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.
PRICE PAID: $350 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
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.
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.
Plum tea with olives. You're not supposed to eat those; rookie move; crunch. 8/10, and close call but no missing teeth.
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..."
This starchy soup is sweetened considerably with yuzu (the yellow at the center). But, texture is thick and feels almost slimy. 7/10.
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.
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.
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.
Next up, legs like crab sticks stuck into ice in a ceramic tumbler. Especially fun to eat. 9/10
I'll describe each of these little dishes in turn: overall, 7/10.
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.
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.
Some fried taro with a generous helping of shaved Japanese herbs. 7/10.
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.
Pickled fish with Japanese pepper- served at room temp, alongside a pretty awesome-looking pine sprig. 8/10.
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.
As we get to the close of the meal, the infinitely-refillable dish is some hearty rice and prawns, small and tasty. 8/10.
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.
I have no idea what this thing was, but it was totally delicious. 8/10.
Some strawberries dipped in a light cream. 8/10. Simple, and really fresh berries.
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.
And, finally, some roasted oat tea with the flavors of Cheerios more or less exactly. 8/10.