in such a small bowl ...  
Appetizer 2: Hotate and tara shirako 'sauce' - Served with ikura and radish. Another seasonal opening - the fresh hotate with its natural flavor was combined with mild & sweet cod milt, tasty salmon egg and some vegetables (kelp, mountain yam). It was pleasant and balanced; overall, the dish was not cloying at all

(Shredded) Seiko gani served with uni, egg jelly, nori, and gari in yuzu sauce - The 'queen crab' might be smaller than its male counterpart, nevertheless it was about as good in particular when it's integrated with the umami flavors of sea urchin, fresh sour jelly + yuzu as well as seaweed + ginger. A delicious and refreshing dish - it seduced my palate that made me 'wanting' for more food
Tai Sashimi served with shaved white truffle - Simple and delicious! The top quality & subtle raw sea bream was integrated by aromatic and 'woody' Alba truffle. An excellent match of the sea and the earth

Soup: Kabu with grilled nodoguro - A clean, clear and delectable broth with some Tai flavor. The Kyoto turnip was fresh & mild but deep in flavor while the nicely grilled (black throat) sea perch was awesome: fragrant & crisp skin, tender & meaty flesh - simply delicious
Grilled Hokkaido Shishamo - The (salt water) Willow leaf fish/Smelt was crunchy and it still had its liver and plenty of eggs inside. First time eating this ... It had a fine flavor with no sign of any bitterness; the eggs were surprisingly tasty. An enjoyable dish

Shirako tempura - A saver/less adventurous way to enjoy the Japanese delicacy of Cod sperm sac. Nevertheless, it was well executed. The milt was lightly battered and piping hot; inside, it was still milky and smooth with natural sweetness and enough hint of the sea. Liked it - the purist may prefer if the shirako is uncooked (often served with ponzu) to have a more burst of creamy & richer flavor
Toriyama beef sukiyaki served with leeks, Nagoya cochin eggs and shaved white truffle - The beef (from Gunma prefecture) was very tender and delicious. By itself, it's already good but Kazuhiro-san brought an additional dimension to this traditional dish by adding luxurious shaved & earthy truffles and more humble & effective leeks to bring down any "richness"


Shiro ebi (White / glass shrimps) - well marinated, sweet with tender texture
Kinmedai (Splendid alfonsino) - delicate with plenty of 'fat' and (subtle) umami flavor
Akami zuke (Marinated lean tuna) - aging for 17 days. Beautiful red color with smooth texture and delicious taste; matched well with the sushi-meshi
Botan ebi (Botan shrimp) - fresh, very sweet and juicy

'Kotoro' (In between Chu and O toro) - great color in soft texture (buttery and melt in the mouth) as well as tasty + quite fatty
Buri (A mature Yellow tail from Sado island) - aged for 1 week. It was fatty with deep flavor
O-toro ("Fatties" part of tuna belly) - aged for 17 days. A very fine and marbled piece; as expected it was luxurious, flavorful and 'melting'
Taraba-gani (Charcoal grill king crab) - served generously. I prefer consuming this delicious crab in nigiri sushi form. The hot king crab was contrasted with the room-temperature shari; the thick meat was indeed satisfying. Love this piece very much!

Grilled Nodoguro (Rosy sea bass/sea perch) - Chef Hamamoto was a bit playful here; he also put (in small portion) of preserved yuzu, sea salt and green chili to balance the rich, fat and flavorful nodoguro. The skin was fragrant and tasty too
Buri Otoro (Grilled fatty Tuna) - By doing this, the fat (& muscle) of the toro became even softer. It's literally melting and bursting with umami flavor in my mouth. Raw or grilled? Why choose if you can have both ways ..
Hida-gyu roll - Served with bafun uni, slow cooked egg yolk and wasabi. What can I say? Simply exquisite ... These (sinful) combination generated harmonious and delicious experience: moist & smokey beef, sweet sea urchin, salty yolk and a 'kick' from wasabi. Wow!

Mirugai (Giant clam) - firm and crunchy, at the same time it was distinctly sweet with light sea flavor
Tsubugai (Whelk / Ezobora sushi) - crunchy, refreshing with ocean's sweetness
Anago (Roasted conger eel with sweet sauce aka tsume) - It was really soft and very flavorful rich but not cloying


Bafun uni gohan served with ikura, shiro ebi, chopped toro and wasabi - A very decadent dish! It was one of Ki-sho's classic dish. A heavenly "risotto" was enhanced by flavor burst of salmon roe, sweet small shrimp, fatty tuna and fresh green horseradish. Pretty much perfect ...
Chopped raw Awabi served with red abalone's liver paste, sea urchin, rice, and wasabi - Chef Hamamoto generally prefers his abalone served raw due to its freshness and crunchy texture. Mixed all of the ingredients above for the fantastic experience in the palate - crisp awabi, sweet uni, creamy & delicate liver, vinegared shari and slightly hot wasabi - this instantly became one of my favorite items at Ki-Sho
Kyoto white miso soup served with goma tofu - The soup was tasty and a bit mild; it went along well with the thicker but smooth sesame bean curd. This implied that the adventure was about to end

4th meal - Jun '16   


Appetizer 1: Ayu, junsai, ikura and (late) Spring vegetables - Eating something refreshing to tantalize our palate at the beginning was an 'ideal' way to begin a meal. Here, the sweetfish was fresh and uncooked with its unique mild taste. Ayu acted as a supporting element to the a mix bowl consisting of oily salmon roe, "water shield" in slimy texture, okra, stem yam, green peas and radish. Now, I'm ready for a lot more food ..
Appetizer 2: (Hokkaido) Hairy crab and reduction jelly sauce - Served with fava beans, uni, yuzu, sudachi and (Murasaki) uni. The Kegani meat was rather sweet; nicely enhanced by the jelly (crab + botan ebi) and velvety tasty sea urchin. The rich taste was balanced by the Japanese lime and citrus as well as wasabi - very good  

Soup: Tilefish, winter melon and egg tofu - The dashi was mild and elegant. The lightly cooked Amadai, served with its crisp skin, was delicious; the (Okinawa) Tougan was watery and soaked up the flavored soup well; the tofu was very soft and thankfully not so eggy. I enjoyed this dish 
Assorted sashimi of the day - I believe this was my favorite sashimi selection at Ki-sho (I skipped it during the previous meal). I had: binchotan grilled Kinki fish - tender, fragrant and tasty, Tachiuo? fish - a bit firm, Otoro - marbled and buttery, Shima aji - crunchy and flavorful, and Tai + Uni - chewy sea bream integrated by sweet smooth sea urchin. Tough to pick which one was the best

Uni caviar jelly - The Murasaki sea urchin was, as always, of high quality with creamy, intense and heavenly flavors. The vinegar jelly not only ensured to bring harmony in the dish, but also 'deepened' the uni taste. The caviar added some saltiness while sweet corn, beans, and shiso flower put some texture / taste variations. To fully enjoy it, one should scoop deep and savor every unique delicious layer upon layer. By the way, this was one of Ki-sho's signature dishes and deservedly so
Grilled Ayu served with tade-zu - The (river fish) ayu, simply grilled with salt, was crunchy and slightly bitter but still tasty. It was accompanied by a herbs sauce made of water pepper, vinegar and sake. The bitter plant actually complimented the bitterness of sweetfish liver. Consumed together, they created somewhat sweet flavor and supposedly was also good for our digestion

Amadai and Awabi served with kamo nasu in wakame soup - The Tilefish was perfectly cooked, so was the steamed abalone (some texture contrast of tender fish vs more chewy abalone). The dense flesh Kyoto eggplant was deep and rich while the soup filled with fresh seaweed was tasty. All the elements worked well together to produce a very delicious dish. One of my favorite kaiseki dishes for the evening
White asparagus puree served with Nodoguro and egg tofu - The puree was flavorful and a bit dense. The simmered Seaperch was tender and tasty; the tofu was even softer and blended nicely with asparagus' flavor. Overall, a tasty dish and not too rich - good!


Isaki (Chicken grunt fish; kind of Seabass) - it was lean and delicate yet still tasty. First time eating this fish
Akami zuke (Marinated lean tuna) - aged for 2 weeks. The color was bright and beautiful, more importantly it's delectable
Chutoro (Medium fatty tuna) - aged for 8 days and sliced from relatively small fish. It was marbling, rich and cleanly delicious. I was served this piece twice
Hotate (Scallop + a pinch of salt) - The texture was consistently soft and the(Fatty) tuna collar - a little bit seared. It was marbled and heavenly with concentrated & rich flavor  salt intensified the scallop's sweet flavor

Aji (Horse mackerel) - a bit chewy but fatty; it's awesome. The ginger made it less fishy. Eating Aji around summer time was very pleasant
Kinmedai (Golden eye snapper) - smooth, savory and tender
Torigai (Heart clam) - crunchy and naturally sweet. It's the last week of this cockle's availability
Shiro ebi (White shrimps) - decent with plenty of sweet flavors, well complemented the shari

Japara? ("Snake tuna belly") - probably the most interesting morsel of the night. It had the best characters of Chutoro and Otoro combined. Marbled, delicious, (somewhat) melting yet we could still chew and savor its delicious flavor
Nodoguro (Blackthroat Seaperch) - lightly charred. It's rich, tender and oily/fatty in a positive sense
Otoro (Fatty tuna belly) - bursting of umami flavor in the mouth. Excellent

Uni (Sea urchin) - this one came from near Hakodate area. It's velvety, creamy and sweet; in non-gunkan version
Akagai (Ark shell) - a typical Edomae sushi. The red clam was delicious (sweet and slightly bitter) and somewhat resilient in texture 
Kama toro (Fatty tuna collar) - a little bit seared. It was marbled and heavenly with concentrated and rich flavor

Kampyo maki (Dried gourd) - cooked with soy sauce and sugar, roll (with extra wasabi). A good flavor variations: sweet & sour with an extra spice from the wasabi; often underrated
Tuna roll (A mixture of chopped maguro, chutoro and otoro) - Tuna 'party' - marbled fatty tuna, flavorful medium fatty tuna and smooth texture of lean tuna - beautifully wrapped with tasty shary and crunchy seaweed
Anago (Conger eel) - very soft with light sweet sauce. A satisfying ending ..

-Japanese musk melon (sweet and watery) with granite
-Warabi mochi, matcha chocolate and hojicha monaka: good dessert; well execute in both flavor and texture

The cooking at Ki-sho is consistently performed at a very high level. I've tested it for several times in the past 3 years at different seasons. Another visit in the future be very likely. The service was always professional, polite and discreet. Staffs sincerely cared though a good 'relationship' might not be built until after 2-3 visits. The most fun part about Ki-sho's hospitality was to have a direct conversation with Chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto himself. During my 3rd meal, I had a chance to order the house brand sake (in a small portion) as well - sweet, fragrant and slightly spicy. Another aspect stood out about Ki-sho was actually its 2-storey black & white building. It was hidden in a plush & serene sanctuary not too far from the Sheraton hotel. Inside, the decor was meticulously designed by Japanese artists. The sushi bar table was elegant, accompanied by 'golden' wall paper. Upon entering the building, there was a zen-style garden. The foyer was quite big and felt peaceful - as if you're instantly transferred to Japan.  

For pictures, you can see from the following links: Third meal and Fourth meal

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96/100

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restaurant Frantzén Stockholm

If any of you have had any meals at restaurants bearing 2-star Michelin or more, except for the case of Japan, it's almost certain that the dining room would be quite large and rather opulent. I did not do thorough research about Frantzén that as my parents and I entered the restaurant, I found the dining room to be unexpectedly small (in particular, size-wise when compared to Geranium, in which we had dinner at on the previous night): including the kitchen, the total area was probably no more than 60 m2 while its capacity could cover approximately 20 diners. However given its reputation plus a word of 'encouragement' from our taxi driver that this place at Gamla stan had been the best restaurant in Stockholm, I approached this meal with confidence. Since there were 3 of us, we were seated at the dining table - the chairs were just nice and the round table was covered by crisp white linens, the usual standard of an elite restaurant. In addition to a few tables, there was a counter seated 6-7 guests directly facing the (open) kitchen where one could see chefs prepared the dishes live. Chef Björn Frantzén believes that there should be no or very minimal borders between the dining room and the kitchen. Thus, consistent to the philosophy, in Frantzen, all staffs (chefs, waiters and sommeliers) would wear the same uniforms. Some chefs would also serve and explain certain dishes to diners including doing the a la minute plating. This way, chef Frantzen and his team were able to directly monitor the progress of every group and cook the dishes accordingly at the right pace. 

Restaurant Frantzén offered one degustation menu only, so guests are not only welcome but also encouraged to share their dietary concerns when making the reservation; these would be re-confirmed before the meal started. There were options to pair the food with wine selection or juices. I chose neither and opted to drink 2 glasses of wine: a glass of fresh and crisp Sauvignon blanc from Loire valley as well as a glass of relatively young red Burgundy of Domaine de la Grand' cour. My father selected the juice pairing which the matching I thought was not as good as the one I had at Geranium. As far as the food's concerned, we had an exquisite meal taking place during the last day of the week, prior to the long Passover weekend break - in short, we're quite lucky secure the reservation. It was a full house affair; advance reservation is a must to have a meal here. Our tasting menu were ...

Deep fried potatoes served with sour cream and fish roes - A very good opening that highlighted texture contrasts. It combined crunchy and earthy fried potato with light cream and salty 'tobiko' 
Chawanmushi: Cauliflower, king crab and truffle - The egg custard was warm, tasty & silky. The sweet Norwegian crab added a new dimension, moreover, this dish was enhanced by an effective use of pungent black truffle. Nice! 
Seared live Scallop in "dashi" with finger lime and spruce tips - The Norwegian scallop, seared on one side only, was superb and perfectly cooked. It was pure, naturally tasty and sweet; accompanied by pine olive, aromatic spruce and sweet powder. Excellent! After that, we were given a small bowl of Japanese dashi: it's refreshing and made of the usual authentic ingredients such as seaweed, kelp etc. My parents really liked this dish

Deep fried Langoustine with dried rice and clarified butter mayonnaise - Another excellent food. The langoustine tail, sourced from West of Norway, was deep fried for a short time. This way, the big prawn still maintained its pleasant texture and allowed its delicious flavor to shine. Instead of regular sushi rice, Chef Frantzen used dried rice to make it 'crispier'. Since the langoustine was already flavorful, I believe it's best to apply only a small amount of butter mayo (flavored with a mixture of lemon and dried herbs) ... Unless you love this 'sauce' very much 
Oscietra Caviar "gold" with fermented yellow split peas, rendered bacon & smetana - The 'golden' caviar was from China but the quality was not inferior at all. I quite enjoyed this course though I found the fresh cream/smetana, bacon and peas were somewhat too rich and intense that they slightly dominated the caviar

Cod served with sprouted walnut, champignon de paris and whipped vin jaune - A fresh and refined piece of fish; the caramelized Cod loin was soft, light and clean in the palate. The sauce (made of fermented mushrooms, Jura wine and butter) complemented the sea creature nicely. The earthy champignon provided a contrast of the earth vs the sea. My father's favorite item of the night 
French toast "grande tradition" with black truffle and 100 year-old vinegar - It was ethereal ... A feast of all senses. The Umbria black truffles, served generously, gave the right amount of pungent smells as well as distinct flavor. Underneath the black diamonds was a french toast with onion, parmesan cream and a little bit of strong vinegar from Modena. I finished it in 2 bytes and also consumed another half of my mother's. One of my best dishes during this dinner 
Onion soup served with almonds and liquorice cream - A soft and creamy soup displaying several layers of goodness; delicious indeed and perhaps looked underrated   

Satio tempestas (homage Lars feddeck and Jan anderson) - A signature dish of Frantzen and probably the only one that appears all year long but the content was very seasonal (changes weekly or sometimes even daily) supplied by the local forest and the restaurant's two gardens. This time, there were 46 ingredients and some of them: Deep fried artichokes, red beet, poached pumpkin, orange/yellow carrot, pickled apple, roasted onion, raw nasturtium, pickled dill etc. For the 'dressings', I could taste a combination for fresh cream and herbs sauce. These things created magnificent interplay of color, textures, flavor and temperatures. As its name suggest, it was a dish that brought satisfaction in our palates based on seasonal vegetables served. Every byte was different and it's tasty
Grilled bread - An iconic bread of the restaurant, made from 14-year old sourdough. The bread was good, but even better was to pair it together with the smoked brown butter emulsion - stunning! The best bread during our Euro trip this year and I nearly consumed half of it. Had Frantzén served it at the beginning, I would've overeaten this bread and possibly less enjoyed the tasting menu

Duck with caramelized lemon, liver, cinnamon and dates - A well executed duck (from Loire valley); the meat was quite delicate and tasty. The liver was creamy and rich. The lemon, cinnamon and dates balance the flavorful duck. A decent one ...
Swedish beef served with fermented pumpkin, rowan berry capers and carrot "hot sauce" - This second meat dish was even better. The 5-year old local beef was perfectly cooked in medium rare resulting in a tender, juicy and scrumptious piece of meat. The sauce gave some interesting variation but not very critical to the overall enjoyment as the beef was simply delicious! 

Smoked ice cream with roasted nuts, tar syrup and salted fudge with cloves - This dessert was quite good except it was a bit too sweet/rich to my liking (especially the toffee 'sauce'). Ice cream + chocolate with something crunchy & sweet after any main course were usually enjoyable
Frozen yuzu with mandarin 'confit', green tea meringue and sea buckthorn oil - Beautiful presentation. Inside was a soft sponge cake in contrast to the crisp 'white pikes' outside. It's good to finally have a refreshing and more acidic stuff to bring down the previous dish's sweetness
Bento box with "fika" - Lots of sweets. I settled with: bitter chocolate with berry ganache, toffee with hazelnut (gold), ginger marmalade, almond chocolate, goat cheese fudge and buckwheat canele. It should be nice to savor these with a cup of (strong) coffee. There were also freshly baked sugar coated madeleines; they were warm, well executed and good

The hospitality at Restaurant Frantzén was impeccable. Staffs took pride in what they're doing and they all seemed to be happy serving the customers. As they were dressed in the same way, you're welcome to talk to everyone and they generally were very knowledgeable and professional. Our main lady maitre d' could not be friendlier and more helpful during the whole evening. She's unpretentious and able to address all of our questions and concerns as well as adapted her style to make sure we're very comfortable and had a great time. She said it's normal these days to have guests visiting Frantzen from around the globe and the establishment took enormous pride for it. That's why it was extremely important that every guest would be satisfied at the end of the meal. I wish I had remember her name to give some recognition of great service rendered.

Frantzén team delivered the most immaculate service among the top restaurants we visited during our Euro trip this year. Besides the service, ultimately, the main star had to be the food. Björn Frantzén masterfully served us an array of delicious dishes one after another. He 'easily' blended French technique with Japanese influence and used fresh & high quality ingredients, mainly sourced locally and from Scandinavia area. Freshness was not merely a cheap talk here; Chef Frantzén's open kitchen concept made it possible to prepare & cook everything closely to his guests. Therefore, the short distance and time from the chefs' hands to the guests' mouth would make the dishes be consumed optimally. It was common to observe some life seafood to be slaughtered on the spot. Another aspect of Frantzen's expertise was flavor combinations. Sometimes, the ingredients mentioned in the description might not be immediately obvious because they often generated subtle taste or gave some depth to the main ingredients' flavor. Given the head chef's adventurous nature and intelligence, it's unlikely that diners would be bored to have a meal here even for a repeated visit. I don't know when, but I really hope this will not be my only meal at Frantzén. Next time, I can expect to enjoy the tasting menu at a much better and comfortable dining room. Here are the picture of the dishes: Frantzen Mar '16

Food: 96 pts

Service: 96 pts

Overall: 96/100

Saturday, July 9, 2016

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 5th visit

L'Ambroisie is certainly one of the finest restaurants in the world, yet at the same time it's possibly one of the least publicized fine dining places - thanks to Bernard Pacaud's rather shy personality; he loves staying in the kitchen all the time and could not care less about any media attention. For Chef Pacaud to show up at his own dining room and greet guests, it would be a rare occasion. He would rather observe the situation from a distance. However, for true foodies who're fond of French cuisine, L'Ambroisie is a must-visit place. My meal at this Parisian institution last March almost failed to materialize when I learned that L'Ambroisie had undergone some renovation since early February and they could not confirm when it would be completed. They just told my hotel concierge to contact them again in early March. Since we only had 3 days in the city of light, our chance initially was quite slim. I didn't mind not going there, but I really wanted my parents to finally experience a meal at this legendary gastronomic temple. At the end, we were fortunate that the restaurant just re-opened in the same week we're in Paris. The only downside, there was a slight paint's smell but the rest of the diners did not seem to be bothered by it.

After several visits, it's an unwritten rule that "regulars" would be seated in the 2nd dining room (the room was bigger than the front one). This time they placed us there again, right in the center with a surprisingly big & comfortable dining table by L'Ambroisie's standard. As I perused the menu, the staff served us high quality of Alsace's specialty - Kougelhoph with onion & olive while my mother enjoyed her Billecart-salmon brut rose. We were in the 'transition' time; I was told that this was the last week of black truffle (not much Perigord truffle left) but the aspragus and morel were not in season yet. In addition, I expected to see Bresse chicken with black truffle butter but they only had a supreme chicken in "demi-deuil" which Monsieur Pascal, the restaurant director, somehow did not recommend me to order it. As I happened to have eaten about half of the dishes on the menu, I decided to try as many new dishes as possible this time.    

Amuse-bouche: Velouté de butternut, Royale de foie gras (Soup of butternut squash served with duck liver and black truffle) - A creamy and velvety layered of butternut soup enriched by buttery & fatty foie gras; the black truffle intensified the overall flavor of this rich dish - a typical 'rather heavy' winter dish nevertheless very good


Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry (Large langoustine, sandwiched in between sesame wafers, served with spinach and curry sauce) - Both of my parents had this as their appetizers and they loved it.
I ate this signature dish of L'Ambroisie during my first visit 9-10 years ago, so it's been a while. I got a couple of bytes from my mother and it was still amazing. The Dublin bay prawn was tender, sweet with excellent texture. The curry sauce was refined and delicate yet really smooth, complemented the langoustine perfectly. The spinach as well as crisp tuiles were nice additional elements

Huitres "spéciales" chaudes au caviar, sabayon au cresson (Cooked warm oysters served with caviar and watercress sabayon) - The poached oyster was plump, tender and still maintained its natural flavor. It was enhanced by rather strong watercress 'sauce' and plenty of salty & luxurious caviar. These three ingredients ideally complimented each other. Another awesome dish but given how much I ate that night, 4 pieces of this appetizer should be more suitable for me

Etuvée de noix de Saint-Jacques en parisienne de légumes à la truffe fraîche ("Smothered" Scallops served with Paris vegetables and fresh black truffle) - My 2nd appetizer. The thick and high quality scallops were barely heated, thus they retained their sweet & delicious taste and the pleasant texture. The silky sea creatures was contrasted and/or combined with grainy and earthy veloute consisting of leeks and potatoes (I ate similar dish before but served with sabayon veloute).
I truly enjoyed the concentrated Perigord truffle's fragrance and flavor here - from the shaved raw truffle and its heated form in the veloute. Each byte of scallop, vegetable 'soup' and truffle was a joy since their ethereal flavors would linger in my palate

Main courses:

Noix de ris de veau à la “financière”, ravioles de ricotta à la sauge (Braised veal sweetbread served with ricotta ravioli and sage) - The "financiere" sauce was a mixture of Madeira wine, tomato, onion, olive and ginger. I was a bit pessimist with its presentation and taste at first, but the doubt was quickly gone after my first byte. It was really delicious; succulent sweetbread mixed with flavorful sauce that's rich but not heavy. A small bowl of ricotta ravioli (creamy and mild cheese) balanced the overall taste. I hardly ordered ris de veau, but I was glad I followed Pascal's recommendation (the maitre d'hotel). I struggled a bit to finish up the last 10-15% of the dish because of what I ate earlier. However, I managed to clean up the plate eventually but the last few bytes had 'diminishing' enjoyment given how large the portion of this dish. 

Dos de sole braisé au vin jaune, effeuillée de choux de Bruxelles et truffe fraîche (The back part of a Sole braised in yellow wine sauce and served with Brussels sprouts & black truffle) - It was my father's main course.
He shared a bit of this Sole filet with me. The meat was thick and juicy with fantastic wine sauce; the sprout was also tasty. The pungent black truffle was 'useful' as I consumed the fish but not quite in harmony with the sole itself when I chewed them together. Probably, if somehow the sauce had a little cooked truffle in it, the transition would've been smoother. My dad had no issue eating the fish with the divine sauce as well as the sprout but didn't finish the truffle (he generally was not a fan of western luxurious ingredients such as caviar and truffle) and the sole flan

Fricassée de homard sauce civet, purée de pois Saint-Germain (Lobster fricassee in stew sauce served with Saint-Germain-style mashed peas) - It was my mother's main course.
I ate this dish before and had plenty of calf sweetbread on my plate, so I didn't try it this time. She told me it was delicious, a bit firm and sweet but she didn't really enjoy the peas or at least did not finish them. It was the most popular dish of the night, I observed no fewer than 5 of these dishes served to L'Ambroisie's diners


Tarte fine sablée au chocolat, crème glacée à la vanille bourbon (Chocolate 'crumble' tart served with bourbon vanilla ice cream) - My parents shared this legendary dessert and the restaurant gave me a half portion as well. The most frequent dish I ate at this restaurant and it's consistently fantastic. The tart was astonishingly light/airy with rich & intense chocolate flavor; it was in harmony with the immaculate vanilla ice cream. My parents liked it a lot

Arlettes caramélisées, crème de citron foisonnée et cristallines d'agrumes (Caramelized crispy "puff-pastry" served with lemon cream and crystallized citrus) - This dessert displayed some contrast in textures (dry fruit, smooth cream and crisp arlette) and in flavors (bitter, sour and a bit sweet). It was not my best dessert here, but I selected it anyway as it's the only one from the menu that I have not tried before

Assortiment de desserts et pâtisseries: Small desserts and pastries. I enjoyed all of them: canele, fruit tart and dark chocolate

After the renovation, not much has changed. The dining room was still elegant and luxurious in traditional design. The baroque chandeliers as well as opulent tapestries were still there including the feeling of visiting an old friend's luxurious private home. The cozy home part was even more real as I've been here more often in which staffs became more familiar with me. It was possible because L'Ambroisie's front of the house team hardly changed in the past 5-6 years: maitre d' Pascal, the sommelier Joseph, staff Laurent and a few others with whom I had some interactions were still with the restaurant. Even, madame Daniele Pacaud stopped by in our table for 5-10 minutes to have some talk with me - an unprecedented event, in the past we just exchanged some smiles and bonjour/mercy. Referring to my first visit where the service was rather rigid and formal, I've never imagined I would one day love the service here almost as much as its food. After 10 PM, the renowned Bernard Pacaud showed up and hanged around near the entrance in his light-colored sweater. He would only talk to his old friends or response to some guests who recognized him as the chef-owner. Thanks to Mathieu Pacaud now running full time as the chef-patron of Hexagone + Histoires, Bernard was back to lead L'Ambroisie again. In fact, I'm confident that in all my visits here, Chef Pacaud senior was always in the kitchen.

Although it might not rank as the best meal I've ever had here, the standard was nevertheless very high (a convincing 3-star level in my notes since the food scored was 97 points or better). The ingredients were, as always, luxurious and of high quality, the execution was flawless and very difficult to improve upon, and the variation of produce used on the plate was nearly perfect. Dishes were simple and excellent but almost impossible to imitate. Similar to my last visit, during dinner the restaurant was fully booked and busy. Despite that, the service was impeccable and discreet with great attention to details. Monsieur Pascal, in particular, was very aware of the situation; he anticipated the guests' needs, acted fast yet calm. The dishes that I really wanted to eat here, I already fulfilled most of them in the past. I may not have any urgent needs to come here again in the future. However, I probably do come here again simply because I feel comfortable at this fine French establishment in the same way I love L'Arpege. Lastly, who knows how much longer Bernard Pacaud would keep on working. It would be a privilege if Chef Pacaud would continue his passion until Paul Bocuse's age. For the dishes' pictures, please visit this link: L'Ambroisie Mar '16

Food: 97 pts

Service: 96 pts

Overall: 96.5/100

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pavillon Ledoyen Yannick Alleno

Pavillon Ledoyen, a legendary Parisian dining institution, has been identical with high quality French gastronomy. Since the beginning of 21st century, Ledoyen has become one of 3-star Michelin restaurants at the city of light - thanks to the uber chef Christian Le Squer. In 2014, there was an interesting "swap" involving this establishment: Le Squer left Ledoyen to become the executive chef of Four Seasons George V whose main purpose was to carry Le Cinq to re-gain Michelin's highest honor (as expected, he did it this year); Yannick Alleno, a French top chef who felt burnt out having to run a major hotel Le Meurice for a decade, came to the rescue as well as proved himself that he still "had it" when he had reclaimed the 3-star awards last year. Personally, I am very happy that Chef Alleno and Chef Le Squer to be around again in Paris. Both of them also successfully run fine dining restaurants. In light of the recent trend of bistronomy, I found it would be "wasteful" if these elite chefs do not defend the dignity of French cuisine at the highest level.

The 2 main reasons why I re-visited Pavillon Ledoyen were: Yannick Alleno and my parents. I had a very good meal during Chef Alleno's tenure at Le Meurice nearly 8 years ago and felt disappointed when knowing he no longer led any gastronomy restaurant after leaving the hotel. Now that the "Prince of the Palaces" has returned to Paris, albeit not in a hotel's palace, I was convinced that I had another chance to savor Alleno's creations. For my parents' case, they do not come to Paris as often as I do. They prefer going to new places whereas my trip is often dictated by food. Based on that, my parents were inclined to dine at restaurants they've never been before. Moreover, my mother loves European historical building with its classical interior design. Therefore, Ledoyen seemed to be a logical choice and it certainly did not disappoint. This Europe trip was part of my treat for their 40th wedding anniversary, so I should select the 'best' dishes. Our meal was for lunch and since my father and mother would be in Paris for a couple of days only, they strongly would rather the meal lasted 2-3 hours max. As I observed the lunch menu, the dishes did not look that appetizing. It meant a la carte was the way to go because the degustation menu would take at least 3 hours.

Our meal began with satisfying amuse-bouche:
-Cabbage jelly and mushroom served inside cabbage leaves: the cabbage's flavor was quite strong
-Onion consomme and cracker with comte chip: another rather intense item displaying texture and temperature contrast
-Chestnut marshmallow: for balance, this one was light & smooth
-Roll of cream cheese and smoked eel: decent; crunchy outside and soft inside

Tarte friande de Langoustine au Caviar: Langoustine tart topped with Oscietra caviar and gold leaves - I share this appetizer with my mother and it was outstanding! The tart was crisp & light enclosing the Dublin bay prawn in 'pate' form that was buttery and very tasty yet not overwhelming. The sauce was creamy with some crustacean clean flavor; it was elevated by the luxurious and briny top quality caviar. The leaves provided pretty decor but not so much on the palate. In short, it's simply perfect! Stunning and balanced ...

Accompanied by wine: 2009 Domaine Trimbach Riesling Cuvee "Frederic Emile", Alsace - Excellent Riesling especially to be consumed this year onwards. It was compact, full-bodied with mineral flavors and lime/zesty finish. It also had the flavor of apple and honeycomb. This white wine paired well with our caviar langoustine appetizer 

Blue lobster fricassee served with Safi capers, cabbage leaves and coral sauce - It's my mother's main course. I tried a bit of it. The lobster was tender and tasty while the sauce was lighter but still flavorful. In this dish, Chef Alleno drew inspiration from the east + south of France. I kinda like it, but not blown away. My mom had no problem to finish it all up though

Wagyu beef Gunma grade 4 "en aiguillettes" iodized "onigiris"; served with sea urchin and confit smoked eel, celery cooked in a clay crust served "à la cuillère" - It's my father's main course. My dad shared a little portion of this dish with us. I was impressed with the kitchen's ability to produce a wonderful well-done meat (he's unable to eat pink or 'bloody' steak); it's also nicely seasoned and cooked. The wagyu was still very tender and a bit oily - the amount of meat vs fat was balanced. The uni and smoked unagi would make the overall flavor even richer; to bring it down, you can savor the 'mashed' celery. A very good dish ... For my father, it's probably one of the best things he ate during this Europe trip.

Roasted milk-fed lamb served with home-made truffle pasta and nutmeg cream, tangy apple and slow cooked lamb shoulder - It's my main course. While my parents' main courseswere sublime, still I liked mine the most. Every elements here were simply awesome. The Limousin lamb was perfectly executed resulting in juicy meat and some crisp skin. The pasta was al-dente; it would nicely absorbed the cream as well as interacted with the truffle to elevate the already great roasted lamb. There's hardly any trace of unpleasant lamb's smell instead the black truffle aroma had stronger presence. It's a scrumptious dish: delicious lamb with flavorful sauce and not cloying at all

Accompanied by wine: 2013 Vacqueyras Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, "Cuvee de Lopy" - This red wine had a mixture of Grenache and Syrah. The color was opaque black ruby; it offered the flavor combinations of black raspberries & licorice with gentle tannin. I think it needs more time to mature but it went quite well with the lamb dish

When it comes to the sweet tooth indulgence, except for the last items, I found Alleno's desserts were not on par with his entree + plat principal. For the pre-desserts, we had:
-Pear and vanilla sorbet as palate cleanser
-A glass of Tonka bean liquid: bitter and 'unusual'
-Jelly-like & sweet baked pineapple covered with almond
-Chocolate 'rolls': crispy  

Crystallized chocolate leaf served with milk flavored and hazelnut extraction - This was 65% of (dark) Caribbean chocolate. The leaf and the base was pure (crunchy) chocolate and somewhat bitter & strong. It's 'necessary' as the milk, mousse and the sorbet were more on the sweet sides with some fruity flavor coming of the lemon gel. Alright but nothing memorable

Roasted mango meringue served with pepper vinegar - In addition to chocolate-based dessert, it's ideal to also have a fruit-based sweets. The mango had a mixture of sweet and sour flavor while the 'sauce' was more intensely sour. The sugary meringue was, as expected, (really) sweet. A good dessert was a pleasure in and of itself. However, at Ledoyen, they acted more as palate cleanser with some pleasant flavors ... at least for me

Lastly, the petit-fours (the finest part from the pastry kitchen):
Beer creme brulee: Sublime and really delicious! The buttery crust was superb; the caramelized cream was even better and not cloying. I ate about half of them
Chocolate truffles: Soft and pure chocolate flavor in cube forms. It's bitter in a good way and hardly any hint of milk. Cocoa lovers should like this a lot

The food was superb overall in particular I really love the langoustine tart with caviar although during our lunch, Yannick Alleno himself was not present. Most credit that day probably should go to the gifted chef de cuisine, Nicolas Le Tirrand. The kitchen team was capable of creating innovative, interesting, and intricate dishes that were also delicious. From our meal, I can say that Yannick's prime talent lies in redefining traditional cooking: examining and understanding the French culinary tradition and at the same time giving new interpretation by pushing its boundaries to a new level that's unique to his own style.  As his own boss and someone who's very passionate about food, the current situation at Ledoyen is ideal; it gives Chef Alleno (along with his proficient team) plenty of liberty to create and play with different produce to generate surprising arts on the plate. It seemed to be his goal as well - to bring back French cuisine to the fore front of world gastronomy. This was the kind of opportunity he hardly had when working at a huge palace hotel. For the dessert part, I had to admit that Camille Lesecq (Alleno's pastry chef at Le Meurice) was arguably better than Ledoyen's Damien Cassart, who used to work at Le Louis XV.

The service was generally attentive, friendly and not obtrusive. Water was consistently refilled, napkin was replaced whenever you left to the restroom and staffs tried to put guests at ease despite the rather formal ambiance. Like the chef patron, the restaurant director Frederic Pedrono was not supervising his team but it did not lower the Ledoyen's hospitality standard. Perhaps this happened because the restaurant was relatively quiet - only half full and most guests were local business people. The assistant's sommelier recommendation for my wine by the glasses was spot on. We drank no champagne and the staffs never pushed it either, professional! Last but not least, the main dining room's decor was less formal under Yannick Alleno but still graceful and looked opulent. The big tables covered with white linen were accompanied by comfortable willow green chairs. For the fans of the old style, Ledoyen still keeps the old paintings and stone carvings intact at the first level and around the stair case on the way to the upper level. During the lunch and on a sunny day, the natural light was very pleasant and guests could also enjoy the trees/garden from the quiet dining room as this temple of haute cuisine was hidden behind a museum. The whole dining experience was uniquely Parisian indeed and I was glad that my parents also liked it. For picture, please check this link: Ledoyen Mar '16

Just incase anybody is interested in the pictures of my meal with Chef Alleno at Le Meurice and see some differences: Le Meurice Sep '08  

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 95.5/100

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Geranium Rasmus Kofoed

In the past 5-7 years, the popularity of Nordic cuisine has skyrocketed to an unprecedented level especially thanks to Noma which has become the new El Bulli. Not only in Denmark, but also in most of Scandinavian regions; suddenly, they became the "hottest" destinations for foodies who are looking for new adventures. I'm more of an old-school person who usually goes to Western Europe countries, in particular France/Paris, for my dining destinations. However, for this trip, I accompanied my parents to places they would like to visit such as a couple of Eastern Europe places as well as Scandinavian countries. They're not a big fan of fine dining in which dinner often lasts more than 3 hours. However, I managed to persuade them to visit some top restaurants during this holiday. One of those places was Geranium that along with Maaemo was the only recipient of Michelin's highest honors in its 2016 Nordic guide. To avoid lukewarm guests, Geranium applied a ticketing system for the reservation. In this method, guests had to pay about 30% of the degustation menu price to have their bookings confirmed (after the meal, we would pay only the difference plus the beverages). It might not be pleasant but I thought it's fair since it would discourage people who're not willing to commit in advance.     

Geranium was established by Rasmus Kofoed and Søren Ledet (a former cook himself and the current head sommelier). Note that: both owners were not around during our meal. Chef Kofoed is famous mainly due to his impressive accomplishments in Bocuse d'Ors competition, the equivalent of Olympic for culinary talents. He's the only person who ever won all 3 different medals, including the elusive gold in 2011. Within 2 years of running Geranium at the current location, Rasmus managed to collect 2 Michelin star. He received the 3rd one four years later. With such remarkable backgrounds, preparing classical 'French-style' cuisine was probably never a problem for Rasmus. For his own beloved restaurant, he opted to prepare and cook contemporary Nordic cuisine whose emphasize was the use of local, seasonal & fresh ingredients particularly vegetables and fish/seafood. As far as the food was concerned, the delicious taste of the dishes was as essential as their aesthetic presentation in order to create unforgettable experiences for (all) our senses. There were plenty of playful and unusual variations, so please come with an open mind. Geranium only offered 1 kind of tasting menu consisted of 17 (relatively small) courses. Guests were encouraged to state their allergy and diet when confirming their reservations; these would be discussed one more time upon seated at the table. For the drinks, I decided to try the restaurant's unique juice pairing.   

The Geranium Spring Universe


Cep mushroom soup - A strong, focused in flavor and clean soup; it's delicious though it might be 'out of season' in the early Spring. The kitchen preserved this Autumn mushroom
Jerusalem Artichoke leaves served with Walnut oil and Rye vinegar - The artichoke chips were alright but the walnut mayo made the overall taste better; the rye provided mild acidity
Tomato water served with Ham fat and Aromatic herbs - A sophisticated dish with texture and flavor contrast. The 'water' had jelly-like texture; it was refreshing and balanced (between the taste of 'lard' and tomato)
Accompanied by juice: Sea Buckthorn (citrus and a bit sweet, like cranberry)

King Crab served with Milk & Juice from fermented Carrots and Sea Buckthorn - It was interesting. The plain crab was covered by tart flavors of the berry and carrot; generally, it's quite palatable
Charred Potato served in aroma from Bark and Sheep's butter - The appearance was fascinating. The "black" potato was smoky and pleasant outside but soft & refine on the inside. It went really well with the creamy & 'sweet' butter; the potato's taste would linger for some times ...
Accompanied by juice: Green Apple and Elder flower 

"Dillstone" horseradish served with Frozen juice from Dill and pickled cucumber - My favorite item from the appetizers selection. It had everything: playful presentation, smart interplay and some positive surprised elements. The 'stone' was actually a Trout (sashimi) covered by mildly sweet & aromatic dill. To enhance the experience, it's recommended to combine it with the sour granite as well as the horseradish sauce. Interesting and delicious at the same time
"Razor Clam" served with Sour cream and Parsley - Another witty presentation from the Geranium kitchen. The shell (painted with squid ink) was edible. Inside the shell was a mixture of razor clam, sour cream and (small amount of) parsley - it was surprisingly rich; more parsley to 'tone down' the flavors would be better for my taste
Accompanied by juice: Gooseberry, Tarragon and Sunflower seeds

Dishes ("Main Courses")

Oyster and Lumpfish roe plus Dried Oyster soup served with local smoked cheese - It was better than I expected. The fresh oyster was precisely cooked: creamy despite distinct sea flavor. The smoky cheese smartly covered this issue. Together, they made a tasty dish whereas the "red caviar" was rather smooth and not too salty. It's more fascinating than being delicious
Salted Hake served with Parsley stems and Finnish caviar in buttermilk - A magnificent dish! Arguably, the best thing I ate during this dinner. Everything was pretty much perfect. The Hake (before the sauce was poured) was meticulously cut into circular shape, simply beautiful! The succulent fish was not only looked good, but also tasted amazing. Everything (the buttermilk, caviar and even the scales) worked harmoniously - crunchy, creamy, not too salty etc. I could easily have another round of this dish - a masterpiece art by Rasmus Kofoed
Accompanied by juice: Elderberries and Apple

Old grains and Gluten free bread served warm with Crispy grains and Seeds - There was also butter with sorrel. The portions were small and delivered as part of the middle-course. My favorite was the one with with crispy grain (emmer & spelt) - moist and delightful. I ate 3-4 breads in total; oh the butter was very good too - flavorful and light
Quail egg and Melted Pork fat served with Leeks, Salted Ramson and Melted "Vesterhavs" cheese - The most distinguished flavors were the lards and the cheese. There were plenty of local veggies while some flowers tasted like garlic. Detailed preparations and decent
Scallop served with Söl (Icelandic seaweed) and Sour Berries - Another stunning dish! The plump Norwegian scallop's quality was superb and it was also flawlessly cooked resulting in a truly delicious morsel. The sol brought an 'extra' dimension to the dish while the berry sauce nicely balanced the sweet & juicy scallop. Bravo!
Accompanied by juice: Black Currant and Juniper

Grilled Duck hearts served with Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunflower seeds and Truffle - The rustic & relatively modest duck heart was actually tender and quite meaty without any trace of strong offal characteristic. It's not bad ... The clear 'soup' (made of duck's feet jus) was richer than I initially thought while the rests gave some crunchy textures in contrast to the grilled heart
Pork served with Pear and Pickled pine - Additionally, to enrich the experience, there were cucumber, garlic confit and lemon thyme. The pork neck was executed perfectly; its meat was indeed tender but not too flavorful. The sauce would improve the pork's flavor and it's made of the pork jus + pine. The poached pear was a good element to tone down any strong flavor. It was satisfying and I liked it more than the grilled heart from the previous dish  
Accompanied by juice: Cloud berry and Pine

Desserts and Sweets

Ice Cream made from Beeswax, Pollen and Honey with cloud berries - It was sweet and creamy. To fully experience it (to taste some acidic flavor), you should dig the berries at the bottom
Dried Apples served with Elderberries, Beetroot, Apple cider and Sheep's yogurt - It was pretty with minimal sweetness (from the white chocolate cream) - pleasant
"Naked Tree" served with Dark beer, Prune and Smoked Beech wood cream - Another artistic presentation - a reflection of its surrounding nature. The cream was rather sweet while the beer ice cream had some bitter flavor - working along well together. Overall, it's a fine dessert
Accompanied by juice: Prune and Pilsner malt

Sweets: Caramel served with Aromatic seeds and Rose hip tea; Cake with Pumpkin seed oil; Chocolate with Oats and Sea buckthorn; Green egg with Pine

For a fine dining establishment, Geranium's location is indeed unusual. It is situated on the 8th floor of a building that's part of a football stadium. However, the restaurant is beautifully designed featuring Danish characteristics such as: minimalist decor, modern furniture made from local wood, and plenty of white & neutral colors. There are lots of windows through which guests could see natural greenery. The view should be much better during lunch; I imagine we could also enjoy the forest and blue sky in a sunny day. Geranium applied an open kitchen concept (though I observed most of the cooking done behind it; they're more like stations for final plating) where diners could see many chefs in action live! It seemed to be a policy of the chef-patron Rasmus Kofoed that 2-3 chefs had to visit each table to present and explain some dishes to their guests. A nice gesture that elevated the unique experience at Geranium. The service was efficient, courteous and rather relaxed; our main 'assigned waitress' delivered the finest hospitality despite having worked at this restaurants only for a few weeks. By the way, she's French. Any questions were welcomed and she did everything she could to properly answer any of our inquiries. The rests of the dining room staffs did decent jobs as well but not as refined as her.  

Overall, it was a wonderful meal and unforgettable experience. I might be blown away by at most 1/4 of the presented dishes, however, in the bigger picture I could see the passion of the Chef Kofoed and his team to always try to create something different including breaking boundaries to reach to the next level, the way skilled artist's aim for his/her next masterpiece. Anybody who wants to have a superb Nordic cuisine meal, Geranium is certainly among the top place that will be able to deliver such fabulous experience. Picture of the dishes: Geranium Mar '16

Food: 95 pts

Service: 94 pts

Overall: 94.5/100

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Morikawa Tokyo

There are plenty of introduction-only restaurants in Japan, but probably none is as 'mysterious' as the one named Morikawa. The establishment information in the tabelog does not mention its address or telephone number. After having searched and asked here and there, miraculously the chief concierge of hotel Okura Tokyo managed to secure two seats for us at dinner. Morikawa is located in the Akasaka area; its surroundings are pretty crowded. There are many small restaurants & shops as well as a multi-story bic camera store. The outer entrance of the restaurant was wide and sturdy. Although we're seated at the counter, all diners upon entering the restaurants were required to take off their shoes. Nearly all of the floor area in the dining room was covered by thick tatami mat. We arrived about 7:30 PM and there was another couple on half way enjoying their meals at the counter. Besides 4 of us, there were a few people occupying the private room. Unlike the crammed seating at Kadowaki, the long counter, made of refined hinoki wood, and chairs at Morikawa were spacious and comfortable. For the restaurant decoration, there were some beautiful Calligraphy behind us. Outside a restaurant with ryotei, this happened to be the most luxurious (kappo) kaiseki institution I've ever been. Even, the rest room was expansive and above the toilet bowl, an AC was hanged on the wall (assuming it would be turned on during the hot summer days).

At the beginning, after being seated, we saw a tall gentleman (Mr. Morikawa) behind a counter with serious face. There was hardly any smile and he presented the first dish to us. It was lavish and beautiful; we're excited to eat it. Then, I took a courage (and perhaps shamelessly also) to ask his permission whether it's fine to take a picture of the dishes. At first, he seemed unhappy and then called someone. The phone was passed on to me and the lady concierge on the line explained to me that normally pictures were not allowed here but this time would be an exception - my guess because it was a relatively quiet evening. I was grateful and glad that we're allowed to take pictures "legally". The intense atmosphere began to melt when I could correctly described most of the ingredients in the multiple sashimi courses. Even, the middle-aged couple next to us was a bit 'impressed' when I could recognize Iwatake mushroom. From that moment onward, everything went a lot smoothly. I felt that we sort of passed the 'test' from the host. Additionally, the friendly and pretty Okami, Mrs. Morikawa became more active in assisting the service throughout the night. By 9 PM, we were the only diners left so we got the undivided attention from the staffs and the experience looked like we had a private dining at someone's luxurious house. Similar to other elite kaiseki places, there was only one menu available - omakase. Without further delay, here were the dishes that we had:

Hokkaido hairy crab served with vinegar sauce - It's like Shanghai's hairy crab but better. The chef prepared it so that we could easily enjoy this delicacy. The steamed meat had clean flavor while the kani miso was tasty & rich; eat them together for some balance. For non-purist, you're welcome to dip the gani in the slightly sour but light sauce (a mixture of vinegar and a bit of dashi + shoyu). An excellent and extravagant way to begin a meal
Tilefish served with chestnut - A bowl serving this dish was beautiful! Both the Amadai and kuri were served in its 'modest' forms for its 'unadulterated' flavor. The Amadai was meaty and of high quality though a bit tasteless for my taste; to complement it, the kuri was also not strong. Fortunately, the clear dashi was aromatic with some umami flavor to enrich the fish and the chestnut. A heartwarming soup

Spiny lobster sashimi served with wasabi - It was superb; arguably the best raw Ise ebi I've ever had. The clear flesh was plump, firm and a bit sweet; the cooked head/brain was delicate, delicious with some meat in it - a perfect combination with pleasant aroma and distinct flavor
Tai and Shima Aji sashimi with Iwatake - The sea bream was magnificent; a bit chewy but flavorful. The striped jack, due to its 'crunchy' texture, was cut differently; it was fresh and tasty. The 'rock' mushroom (only the 2nd time I ate this rare mushroom) had jelly-like texture and unique aroma. Another wonderful sashimi course

Broiled Matsutake - The Matsutake was perfectly cooked as shown in beautiful color. For this, the chef chose the ones with close cap (taste delicious). We're served this stuff 4 times in which the next one was bigger and more delectable than the previous one. For some variation, we're provided with komatsu, suidachi and light dipping sauce. Possibly my best yaki matsutake
Grilled Eel with its liver and rice - It was really stunning, better than I had expected. This unagi kimo kabayaki was not only delicious, but also nutritious. The unagi meat was rich & tender yet not too soft; the kimo was also tasty yet neither greasy nor fishy. It went well with the rice and the portion was just right

Hot pot of Pine mushroom with Pike conger - In front of us, Morikawa-san sliced and served generous amount of Matsutake. The hamo was also plenty. He showed us how to cook this course and explained a few ways to enjoy this classic Japanese dish - a staple item during Autumn. Outstanding!
Without the mushroom, the broth (it had some flavor from the Conger eel's bone) was already tasty. The Matsutake enhanced it by giving a very pleasant aroma. I also enjoy its 'meaty' texture. If you want a more acidic flavor, the lime and light sauce containing little salt were available. With some vegetables and Matsutake, the soup was remarkable ... Adding the hamo, make it a 'perfect' dish  
Another plentiful and pristine Conger eel that would bloom beautifully like a "flower" inside the hot pot. Minimal preparation was required and I could fully experience the Hamo's natural flavor. Consuming this creature, interchangeably with Matsutake and drank the rich dashi was one the 'greatest' pleasure I've had in my foodie adventure. Totemo umai!

Matsutake 'tempura' served with German Osetra caviar - A very luxurious dish resulting an explosive flavor in the mouth. Certainly the best byte I've ever had in 2015. Chef Morikawa himself slowly and carefully deep-fried the mushroom (crisp, firm and delicious). The caviar was smooth, rich and creamy with some hazelnut taste. The combination was heavenly; I was excited and kinda speechless at that time. A mother of pearl spoon was provided to scoop any left over caviar
Homemade Buckwheat noodles served with duck soup - To wind down, the kitchen provided al dente/chewy soba. The 'tsuyu' was warm and rather intense soup containing succulent and tender duck meat (without any trace of foul smell). The overall taste was clean and not heavy; surprisingly a good pairing

Matsutake gohan served with pickles - The slices of Pine mushrooms were rather subtle in flavor this time. Instead, the rice has richer flavor and aroma of the matsutake. It was still very nice though not the finest I've ever eaten. That being said, I still managed to finish 2 bowls of this rice
Mandarin orange - On top was watery, sweet & slightly sour mikan jelly. In contrast to the smooth jelly texture, there was some seedless orange 'flesh' underneath. It was simple and refreshing 

Morikawa did not hold back in using the finest, freshest and most luxurious seasonal ingredients available. We ate during the period when Matsutake was at its peak - very abundant and of high quality. Having been working at Kyo Aji for more than a decade, Morikawa-san displayed the high technique in executing Japanese cuisine and was capable of sourcing and selecting top produce. All of the dishes that utilized Pine mushrooms were not inferior to the ones prepared by the legendary Kenichiro Nishi. My meal here truly satisfied my hunger for Matsutake mushrooms. Normally, I ate good Matsutake dishes in tasting portion, but here some of them was prepared in a la carte-like size such as the nabe with Hamo and Matsutake. The only thing in which Morikawa was a bit lacking compared to Kyo Aji was probably at rice dishes and desserts; in these 2 'departments', Nishi-san was simply too superior. However, I admired Morikawa-san's boldness & confidence to use caviar with Matsutake tempura and let the diners cook their own hot pot. Not only for food, but also for drink, Mr. Morikawa served very fine sake - the imperial's family 'favorite' one called Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo. The one we had was, of course, not the best kind of Kokuryu yet still awesome. The aroma was mild with some hint of fruit and nuts; the flavor was rich & explosive yet really smooth. An exceptional sake with plenty of umami flavor and slightly dry finish.

Although at the early stage of our meal the situation was a bit intense, Morikawa and his staffs could turn it around and delivered an impeccable service since then. In my home country there was a proverb if translated in English more or less is as follow: "You can't love what you don't know". Initially, I thought I would receive an arrogant and unfriendly service like the one I had at Jiro Ginza for the whole meal. I was pleased that it did not happen and both Mr. and Mrs. Morikawa stepped up their game as they're also getting more comfortable with us. A special note for Mrs. Morikawa; she was naturally very kind and caring so her hospitality was effortless. As we're talking more about many different things including family, Mr. Morikawa took out his iPad and showed us his family picture collections including their 2 children. On the one hand, I agree that an immaculate service should be given consistently; on the other hand, some Japanese people, due to its culture, could be quite rigid at times. I suspected that Morikawa hardly had any foreigners dining there, hence might explain the odd situation at the beginning. The food here was on par with my meals at Matsukawa, Morikawa-san's close friend but for the overall experience I like Morikawa better probably because we could communicate a lot more here. At this moment, after my meal at Kyo Aji, this one was the 2nd best gastronomy experience I've experienced in Japan. Have a deep pocket and 'thick skinned' as well as be open minded, you will be rewarded with a fantastic meal at Morikawa. Please see here for the pictures: Morikawa Sep '15

Food: 98 pts

Service: 96 pts

Overall: 97.5/100


Monday, January 25, 2016

Wakuden Kodaiji Kyoto

Besides the famous Kitcho and Kikunoi, Kyoto actually has another less well-known (to foreigners) but equally as reputable as these 2 kaiseki institutions named Wakuden. The establishment, dated back in the late 19th century, began as a hotel in the north of Kyoto. Even then, this country inn already had focus on preparing great seasonal Japanese cuisine. Its hard work has been paid off as currently Wakuden group, focusing only on restaurant business, has 3 branches in Kyoto. In early October last year, we had to opportunity to savor the creations of this famous group at its flagship restaurant - Kodaiji Wakuden, located in the Higashiyama area and as the name suggest, it was not too far from the Kodaiji temple.

Kodaiji Wakuden is an esteemed traditional ryotei whose building had a beautiful architecture and elegant setting. We were greeted by a few staffs around noon as we entered the restaurant and immediately escorted to our private room overlooking a narrow road. We opted to open a bit of the window in order to have more natural lights and fresh air; fortunately the outside street was relatively quiet too. Our private room was spacious with minimal & zen-like interior design. Little did we know that the extra space would be used by the kitchen staff (chef) to prepare and cook some but important dishes during our meal. We started with a cup of Shiso tea as well as in-house sake specialty (Aotake-shu) served in a bamboo bottle and cup. Following this, we had our kaiseki meal:  

Starter: A mixture of tofu and tamago in chilled dashi - The white 'creatures' of bean curd and egg custard was rather plain, but elevated by the tastier broth; a clean dish
Assorted appetizers: Tempura of Hamo, Maitake and Kamasu sushi - The barracuda sushi was well prepared and 'surprisingly' delicious (the rice's vinegar was rather strong); the mushroom and eel (somewhat taste like salmon) were quite good

Ise ebi served with Komatsuna (mustard spinach) and Namakono (sea cucumber) - All ingredients (including the jelly-like sauce) were fresh, tasty and complemented each other; very refreshing
Suimono containing meaty duck, assorted mushrooms, mitsuba (honewort/parsley), chestnut, taro, and yuzu - It tasted liked a 'healthy' soup but tasty with some hints of bitter flavor. There are too many stuffs that I thought overshadow the clear dashi's flavor

Raw fish: Karei sashimi with Autumn flower, spinach, lime and ponzu sauce - The perfectly sliced raw & fresh righteye flounder had translucent meat; it was slightly sweet with pleasant texture
Grilled item: Abalone with its liver sauce - An outstanding yaki awabi (tender texture and inherently sweet) with its thick and rich but smooth liver was truly delicious. "Simple" dish with perfect execution

Barely seared (medium rare) Tamba beef served with grilled figs & light sauce - Another superb dish with minimal preparation; simply let the ingredients and their combination to shine. The rich & marbled beef was nicely balanced/countered by sweet figs; truly umami. It's recommended to wrap the beef around the fruit
Soba served with daikon and 'caviar' - This palate cleanser was served chilled to ease our appetite. It was refreshing and a bit sour as expected. A good intermezzo

Chargrilled dish: Matsutake rolled in pike conger with lime - A moist, fragrant & tasty Hamo beautifully wrapped the aromatic, meaty & delicious Pine mushroom with some twist from the sudachi. The portion was right, the execution was meticulous; a terrific dish. I like it slightly better here than the one I had at Yukimura 
Vegetable dish: Nasu (aubergine), Myouga (ginger) and Tougan (winter melon/cucurbit) with 'soup' - The Japanese version of these forms of vegetables were generally more superior in flavor and texture than what I usually have at other places 

Claypot rice with mushrooms served with pickles and clam miso soup - Good quality rice served with generous mushrooms. It was tasty and nourishing 
Dessert 1: Peeled muscats served with wine jelly - Sweet and watery grapes with lightly flavored jelly; decent combination
Dessert 2: Yokan with kuri and mochigome - Soft red bean 'jelly' went well with the intense chestnut and contrasted in texture by the more 'robust' glutinous rice. Not as perfect as Matsukawa's yokan but still pretty awesome 

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of my lunch here. It was not cheap, but really good. There were plenty of outstanding dishes in particular the chargrilled items such as the abalone with its liver sauce and Tamba beef with figs. Moreover, the ingredients were fresh and top notch with (often) flawless execution. The kitchen was able to showcase the natural and inherent flavor of the seasonal produce, display some texture contrast and present the food beautifully. While it might not reach the level of Mizai and Arashiyama Kitcho yet, I would rate this meal above the kaiseki I had at Chihana and Nakamura - despite the fact that these 2 places holding 3-star michelin. The hospitality here was impeccable. Although, most of the time we were served by a junior lady who hardly spoke any english (hence, our communication was somewhat limited), she was sincere, diligent and helpful - get the job done properly. Any questions or requests we had, she would go the distance to ensure that they're fulfilled. Sometimes, the more senior waitresses coming to assist her as well. Shinya Matsumoto-san, the Wakuden's head chef, appeared at the end of the meal to check whether everything was fine, thank us for having a meal with them as well as bid as farewell. Delicious food combined with excellent service and gorgeous setting would guarantee a memorable meal.  One of the places you can find such meal would be at Wakuden Kodaiji. Here are the picture of the dishes: Wakuden Kodaiji Oct '15

Food: 96 pts

Service: 95 pts

Overall: 95.5/100


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mizai Hitoshi Ishihara

Mizai was one of the main reasons for our visit to Japan in early October last year. It was notorious to be one of the most difficult seats to secure among Kyoto's restaurants but it was fair. Mizai is not one of those introduction-only dining places and it would allow diners to reserve even as far as 6 months in advance (that's what I did although my schedule had not been set in stone at that time). Thankfully, many things went as planned and finally we managed to dine and savor Hitoshi Ishihara's creations. Had we failed to book a table here, we would not have visited the Kansai region a few months ago.

Mizai's new location is still in the Maruyama park area and not too far from the road. Since the hotel concierge informed us that we had to be punctual, we reached the restaurant at 5:30 PM by taxi. It was chill outside; we were among the first guests arrived at the restaurant and only 15 min later, one of the junior chefs opened the main gate and allowed us to enter the restaurant. He served hot tea and hot towel to four guests at the waiting area while the rests had to wait outside until the party inside had been escorted to their seats. By 6 PM, all guests had arrived and been seated. Owner-chef Hitoshi Ishihara emphasized the significance of cha-kaiseki tradition (chanoyu); one of them was he would serve each course together to all diners at the same time and describe the dishes once they're in front of us. It's almost like a professor explain some materials to his students. We happened to be the only non-Japanese guests and neither Ishihara-san nor his helpers spoke English. Thus, communicating and understanding the stuffs we ate were very challenging especially since taking pictures were not allowed in the premises (except to take a photo together with the master chef at the end of the meal).

Meal at Mizai began by Chef Ishihara himself poured an aperitif sake to every guest. Following this, we had the real kaiseki feast ... 

1st course: "Mukozuke". To open up our appetite, Mizai prepared a small amount of top quality white rice, soup, salad and pickles. The shiru was a clear miso served with freshly grated wasabi, ginkgo, and chestnut while the salad consisted of some kinoko (mushroom), edamame and light goma dressing. A 'humble' dish that was mild, a little bit spicy. sweet and bitter altogether

2nd course: Sashimi; the presentation was impressive and each fish was masterfully cut. Mizai served this course on a couple of big and artistic china with precise plating. We had Sumi-ika (smooth & tasty squid), O-toro (marbled & melting tuna belly), Maguro (tender & bright lean tuna), Tai (fresh sea bream with excellent texture), Shima aji (clean striped horse mackerel), Engawa (delicate fluke fin) and Aji (tasty jack mackerel). Note that: each person was served 2 slices of every kind, so it implied that each of us supposedly consumed 14 pieces of exceptional fish :-)
The sashimi was served a few 'dressings' with ponzu sauce, salt, Tai liver (very rich) and shoyu+nori in cube form. For garnishes to enhance the overall enjoyment, the kitchen served grated ginger, radish, wasabi, naga imo (mountain yam) as well as shira negi (leeks). I thoroughly loved it. The abundant quantity did not compromise the fish's quality but I could understand if some people, in particular with small appetite, might have been overwhelmed given it's only a second course

3rd course: Shinjo Wan; fish dumpling in clear broth. Inside the soup, there were earthy matsutake, kuri (sweet chestnut) and Guji shinjo (delicate and mildly flavored Amadai). The dashi was superb with the addition of lime to balance the dish - very good

4th course: Yakimono. Lightly grilled local wagyu beef served with green pepper and some kind of sweet dressing (like a mixture of apple & honey sauce). The rich but rather lean beef was cut into smaller pieces and it was delicious. I found the sauce was bold and unusual

5th course: Chawanmushi; savory steamed egg custard was a conceptually simple dish but often complex to be properly executed. Chef Ishihara was on different level as his luxurious version of chawanmushi was silky, light and umami. It was served with hamo, matsutake and gingko - they provided some nice textural contrast. A common dish was elevated to fine dining level

6th course: Hassun; a tray showcasing several kinds of seasonal delicacies from the mountain and the sea - the presentation was extravagant and decorative, I wish I had the pictures of this dish. The hassun was amazing - both in the eye and in the palate.
Some items were: Chestnut soup, broiled Iwashi (sardine) with sauce, creamy Uni with sesame cream, tasty Ikura rice, decent Kohada, cooked Lotus root, Edamame, crisp Maitake tempura, tender braised tako with sweet sauce, Hokkaido roast duck with mustard etc. I might have forgotten 1-2 other things. Many of these were served with some kind of light and quite acidic 'jelly' sauce
Each 'dish' was meticulously prepared and executed, such as the salmon roe and baby octopus were about as good as the ones I ate at Sushi Yoshitake. Again, many of the items served was multiple pieces. The bigger enjoyment was the ability to take a small byte here and there to experience different kinds of flavor, texture, and temperature. Though it may look cliche, but for me, the whole pleasant experience here was simply greater than the sum of its parts

7th course: Nimono. For the simmered dish, we had delicious & sweet Nishin (herring fish) served with stewed Satoimo (taro root) and yuzu. Satisfying

8th course: Cooked seafood. They're dazzling - fresh, high quality and flawlessly prepared. Hokkaido Kegani (hairy crab), Kuro Awabi (abalone) and Salmon. Looked ordinary but flavorful

9th course: Yuto accompanied by Konomono. At first, we're given a small portion of top quality rice then we would serve for ourselves a big bowl containing clear broth and crunchy browned rice/cereal to be shared with a few other guests. The pickles were crunchy and rich. It was quite interesting and the 'common' ingredients were superior. You're welcome to eat as much rice/soup as you want

10th course: Mizumono. The dessert was Japanese sweets made with chestnut and bean paste. They were alright. Then following cha-kaiseki ritual, the assistant chef passed a bowl of (foamy and bitter) matcha, each was carefully prepared by Chef Ishihara himself. I loved this powdered green tea; probably the best I've had for this trip      

11th course: Kudamono; it's no secret that Japan is blessed with numerous top quality fruits. Mizai mixed possibly more than a dozen of different local fruits and they're superb in particular figs, grapes, pawpaw, melon and pear. In addition, we also ate raspberries, dragon fruit, orange, peach, apple, papaya, and blueberries. The assorted fruit was served with champagne jelly. My spouse was full at this point, and I had no problem finishing 1/4 of her 'fruit salad'   

Mizai has been constantly leading the Kyoto tabelog for several years now. It should not come as a surprise because Hitoshi Ishihara is a capable, talented and respectable chef in Japan. In his younger years, Ishihara-san was already a well-known prodigy in cooking washoku. Before opening his own restaurant, Chef Ishihara honed his skills for more than 20 years, mainly at Arashiyama Kitcho in which he became the ryotei's youngest head chef. After this meal, I could confidently say that Mizai provided generous food and impeccable dishes that utilized fresh and outstanding ingredients mainly sourced from Kyoto area and its surroundings. It has been the commitment and the passion of Ishihara-san to introduce as many local produce as possible and prepared them skillfully. He 'warned' us not to be surprised if for subsequent visits in the future, he would serve even more items than what we had that night.  He was indeed a confident chef with a unique style; Ishihara-san effortlessly composed dishes using various ingredients and carefully adjust them to reach a perfect balance with deep flavor. Not only in cooking, he was also a genius in pottery and literature. When not busy, he would design and create lidded bowls to be used for his own restaurant. Additionally, he wrote a cooking book that according to my Japanese friend (Ki-sho head chef) was very philosophical and sometimes not easy to understand even among Japan's chefs.

Mizai is not a big kappo-kaiseki restaurant. The main counter could accommodate about 12 people; it also has a single private room. It has one seating only every night, this should explain why getting a seat here would often require tenacity, patience and perhaps luck. The dining room was fresh & clean with sufficient light. The beautiful counter was made of an exotic and gorgeous lacquered wood. At Mizai, sometimes for the same dishes, Hitoshi Ishihara would use different plates and china for his guests - this make a special experience by itself. The hospitality was wonderful with friendly and helpful staffs. Following a traditional root/culture of Japanese kaiseki, only males work here. Except Ishihara-san and his sous chef, it seems that the waiters were 'discouraged' to speak to guests especially about food and beverages. Overall, it was a very memorable dinner. The progress of the meal was well-structured and the kitchen was more than able to consistently produce good quality dishes that were outstanding in both presentation and flavor. Along with Kunio Tokuoka's flagship restaurant, Mizai stood as the best and my favorite dining place in Kyoto & Osaka areas.  

Food: 97 pts

Service: 93 pts

Overall: 96/100

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Kyo Aji Kenichiro Nishi - 2nd visit

2 years ago, I was very excited to be able to have dinner at Kyo Aji, an introduction-only (kappo) kaiseki establishment in Japan. That dinner immediately ranked in the top 3 as the finest meal I've ever had. Since I cannot (yet) be considered as 'regular' at Kyo Aji, I was not very sure whether I would be able to return here particularly as Autumn is generally the favorite season among the restaurant's regular guests. Furthermore, the restaurant can only accommodate 15 people, including the private room. A couple of months prior to my visit, I was thrilled knowing that once again my wife and I would have the opportunity to savor the creations of the legendary Kenichiro Nishi. This time was for lunch and it was special because I was celebrating my 35th birthday at my favorite restaurant in the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, Kyo Aji was the only restaurant that I re-visit in Japan during 2 separate years.

Our initial reservation time was at 1 PM, but Makiko Nishi, the restaurant's okami, suggested us coming earlier at around noon time so that we would not be rush and the kitchen would be able to prepare more dishes for us - what a kind gesture! From the original booking, my concierge at hotel Okura informed me that we would be seated at the private room. I was really glad when we arrived at Kyo Aji and knowing that the counter seating was still available. Of course, I decided to seat there instead of the private room. It was always fun to see the live action of Master Chef Kenichiro Nishi and his kitchen staffs. It seems that I have a good luck in terms of eating Matsutake, Japan's highly sought-after mushroom. 2 years ago, the Matsutake harvest was late so we still could eat this Pine mushroom in the middle of November. On the contrary, this year, the harvest was a bit early (coming out in September) hence our lunch at Kyo Aji in early Oct coincidentally was the 'peak' period for Matsutake season. Consequently, our meal was quite similar to what we had a couple of years ago except this time we still had a chance to eat Kamo nasu often known as Kyoto's queen of eggplants. However, I love that this happened since I just cannot have enough of Matsutake - officially, my favorite mushroom in the world.  

Sekihan aka Azuki-meshi: Rice with red adzuki beans served with Shiro miso soup - The rice, a mixture of normal rice + mochigome + a little salt, had minimal taste & a good texture. On the contrary, the white miso soup was earthy, more intense with concentrated flavor but not so salty. A beginning for a celebration ...
Zensai (Starters): Lightly grilled Kamasu (Barracuda) with char skin + meaty and juicy pink flesh; Ginkgo nuts had slight bitter taste; Quail egg with uni had interesting flavor; cooked Shimeji mushroom was alright; and Tamago with kani was a bit sweet 

Shirako: Sacs of Cod's milt served with Sudachi (Citrus) - Shirako season came pretty early this time and Kyo Aji gave us even a more generous portion than the one we had in our previous visit. The surface was a bit crisp while the interior was creamy with custard-like texture. The overall taste was naturally sweet but light and heavenly, seriously! Obviously, the shirako was of top produce and perfectly executed - slowly enjoying it in my mouth. I might not be comfortable yet eating 'random' Cod's milt - only the one of high quality such as this one
Grilled Matsutake served with spinach and ponzu sauce - Kyo Aji is arguably the best place to savor this "Pine mushroom" that had distinct aroma and unique flavor. It was also meaty, slightly salty and a little acidic from the dressing (a combination of soy sauce and citrus juice). Truly a delightful dish and delicious since this Matsutake's cap was still relatively 'closed' 

Kamo Nasu Dengaku: Baked/slow roasted Kyoto Eggplant served with sweet miso + Aka uni - The eggplant was sublime with delicate texture; it surprisingly tasted even better than the creamy red sea urchin but both ingredients complemented each other. The dish was enhanced by the sweet but light miso paste. A classic & unpretentious Kyoto-style dish that was executed meticulously
Tai (Japanese Sea Bream/Natural Snapper) Sashimi served with shio and 'sour sauce' - The Japan's king of fish was really good though we consumed it in Autumn, probably since the tai was caught off the coastal city of Akashi. The white fish had wonderful natural flavor and firm flesh. It will not be easy to find a better Tai sashimi

Hamo Nabe Matsutake: "Shabu2" of Pike conger and Pine mushroom - My favorite soup dish in the world and having it during the peak season of Matsutake was truly special. The dashi, made of hamo's bone, was very savory with deep flavor; it was scrumptious and pretty much 'perfect' that I did not really bother to utilize the lime and ponzu this time. The broth was perfumed by thick & clean Matsutake as well. The Hyogo's pike conger beautifully bloomed into fluffy 'white flower'. Both the flavors and fragrant of the sea and forest were simply ethereal - also showcasing the soft and meaty texture contrast. Oishii
Simmered and then grilled Tai head - It was served with 'green' sauce containing vinegar and herbs to improve the sea bream's meat flavor. We were encouraged to eat using our hands since it was not easy to consume all the meats by using only the chopsticks. The most delicious element was the part near/below the fish's eye (eye muscle?). It was not big, but very divine - just one byte. The white flesh, mainly near the cheek, was generally delicate and slightly sweet whereas around the jaws was tender. It was an enjoyable dish except it had plenty of bones 
Nishin to Nasu: Herring fish and Eggplant served with snow peas - This was a hearty dish often eaten by common people in Kyoto. A good example of humble and rustic dish that was phenomenal, perfectly executed and full of umami flavor. The nishin was tender and somewhat salty; it helped bring out the optimal flavor of the juicy nasu. In contrast to the soft eggplant was the fresh and firm snow peas. Don't forget to finish up the umami 'soup' below that predominantly having autumn eggplant taste
Matsutake "Furai": Deep fried Pine mushroom - This dish was served with shio, shoyu and sudachi; choose your own way to eat! It was done by Nishi-san himself and of course flawless. The matsutake was not greasy and still had its meaty texture, fragrant aroma and unique flavor (here, it's a bit sweeter than usual - love it). The kitchen did not usually serve this dish during lunch as we got it because we requested in the beginning. I've never got enough of Matsutake at Kyo Aji ;)
Kuri to Amadai: Steamed Japanese Chestnut with Tilefish - They thought I was full; I said no when Makiko-san offered me this dish. I had it a couple of years ago, liked it a lot then and still loved it this time. This simmered dish might look unpleasant, but it was very delectable. The fried and firm Amadai was dried a few days to develop its rich flavor; the chopped chestnut was sweet and soft. A nice display of contrast texture while the flavorful elements enhanced one another. The non-cloying thick sauce had wasabi and some arrowroot elevated this 'ugly' dish even more. It would take a genius to create such dish ..
Matsutake Gohan: Matsutake Rice served with Fall pickles - The rice looked beautiful, didn't it? You could see the grain clearly - flawlessly cooked. I had plenty of Matsutake gohan during this trip, thus I only had a bowl of it. The one served here was among the finest (top 3) - I liked it when the rice had more intense matsutake's flavor and aroma. The tsukemono was also very good
Sake Harasu Gohan: Salmon belly rice - The timeless dish of Chef Nishi. A great transition from aromatic matsutake gohan into a more flavorful with stronger texture salmon rice. The 'sake' was well seasoned and carefully grilled above binchotan; resulting in delicious crispy skin and juicy meat yet not overly salty. Consuming it with Japanese rice was heartwarming indeed. It would be a big mistake not to have a second bowl of this - somehow, I never get tired of repeating the same dishes at Kyo Aji - perhaps they're simply marvelous!
Kuzukiri to kuromitsu: Kudzu starch in noodle-like strips served with brown sugar syrup - Another dessert specialty at Kyo Aji that's probably more unusual for foreigners than the warabi mochi. The hot & translucent 'noddles' (put into ice water) was silky, thin but didn't easily break. You dip the kuzukiri inside the sweet but balanced syrup, then slurp it slowly to savor its tasty flavor and very decent texture. Again, Nishi-san himself precisely prepared this signature dish. It was so outstanding that I doubt I would ever eat a better kuzukiri than the one served here
Warabi mochi to kinako: Japanese 'rice cake' made of bracken starch and covered with roasted soybean flour - The desserts at Kyo Aji also never changes, but they're classic and you would want to keep them actually. We usually began with this soft and sticky mochi served together with the kinako that had an acquired sweet taste & delicate texture. These were a joy in the mouth. I consumed 2 portions on my own. The key to this 'great' sweet was to have lots of kinako to go along combined with the top quality and gooey (hand-made) warabi
The food at Kyo Aji has been excellent. Kenichiro Nishi is more than able to perform at high level all the times. The 2nd visit made me appreciate the food even more. I noticed that most dishes (whether the dashi, seasoning and 'sauce') were more flavorful while still maintaining Nishi-san's style to prepare light & clean items with complex taste. Because they're very delicious, in more than one occasion, I decided to skip the condiments such as shoyu or sudachi when enjoying the dishes during this visit. The trio of Matsutake were still incredible and flawlessly executed, so were the rice as well as the desserts. Another thing that truly stood out was Chef Nishi's skills to elevate simple ingredients and homey dishes to the perfection of fine dining level such as the ones with eggplants and chestnuts. Essentially, every dish has been carefully prepared; when you tasted them, they're not only delicious and comforting but also deep and balanced. Even after doing this for more than 50 years, we could see that Nishi-san was still passionate in the kitchen. He's always there and leading by example - hands on whenever possible despite being in advanced age. 

What was as memorable as the food at Kyo Aji was its hospitality. Once again, the chef-owner Kenichiro Nishi led the way. When we arrived at the restaurant, there were 4 other guests already seated inside. Yet, upon knowing other guests arrived, Chef Nishi, wearing his Geta, came out and greeted us. Then, the "Kaiseki God" himself escorted us to the dining room. Not only that, he even voluntarily pulled and pushed our chairs! Ladies and gentlemen, he's nearly 80 years old and given his stature, we were truly humbled and became a bit 'uncomfortable' receiving his sincere kindness ... after all, we're not the restaurant's VIPs but very grateful to be treated as such. As soon as we're seated, the sous chef told the waitress to inform Makiko Nishi that we had arrived. In less than 5 minutes, the okami welcomed us and this time she's not wearing the kimono. It's likely that day or during our lunch was her off-day but we indirectly "made" her return to the restaurant. As expected, she declined our conjecture and told us not to worry about it. The service went smoothly. Ms. Makiko clearly explained the dish especially the one we didn't have before. He also acted as a translator and mediator between us and her father. This time she also shared that Nishi-san was actually a very approachable person. Her father like many different kind of cuisine and even simpler food - he would be satisfied even with rice, egg & pickles. At around 2 PM during our lunch, her dad already asked her what he would have for lunch that day - he could choose only when Makiko was the one preparing the food, but not when here mother was around. Moreover, according to Makiko-san, her dad never complained & criticized his wife cooking at home even though when even she thought it had not been good. An interesting short story and perspective about the life of probably the most respectable chef in Japan.    

On this special occasion, Kyo Aji kindly shared Kenichiro Nishi's private collection of Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo. If not mistaken, we drank the "black dragon" version - there was a more exclusive and exotic type of the Kokuryu sake. Our sake was balanced, a bit sweet and rich, smooth with a quick finish. We were the last guests to leave the restaurant for this lunch. Following the tradition of omotenashi,  Chef Nishi, supported by his cane and accompanied by his daughter, bid us farewell on the street. He patiently entertained our request to take other pictures with him. As we were walking and leaving the restaurant, we could not help but look back and gave another bow to show our respect and grateful feeling to Nishi-san for being such a grateful host and giving us another meal to remember. He would smile, waived back towards us and kept standing as long as we're in his sight. I told my wife to take the first turn available after this so that we would not 'bother' them although going straight was a more appropriate to our next destination. Another positive note - I was pleased to see that Nishi-san still looked healthy and energetic with radiant face. Cannot wait for another opportunity to return to this temple of haute Japanese cuisine. Readers can find the pictures of the meal here: Kyo Aji Oct '15

Food: 99 pts

Service: 97 pts

Overall: 98.5/100