Kagurazaka Ishikawa, Tokyo
April 16, 2013
Chef Hideki Ishikawa, 48, worked at more than ten different restaurants over 17 years. Ten years ago he established his own restaurant in the geisha district of Kagurazaka. Five years ago it was awarded three Michelin stars. Kent, Linda and I went for dinner on April 2, 2013.
Kagurazaka Ishikawa‘s entrance is discreet even by Japanese standards. Despite using a map printed from the website, Kent and our taxi driver struggled to find it on a rainy night. There is a little garden on the left as you enter down a short corridor. When the famous Ise Shinto shrine was repaired in 1993, a 400-year cypress was cut down. Part of the tree was used to fashion a single seven-seat counter at Kagurazaka Ishikawa. There are also four private rooms.
After we were seated at one end of the counter, the chef asked where we are from, why we had come, if we had any allergies etc. He was in the preparation area on the other side of the counter for most of our meal while various sous-chefs emerged from the kitchen on the side with cooked plates, sauces and with ladles of liquids for him to taste and approve.
There are no menu choices at Kagurazaka Ishikawa; one simply has the kaiseki that the chef is serving that night. Later we received a printed menu in English, from which the course titles below are transcribed.
Horsehead Snapper, Royal Fern Bud,
Koshiabura Mountain Green and Broad Bean
with Home-blended salt
These were deep-fried with little batter and so were lighter than tempura. Well, they were light, good, subtle ingredients to begin with. (The salt was blended with kelp.)
The tender squid had been filled with its own roe. Mozuku is a dark brown seaweed harvested in Okinawa in the spring, usually eaten with rice vinegar as a starter or palate refresher. The sesame tofu added just the right subtle flavor. Very nice.
On top you see chef Ishikawa carefully preparing the tai, or red sea bream. Those bream caught in early spring are prized for their bright color and rich flavor, and are sometimes called “cherry blossom bream.” They were served here with freshly grated wasabi, finely shredded shiso, myoga ginger and shredded nori.
The chef brought out a 4,000 year old Japanese bowl in brown pottery. It was passed around among the seven diners at the counter and created considerable conversation.
Black-throat Sea Perch and Rape Flower
The slight sweetness of the nodoguro, or black-throat sea perch, was nicely offset by the bitterness of the rapeseed blossom. The crisp skin on the bottom of the charcoal grilled fish was excellent.
Hard Clam, Scallop, Bofu Herb and Udo Mountain Greens
Served in Fresh Sea Cucumber Innards Soup
The scallop had been lightly pickled, providing an acidity which balanced the mild sweetness of the other ingredients and the sea cucumber sauce.
Sliced Japanese Duck and Duck Dumpling, Seri Green and White Leeks
The effect of this dish was like a winter stew, somewhat gooey with a pervasive flavor of duck and leeks, but no clearcut flavors or textures. It was nice, and a big contrast with what had come before, but didn’t make the same kind of strong impression.
Chef Ishikawa was obviously very proud of his rice dish. He presented it to us, spooned it into our bowls and sauced it. The turtle sauce was lovely and appropriate in a way it is hard for me to describe.
As you can tell from my comments above, the three Michelin stars are well deserved. We did not come away from the restaurant with the same overwhelmed feeling one frequently gets after a three-star experience in France with all its extras. It was more a feeling of satisfaction, contentment and appreciation that one has experienced the best in a refined and convivial ambience.