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Kaiseki Dinner at Kaygetsu, Menlo Park

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finally got a chance to go to kaygetsu for their specialty kaiseki dinner last night. i had previously only had kaiseki in tokyo, kyoto, and osaka, as well as in taipei, so i was a bit wary of the type of meal i would get at this very un-atmospheric restaurant located in a rather drab strip mall off sand hill road, sandwiched between a shell station (that is shockingly overpriced!) and the "secret" safeway (as it is known to stanford kids). but i was pleasantly surprised! sorry for the long post, but i found very little on this place on the chowhound boards before i went, so thought it might be helpful to others thinking about going!

kaiseki menu, 95/person. sake pairing, 34/person, which i split with the signif other (the drive back to SF is loooong).

1. sakisuke (starter): seared toro nigiri sushi; monterey squid with vinegar miso sauce; yamaimo potato and snap peas in sesame sauce; fava bean soup.
- 4 separate little platters/bowls on single tray. toro was very fresh with just the right amount of perfectly cooked rice. tender squid was probably the standout in this--topped with some seaweed, which in turn was topped with a few "chinese matrimonial herbs." the mountain potatoes and sesame sauce were surprisingly interesting--not your standard potato salad that comes with japanese combo sushi lunches! the fava bean soup--would not have tasted japanese at all (although very very good) but for a few floating tiny round rice cracker balls, which added the most interesting crunchy, flavorful kick! tiny amt of fresh ginger on side to cleanse the palate.

2. takiawase (slow cooked dish): bamboo shoot, fresh wakame seaweed, wheat gluten, asparagus, and carrot cooked in clear fish broth.
- simple, fresh, straightforward japanese cuisine at its best. very palate cleansing but also warming. favorite part were the two cubes of green chewy wheat gluten. tasted like fresh udon noodles the way my grandma used to make them!

3. tsukuri (sashimi): 4 slices of hirame accompanied by a single flower petal--cherry blossom? ate this with a piece of hirame, and sad there wasn't a petal for each piece, as it seriously oozed fruity cherry flavor. i'm not really sure what it was, but it was amazing and unique. 2 pieces of aji--have never had aji this delicious--tasted strikingly like yellowtail, which i love. 3 pieces of a deep red fish, name i forget, but a type of tuna. also very good, although i liked the piece that i ate with a shiso leaf the best.

4. agemono (fried dish) - scallop and shrimp, wrapped with cherry leaf and deep fried served with green tea salt.
- possibly my favorite of all the dishes. very very lightly battered, not greasy at all, perfect amount of chunky fresh scallop and shrimp--actually reminded me a little of some very good dim sum that i've had...the green tea salt as a dipping sauce alternative to tempura sauce was unique, subtle. liked the idea, but don't know how much i actually tasted it, but not sure it really mattered, it was so good!

5. yaki mono (grilled dish) - grilled ocean trout, topped with sake lees, with brussel sprouts and orange salad.
- this trout was amazing. perfectly cooked, tender, fresh. sake lees (the stuff that comes to top of barrel of sake while it's being made, apparently) was sorta broiled/bruleed so it had this slightly brown crust, with a malty flavor that really contrasted with but complimented the delicate fish. didn't care much for the salad.

6. gohan mono (rice dish) - sliced duck, cooked with egg, served over rice, with clear soup with fish somen noodles.
- sorta like an oyako-don idea. the egg was a beautiful orange on the rice and quite good, but actually, i thought this was a bit forgettable. same with the soup, although the somen made from fish cake was interesting. but, nice to have this if you're somehow still hungry--fills you up quickly!

7. dessert - sake creme brulee made with dewazakura "oka" with fresh fruits.
- my god, this is total sacrilege b/ci do love french cuisine, but i think this could have been the best "creme brulee" i've ever had. it tasted essentially like the essence of butter toast--creamy yet custardy, slightly eggy, full of flavor, but somehow still very light. delicious way to end the meal.

won't write much about the sakes except to list them, as i don't know much about sake. but they were good.
1. masumi "nanago" daiginjo - came out with the sakizuke
2. nishida "kikuizumi) ginjo - with tsukuri
3. hoyo "genji" junmai - with agemono
4. dewazakura nama genshu - with yakimono.

all in all, i was very happy with this meal and would definitely recommend it, although it's a bit pricey. but given the amount of food, the quality and unique-ness of the ingredients, the great service, the attention to detail, and the exquisite presentation of each dish, i think it's worth it. if only the place had a bit more atmosphere.

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  1. Thanks for your nice report. If you do a search, I think you will find that some of us on Chowhound have written extensively about Kaygetsu before. :-) Anyway, Kaygetsu, in my opinion, is probably the only place in the Bay Area where you can get authentic kaiseki that you would encounter in Japan, but of course you do pay a price for it (though it's cheaper than flying to Kyoto). Every native Japanese person we have taken there has been very impressed. I agree that it would be nicer if the place were more atmospheric, but I feel that would increase the prices even more. Sometimes it's a good thing for a restaurant to be located in a non-descript, "secret" mall. :-)