What an amazing Ryokan in the Kutchan region of Hokkaido. Not only were the architecture and environs idyllic, but the food was delicate, elegant, super healthy and subtle. Upon further internet research of each item described on the menus, my appreciation for the locality of the ingredients was further enhanced. Coming here, you fall into the routine of sulfuric baths in your room, watching the snow falling outside, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner prepared for you in the picturesque cubicles with floor to ceiling glass. Here is your typical itinerary, wake up, eat, soak in the hot spring tub in your room, have sex, nap, eat again, soak, have sex, nap, eat again, zone out, wake up, have sex, soak, eat. The whole time you are either naked or walking around the compound wearing the gray robes supplied. No need to even pack clothing if you are staying on site with no plans of venturing out. The only thing to break the routine was a visit to the farms nearby to have cheesecake made from the local Holstein cows.
Before the meal, they bring a tray of glasses/cups for your sake. Each person at the table picks a personalized cup that suits their taste. Felt like Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.
First up is the Kutchan egg yolk miso. with some garden vegetable and tofu. Deceptively simple until I realized it was a combination of my favorite things, dirty stinky ass fermentation of egg yolk preserved in miso. Gooey, rotten, fermented goodness. It was a freaking umami bomb, just looking at the dish would not tell you how much time went into creating the dish.
Here is a link that tells you how to do this at home.
Next up were the Zaborin autumn vegetables from their garden. Cooked hours over Japanese binchotan charcoal. ‘Delicious’, as Erika says. Again, simple, organically farmed veggies, pulled out of the soil and left to slowly cook over specialized coal, which infuses the vegetables with a smoky flavor.
Next up is the clear broth Chrysanthemum and flounder.
Such a cleansing and aromatic dish with tender flounder. The amazing texture of the fish skin. The floral/herbal scents and flavor profile of the chrysanthemum were superb.
Then came the sashimi dish with an assortment of pieces of Hokkaido maguro (blue fin tuna), Rose fish, octopus, and the ubiquitous Botan shrimp that we had at other restaurants in the region.
Look how bloody red that Hokkaido tuna was. Rose fish had such a nice texture, along with the octopus which was oh so tender as well.
The Botan shrimp with its blue translucent eggs, not very well demonstrated in this photo.
Next up was the Courgette and sweet prawn ‘Shinjo”.
Courgette is basically a small zucchini with its flower bulb on top. The Shinjo, which is fermented salted plum with a prawn paste, balanced the slight bitterness of the zucchini and was a magical pairing.
This was the Rose fish with Hokkaido Leek in white miso paste. Like a deconstructed miso soup, but the leak soup’s butteriness melded nicely with the buttery fish. It’s like miso soup stands on its own with regards to umami, leek soup stands on its own as well, then imagine a chunk of sea bass or lobster dipped in butter, and combine all three of those concepts into one umami bomb of a dish.
Then a desiccated and baked Hokkaido potato with ‘Mozuku’ kelp. This was like ‘surf and turf’ Vegan-style. This is a special seaweed from Okinawa that only grows in a certain part of the ocean for a certain period of time. It’s supposed to have 5 times the antibacterial and antioxidants qualities of any other seaweed in the world. Here’s a link describing its benefits.
Here was the first of the wine bottles we smuggled into Japan with us. Believe it or not, it is very difficult to find old French wine in Japanese restaurants, anything older than 2010 gets prohibitively expensive. I think it has something to do with the crazy tariffs they have to pay for French wine, so we and our friends were lugging around 12 bottles of wine like jackasses everywhere we went, wine packed in boxes with a duct tape handle. Pictured next to the wine was some sake, as well, that we had drunk our holy grail cups. Luckily we all ‘chose wisely’. We were trashed by the time this picture came, so I did not even write what it was, nor the tasting notes. But the 2008 Chablis was kick ass if not a bit warm from what I remember.
The final dish was the wagyu roasted fragrance forest. It was a perfectly char-grilled piece of wagyu with a charred leaf that left you with the scent of a freshly put out campfire. Look at that amazing marbling. A5 Hokkaido wagyu, quite different from Kobe wagyu. Look at that marbling. It wasn’t just butter melting in your mouth, as is Kobe, but rather these cuts had some firmness to them. Supposedly the original Wagyu designation is supposedly from the black cows of Hokkaido, which are said to be the best in Japan. It was A5 of course given the luster and marble caliber. Loved how perfectly seared it was. Here is a link to Hokkaido beef and the cattle varieties.
Then in the left corner, you will see the Beni Shigure Daikon rice. They brought this in a big pot and divided amongst us. These were torpedo shaped radish looking daikons that were so nicely fermented and sour. It looks so simple, but the flavor was so amazing, and it paired so well with the wagyu beef. Again, this Daikon was like a super food, had ten times the antioxidants as any other daikon, etc. See link below for details. If I ever get cancer, I am going to sell all my belongings and just live here and eat three meals a day here. Leaving this dinner was like getting a chemo treatment without all the hair loss.
Another pretty bottle of sake to get us even more shit-faced before our final dessert.
First of all, look at that pretty plate, it looks like the romper room mirror. We had no idea that this is like an ode to nostalgic special vintage traditional Japanese dessert called Monaka. See link below. It had mochi, red bean paste, ice cream and sweet potato, so damn good. All the Japanese dessert staples all in one.
Now that we’ve had a good night sleep, sexy time, and a sulfur bath, let’s have breakfast. Right this way…
Let’s stop and look at some artwork in the hallway.
Now let’s stop and look out the window. Art imitating life, life imitating art?
More art. Looks like he’s trying to tell us to put some food in our mouth.
Never had home made Japanese breakfast, this already looks like it’s off to a good start.
Look at those condiments, omfg, that salted plum was amazing, I can almost taste it seeing it just now.
What a lay out, we each get our own little stone hot-pot cooker.
Amazingly cute basket with freshly picked veggies from their garden with a red miso paste. What visuals here.
Literally, everywhere you look you are dumbfounded by the level of beauty.
OMFG, there’s the porn plum again. Ouuuugh!!! I’m shivering.
Look at that perfectly cooked egg. I want a hot pot like this at home. Next up was either a smoked herring or sailfin poacher dish, which was so perfect with a sunny side up egg.
Then we came to some perfectly cooked rice to soak up whatever was left from the hot pot and red miso paste with the garden veggies. Super light breakfast before matcha tea ceremony in the den area of the ryokan.
The surrounding environment is complete serenity, no noise or signs of civilization/homelessness/pollution, or climate change, etc.
As we prepare for the tea ceremony.
Snowflake-shaped little confection to have with the matcha tea.
More pictures of the lobby before retiring for more soaking, napping et al.
Back for more hedonism with dinner.
Fresh Matsutake mushrooms from Biratori, a region in the Southwest of Hokkaido, not too far away from the ryokan. I have waxed poetic about these wonderful fungi on many an occasion. Once again, a natural anti-carcinogenogenic agent, specifically against oral cancer. This is the first time I am putting a link from a medical journal on my food blog, it was inevitable that my worlds would one day collide.
Let the penis jokes begin.
Second night’s meal seemed more veggie laden. No complaints here. I could only be Vegan in Japan. Nowhere else are vegetarian options as good as the meat options.
Next up Zaborin land, water and sea. From what I see, I think this was a gooseberry, white radish, celery, mushroom, carrot, and some other tempura-ed greens In the little cup was some octopus. You can also see a little ayu fish swimming in between the radish and carrot, only it’s deep fried.
Aerial view exposes tempura-ed shitake mushroom head in the middle.
I love eating my food with tweezers.
Look at the carrot top, it was like kale chips, so damn savory, crunchy and salty. They would just throw it away here. Beautiful vessel once again.
This contained the clear broth of Horsehair Crab. I think it had long hair shaped noodles of daikon, almost like the Chinese bird’s nest soup. The broth was pure essence of snow crab.
The leg of the Horsehair crab left you craving more. I wanted to eat the whole damn crab, but that was for another time.
More Hokkaido blue fin tuna toro, squid with dew-misted gingko leaf, some flounder, and that super dark red fish was actually whale meat (kujira). I know, I know, I sound like someone defending Confederate statues by saying, “but it’s a part of our heritage as Americans”, but it is, in fact, a traditional food in Japan, and I love to piss off animal rights activists so I ate this gleefully, for all the misery those PETA nut jobs put me through when foie gras was banned in California for many months. And no, I am not going to get mercury poisoning from 2-3 slices of whale sashimi.
Then a dish of some cancer-fighting freshwater clam called Shijimi. It is loaded with L-ornithine, the amino acid crucial in the Krebb cycle and Urea cycle, freaking O-chem PTSD flashbacks from med school and undergrad days. This amino acid can help lower ammonia levels and help the liver work as a more efficient filter. It is apparently a well-known home-made remedy to have miso with clam the day after a hang over. It was paired nicely with a squash, spinach, and seaweed. Against the bronze plate, at a glance, the squash contrasts nicely and looks like one of those artistic brush strokes of sauce you would see at a Michelin joint.
Then some butterfish-like seared filet with shaved eggplant skin on top of boiled eggplant with a miso glaze, small onion added to the caramelized sweet flavor profile. Such a savory dish.
This is a play on a traditional special dish called Nasu Dengaku, which is a miso-glazed eggplant, so amazingly good, a pairing made in heaven with regards to texture and flavor profile. See link if you want to make this at home.
This was the Hokkaido yam salad. Nothing like the slimy Japanese mountain yam to lubricate your system before some A5 wagyu. What I loved was the pairing of okra with the yam, which also has a very slimy texture. The sliminess was further accentuated by the cold temperature of the salad, which made the yam almost gelatinous.
This was Abashiri wagyu. Apparently, there is a jail in the area where they force the inmates to raise these cattle from birth and brush the cows to massage them and improve the marbling. All in an attempt to show them the value of life. Maybe this one was massaged by an actual Yakuza?
I could not help but resist the comparison of their plating to a Japanese rock garden.
Then came another zero foot print dessert of Yoichi apple and white birch sap jelly with herbal water. The white birch sap jelly was so clear you could barely tell it was inside the little glass bowl. What a perfumatory experience this was, like going to a Parisian perfumery, how perfectly appropriate with the whale blubber still coating my mouth from the previous sashimi dish. This leads me to the topic of ambergris, talk about a tangential thought, read below.
Here is where birch sap jelly comes from:
And the apple ice cream with the poached apple that came from Yoichi, which was where I was in the post prior to this one drinking whiskey. Yoichi is known for their apples throughout Japan, as well as their whiskey. They even had some apple brandy at the Nikka distillery.
Since I am on the topic of whiskey, I could not resist having a glass of pure malt 25-year-old Nikka whiskey after dessert. This bad-boy was pure birch sap. What a perfect ending to a perfect 72 hours, it felt like one long uninterrupted stretch of time, like the lines of sand in the rock garden above.
Here it was on display. I think it was $150 or so for a glass. I’ll attach a better picture below. A quick price-check clocks this puppy in at $1300/bottle.