Japan- Yukimura- ✪✪✪

In a quiet neighborhood on the third floor, you'll find one of the most bizarrely uncoordinated and unsure-how-they-got-it Three Stars on the planet. The journey began with an (even by Japanese standards) confusing juxtaposition of Google Maps' directions, advice from locals, and a sense of following one's nose going totally wrong. Up the third floor of what appears to be a concrete-blocked apartment complex is, in fact, Yukimura. Welcoming, eh?

 Yukimura Main Entrance

Yukimura Main Entrance

TOKYO, JAPAN

SERVICE: 5.5/10

FOOD: 5.0/10

PRICE PAID: $351 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 2.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 4.0/10

Service here was a complete disaster, full stop. At several points, the chef became so visibly frustrated with his own crew that he would banish certain kitchen staff members to the seating area and force them to watch his technique from afar, or bus tables. Several different staff members who appeared far from prepared took on some of the primary prep roles, and at one point the chef just straight up walked out for about thirty minutes. Best guess is that he wanted a cigarette. The whole place felt totally out-of-control, and at 4 hours for less than 10 courses, I was utterly unimpressed with how they managed the experience.

 Yukimura Chef's Table

Yukimura Chef's Table

I have many nice things to say about the space- unique to Japan's Kappo Kaiseki restaurants I visited is a Yukimura's semi-circular physical layout that surrounds the chefs at work, giving full visibility to every step in their process and making the kitchen feel open, friendly, and engaging. This is probably the high point of the review. 

 First Bites: Roe + Burdock + Minnow + Abalone + Licorice, 7/10

First Bites: Roe + Burdock + Minnow + Abalone + Licorice, 7/10

 First Bites Opened up

First Bites Opened up

A group of different roe's (fish eggs), including herring, cod, and some dried ones from a mullet fish. Roe is almost never my fave, and today is no exception. Sweet black beans, a staple of most kaiseki restaurants on my trip, makes an early appearance. A handful of raw fish round the group out.

Though this is gamely presented in a full shell and I'm certain pushes a lot of Japanese culinary buttons, roe is really and truly not Not My Thing. The other ingredients are good to snack on, but I'm missing the initial story here (which, I'm sure, is 90% my fault). 7/10.

 Course 1: Snow Crab + Honmaroko Minnow, 5/10

Course 1: Snow Crab + Honmaroko Minnow, 5/10

Some actually pretty decent snow crab, accompanied by Honmaroko minnows from Lake Biwa, one of the twenty oldest lakes in the world. The crab has fantastic texture and is super fresh, but the minnow tastes extremely salty and preserved. An odd pairing. 5/10. 

 Course 2: Tempura Vegetables + Bamboo, 7/10

Course 2: Tempura Vegetables + Bamboo, 7/10

Next, some fairly plain but serviceably delicious tempura of vegetables and bamboo. Light and crispy, but no better or worse than something you could make at home with about ten minutes' prep. 7/10.

 Course 3: White Miso Soup, 8/10

Course 3: White Miso Soup, 8/10

Full of soft rich mustard flavors, this prettily-presented soup had a pleasantly thick texture, and the vegetables added some crunch. 8/10.

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And then, rather unexpectedly, came the portion of the meal that can only be described as almost two full hours of crab murder. 

From the back of the house, the chef produced an enormous spider crab, still very much alive and upset, and split the thing wide open right for all to see. He chopped off the legs, and, still alive, then took the head, flipped it over, and cooked it over the fire until its innards formed a broth. This was the cruelest thing I've ever seen happen in a restaurant. 

This was met, rather immorally, with a bunch of "oohs" and "aahs" from my dining compatriots.

He repeated this time-consuming process for every table, only ever cooking one crab at a time. It was absolutely. Fucking. Interminable.

Don't get me wrong- the crabs were pretty good- but two of the pieces I got were decidedly undercooked, and I'm fairly sure I got a light case of food poisoning afterwards. This is, for sure, the first time such a thing has happened to me at a 3-star restaurant anywhere in the world. Not a great first. 

Claws and body were served next. They were, if anything, overdone, most likely a factor of the head chef, the sous chef, and the young apprentice changing out the task of grilling the crab over the fire as their schedules saw fit. This course was a lengthy, uncomfortable, bad-tasting disaster. My first 0/10. 

 Course 5: Buckwheat Soba Noodle + Spicy Radish, 5/10

Course 5: Buckwheat Soba Noodle + Spicy Radish, 5/10

An underwhelming, starchy dish of spicy soba buckwheat noodles with radish. The spice was overpowering and the soba texture felt very al dente. 5/10.

 Course 6: The Rest Of The Crab, 5/10

Course 6: The Rest Of The Crab, 5/10

The coup de grace for the pool ol' crab was a final dish of crab innards mixed with rice and spices to create a boiled gelee of some kind. The flavors were fresh but I'm not sure that everything that ended up in this dish is normally meant to be eaten- strange muddy flavors and lots of flecks of hard shell throughout. 5/10.

 Course 7: Japanese Onion + Radish Soup, 2/10

Course 7: Japanese Onion + Radish Soup, 2/10

An inexplicably bland soup, with what felt like a mix between an onion and a potato as the starch- turned out to be Japanese radish. I ate about half of it and didn't find any of it refreshing. 2/10. Getting exhausted by this meal at this point. 

 Course 8: Rice + Aduki Beans, 7/10

Course 8: Rice + Aduki Beans, 7/10

A somewhat interesting Aduki bean and rice mix came next. It was mercifully bland and edible compared to some of the most recent work. 7/10. 

 Course 9: Blancmange of Strawberry, 9/10

Course 9: Blancmange of Strawberry, 9/10

With extremely good fortune, we ended on a fairly high note. The chef, after a long smoke break I mentioned earlier, presented his interpretation of a blancmange with strawberry and coffee grounds. The vanilla, strawberry, and coffee flavors and textures worked together really well. 9/10.

 Course 10: Sugar Candy, 8/10

Course 10: Sugar Candy, 8/10

I have no idea what these little sour candies were, but they felt handmade and they were extremely sugary (a rare treat in Japan) so I give them an 8/10.