Archive for December, 2008

Yagenbori (Kyoto, Japan) – Kaiseki on a Budget

I thought Yangebori would be an “intermediate” kaiseki meal, sandwiched between the rustic Takasebune and revered Hyotei reservations. Yagenbori is billed as a cheaper alternative to the Kikunoi and Hyotei’s – a concept that reduces cost by eliminating, or down-scaling, the expensive pottery, geisha-like servers, and high-end ingredients that most customers (re: tourists?) won’t necessarily appreciate.1 There are obviously ritual and symbolic components that would be sacrificed with this approach (that, admittedly, would probably fly over my head anyways); but, based on the food itself, I thought this could be a very solid meal given Kyoto’s food reputation.

Sometimes, I am shocked by my naivety.

This meal was not as good as the previous day’s kaiseki meal at Takasebune. It wasn’t a bad meal, and it probably wasn’t over-priced at $100/pp, but the terrible sashimi course hung over me like a very dark cloud for the remainder of the meal.

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Takasebune (Kyoto, Japan) – Home Cooking

Where Tokyo fulfilled the promises of Neuromancer or Bladerunner (and these blog reports will return to that world shortly), Kyoto is a city pulled in two directions – its past and probable future. Kyoto was the first major Japanese city to enact restoration reforms in an attempt to preserve its heritage; surprisingly, it was only enacted in the early 90s. Temples and parks are still pervasive across the city but urban sprawl encroaches everywhere. The restored areas of town are incongruous with their past; while they may be historically accurate, their newness, shininess, and cleanliness come off as facsimile. But everywhere one looks, the future and past are vying for attention and control.

The Entrance – the oar, on the very left, is the tell-tale sign that you’ve arrived.

Takasebune was billed as “affordable tempura”, located behind the Takasegawa canal. A quiet, dark alley splinters off and hosts old merchant houses, including Takasebune. One feels as if one has accidentally wandered into a forgotten street lost by city planners. But the future is only a step away in Kyoto. Directly behind and above it all is a giant department store, the hustle and bustle a scant minute away. It is possible to time travel in Kyoto, where a quick turn down an alley can lead to an escape from, or return to, the 21st century. The city has a charm, as well as a history, that is missing in Tokyo.

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