Wakuriya (San Mateo): An Exquisite Kaiseki Journey [Review+pics]
Wakuriya is run by a Japanese couple with the husband running the kitchen and the wife running the floor.
Both of them started their careers in Kyoto. Chef Katsuhiro Yamasaki grew up in a sushi-ya in Wakayama and then became a chef in a long-standing Kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto, Kitcho. His wife Mayumi, not surprisingly, similarly started her career at Kitcho. In 2008, the couple opened up Wakuriya and began serving kaiseki with a contemporary touch.
We had the full 9-course meal:
Sakizuke (starter): nama-tako (octopus) and tomato salad with umi-budo (green caviar) and bainiku.
A nice and light starter of fresh and chewy octopus to whet our appetites. The wakame/seaweed added not only a Japanese touch but also a nice flavor and texture combination.
Zensai (appetizers): Ichijiku (fig) tempura, unagi and avocado roll with kinshi (egg) sheet, Tasmanian trout, and nasu (eggplant) in umami dashi.
The zensai is representative of the rest of the meal with something fried, something broiled, dashi broth, etc. The use of seasonal, non-traditional ingredients is exemplified in the fig tempura in this dish.
On mono (hot dish): medai no yuba-mushi. Steamed butter fish coated in soft tofu skin.
The moistness and delicateness of the butter fish is accentuated by the tofu skin.
The quality of the fish is on par with what you would expect at a highly regarded sushi restaurant.
Age mono (deep fried dish): deep fried scallop, corn, and tofu cake, with vegetable tempura.
It was impressive how they managed to get such light and crispy tempura coating that's so thin at the same time. All the more impressive that it managed to hold the soft scallop and tofu cake together.
Hashiyasume: suika (watermelon) gelee with kuro-goma (black sesame)
A perfect palate cleanser, lightly sweet and refreshing, yet does not shock you with the temperature change the way granita might.
Yaki mono (broiled dish): Maple Leaf Farms duck with negimiso-yaki.
Tender and perfectly broiled duck slices with very well balanced flavors, neither over seasoned or over sauced.
Gohan mono (rice dish): yakidai ume-shiso chazuke: Grilled tai snapper with pickled plum and shiso basil over rice in dashi broth.
This chazuke does not at all disappoint and perhaps was my most memorable dish that night. Their dashi broth was very satisfying and made a great end to the meal. I'm sure I'd be craving this when it gets cold out.
Dessert: homemade mugi-cha kudzu yose (barley tea flavored mochi) with green tea ice cream, homemade shiratama (mochi balls) with Okinawa kuromitsu (black sugar sauce)
Despite how simple the dessert initially looked to us - ice cream - we were happily surprised and impressed with all the little things we found such as the wonderfully chewy texture of the mochi and the distinctive flavor the kuromitsu added.
This was possibly my favorite meal in the San Francisco Bay area in the past few months. Oftentimes during a tasting menu you'd feel that individual dishes do not go together that well, or that at the end of the meal you've had an unbalanced meal. Not so at Wakuriya. Each dish was well prepared and the entirety of the meal was harmoniously tied together.
Two of us had dinner at Wakuriya in late September, and though I did not take any photos, the meal is etched in my memory, too. I'd say it was definitely the best meal I've had this year. In terms of quality of ingredients, skill, and creativity, the kitchen (all two of them) is at least on par with Manresa.
I, too, remember the dashi as being outstanding: complex, smoky--as different from regular restaurant dashi as Dom Perignon from Cold Duck.
Speaking of beverages and bills, two of us split a small, bottle of sake and the total price, tax and service included, came to $245 for both of us.