Japan- Kichisen- ✪✪✪

Near Kyoto's main river in a peaceful part of Kyoto is Kichisen, a gorgeous chef's counter kaiseki restaurant that's about as traditional as they get. True to kaiseki-chef tradition, the proprietor is not only trained in several styles of cuisine, but also: calligraphy, flower arrangement, tea ceremonies, and poetry. The belief is that "Renaissance-Man" style training helps the chef get more in touch with the creative. Here's a pretty awesome photo of him about to slice the living hell out of some fish. I want that hat. 

Quite famously, Yoshimi Tanigawa beat Chef Morimoto on the Iron Chef TV show. 

 Kichisen Main Entrance

Kichisen Main Entrance

KYOTO, JAPAN

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 7.5/10

PRICE PAID: $350 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 6.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10

 Kichisen Chef's Counter

Kichisen Chef's Counter

Somewhat obsequiously, awards and honors adorn most available surfaces. While most chefs with three Michelin stars display that accomplishment somewhere, few were as front-and-center about it as Kichisen. 

 Orchid Arrangement

Orchid Arrangement

 Exterior Views

Exterior Views

The counter itself is a small, intimate bar with four other patrons. Nice natural views just to my right. Blond wood everything. Echoes of laughter from the private rooms elsewhere in the building.

 First Sip: Plum Tea, 8/10

First Sip: Plum Tea, 8/10

Plum tea with olives. You're not supposed to eat those; rookie move; crunch. 8/10, and close call but no missing teeth. 

 Course 1: Appetizers Spread, 7/10

Course 1: Appetizers Spread, 7/10

First up, a small set of appetizers presented in gorgeous, hand-made ceramic dishes. Mushroom, broccoli, karasumi (compressed fish roe, salty as hell and not to my tastes per usual), dried fish, and black beans. The beans are good but actually a bit wilted... 7/10.

Quick close-up of the fish and veggies- a delightful little Japanese pepper leaf on top. Check out the incredibly precise knife-work on this veggie- it's been delicately cross-cut and dabbed with the perfect amount of sauce. A theme of extremely subtle work like this plays out throughout the meal. Another reviewer from TimeOut said it best: "whether you notice it or not, the food will be right down to the tiniest detail..."

 Course 2: Soup + Yuzu, 7/10

Course 2: Soup + Yuzu, 7/10

This starchy soup is sweetened considerably with yuzu (the yellow at the center). But, texture is thick and feels almost slimy. 7/10. 

 Course 3: Fish Soup, 8/10

Course 3: Fish Soup, 8/10

Next, I am brought a tea pot resting precariously on a bed of pine needles. This fish soup has really awesome, delicate lemon flavors in the broth. And man, they don't kid around on quantity- there's around 5-6 cupfuls... One of the downsides of dining out at places like this solo- many of these dishes are designed for two people. In the pot, spongy starch dumplings and light white fish. 8/10.

 Course 4: Sashimi, 7/10

Course 4: Sashimi, 7/10

 Course 4: Otoro

Course 4: Otoro

Next, a pretty awesome ceramic breadbasket of sashimi- sea bream, squid, and Japanese lobster. The lobster had the consistency of grapefruit and very fresh flavor. Unusual for otoro (fatty tuna) at Japanese three-star restaurants, this one wasn't that good- the texture was stringy, thought it was obviously fresh. Just a bad cut. 7/10.

 Course 5: Rice + Chestnuts + Starch, 8/10

Course 5: Rice + Chestnuts + Starch, 8/10

A nice filling dish of "rice, chestnuts, and a starch similar to potato." Great description, and I can't argue with it. Black beans, flavorful and easy. 8/10.

 Course 6: Crab Legs, 9/10

Course 6: Crab Legs, 9/10

Next up, legs like crab sticks stuck into ice in a ceramic tumbler. Especially fun to eat. 9/10

 Course 7: Another Smorgasbord, 7/10

Course 7: Another Smorgasbord, 7/10

I'll describe each of these little dishes in turn: overall, 7/10.

 Course 7A: Sea Cucumber + Poached Egg, 6/10

Course 7A: Sea Cucumber + Poached Egg, 6/10

If you like watery textures, this sea cucumber with poached egg is about as runny as it gets. The egg flavors weren't too strong, and sea cucumber is a delicate flavor to start with, so this wasn't my fave. 6/10. 

 Course 7B: Bamboo Shoots + Beef Sauce, 8/10

Course 7B: Bamboo Shoots + Beef Sauce, 8/10

A lovely dish of bamboo shoots with a rich beef sauce. The richness of the beef brings out the bamboo's flavors, and accentuates the crunchy texture nicely. 8/10.

 Course 7C: Fried Taro, 7/10

Course 7C: Fried Taro, 7/10

Some fried taro with a generous helping of shaved Japanese herbs. 7/10.

 Course 7D: Karasumi + Kumquat + Tiger Prawn 8/10

Course 7D: Karasumi + Kumquat + Tiger Prawn 8/10

Karasumi roe, still not my favorite, with kumquat, tiger prawn, and why the hell not- a leaf of gold. Besides the karasumi, I'd give this little dish a 8/10. Let's go with that.

 Course 7D: Pickled fish, 8/10

Course 7D: Pickled fish, 8/10

Pickled fish with Japanese pepper- served at room temp, alongside a pretty awesome-looking pine sprig. 8/10.

 Course 8: Kobe Beef + Pineapple, 10/10

Course 8: Kobe Beef + Pineapple, 10/10

This was one of my favorite beef courses of all time- cooked on a lawsuit-hot stone through a pineapple slice, this chunk of Kobe beef was delightfully rich and dense. 10/10. 

 Course 9: Rice + Prawns, 8/10

Course 9: Rice + Prawns, 8/10

As we get to the close of the meal, the infinitely-refillable dish is some hearty rice and prawns, small and tasty. 8/10. 

 Course 10: Deep-Fried Dessert, 5/10

Course 10: Deep-Fried Dessert, 5/10

Layered with sugar, this was absolutely too fatty and greasy to eat. I got halfway through and decided it wasn't worth the heart attack. 5/10. 

 Course 11: NO idea, 8/10

Course 11: NO idea, 8/10

I have no idea what this thing was, but it was totally delicious. 8/10. 

 Course 12: Strawberries + Cream, 8/10

Course 12: Strawberries + Cream, 8/10

Some strawberries dipped in a light cream. 8/10. Simple, and really fresh berries.

 Course 13: Matcha Green Tea

Course 13: Matcha Green Tea

Delightful Matcha green tea, this time presented over the counter with no ceremony at all, unlike at Mizai, where it was a whole thing. Just a handoff. Tastes exactly like wheatgrass. 7/10. 

 Last Sip: Roasted Oat Tea, 8/10

Last Sip: Roasted Oat Tea, 8/10

And, finally, some roasted oat tea with the flavors of Cheerios more or less exactly. 8/10.