Kichisen.. 3 Michelin star kaiseki Kyoto

Though the food here was excellent, we were a bit disappointed by the quick service and lack of deference/accommodation. Not that we expect all Kaiseki restaurants to have English speaking staff, it just felt rushed, with very little English spoken. It’s not like we were rude or walked in wearing shorts. We were dressed in formal clothes, bowing and smiling the whole time. Also, we don’t expect hands and knees service, but in contrast to Kikunoi for example, there is  a clear difference in the level of service expected from a three star restaurant. Even the waitress who spoke little English at Kikunoi was able to communicate through body language, smiles, showing us pictures in the cook book, etc. We appreciated the effort to make us feel welcomed. It could also have been that the waitress felt paralyzed by inability to communicate and the awkwardness came across, who knows, anyways on to the food.
So this chef was supposedly a top dog in Japanese cuisine in the early 90’s, where he battled Morimoto on the original Iron Chef Japan series. We even got the burned DVD of that episode as a gift. I believe the son now runs the restaurant.
First dish was visually stunning and elegant, cone of cold tofu topped with Wasabi jelly, with layers of sweet Hokkaido sea urchin on top. The bamboo leaf crown was put to use later.
The simple elegance of the next dish blew our mind, a dream-like star dusted glass bowl that looked like a jewelry box with precious pearls that we had to dive for. The peas were so sweet and the broth had a subtle sweetness and was chilled to perfection. We felt so refreshed after eating this, true palate cleanser.
Look at that sake presentation. We had like three bottles of these house sakes, shaved ice, in gold laced baccarat crystal again, blue etched crystal glasses, gotta love it.
The classic Conger eel and Japanese plum dish here was the best even ahead of Kitcho and Kikunoi. Best plum I will ever eat. Not sure if it was the perfect ripeness or marinated in rice vinegar or something. Consolation prize for the service complaint earlier.
Next two dishes won the award in presentation compared to all the other Kaiseki restaurants we visited, likely explaining the third star. Sashimi boat, with artful use of shaved ice. Boat was covered with dew glistening ginko leaves. Sashimi was clearly of Sea bream with a red chili sliced atop, with sesame paste covered ika (squid) complimented by flowering cucumber, but I can’t remember the last two fish, in my notes I wrote ebi (sweet shrimp) but it doesn’t look like ebi, looks like tai (snapper). I do know that one of the fish or ebi was covered with nishi roe.
Then a platter of fatty blue fin tuna (O-toro) with organic garden white radish with leaf.
Then a tamale style sushi wrapped in bamboo leaf that Erika swears was clam, but again, language barrier prevented getting details. No menu to reference either. I’m thinking it was flounder. Erika remembers this being pleasantly chewy.
The maple leaves blew me away, the aesthetics just kept coming. The baskets filled with pickled ayu, tomago and sweet potato. Complimented with crystal gold lined chalices with Lily pads on top dusted with shaved ice so it wouldn’t fly off. Inside was a tofu with miso paste.
Then there was a very aromatic soup of squash, minced beef and ginger.
Then a monolithic black heated stone with a giant slice of grapefruit that served as a buffer for the thick sea bream fillets. This was so damn good with the salad. Just listening to the sizzling on the video takes us back.
Then some pickled fermented radish with awaji uni. Awaji is an island south of Osaka, and this uni is supposedly more sought after than Hokkaido uni.
It was sinfully sweet. I hope I get to find this again one day. Ridiculously good. They brought out some rice with baby sakura shrimp (fresh water cherry shrimp). I was overwhelmed by the umami of hundreds of little shrimp heads. Wow
Some bitterly smokey iri banchan tea before dessert.
Amazingly ripe cantaloupe with French ambonnay liqueur and house made yuzu and grape sorbet.
This was followed by the famous Kyoto mochi dessert we saw everywhere, and richly bitter matcha tea. Off to Kikunoi next. Summary of Kichisen, amazing ingredients, amazing presentation, mediocre service and ambiance.
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