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Archive for January, 2009

Hyotei (Kyoto, Japan) – Regal Kaiseki

For many Westerners, the kaiseki meal retains a mythical, and impossible, romanticism – an unwavering reverence for tradition, to-the-day ingredient selection, choreographed service, and a physical proximity with nature 1 – where every piece fits into a symbolic whole. The dearth of English reviews or literature further compounds the legend.2 Hyotei and Kikunoi appear most frequently in the readily accessible Kyoto guides, seemingly straddling two sides of Kyoto cuisine – the traditional and modern3, respectively. There was only time for one supreme kaiseki meal – Exile Kiss’s excellent review4 of Hyotei persuaded me to try it over Luxeat’s uncertain experience at Kikunoi.

The location could be nowhere but Kyoto. Busloads of tourists, temples, hustle, and bustle surround the area but Hyotei is located on a quiet dark street. It has stood there for over three hundred years. Our servers for the evening stood outside waiting, beacons of gustatory delight, reinforcing the restaurant’s reputation for hospitality and welcoming. After entering, you are led down a stone pathway, ducking trees and bushes, amid a Japanese garden. A ninja could jump out at any given moment.5 The tatami room, your ultimate destination, sits on a small creek, where a panel can be opened to reveal the garden. (Exile Kiss’s Hyotei review has day-time photos of the same room and the tranquil setting outside.)

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Perfect Meal for 2008

Using the same idea from last year, here’s my perfect meal for 2008 – comprised of dishes I ate in 2008. It is obviously not a perfect meal as there’s an abundance of seafood dishes but these were the dishes that impressed me most. I ate out a lot more than I planned, and the list reflects the geographic and cultural diversity of my adventures.

Interestingly, the list reads very different from my best meals. Masa (NY) and Urasawa (LA) kept serving me the best sushi of my life with each successive visit but it would be impossible to list just one dish – those meals are systems with emergent properties; the same would go for Sushiso Masa in Tokyo too. The only memorable dish at Le Meurice was the first entry in this list. Take this for what it is – a fun compilation of great dishes that serves as an obligatory “year in review” post – not necessarily the great meals of the year.

I’ve left the original descriptions mostly intact, with the restaurant names linked to the original reviews, with two restaurants not having been reviewed yet (Sushiso Masa and Ryugin.)

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