In comparison to a shabu-shabu or sukiyaki restaurant, for example, kaiseki is expensive and — at least to many foreigners — almost tasteless.
Truly, the beauty is in the subtlety.
Not a few foreigners ask for salt and more soy sauce when they’re eating a kaiseki meal for the first time — and understandably so.
Kaiseki is really an acquired taste.
But it’s a source of culinary joy for Japanese lovers of the good life and for foreigners who understand the concept of wabi sabi, and Japanese culture in general.
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THE HIGHEST FORM OF CULINARY ARTS
This is the highest form of Japanese culinary arts, so it is worth trying at least once, if you really wish to experience the best of Japanese culture.
I don’t really know how to accurately translate wabi sabi into English, except to explain that it’s all about a sense of quiet beauty in every way and an overall understatedness.
There is nothing obvious about it.
This applies to a kaiseki meal and its flavors.
PRETTY AS A PICTURE
It’s always beautifully presented, but it’s a study in understatement in terms of flavors.
Sometimes, you must almost close your eyes to discern the different tastes in a dish. The best kaiseki meals will have an understated but very distinct medley of flavors and textures. There will be no mishmash of flavors here.
You may have 10 ingredients in one dish, but I can almost assure you that you will be able to distinguish all 10 flavors — at least in the very best kaiseki restaurants.
GREAT CARE IN PLANNING
Everything is planned and prepared with great care — including the pottery and utensils used, and the ingredients.
The best restaurants only use seasonal ingredients to ensure freshness, and they serve these in pottery pieces that are literally works of art.
It’s truly a multi-sensory experience that takes so much effort to create. And this explains also the accompanying hefty prices for a meal.
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A STYLISH RENEWAL
The chef who did our lovely kaiseki dinner at Wadakura, at the Palace Hotel Tokyo, came from the famous Gora Kadan ryokan in the hills of Hakone.
I went to Gora Kadan several times at the height of its popularity, and the food was truly special and a work of art. And now, the Gora Kadan chef is at Wadakura.
Wadakura is a restaurant that’s newly-opened based on an old and well-known restaurant.
It’s a lovely, contemporary and stylish Japanese restaurant with great views of Tokyo.
Every dish we had was truly delicious in this wabi sabi way.
The corridor leading to Wadakura….
A WORLD OF JADED FRIENDS
Even my dinner companion, who chose the restaurant actually, couldn’t stop raving about that night’s meal.
And for him to rave in this way is very rare, as he’s incredibly jaded when it comes to kaiseki food.
Why are so many of the people around me so jaded, I’m now wondering?
Anyway, this guy has eaten in all the best Japanese restaurants in Japan so he knows what he’s talking about.
He chose Wadakura for that dinner because the Palace Hotel just re-opened and he wanted to have good kaiseki for dinner.
He also knows I generally like fancy restaurants.
We were both very happy with this very special meal in Tokyo, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.