I must admit.
I am on social media for a good amount of time throughout the day. Used as a tool, social media and the internet can open up our worlds to a plethora of information made useful in parenting, relationships, and even in the kitchen.
Many times, when new restaurants open in Manila, I find out about them through my friends. Foodies, Mommas, and Advocates all share their finds, their tips and tricks, and even their challenges on their profiles and pages, and sometimes, I benefit from their experiences.
It’s all about the sharing right?
I first heard of Kyoto from my friend Grace Baja. She posted about the restaurant on social media and her blog, and I was immediately intrigued. I showed Nino some of the photos, followed them on Instagram, and knew that we should visit this exclusive restaurant in Legaspi Village for one of the many special occasions that we are privileged to celebrate together.
In this case, I requested that we celebrate my birthday dinner in Kyoto as a special treat.
I love exploring new places and new restaurants with Nino. In fact, when it comes to Japanese Cuisine, I am still finding my footing, and having Nino as my teacher gives me a little more confidence in enjoying all the different dishes that he is so familiar with.
This guy grew up eating Japanese food at a very young age. So his understanding of the dishes, the culture, and the nuances is much more well rounded than my limited experience. In fact, when we started dating, I remember him taking me to one of his favorite Japanese restos in Setauket, NY. It was the first time I stepped outside my comfort zone and tried more than the ubiquitous california roll.
If you asked him, I think Nino would say, proudly, how far I have come in terms of my appreciation for this meticulously prepared and aesthetically pleasing form of cuisine, which, truthfully, I could not appreciate, before he came into my life.
Kyoto is a city in Japan that is known for many things. But, in this case, the type of meal that we enjoyed for my birthday dinner was prepared traditionally. A Kyoto Kaseiki Ryori meal is the highest form of Japanese Haute Cuisine.
“Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese multi-course haute cuisine. Its origins are found many centuries ago in the simple meals served at the tea ceremony, but later it evolved into an elaborate dining style popular among aristocratic circles. Today, Kaiseki is served in specialized restaurants or can be enjoyed by staying at a ryokan (Japanese style inn).”
There is a prescribed order to serving and the dishes featured in a meal like this, and it is based on the way each of the dishes is prepared and cooked.
This is the part of my writing and sharing where I am so intrigued. When I learned more about Korean food, through another restaurant that I featured, I also learned that there was a specific order in which the food should be served as well.
Come to think of it, I’m sure no matter the cuisine, when we are discussing fine dining, the passion can also be seen in the process and order in which the meal is served.
Truth be told, I love the artistic flair with which Japanese food is served. It’s pretty. It’s delightful. It’s seasonal. There is a very specific process in which Japanese chefs follow, and when it’s done well, the tastes are clean and layered with texture, depth and, sometimes, that umami flavor.
Traditional cuisine of any sort, I think is like that? Simple flavors with freshest of ingredients will yield the best and most deliciously satisfying results.
- Aperitif (Shokuzen-shu)
- Sometimes, the meals can start with a small glass of alcohol
- Usually, a bite sized selection of appetizers served together.
- Soup (Suimono)
- Usually a clear broth soup with vegetables, tofu, or seafood.
- Sashimi (Otsukuri)
- Boiled Dish (Nimono)
- This course is usually made by simmering vegetables and meat or seafood in a mixture of soy sauce, sweet cooking sake, and sugar.
- Grilled Dish (Yakimono)
- This course is either grilled fish or grilled meat. Grilled meat often features wagyu beef.
- Deep Fried Dish (Agemono)
- This course is commonly known as tempura. It is usually served towards the end of the meal and along side a dipping sauce or salt seasoning.
- Steam Dish (Mushimono)
- This course is a steamed dish called chawanmushi. It’s a savory egg custard with a variety of different fish, vegetables, and even nuts.
- Vinegared Dish (Sunomono)
- Sunomono dishes are often made with vegetables and seafood in a vinegar sauce.
- Sometimes dessert can be seasonal fresh fruit, sorbet, or other light desserts served together.
Here is what Nino and I enjoyed from Chef Ryohei Kawamoto.
We started with Hokkaido Crab. It was served with Vinegar Jelly, Cucumber PIckles, and Aligue Miso. The crab was sweet, firm, and flaky, while the vinegared jelly gave just a hint of acidity that I am sure I was supposed to mix in all together. But I really wanted to experience all the different flavors as they stood. I made my “perfect subo,” each time, using a little bit of each condiment to alternate each bite of my delicious crab.
This clear soup with mushrooms and gindara can be described succinctly by how Nino put it, “This is like Emperor’s Soup on steroids.”
I have enjoyed both Hamachi and Toro Sashimi for some time now. I just recently started eating Hotate, so to have all three of these pieces of the freshest fish with freshly grated wasabi was apropos for our third course.
I remembered a time when Nino and I bought fresh fish from The Seaside Seafood Market on Roxas Boulevard to make sashimi at home because we hoarded all the toro. On this particular day, we figured out that many of the Japanese chefs in Manila buy their sushi grade fish from the same market. We angered one such Japanese chef because we bought all the toro that was available, leaving none for his restaurant.
I felt myself savoring each bite. And when I looked up at Nino I saw him watching me. I’m not sure if he was watching me because he wanted my last bite, or if he was watching me because he was suddenly amused at the sashimi lover who was sitting in front of him.
Did I mention that this is my 21st birthday we celebrated together?
I have often watched Nino enjoy this dish. It’s lovely when it’s smokey with the grilled flavor of the charcoals. This was my first time to devour Hamachi Kama (Jaw) and it certainly won’t be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and because I too, wanted to make sure I cleaned out every last bite, I took my time and ate slowly.
I think that’s the thing about meals like this, that are so special. There is time to chat in between courses. Time to reminisce. Perhaps even time to debate world issues, but in our case, on this evening of my birthday, I felt nostalgic. I was not only reminiscing of days gone by with Nino, but specific times we had in our beginning.
Perhaps, this meal was extra special, because I feel like Nino and I are somehow beginning again…without many of the worries the troubles we have experienced in past years.
Truth is, our lives are a lot simpler now. I guess that happens when you realize you can cut out some of the drama and the nonsense that others bring into your lives.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s why I really truly felt like celebrating so lavishly as well.
Wagyu is often included in Kasieki meals. This wagyu was grilled to perfection. Firm to the bite. Adding in the smoky flavor of the tobiko flakes and the fresh spinach, provided for well rounded bites. The wagyu was buttery and soft, without tasting fatty. I had no problem finishing everything on my plate, even though this was already the fifth course.
Right about now, was the time we were also quietly enjoying our sake. We could overhear some of the other diners in another private room comparing Kyoto to another very well known restaurant that has been known to be a fine dining Japanese restaurant as well. We didn’t want to eaves drop on their whole conversation, but it actually got us to start making some comparisons of our own.
It was after this course, that we too, decided, that Kyoto IS the best Japanese restaurant in Manila.
The last of the main courses was supposed to be a Gindara Teriyaki served with Japanese Rice.
Kaiseki restaurants often work with what is fresh and available. In this case, perhaps Gindara was no longer available at the market earlier that morning? Instead, we were served a firm piece of Grilled Salmon which was delicious, but left us wanting just a little bit more because we already knew that we COULD have had Gindara again.
That’s the other thing about enjoying a restaurant like this. We trust that the Chef will bring forth the best dishes he can create, with only the freshest ingredients, that are in season.
In this case, Chef Kawamoto has trained in some of the most prestigious locations, and has served many dignitaries with his fine cuisine.
I want say that I was so full after six courses, that I didn’t know how I was going to enjoy dessert. I tried to fix myself for my 21st birthday 😉 with my love, so of course, I wore something a little fitted and of course put on a little make up for my celebration.
But, I would be lying. Because I always have room for dessert. I think I have a second stomach for dessert.
In fact, I think everyone has a second stomach for dessert. Don’t you?
This dessert was an earthy blend of matcha, ice cream, mochi and kinako powder. Kinako powder is made of soy beans and the slightly bitter taste was balanced by the sweet gooey red bean paste that the ice cream was nestled atop of.
And because Nino let them know it was my birthday, I even had the opportunity to blow out another candle.
What a wonderful birthday treat. Celebrated with my love. Boy, am I a lucky girl.
Parking tip to those who will drive to Kyoto: Park in the back of the building. There is a lot for the building, and they will allow you to park there as long as you let them know you have reservations.
And be sure to make reservations.
KYO-TO KAISEKI RESTAURANT
G/F 119 C. Palanca Jr. Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City
Telephone: +632 805 7743
Mobile: +63 917 596 9697
Open on Tues-Sun 5pm-10pm