Osaka Review: Kahala
Kahala is a small restaurant, even by Japan’s minimalist standard. It is on the first floor of a nondescript building. There is no waiting room either inside or outside the restaurant, so, one has to wait on the ground floor, outside the building.
The restaurant has acquired a somewhat legendary status. While the beef millefeuille was impressive, there were some surprisingly pedestrian dishes. The Hokki with white asparagus and the hotate wrapped in seaweed were distinctly lacking in invention. The curry puff, I was told by the diner next to be me, was very authentic. Accompanying the puff was several red beans soaked in coffee oil. This was quite impressive. The hassun consisted of five small plates. Bacon, duck, lotus roots, oyster, ika. Not very glamourous ingredients, I suppose the inventiveness lie in the sauces that accompany them. It was good but not eye-opening. The ika was spicy but not the least bit hot. The lotus root was accompanied by dried soy sauce. The unbroken chains (cut from scratch from a spring vegetable) is a Kahala signature ‘dish’. The onion stuffed with mushroom and awabi was nice. The onion was sweet and … I wish there is something more I could report on, but frankly, it was delicious but not special. Then came a seasonal Japanese fare, bamboo shoot with kinome leaves. The sous chef explained that the bamboo shoot was from Osaka (I thought Kyoto produces the best shoots) and the head chef decided that this is the best week for bamboo shoot. Frankly, I have had too much bamboo shoot already.
Three courses stood out and impressed. The botargo soba was very good and refreshing. It is difficult to find a better soul mate for the salty botargo. I understand this is a staple dish. Kahala used to be a steakhouse and it seems fitting that beef is featured in the main course. The chef himself cooked it right in front of us. What appears to be a slab of beef is actually five, thinly cut layers of beef. The beef is lightly seared on the outside. For the first serving, wasabi and garlic accompanied the beef. Beef was dipped in ponzu sauce with spicy daikon in the second serving. For the third serving, the chef let us choose between the two. The beef was divine. The final dish was gohan with green peas and egg yolk. This was the best rice dish I have had for years.