Passione Gourmet Kitcho, Chef Kunio Tokuoka, Kyoto, di Roberto Bellomo


di Roberto Bellomo

Kaiseki is the highest form of expression of the contemporary Japanese cuisine.
Its origins, in a simplified form, lie in the honzen ryori, the gourmet cuisine meal of the Momoyama /Edo era (between the 16th and 19th century). Its history is strictly linked to the tea ceremony, as in its early forms, the kaiseki was the provident companion (a bowl of rice, a soup and three side dishes) destined to soothe the appetite in order to fully appreciate the green tea degustation.
Over time, the typical kaiseki lunch has evolved in quantity (in its most extended versions you have fourteen courses) and in ingredients (for example fish, initially salted for conservation, today can be enjoyed raw). Yet, it kept intact one original trait: its relationship with nature. It is fundamental to prefer seasonal and local ingredients and favor local preparation procedures with the aim to display the product as much as possible.
This extraordinary ingredients have to be presented in the same extraordinary way, by combining them to enhance their taste and aesthetics. They will be served on precious tableware whose shapes and colors will exalt them even more, together with the disposition of the ingredients and with the use of other natural elements (leaves, flowers). All with a fundamental aim: making each dish an image of beauty that would remain embedded in your memory.
The experience of a great kaiseki is one of those rare revealing moments in the life of a gourmet, those moments that allow to redefine the quality and the value of one’s gastronomic experience and to widen it, envisioning the attainable standards for the culinary art. At Kitcho’s in its historical seat in Arashimaya, an amazing suburb of Kyoto, we could spend three hours of authentic pleasure and to savor an experience that is even for local gourmets (Michelin included) one of the most sublime ones.
To describe in words the beauty of the location is a hard task. We will try and use the formula “Every Westerner’s dream of Japan”: a private hall furnished with the simple elegance of the traditional Japanese house. Placed on a small hill over a river, before a Zen garden. Enchanting.
Each group of diners has its own dining room, served by two charming ladies with a traditional dress on. An evening like the one we spent, even redefine the concept of service, because it was never possible, not even in the best Maison visited during tons of Western peregrinations, to find a blend of knowledge and elegance so touching, a care of the guests rooted enough to alter the mood of the guest itself, who’s allowed to fully enjoy this experience.
The paper on which the menu is displayed, is decorated with silver and gold splinters and the quality of the culinary art isn’t any lesser.
The chef, Kunio Tokuoka, is the founder Teiichi Yuki’s grandson, and has been running the place since 1995.
His idea is to propose a kaiseki culinary art which should be totally respectful of the traditions, but also able to “harmonize” (as he says in his website) with the present. A task that he fulfills entirely.
The sequence is stunning for its beauty and goodness, the quality of each ingredient is excellent and intensified by cooking and combinations of rare success.
Striking is the perfection of each thing, including the temperature, despite of the complex architecture of some dishes and of the service requirements.
The “assorted delicacies” course, is the core of the menu: the beauty of this actual sculpture risks to overshadow the fantastic quality of the single components of the “dish”, served to each single dining companion after its presentation and its portioning in real time, provided by the two ladies who take care of the table.
The salmon eggs do justice to the colored little balls which they have been serving up for years, where we come from; the abalone, for once, is not there only for its solidity; the chicken with cypress seeds is an unforgettable play of flavors and textures; the prawns, of touching freshness, are exalted by the moromi miso; the ginkgo nuts, which we admit to have a weakness for, are perfectly fried, while the fish and egg “pie” is the sublimation of all omelets (tamagoyaki) that usually close each sushi based meal.
We explore the unbelievable also through the desserts, mostly thanks to a plate of quality fruit that doesn’t exist where we come from. The price of this marvels, sold in Japanese cities in shops that are literally comparable to jewelry stores, are similarly uncommon; grapes (one grape, rigorously peeled), pear, melon and fig, sublime, accompanied by a kind of ethereal Zabaglione.
After that, some seasonal characteristic desserts (with chestnuts and the omnipresent azuki compote) able to reconcile even those who are not too keen on this particular patisserie.
The meal is accompanied by the house sake, of utmost quality.
A formative experience, that spreads a whole world wide open to those lucky enough to reserve a table here. A world that it would be wonderful to go on exploring, aware that a similar splendor does really exist..

Blue crab with vegetables and vinegar gelatin.

Pike conger eel broth with matsutake mushrooms.

First sashimi: black sea bass.

Second sashimi: grilled true whelk and roasted tuna.

Side dish: salted cream with softshell turtle.

Assorted delicacies.

Details of the delicacies.

The plate for the single diner.

Grilled plate: grilled tilefish, chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms. Paradigmatic expression of cooking knowledge.

Steamed plate: fried tofu ball, pumpkin, taro (colocasia esculenta) and snap peas.

The rice: Koshihikari rice with matsutake mushrooms and grilled meat.

Pickles: turnip with plum sauce and dried bonito; Japanese mustard leafs (mibuna) with sesame and chilies.

Fruit: melon, Japanese pear, fig and grapes.

The dessert: chestnut purée with azuki compote; nut in sugar crust.

Matcha tea.

Final tea with its complements.

The supplement we asked the chef on his choice (provoking a shock indeed, having broken the sequence): chicken and mushrooms. The cooking of the chicken wrapped in a fine and crispy skin strip, an unprecedented experience, will remain indelibly impressed in our memory.

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