Japan- Nakamura- ✪✪✪

With a history dating back to 1827 when a fish-peddler named Seibei decided to establish a kyo-ryori house, Nakamura has since been passed down to Seibei's great-great granddaughter, who now runs the show. Down a beautiful Gion sidestreet, Nakamura one of the more traditional implementations of tea ceremony-style Kaiseki (Cha Kaiseki).

 Nakamura Main Entrance

Nakamura Main Entrance

KYOTO, JAPAN

SERVICE: 8.5/10

FOOD: 7.5/10

PRICE PAID: $280 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

 Nakamura Private Room

Nakamura Private Room

For the ultra-traditional experience, guests would sit straight on the tatami mats with no padding or open space. Nakamura moves things a bit closer to the comfortable end of the spectrum by adding heated floors, comfy cushions, and plenty of space to sit upright.

We were given a gorgeous private room with a view of the beautiful garden, running brook, delicate lighting, and weird fake crab (you can make it out sitting on the stone in the background).

 First Sip: Honey Smacks Tea, 8/10

First Sip: Honey Smacks Tea, 8/10

We're gonna be seeing a lot of this puffed rice tea going forward, so to save everyone time I'm just going to nickname it Honey Smacks tea and move on. This cup is exactly as good as every other cup I had on my journey, and just as refreshing. 8/10. 

 Course 1: Crab + Fish Egg, 10/10

Course 1: Crab + Fish Egg, 10/10

Next, a transcendently delicious dish of crab, fish egg sauce, and fish eggs. This seafood dish has a creamy, almost dairy-like texture, with strong sea/saline flavors from the extremely fresh crab. Crisp, crunchy white vegetables set off the texture interplay. An incredible dish. 10/10.

 Course 2: Miso, 9/10

Course 2: Miso, 9/10

  Course 2: Miso, 9/10

Course 2: Miso, 9/10

Next, a dish that I can quite comfortably say I have never had anything remotely like. A white miso soup with an extremely stretchy, starchy dumpling, surrounded by a thick broth with deep wasabi and mustard flavors, but not spicy in the least. Almost tastes like the awesome milk at the bottom of the bowl of Frosted Flakes. Yes, I realize that is my second cereal reference. 9/10.

 Course 3: Sashimi, 9/10

Course 3: Sashimi, 9/10

Next arrived the fish sashimi plate - shrimp, squid, and sea bream. The squid is firm and delicious with great texture and a super fresh taste- perhaps the best bite of squid on the whole trip. The other fish hold their own quite nicely, and the wasabi was obviously recently hand-ground. 9/10.

 Course 4: Clam + Bamboo + Seaweed Soup, 7/10

Course 4: Clam + Bamboo + Seaweed Soup, 7/10

Soup with seaweed, bamboo shoots, and clam. The whole situation is a little bland but the seaweed is fresh and dense- like eating snap pea husks almost. The dumpling is a big dry and nondescript. It was around this point that the proprietress entered and had an extremely long, utterly entertaining, but ultimately one-sided conversation in Japanese with us non-Japanese speakers. She clapped when we tried the food, sang a short song, and made many sidebar comments. Honestly, I had no idea what to do for a solid 15 minutes. 7/10.

 Course 5: Grab-bag Box, 8/10

Course 5: Grab-bag Box, 8/10

Briefly thereafter we were presented with a gorgeous multi-level box containing (clockwise from top right) skewers of fish and vegetables, mustard greens, karasumi, sweet potato rolls, and sweet black beans. The mustard greens have something close to a rich peanut butter flavor, and (once again) the black beans are quite sugary-sweet and kind of taste like blueberries. On the skewers, the fish was mostly unremarkable but the cucumber all the way on the rightmost end was smoky and sweet. 8/10.

 Course 6: Vegetable + Uni Soup, 9/10

Course 6: Vegetable + Uni Soup, 9/10

Next up, some gloriously good vegetable soup with Japanese potato, daikon, and Uni (sea urchin). The potato is fried and has consistency of fried chicken, roughly. It goes perfectly with the uni's smooth, melted butter texture and flavors. 9/10.

 Course 7: Cooked Sea Bream, 8/10

Course 7: Cooked Sea Bream, 8/10

The last main course - a deliciously cooked sea bream in a light broth. This was a shockingly simple dish, without much fanfare, spices, or accoutrements, showcasing just the fish itself, which was luckily quite good. 8/10.

 Course 8: Rice, 8/10

Course 8: Rice, 8/10

 Course 8: Pickled Vegetables, 8/10

Course 8: Pickled Vegetables, 8/10

As a final savory follow-up, a bowl of rice with homemade pickled vegetables. A nice smooth downshift from the rest of the main courses. 8/10.

 Course 9: Citrus + Strawberry Dessert, 10/10

Course 9: Citrus + Strawberry Dessert, 10/10

Desserts in Japan are almost always a subtle affair, but this citrus and strawberry combination crushes it. A very fine, sugary jelly lain overtop brings it all together perfectly. 10/10.

 Last Sip: Roasted Oat Tea, 8/10

Last Sip: Roasted Oat Tea, 8/10

And, once again per tradition, the final sip is a bottomless glass of roasted oat tea, consumed at one's leisure at the tail end of the meal. 8/10.