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Feb 19, 2011 11:43 PM


Went to Esaki Saturday night. Solid kaiseki, top quality ingredients as you would expect from a reputable kaiseki restaurant. Decent enough service, and very competitive prices (with some bizarre twists, such s the fact that they only accept one credit card per table, which is not convenient if there is three of you who pay separately and have little cash..).

However, decent as the experience was, it was also pretty unmemorable. The one thing that will remain in my mind is the ebi-imo, which was definitely the best ebi-imo I have ever had. Truly unbelievable. But the rest? All perfectly competently executed, but nothing particularly imaginative that stuck out. Also a pretty poor sake list.

I have absolutely no idea how that place got 3 Michelin stars. It is good - unlike Hamadaya, which is not and also somehow scored 3*** - but it is not even in the top ten kaiseki places I have been to. Another indicator, if we needed any, that many Michelin Japan ratings are to be taken with a pinch of salt. This has nothing to do with the often-quoted reason that Michelin is foreign and does not understand Japanese food - all Michelin inspectors in Japan (at least since the 2010 edition) have been Japanese. No idea how ratings are arrived at but it seems that they take a list of kaiseki restaurants with good reputations, throw dice and award the top prize to some.

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  1. I should have mentioned the hirame sashimi as well; it was amazing, better than the hirame I had had at Daisan harumi for lunch the same day.

    1. I think we've talked about this. Very good, near excellent, but not at the top of the range. On the other hand, hands down some great value for money.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Uncle Yabai

        True. You did say after the Ishikawa meal that it was better, but I had not appreciated by how much. Esaki was good and the value for money is really excellent. But the gap between it and Ishikawa, Kanda, even Koju and Yukimura is quite significant.

        1. re: Asomaniac

          Would you generally say Kanda and Ishikawa are a notch above Yukimura?

          The lack of sashimi course at yukimura intrigued me, because it seemed like perhaps there is a focus on ingredients and preparations one can't find at a sushi bar.

          On the other hand, my meal at kanda in 2008 was one of the best of my life. Perhaps that's as good as it gets?



          1. re: Dustin_E

            In some ways, this is hard to judge because I went to Yukimura during their crab season - in winter, the meal centers around crab, with several incredibly good crab dishes. It may very well be that there is more variety and creativity at other times of the year.

            However, judging purely by the dishes I did have, I would say that the order is - on a purely personal taste basis - 1. Ishikawa, 2. Kanda, 3. Yukimura. I would also say that during crab season, Yukimura is unfeasibly expensive - I think the meal was 34,000 yen per person (food only), which is a lot, considering that Ishikawa at 15,000 was less than half that. I appreciate that certain crab is extremely expensive, and may well be worth paying the price to real crab lovers, but to me personally, the enjoyment I got out of it did not justify the price tag.

            I enjoy Ryugin even more than any of the above restaurants, but only on 'good' days. I have had the best kaiseki of my life at Ryugin, twice, but also had one or two sub-par experiences. At all times I went to Ryugin, the owner-chef was there, so I don't know what happened. I find it very strange to get inconsistent kaiseki at that level. basic stuff like overly charred eel, etc.

            1. re: Asomaniac

              I had no idea the menu at yukimura changes so drastically with the season. Do you know, is the winter snow crab feast at Yukimura anything like a hairy crab feast at Xin Guan in Shangahi? (I was there a couple months ago per FourSeason's very helpful recommendations.)

              I will definitely try Ishikawa the next time i'm in Tokyo.

              Also, I believe I had read somewhere that the chefs of Ishikawa, Kanda, and Koju all trained under the same teacher, or went to the same culinary school, or something. Do you know if these *** chefs in tokyo represent a decent spectrum of what is available in terms of Kaiseki, or did Michelin give top marks to restaurants of a specific style, and neglect other styles?

              I know cha-kaiseki is a variant that is mentioned in a few restaurant descriptions, and described in "The fine art of japanese food arrangement" book. And comparing meals at Kanda, Kikunoi, and Tawaraya, I would describe the food as "modern minimalist", "modern not minimalist", and "very traditional minimalist", respectively. But i wonder if each is just representative of a very different style of kaiseki, and each style can be found, predictably, at many, many other establishments throughout japan.


              1. re: Asomaniac

                No wonder! I have a booking for Yukimura next month and I was wondering why I was quoted JPY 22,000 + 15% for dinner but now I realise that it's outside of the crab season.

        2. I'm with you on the ebi-imo, it's one of the highlights that I remember from my meal there. That and the tea or desert at the end, one of those was tasty.

          2 Replies
          1. re: lost squirrel

            Agreed. I think it was probably the tea (if your taste buds are similar to mine - the dessert was good, but the tea was really excellent). How is the US treating you? Will you be visiting Japan this year?

            1. re: Asomaniac

              You're probably correct, I have a nice picture of the pot but unfortunately that's all I can remember now. Next time in Japan will be late December of this year, far off but I'm already looking forward to it.