Japan- Kohaku- ✪✪✪

Right down the street from Ishikawa (the restaurant that actually owns this one), is Koji Koizumi's more informal (but just as excellent) kappo-kaiseki style eatery, Kohaku. Though a touch more experimental and informal than Hideki Ishikawa's place, both the interior look and feel as well as the ingredients and dishes felt extremely familiar. I will say that going to both restaurants within two days of each other was probably an error on my part. 

 Kohaku Dining Counter

Kohaku Dining Counter

TOKYO, JAPAN

SERVICE: 7.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $158 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Over the course of my two-week trip, I encountered English-language skills that were all over the map; rather unfortunately, I'd have to place Kohaku in the bottom quintile overall. Not a single person could do much more than read the Google-translated menu they printed out for me (which is fine- I'm the traveller visiting another country, it should be on me to learn the language rather than force them to speak mine). I will admit, though, that this made the meal a touch more isolating than usual.

Service was extremely attentive- like many counter-style restaurants, the chefs and cooks were also the servers, table-bussers, water-pourers, etc. This leads to a very efficient and busy counterfront, but the downside is that when they were approaching their peak demand from the private dining rooms, they were often too busy to attend to things like tea, water, clearing, etc. Understandable, but my meal slowed way, way down around the middle of the menu to a glacial pace. 

 Course 1: Turnip + Shiitake + Turtle, 9/10

Course 1: Turnip + Shiitake + Turtle, 9/10

First out, a delightful dish of Shogoin turnip that has almost cigar-y/tobacco-y notes (I'm not a smoker, but it was damn good). The mushrooms were perfect- there's a firm but oily protein that turns out to be turtle. 9/10.

 Course 2: Leek + Burdock + Truffle, 8/10

Course 2: Leek + Burdock + Truffle, 8/10

A beautiful dish- the burdock root is very firm; almost potato-like. I will say that though it adds a lot visually, the truffle doesn't bring a ton of flavor- it feels a little too dry, like it has been in storage too long. 8/10.

 Course 3: Pufferfish + Sticky Rice, 7/10

Course 3: Pufferfish + Sticky Rice, 7/10

I will admit that they even describe this dish as "Just Fired" on the menu, but this pufferfish liver was Uncomfortably Hot as Fuck. Like many other pufferfish livers I tried, it can best be described as a sea-salty, ocean version of foie gras- very rich, and very dense. 8/10. 

 Course 4: Conger Eel Dumpling Soup, 8/10

Course 4: Conger Eel Dumpling Soup, 8/10

A lighter, extremely refreshing soup after the heavy liver- the eel dumpling is light and sweet, and the broth is almost sugary. A thoughtful next step. 8/10.

 Course 5: Smoked Mackerel + Jelly, 9/10

Course 5: Smoked Mackerel + Jelly, 9/10

More consistently than most Japanese 3-stars, Kohaku really nailed their seafood presentations. This mackerel practically melted when touched with a utensil. The sauce was close to perfect, and the shaved veggies added a crunchy texture. 9/10.

 Course 6: Snapper + Tofu, 10/10

Course 6: Snapper + Tofu, 10/10

I must once again say that, as far as preparation goes, this snapper is absurdly well-made; it just falls apart. Nice, bright flavors and the addition of tofu and wasabi goes a long way without overcomplicating the dish. 10/10.

 Course 7: Perch + Eggplant, 9/10

Course 7: Perch + Eggplant, 9/10

Another interesting changeup- this dish is served quite cold, a nice break from the heat/spice of the previous dish. The eggplant itself has deep, smoky flavors. Which pairs nicely with the perch- notes of apple, smoke, salt; a really deep and balanced dish. 9/10.

 Course 8: Bear + Bamboo Shoot Soup, 6/10

Course 8: Bear + Bamboo Shoot Soup, 6/10

This was the only spot in the meal where the chef lost me a bit (but only just a bit). Bear isn't something I'm accustomed to, but especially after all the lean/light seafood, a big, heavy, oily cut from a bear leg wasn't exactly a welcome diversion. The veggies are crunchy and squeaky. but the bear is fatty, greasy, and gamey. The bamboo shoot is cut a bit too large and it's a huge challenge to bite into. Just like at Koryu, I have learned that bear is not my favorite. 6/10.

 Course 9A: Steamed Rice + Yellowtail, 7/10

Course 9A: Steamed Rice + Yellowtail, 7/10

 Course 9B: Pickled Vegetables + Miso, 7./10

Course 9B: Pickled Vegetables + Miso, 7./10

As we get around to the final hunger-eliminator course, I must say that the rice and yellowtail fish are rich and filling but a touch dry, the miso overly seaweedy. 7/10.

 Roasted Oat Tea, 8/10

Roasted Oat Tea, 8/10

As a nice wind-down to the meal, a cup of roasted-oat tea, which like always is pretty good and tastes a lot like Honey Smacks. 8/10.

 Course 10: Strawberry Sherbet + Cream, 8/10

Course 10: Strawberry Sherbet + Cream, 8/10

A lovely, if small, dessert of fresh strawberries (in season at the time) with cream and crunchy fried tofu skin. A pleasant if non-spectacular conclusion to a really excellent meal. 8/10.

 Last Sip: Green Tea, 8/10

Last Sip: Green Tea, 8/10

And, last but not least, a bottomless ceramic cup of green tea to warm me up before heading back out into the late-winter air. 8/10.