On an unassuming street corner near central Osaka is the tiny, beautiful, friendly restaurant of Koryu. Shintaro Matsuo, the chef and owner, tweaks each dish to bring out the best in its flavors, and his staff are gracious, kind, and fun. The chefs, servers, and every other member of staff were happy and engaged; they made this a really memorable experience. This was, hands down, one of my favorite experiences in Japan.
PRICE PAID: $160 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 9.0/10
We were greeted politely- you might even say effusively- at the red-linen-draped entrance. We were welcomed into the small but gorgeous space by everyone in the kitchen and on the small serving staff.
Koryu's interior was set up almost like a stage- a long projecting table broke up the space while still acting as a direct connection to the kitchen.
Unsurprisingly, every surface shone with good care, and the patterns and colors worked together flawlessly. A gorgeous jewel of a restaurant.
So here's an experience I had previously never had before- BEAR. White miso soup with daikon, yuzu, and, I'd like to say again, BEAR. When I asked our server to confirm the source of the protein, he raised his hand like a claw, and, with a hilariously neutral expression, said, "Rawr." Brilliant. The meat itself is oily and a touch rubbery, but good. 8/10.
Next, a tofu sauce with Japanese vegetable and karasumi (compressed roe). The textures seemed to work together, but the flavors were really and truly Not My Speed. 6/10.
Ah, here comes the smorgasbord plate. An enormous carrying dish with several small sub-plates- clockwise from bottom left- soy sauce, flounder, octopus, mackerel, tuna, egg yolk soy sauce, ocean water, sake. I'll dive into each one in turn.
Brightly-colored tiger prawn accentuated the (relatively) tame flavor and texture of the flounder fish, which was well-cooked and extremely fresh. 9/10.
Octopus is delicious, crunchy, and its so fresh that the individual suckers are as firm as plastic. Served alongside crispy-fresh broccolini. 9/10.
The mackerel is served with a nice bright plum sauce, which adds a nice touch of sweetness and gives the dish some depth. 8/10.
As I mentioned at the top, the chef's specialty seems to be coaxing the strongest performance out of each dish- and what a brilliant idea: pair a rich yellow egg yolk "soy sauce" with Otoro (fatty tuna). The result is a quasi-religious experience where the richness of the two somehow combines in a way that enhances the tuna further without becoming overwhelming. 10/10.
Next, some cooked pufferfish liver on a gorgeous ceramic plate. I can only liken the flavor to a foie gras of the ocean. The texture is a touch on the greasy side. 7/10.
Next, some shiitake mushroom with Hukinoto (butterbur), all fried in tempura. There are some assorted Japanese vegetables, and eel which is both sweet and salty. The mushroom is awesome- its has been perfectly fried to accentuate the amazing texture. 8/10.
Next, a beautiful dish of crab and buri (yellowtail) in a crab sauce. Here is one of the few places I can level a legitimate criticism of the preparation- the temperature on the dish is too low when it reaches us because they waited too long to serve. The sauce has brilliant peanut butter flavors, and the vegetabes are crispy-fresh. 7/10.
Another case where my Western palate is a bit lost- sea cucumber, spicy and served in an icy-cold soup, with dill and assorted herbs. I would describe this dish as somewhat hairy and stringy, and thence not my fave. 6/10.
This next dish of Miyazaki beef was totally amazing- the flavors were salty-rich and totally out of this world- but once again the server waited a touch too long to serve, so it landed a bit cold, 8/10.
As we got into the wrap-up dishes, a really fun take on congee with Japanese tea and radish. The congee is satisfying and delicious, the tea has that roasted oats/honey nut Cheerios flavor. As the chef is walking our palates down from the rich heights, this dish makes perfect sense. 7/10.
For finishers, a small and understated dessert of strawberry, kumquat, and lily bulb mochi. The lily bulb has a neutral flavor which emphasizes the sweetness of the citrus and the berry- 9/10.
A final note on service- we accidentally left something behind in the restaurant, and as we walked out into the cool early-Spring night we heard running footsteps of one of our servers chasing after us, holding said item aloft. A touching gesture of care. This place is truly one of a kind.