Komameya (Kyoto, Japan) – Yuba Tasting Menu
Kyoto was a playground for new cuisine and ideas – purposely spanning the strata of price and styles of dining. It seemed necessary to try tofu in Kyoto where they have purportedly taken the ingredient to an art, despite personal prejudices against what passes for tofu dishes in the US. Serendipity played its usual role and, despite looking for something interesting, I chanced upon Exile Kiss’s review of Komameya – home of the yuba tasting menu. What could be more fascinating than taking the infinitely gratifying textural qualities of yuba and coaxing an entire menu out of their variations?
Komameya (“little bean shop” per Kyoto Foodie) specializes in their own house-made yuba. Like many restaurants in Japan, it is a chain, with three locations throughout Kyoto. Each location offers a la carte or a “kaiseki” (re: tasting) menu. This location (near Karasuma-dori) was casual but it had an under-stated modern elegance – clean geometric lines. The waitress spoke admirable English but your experience may vary. Lunch and dinner are available.
Komameya is by no means a high-end restaurant but, if one ordered carefully, it could induce an epiphany or two. There is something transcendental about a piece of fresh yuba that defies its simplicity. It is an ingredient that should be explored more in Western dishes and/or fusion cuisine, if for nothing else but for its sublime texture. Riffs on the texture were found throughout the meal – each dish highlighting a different aspect. In the “sashimi” course, it was packed tightly to give it a (ever so slight) rubbery quality, similar to the real fish beside it. Its stringy quality, similar to melted cheese, accentuated and amplified the actual cheese in the chicken parmesan course. Yuba donburi, the final course, had a Korean bibim-bop quality where the rice, egg, and yuba hung together in each bite. The dessert, a soy-based machta “pudding” (for lack of a better word), was stunning – its silky texture possibly the greatest of the evening (and one of the best of the trip!)
As good as some courses could be, some were just as bad. The frying was heavy-handed and, while the potential exists for a satisfying contrast, the breading dominated the mouthfeel (and you can see that Exile Kiss’s fried yuba looks much more accomplished.) The non-yuba ingredients were fairly average, even by American standards. The sashimi and duck could have been from anywhere. Because of this, one might have the best luck ordering a la carte, opting for more yuba-based dishes (for example, in the a la carte menu, the “sashimi” course did not include fish.)
Komameya is a little too careless at times to be considered an elite Kyoto restaurant but it is an enjoyable stop with eye-opening possibilities. The texture variations from one dish to the next should satisfy most curiosities. For chefs, the riffs on a single ingredient could provide imaginative spark and ideas. If you are a fan of yuba, or just want an “easy” night out, Komameya should not disappoint; otherwise, try ordering the “sashimi” and a few other dishes for lunch.