Japan- Taian- ✪✪✪

Right off one of the main shopping districts in Osaka is the smallish, strip-mall-restaurant feeling Taian. I'll say right off the bat that although I enjoyed my time here and thought this was a pretty good restaurant, I was very confused about what made this worthy of the elite 3-star ranking. The dishes made sense together, were well-prepared with fresh ingredients, but many parts of the experience were totally uninspiring. The chefs rotely went about their tasks without much talk or interaction, servers dropped things off but didn't say much, diners stared at their phones or carried on in loud conversations with each other... The place felt plain, casual, and utterly underwhelming. It's been a 3-star since 2010, too, so it's not like this is some simple error on Michelin's part. 

 Taian Interior

Taian Interior

OSAKA, JAPAN

SERVICE: 5.0/10

FOOD: 7.0/10

PRICE PAID: $127 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10

 Opening Smorgasbord Plate

Opening Smorgasbord Plate

We begin with a grab bag plate of extremely different appetizers. Clockwise from upper left- a clear-broth soup served medium-hot, a bit thin but strong seafood flavors, 8/10.

Leafy greens with beans and vegetables, along with mushroom- every element is firm and delicious, 9/10. 

Karasumi egg roe, still totally Not My Favorite As A Thing In General. 5/10. 

Condensed seaweed with strong ginger flavors but so slimy and stringy that I can barely eat it. Also Not My Thing. 4/10. 

Japanese tofu with Uni and wasabi: I'm told to mix the two constituents together, and the result is a delicious and creamy texture like melted cream cheese. It has some slight heat from the wasabi; this dish is totally excellent. 9/10. 

 Course 1: Miso + Mustard + Oyster Soup, 9/10

Course 1: Miso + Mustard + Oyster Soup, 9/10

This miso soup dish is served with oyster and extremely strong flavors of mustard, which heightens the dish considerably. The oyster is huge- it doesn't show up well on the photo, but it was the size of a man's wallet- and the richness of the soup offsets the lean zestiness of the shellfish perfectly. 9/10. 

 Course 2: Blowfish, 7/10

Course 2: Blowfish, 7/10

Next out were two fairly delicious courses of sashimi- blowfish and squid. The blowfish isn't quite as good as Yamadaya- it's a neutral-tasting fish to start with, and even with strong soy there isn't much flavor here. 7/10.

 Course 3: Squid, 8/10

Course 3: Squid, 8/10

The squid has that extremely pleasant firm-yet-yielding texture, with subtle flavor notes of tropical fruits like papaya and mango. 8/10. 

 Course 4: Chicken, 9/10

Course 4: Chicken, 9/10

Next came the real high point of the meal, and in a visit to Japan that included almost 20 three-star restaurants, this was my only encounter with chicken. "Native" chicken was soft and tender; it came with some salt to taste, along with pretty slices of vegetables. The grilling is perfectly done. 9/10. 

 Course 5: Blowfish liver, 8/10

Course 5: Blowfish liver, 8/10

Imagine the world's richest, creamiest chicken nugget. Then, add a bunch of salt and lemon to taste. Then, serve it nuclear-hot. You've more or less got the notion behind this blowfish liver, which was deep fried and served solo. Fried foie gras of the deep, with a neat take on the presentation. 8/10.

 Course 6: Crab Soup, 7/10

Course 6: Crab Soup, 7/10

Next, some crab soup with ginger and some lily bulbs thrown in for texture. Hot, and flavors that most resembled a fancy sweet and sour soup broth. A simple dish, but tasty. 7/10.

 Course 7: Rice + Blowfish, 7/10

Course 7: Rice + Blowfish, 7/10

As we get to the never-ending dish, rice with blowfish along with some chives that really stand out. A pretty and filling dish, but once again there wasn't a ton going on here worth noting. 7/10. 

 Course 8: Soup. 6/10

Course 8: Soup. 6/10

Next, another simple soup with some clear, crunchy vegetables for texture. I hate to sound like a dick, but I could have probably made this with a few minutes' instruction. 6/10.

 Course 9: Stawberry + Black Bean + White Bean Jelly Dessert, 7/10

Course 9: Stawberry + Black Bean + White Bean Jelly Dessert, 7/10

Lastly, dessert served in a wine glass- strawberry with black bean, white bean, and a sugary jelly. A semi-satisfying end to the meal, but I must admit that the whole experience here left me wanting a bit. 7/10.