Ok, I’ll admit it, Wakuriya only hit our radar after it received its first Michelin star. I have a horrible fault of usually turning a blind eye (with a few exceptions) to anything south of San Francisco, preferring to focus on wine country or Oakland/ Berkeley instead. DD had tried to get reservations before, but had called too late for a birthday dinner.
We wish we had gotten to Wakuriya sooner. I’d go every month if we could.
"For whatever reason, modern Japanese have maintained their deep emotional linkage with the annual shifts in climate, ingrained from ancient times whether cultivating crops or fishing on the coast. So much is this connection the heart and soul of a cuisine, that when I am asked, "What is kaiseki?" I often have a very simple answer.
"It is eating the seasons."
-- Yoshihiro Murata, Kikunoi
Roan Kikunoi, according to the 2011 Michelin Guide for Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, was created by Chef Murata as a somewhat more affordable option for the younger set as compared to Kikunoi Honten, his flagship fine-dining restaurant that's garnered 3 Michelin stars. His other outpost in Akasaka, Tokyo, won 2 stars and admittedly Roan Kikunoi has 2 stars for itself. Though quite a high bar, lunch here is also possibly one of the best deals for sampling kaiseki in Kyoto. Chef Yoshimi Murata has been something of an international celebrity, recently receiving accolades from Noma's Rene Redzepi (best meal), providing consulting advice to Singapore Airlines for in-flight meals and releasing a gorgeous English cookbook that garnered him a James Beard nomination. He also appears to somewhat controversial in Kyoto, as evidenced by this discussion string on Chowhound.
Staying in this quiet mountain town and at the wonderful little Ryokan was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. The fact that we decided to visit Takayama at all was of course, all due to Paul and his indispensable travel blog. Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka was just the icing on the cake. Takayama is in Central Japan, in the Gifu Prefecture. It boasts a well-preserved old district, with beautiful machiya (merchant townhomes) as well as numerous centuries-old temples and shrines, many of which are accessible via a 3.5km loop north of the main town. The Ryokan is truly a short little trot from the JR Takayama Station - all told, some 5-6 blocks away by foot. Note that the proprietors adhere to checkin time, which is at 3pm sharp, though they will gladly hold your luggage for you prior to checkin.
We should have asked. We had noticed the young man standing by the sidewalk – not so much in the middle of the walkway, but on the edge, somewhat nonchalantly, looking around – crisp cream shirt, black trousers. He stood in front of a quiet, understated entrance whose signage we did not initially see; we also didn’t want to gawk and only glanced in its direction (we thought it could have been someone's residence). We should have just asked, “Sumimasen, Kichisen wa, dochira desu ka?” (Excuse me, where is Kichisen, please?)
It took us an hour by Kyoto's city bus to get to Kichisen on the other side of the city, approximately the same time estimated by Google walking directions. It’s a good thing that we left the Shunkoin Guest House with plenty of time.
Kichisen was our first truly fancy meal of the trip, selected because of Michelin, recommendations and accounts by Kyoto Foodie, and some research on Chowhound.
Hassun course at Kikunoi Roan: skewer of miso-marinated avocado, smoked salmon and Tai liver; grilled squid with nori seaweed and egg yolk; fava beans, mountain yam "butterfly;" poached egg-bearing octopus; Tai sushi with Kinome pepper leaf; Yurime lily root petals; Udo stalk petals; ikura.
Indeed, what about the food? The trip was planned after all, in CCDD fashion, around food. It's been absolutely glorious - from the high-end to the low, from street food or market stands to Michelin-starred establishments and smoky izkayas, train station ekiben or small ramen-yas filled with salarymen... we've been eating very, very well.
In Osaka, I think I quite had my fill of takoyaki; DD kept wanting to sample these wherever we went, and we ended up tasting some from 4 different vendors. We also loved sushi fresh from Kuromon market and Endo Sushi in Osaka's Central Wholesale Fish Market, similar to, but not as big as Tsukiji.