Takaiya, Nikko

November 4, 2014

Takaiya has been run by the Takai family since 1805. It is a very small, exquisite restaurant with traditional rooms inside and a garden in back. Takaiya is on a pleasant, but normal, residential street near the Imperial Villa, away from the center and main tourist attractions of Nikko. Yukari joined Linda and me there for lunch on October 21, 2014.

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We were seated at a table in a traditional private tatami room with a view out the back into the garden.
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We ordered the Yuba Kaiseki Menu. The aperitif was a glass of home-made plum wine. The starter was tofu made from yamaimo, Japanese yam, topped with salmon roe and a dab of wasabi.
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The next course was chawanmushi dressed with ponzu topped by a layer of yuba, a fu (wheat gluten) maple leaf and a citrus zest.
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In the soft, steamed egg custard were pieces of aigamo duck, raised in rice paddies.

Cups of tea were served. We ordered some sake.
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The next course was
Hiki-age Yuba and Nikko salmon trout sashimi.
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This is a very local dish. Yuba, or tofu skin, has been a specialty of Nikko for centuries. It appealed to Buddhist ascetics drawn to the area. Here it was served freshly made in stacked layers; it had a good flavor.
Salmon trout normally comes from the fresh, cold waters of Lake Chuzenji and surrounding streams in the mountains north of Nikko. But Yukari advised us that Nikko salmon trout are currently not from Lake Chuzenji because of the radiation level in the fish there, still a little  over the safety level. The government is very strict about that.
Nikko or Yashio (named after Yashio-tsutsuji, local azalea) salmon trout are currently raised in safe fish farms in the area. Water from the lake and streams is reported to be safe now, but radioactive substances seem to have accumulated in the trout at the top of the food chain in the lake. Some smaller fish there are already announced safe.

Rainbow Trout, wood chip smoked in house.
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The rainbow trout was more delicate than the salmon trout. It had a lovely elegant flavor.

Rolled Yuba Stew
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Strips of yuba had been coiled. They were served in a warm gelatinous broth with mushrooms, greens and carrots.

Tempura of tofu wrapped in yuba and Nikko vegetable tempura.
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This was served very hot and fresh.

A salad of little cucumber crescents with a shrimp, scallops and other things.
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This was very nice, quite a contrast with the sad lettuce salads we have been served in some restaurants in Japan.


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The rice dish was flavored with shimeji mushrooms. It was served with excellent pickles and miso soup with tofu and chives.
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Dessert was Okinawa Brown Sugar Gel on Hokkaido Soy Milk with seasonal fruit slices.
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We finished with matcha green tea in a pretty seasonal bowl.
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The meal was excellent, with fine ingredients prepared so as to bring out their delicate, elegant flavors. Most were seasonal and local. The service and ambience, were exceptionally good. It was perfectly quiet in the room when we were not in conversation. 

In the morning before our lunch at Takaiya we walked around the main tourist sights of Nikko with Yukari as our guide.
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Shin-kyo Bridge
We particularly enjoyed the Shoyo-en stroll garden in the Tokugawa site and the walk along the Kanman-ga-fuchi abyss with its rows of Jizo statues. The abyss is separate from the main sites and is often overlooked.
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As you can see, the maple leaves had started to turn and were quite lovely.

We stayed two nights at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel, built in 1873. It remains steadfastly old and European in its ambience. We were the only non-Japanese in the large clientèle, including several tour groups. The dining room menu is in French and Japanese; there is not a chopstick in sight.
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We ordered the special trout menu. Its feature, La Truite Sautée à la Maison Kanaya, was appalling, overcooked in a ruinous coating with a sickly sweet mirin sauce.
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The second night we dined at the Mihashi Steak House, halfway up the driveway up to the hotel. I had the Mixed Grill, Linda the Rib Eye. Both were good.
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The starter of Grilled Nikko Maïtake Mushrooms was superb.
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A bottle of Drouhin Côte de Beaune rouge helped make it a fine, if not traditionally Japanese, meal.

Takaiya‘s website:


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