The Kayotei, Yamanaka 1
April 23, 2010
On April 12, 2010, Linda and I flew to the Komatsu Airport on Japan’s west coast where a car took us to The Kayotei, a ryokan in Yamanaka, a hot springs resort famous also for its wood turners and lacquer work. As it was lunchtime when we checked in, the genial and efficient General Manager, Jiro Takeuchi, took us to lunch in the local soba restaurant.
We ordered cold soba with mountain potatoes, scallions, wasabi and bonito shavings.
This was a substantial dish that reflected the earthy flavors appropriate for the cold, rainy day. We each also received a pitcher of the cloudy hot water in which the buckwheat noodles had been cooked. When we had finished the noodles, we poured some of this into what was left in the bottom of the bowl to make a delicious warm soup to finish the meal.
The cold, rainy afternoon was devoted to catching up on email, blogging, etc. It was interesting to have a high-speed internet port in our room modelled on a centries old pattern. We also enjoyed the Japanese hot springs bath followed by a nap. Normally, in a ryokan, the meals are served at the low table in your room. However, there was a dining room available with a regular table and chairs which was offered to us and we accepted. When we arrived at the table, each place was set with a small glass of the house peach sake aperitif and a small bowl of sesame dressing on julienned vegetables.
Our meal was served on these lovely wooden plates with clear lacquer, made by a local family we would visit the next day.
Also on the table was a plate of hors d’oeuvres: from the bottom clockwise: herring with lemon, rice wrapped in a cherry leaf, octopus with white beans, garlic chives and duck breast slices (in the middle.)
The sake is made locally; there is a special bottling for The Kayotei; it has a delicate, but definite, flavor; we enjoyed it throughout the meal.
Next came a bowl of dashi, greenling, alfalfa sprouts, seaweed and spinach.
Except when entering or leaving, one wears the yukata, with optional jacket, inside the ryokan; mine had a blue sash and blue jacket. The next night Linda’s had a floral pattern instead of the geometric.
Our server and tatami room organizer, Amy, was very sweet and kind, but her understandably limited english and her use of a gastronomic Japanese to English, French and Italian dictionary frequently left us guessing what we were eating. My descriptions are frequently best guesses.
Sashimi on ice: two delicious northern shrimp, sea bream in a shiso leaf with shredded daikon,
Although Yamanaka is in mountain terrain, it is not far from the Sea of Japan; the fish and seafood here is reputed to be better than in Tokyo. The shorter supply chains may help keep it fresher.
The box has a wood mesh bottom and is the top of a steamer combination. Very sticky rice is steamed with shards of sea cucumber and broad beans. This was surprisingly good.
Marinated and grilled Spanish mackerel.
This was very nice. At this point in the meal it was good to have a piece of fish that seemed substantial. In the middle of the photo you can see a long, thin, red radish; it was very hot and livened up the mackerel.
A ball of mashed mountain potato with a mustard dab on top in a thickened broth with julienned vegetables.
This was good and also added substance, but became boring halfway through.
Half of a hairy crab, sweetened rice wine vinegar.
This was terrific. The underneath part of the legs had been cut away so that the meat was easy to get out. There was crab roe mixed with crab meat in the big round piece of shell.
Tempura: red garlic root (sansai,) wormwood or mugwort(ryori), udo (spring shoot of angelica tree, fiddlehead; served with mineral salt.
The tempura was not served hot, but the batter was still light and crisp. This was very nice and refreshing after the richness of the crab.
Chicken in a cabbage roll; wasabi in vinegar in the cup.
I didn’t see the point of this course.
A rice ball with a nice top crust in oxtail broth; apricot jam, shredded green perilla and puffed rice on top. A variety of nice pickles.
This was a nice variation on the bowl of thick rice with pickles on the side usually served at this point in a kaiseki meal. The crust and condiments on the rice and the high quality pickles made this a very interesting course. The oxtail broth had almost no flavor, but maybe made it unnecessary to serve the usual bowl of miso soup at this point.
Mixed fruit in soybean milk chunks.
Good, refreshing and palate cleansing.
We enjoyed this interesting meal in a lovely ambience. It introduced us to many new variations on traditional Japanese cuisine without any wide departures from kaiseki tradition. Bravo.