The kaiseki meal follows a certain progression, with appetizers followed by a clear soup, then sashimi, grilled foods, steamed foods, and so on. The beautiful lacquerware and seasonal motifs on the plateware are all a part of the experience. About half way through the meal, the chef uses a dish made by one of the greatest masters of twentieth century ceramics, Kitaoji Rosanjin. The dish imitates a painters palette, and facilitates six individual variations of texture and flavor. Here, the selections include (clockwise from top left) a terrine of mushrooms and ayu roe, duck breast with negi, braised satoimo (taro root), glazed scallop on a leaf of shungiku, asian pear and salmon stuffed with egg yolk, and a salad of shiitake and marinated shungiku (edible chrysanthemum).
A proper Japanese meal consists of shokuji (食事), serving rice, pickles and miso soup, which come at the end of the meal. Maruyama-san presents the rice course in an okama, an old fashioned earthenware pot that fits into a charcoal stove. Of course, a kaiseki restaurant will enhance these simple dishes with their own style. On this occasion, the rice has been garnished with uni and nori, and the white miso soup is pureed with yurine (lily bulbs).
The next meal would be my first time dining at Hisao Nakahigashi's famous restaurant, Sojiki Nakahigashi. It is a very small restaurant, and the seats are often booked several months in advance. Although the Michelin Guide only rates the restaurant with one star, it is one of the hardest reservations to get in Kyoto. The clever name of his restaurant is an indication of the chef's tsumigusa (foraged, or freshly picked) cuisine. The word sojiki is a creation of the chef, but it suggests "eating leaves or grass." There is a more subtle suggestion that it is an apothecary cuisine, of sorts, and it was this inclusion of wild and bitter flavors that I found fascinating.
The chef presents his hassun course on a leaf of satoimo, and garnished with a shaft of susuki, one of the seven flowers of autumn. In the glass dish is a wonderful salad of figs and white miso, a variety of nuts include chestnuts, a ginko nut stuffed with egg yolk, and broiled mackerel stuffed with walnut (amazing). There were also some tsukudani-style dojo, a small eel-like freshwater fish often caught in the rice paddies!
Here, chef Okuda slices barracuda rolled with matsutake and grilled. You can see that there is no bar or counter between the diner and the chef's work table. It was as if he were on the other side of the dinner table, a very open design which requires impeccable cleanliness and technical finesse at all times, a lot of fun to watch.
This is the yakimono, or grilled course, decorated with autumn leaves of maple and magnolia. The rolled barracuda, unagi served both shirayaki (unseasoned) and kabayaki (glazed with sauce), accompanied by ginko nuts and tatami iwashi, a toasted cracker made of tiny sardines, dried and pressed into thin sheets. Beautiful and tasty! This was one of the few glazed plates used in the meal, with the shine and color imitating the autumn leaves garnishing it.