PRICE PAID: $45 PP (LUNCH)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
Though décor does not figure prominently into my rating schema, I would have to give Hyotei extremely high marks for their unbelievable space. From the outside on a rainy day, Hyotei's 14th-Generation owner/chef Eiichi Takahashi (yes, totally not kidding, 14th-generation) has taken care to present an unassuming portal. But, on the inside, a universe of colors and a delicate balance of indoor and outdoor space transports you to another time and place. The experience is beyond surreal upon entering the small door and walking through garden pathways to the restaurant. Which, by the way, was almost totally empty when I visited. The pinks and the greens popped so brightly, and the small stream flowed so perfectly and serenely through the mossy riverbed that even after taking ten minutes to absorb the space I could hardly believe it was real.
No one in the restaurant spoke a single word of English. Not even, "Hello," so I was stuck with, "Hi, I'm Andrew," until we squared away that I did, in fact, have a reservation and wasn't just lost.
Lunch was presented in a traditional black-lacquered Bento box, together with fiddlehead ferns in a potato-based sauce. Several traditionally-dressed ladies participated in the presentation of the box, and very carefully explained each dish. They explained the ingredients, the origins, and the sources of each portion of the meal, along with talking through the Chef's strategy and his attempt to remain loyal to the spirit of this long-established restaurant. At least, I think they did, because once again I speak only the most crucial Japanese phrases and they made it clear that no effort would be made to accommodate an English-speaker, God bless 'em.
Starting with the dish on the lower-left, a pretty excellent balance of fish paste with a delicately carved starch and spring peas. This one pushed my comfort zone a little, in that I was completely unsure what any of these items were (except for the fish paste). 7/10.
The next dish (situated in the lower right on the main photo) included some more challenges to my Western palate. Dried, preserved fish in their entirety (eyes and all), along with some vinegar-dipped rice in a grape leaf. The grape leaf imbues a sweet and earthy flavor into the rice, and the fish were crunchy and actually pretty good.
This next dish- a hot, cooked flank of incredibly cooked fish and the brightest-yellow eggs I have ever eaten. The richness of the eggs paired up with the lean fish in an incredibly fashion that blew my expectations away. I was really impressed with this dish. 10/10.
This dish in the upper right- thinly-sliced fish with a generous helping of incredibly fresh vegetables and a dash of soy sauce- rivaled some of the sushi I had had in Tokyo. 9/10.
After I wrapped up the Bento box, I was served a tremendous hot soup of fiddlehead ferns that were literally-just-picked fresh, an egg ball, and a rectangle of something totally delicious. Once again, wish I could figure the rectangle out. 9/10.
This incredibly fun dish- mushrooms and rice- was deceivingly plain but a pleasing finish to the meal. 8/10.
Finally, a ceramic cup of some of the richest Green tea I have ever experienced. 8/10.