Japan- Ishikawa- ✪✪✪

Tucked away near a Bushido temple in Shinjuku, tiny Ishikawa has an understated exterior shielding one of the world's friendlist and most interesting three-stars. Hideki Ishikawa is featured in Lutz Hachmeister's food documentary Three Stars (worth a watch, by the way) and describes in detail the hard work he invests to create not just a special experience for his guests, but a fantastic place to work for his staff as well. This was an excellent experience worthy of another visit- exceptional service, stellar food with incredibly fresh ingredients, and delightfully creative presentations.

 Ishikawa Main Entrance

Ishikawa Main Entrance

TOKYO, JAPAN

SERVICE: 8.5/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $176 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

 Ishikawa Main Hallway

Ishikawa Main Hallway

 Ishikawa Interior

Ishikawa Interior

Upon entering, the scented air immediately fills the space around you- it is heavy with rice, cooked fish, and spices- in a completely welcome and homey kind of way. Not nearly as formal, aseptic, and strict as most of the other Kaiseki restaurants I have visited on this trip. 

 Ishikawa Chef's Table

Ishikawa Chef's Table

I'm given a chair at the very small (7-seat) counter next to two nice couples. The space is clean, subtly lit, easy on the eyes. I'm immediately comfortable. 

 First Bites: Blowfish + Radish Sauce, 9/10

First Bites: Blowfish + Radish Sauce, 9/10

First out is a delightful cold dish of blowfish tossed with Japanese herbs and a white radish sauce. Great textures and very, very fresh. Radish sauce is fruity, almost citrusy. 9/10.

 Course 1: Turtle, 8/10

Course 1: Turtle, 8/10

This is my first experience with turtle of any kind, and it has a chewy, soft, mushroom-like texture. Two large chunks are served hot, and they're meant to be eaten in two big bites with kelp salt to taste. 8/10. 

 Course 2: Scallop Dumpling Soup, 8/10

Course 2: Scallop Dumpling Soup, 8/10

Next, a clear-broth soup with scallop dumpling, bamboo shoots, and seaweed. The small green garnish on the dumpling is a Japanese Pepper bud. The bamboo tastes rich, almost smoky, and the seaweed is super fresh- feels like it was hauled off a boat that morning. 8/10.

 Course 3A: Sea Bream + Sea Urchin Sashimi, 9/10

Course 3A: Sea Bream + Sea Urchin Sashimi, 9/10

3-Michelin Star sashimi courses rarely disappoint; this is no exception. Sea urchin as soft as ice cream, sea bream as bright and zingy-crispy-fresh as I've ever experienced. The texture is also soft and smooth- a very easy-to-down course. 9/10.

 Course 3B: Lightly Seared Squid Sashimi, 9/10

Course 3B: Lightly Seared Squid Sashimi, 9/10

Next, a few elegant bites of squid with ginger. Lightly seared and warm. The increased temperature is a nice break from the sea bream and the urchin, but the squid is seared in such a way that it doesn't lose its outstanding texture. 9/10.

 Course 4: Conger Eel, 9/10

Course 4: Conger Eel, 9/10

Next, some conger eel- pleasant and soft, perfectly cooked texture. This is normally a subtly-flavored fish, but the crispy presentation and the cooking oil bring out some delightful flavor. 9/10.

 Course 5: Snow Crab + Turnip, 8/10

Course 5: Snow Crab + Turnip, 8/10

A delightful plate of snow crab; soft, with an almost sinewy texture. The turnip brings out stunningly bright flavors in the crab, which is served cold. The title of this dish was "Delicacy," and I couldn't agree more. 9/10.

 Course 6: Duck Hot Pot, 10/10

Course 6: Duck Hot Pot, 10/10

Hot pot courses are super fun at Kaiseki restaurants, and this one was no exception. Super-fatty duck is served alongside some vegetables; the slick mouthfeel of the duck pairs perfectly with the lean, crisp vegetables and the tasty broth. One of my favorite courses of all time. 10/10.

 Course 7: Steamed Rice + Perch, 8/10

Course 7: Steamed Rice + Perch, 8/10

As most Kaiseki restaurants do, Ishikawa offers a "bottomless" course that usually involves rice and a light protein. In this case, steamed rice and perch are served alongside some pickled vegetables, and will be refilled on demand until you're full. I like the idea that good restaurants don't want you to leave hungry. One round was all I needed, and the flavors were light and delicious- if anything, a touch on the bland side. 8/10. 

 Course 8: Soybean Mousse, 9/10

Course 8: Soybean Mousse, 9/10

For dessert, a mousse of soybean in a soybean soup. I can very safely say I have never had anything remotely like this dish- the soybean mousse is almost chocolatey- and this is a perfect cool-down dish. A great finish to a great meal. 9/10.