Hana Kitcho, Kyoto
May 21, 2010
On April 20, 2010 Setsuko joined Linda and me for dinner at Hana Kitcho. The restaurant, in Gion, the entertainment district of Kyoto, had recently been closed for several months for renovation. The entryway was banked with white orchids to celebrate the reopening.
There is a dining counter by the Hana Kitcho’s front door and there are three floors, all in different styles, of private rooms above. The rooms on the third floor have traditional decor with a flower in a vase and a scroll, but have western-style tables and chairs.
Hana Kitcho is a branch of Kyoto Kitcho, a famous restaurant on the northwest outskirts of Kyoto which was awarded three stars by the new Kyoto Michelin Guide. Hana Kitcho received one star. Kitcho has branches in The Imperial Hotels in Tokyo and Osaka; it has just opened one in Singapore.
Kunio Tokuoka, the executive chef since 1995 of all these restaurants, is the grandson of the founder of Kitcho, Teiichi Yuki. After graduating from high school and training as a buddhist monk, Kunio Tokuoka started his career under Teiichi Yuki at Osaka Kitcho and Tokyo Kitcho. His final training stage was at Kyoto Kitcho Arashiyama under his father, Koji Tokuoka.
We were particularly recommended to Hana Kitcho by Shinichiro Takagi, the affable and excellent chef at Zeniya in Kanazawa, which we had enjoyed the week before. It is also interesting that Masato Nishihara, the chef at Kajitsu in New York, which we appreciate, worked for ten years at Kyoto Kitcho.
We started with a cup of tea with seasonal cherry blossoms.
A tray with two oshidori, mandarin ducks, arrived to started off the meal.
We ordered a bottle of good sake.
When the covers of the ducks were removed, we found, top left, a bowl of sea bream eggs in jelly. Top right is an okra ball with baby white fish, fu, vinegar jelly and a sansho sprig. The shell included fish and shrimp cakes topped by a firefly squid. On the shiso leaf are broad beans, a roll of hamo (conger eel) around gobo (burdock root), salmon, lobster and tofu fermented in a liquor from Okinawa.
The next course was ainame (fat greenling) with a canola bud in a dashi broth.
On ice in the big cherry blossom bowl are sashimi of flounder, squid and kampachi (yellowtail tuna.)
We are each given two rice balls with nori and wasabi on a shiso leaf so we can covert some of the sashimi to sushi by hand if we want.
There were two dipping bowls of soy sauce so that wasabi could be mixed in one and ginger in the other, for the squid.
The sashimi was top quality; the presentation made it more interesting.
The flavor of the seasonal peas came through nicely.
Grilled salmon with bits of sansho leaves; purée of fuki, Japanese butterbur.
The fuki was a new flavor to us. Very good.
A bamboo shoot, topped with a miso bechamel mixture, on a little charcoal grill.
The gentle grilling and the topping captured the fresh spring flavor of the bamboo shoot.
Beef from Aomori, at the Northern end of Honshu.
Superb beef, nicely cooked. (My notes don’t show what the garnishes were.)
The traditional last course: pickles of two seaweeds and red eggplant; rice; a miso soup with an egg poaching in it; brown tea.
Strawberries in a gel on a papaya purée.
Matcha and sakura mochi: red bean paste inside rice paste inside a cherry leaf.
Tea with salt.
This cleaned out any cloying sweetness might be left from the desserts.
The meal was superb. The few modern and European touches did not change its being completely traditional kaiseki. At this point we had been in Japan for two weeks and could recognize certain patterns and many ingredients, but much was new to us. Our excellent server identified in Japanese many items as she presented, but we had to rely on Setsuko for translations and explanations. Her profession as a teacher was evident.
We were also grateful for the table and chair format in a lovely traditional ambience.
We would like to try Hana Kitcho’s parent restaurant on our next visit to Kyoto, but it is hard to imagine how it could be much better.