Japan- Komago- ✪✪✪

Komago is tucked in the lush, effectively gated community on top of a hill right between Osaka and Kobe called Koyoen. I had to kill a few minutes in a grocery store/coffee shop nearby that beats the living hell out of any Whole Foods back home, and had the chance to walk around a bit- something I highly recommend. A few quiet steps from the Koyoen train station is Komago, an older building that used to be a tea ceremony house. 

While the setting was gorgeous, the interior, service, and most of the dishes made almost no sense. Employees wandered around in oddly clueless fashion, and English skills were basically non-existent. Please avoid. 

 Komago Main Entrance

Komago Main Entrance

KOBE, JAPAN

SERVICE: 5.5/10

FOOD: 4.5/10

PRICE PAID: $220 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 5.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 5.0/10

As is the tradition right before dinner service, the gorgeous ancient cobble-stoned entranceway was freshly washed, and, unlike other establishments that have asked us to remove our shoes, we are shown right into a rather sterile room without much decor looking out at a lovely small garden. We are seated on chairs with plain, flat tables that felt more dentist-waiting-room than 3-Michelin-Star restaurant. Odd.

 Komago Dining Room

Komago Dining Room

 Komago Garden

Komago Garden

 First Sip: Tea + Seaweed, 8/10

First Sip: Tea + Seaweed, 8/10

Almost immediately, one of several traditional-dress-decked-out ladies comes by with a welcome tea- very salty and Ocean-y but refreshing; small flecks of seaweed visible throughout. 8/10

 Course 1: Tofu + Broccoli, 6/10

Course 1: Tofu + Broccoli, 6/10

Next up, the big black plate that will serve as my base of operations for dinner along with a small and attractive-looking portion of fish/ginger tofu with cooked broccoli arrive. Very strong ginger flavors in the broth, and the overall texture is exceedingly soft; on the verge of slimy. Not bad, but not really my speed. 6/10.

 Course 2: Shrimp Dumpling Soup, 9/10

Course 2: Shrimp Dumpling Soup, 9/10

Next, an excellent soup with bright pink crab dumplings, starchy vegetables, greens, lemon peel, and a clear broth. The crab is super fresh, and the soup is piping hot. Subtly different; I really like the dumpling and the nice colorful touch the lemon peel adds. 9/10.

 Course 3: Crab, 5/10

Course 3: Crab, 5/10

While trying not to sound like a culturally imperialist asshole, I have to say that this crab dish looks indistinguishable from a pile of either crab guts or just plain crab shit. It took me a moment to get over the appearance, and found that the flavors overall were Not Bad, but quite earthy. 5/10.

 Course 4: Sashimi, 7/10

Course 4: Sashimi, 7/10

Had some high hopes here- this tends to be the dish where 3-star Kaiseki restaurants shine; the sashimi. Grilled tuna is a nice touch, the squid has that soft but yielding texture that I’ve come to really appreciate, but it is about as good as everyone else's in the region. Maybe slightly less good. 7/10.

 Course 5: Anago Eel, 6/10

Course 5: Anago Eel, 6/10

Anago. I really enjoyed the balled-up presentation, but honestly the eel is a bit dry and overcooked, which throws off the textural interplay with the rice. 6/10.

 Course 6: Duck + Fish, 5/10

Course 6: Duck + Fish, 5/10

This next course was a disappointment. The duck is dry, cold. and a touch gamey- the taste was a little like horses smell. The entire-cooked anchovy stares back at me, and even on making a good-faith attempt to break the fish open, I’m faced with a razor-sharp line of fish bones that I dare not get too close to- and even after exercising caution, coughed up a tiny, hairlike, almost-transparent bone several hours later that felt a little like coughing up a tiny iron nail. Western visitors, unless you know what you’re doing, tread lightly here. The tied-in-a-knot fruit shape tastes like a subtle and pleasant fruit roll-up, which gives some diversity of flavors to the plate. Egg cube and fresh, wet greens diversify further. Have to be honest, I don’t always understand some of these textures, and the small flower-shaped marshmallow is neither sweet nor particularly pleasant to eat. 5/10.

 Course 7: Cooked Fish, 4/10

Course 7: Cooked Fish, 4/10

This can safely be called the main dish- cooked fish- served almost blackened in oil. I must say that one part is tender and awesome, one part is overcooked, dry, and almost too tough to put my utensils through, which is both a surprise and a big disappointment. 4/10.

 Course 8: Sea Urchin, 7/10

Course 8: Sea Urchin, 7/10

Uni (Sea Urchin). All extremely soft textures that work well together. A nice recovery from the previous course but it’s not a deeply moving dish. 7/10.

 Course 9: Shrimp + Mushroom Soup, 7/10

Course 9: Shrimp + Mushroom Soup, 7/10

Arriving in a dumpling-like shape with a clear yellow/lemony broth, this quickly turns into shrimp/mushroom/rice mush. It’s pleasant and warm and filling, but it’s nothing that special. 7/10.

 Course 10: Clam + Rice, 8/10

Course 10: Clam + Rice, 8/10

What, in Kaiseki, must surely have a name like the “are you full yet” course, an enormous ceramic pot full of rice and clams are brought the table, and I am served until, effectively, I say Uncle. The clams are fresh and delightful, and I like the idea that Kaiseki restaurants never want you to leave hungry. 8/10. 

 Course 11: Fruit Gelatin, 7/10

Course 11: Fruit Gelatin, 7/10

The first dessert is a lovely, understated presentation of strawberry, gelatin, orange, and mango. Not bad, though the orange is quite bitter (perhaps intentional?) 7/10.

 Course 12: No Idea, 4/10

Course 12: No Idea, 4/10

 Still no clue.

Still no clue.

I have honestly no idea what is happening here, but it’s not particularly sweet nor delicious. 4/10. When I asked for more information, I was told that it was "dessert." Charmingly terse. 

 Last sip: Matcha, 8/10

Last sip: Matcha, 8/10

Matcha. Exactly the same as every other cup of matcha I’ve had on this trip- strongly similar to a wheatgrass smoothie. 8/10.