Saturday, 21 September 2013

Eating at Yado Kanzan

Our reservation slip from Booking.com came with the rather ominous statement "If you do not check in by 17:30, dinner will not be provided and you will not receive a refund". With meals taken so seriously at Yado Kanzan, we made absolutely sure to leave our room at 6.28 pm, so as not to make the massive faux pas of being late for dinner. 


Even arriving exactly on time, we were still one of the last rooms to turn up - the rest of the guests were already excitedly looking through the spread laid out as part of the kaiseki dinner.

First Course: Plum Wine from Hakkaisan Brewery
Daisuke-san came over to take our drink orders, and told us that if we Liked Yado Kanzan on Facebook, we could get our drinks for free. (1 Like, 1 Drink.) This far from the router, the signal was just about strong enough in the dining room for him to help M & I find the right page to Like. D doesn't believe in using Facebook even after we set a page up for him, so we had to pay for his bottle of sake. 

Second Course: Silky Fresh Yuba
After the drinks arrived, Daisuke-san came over to provide a rundown on what was in the spread before us. There were things I'd already guessed from the day's menu that had been provided in Japanese, but still it was good to double-check. 

Third Course Item 1: Nama Fu (Traditional Wheat Gluten, shaped in a Maple Leaf), Okra, Beancurd Skin
We started our dinner by toasting with the Plum Wine that served as the Apertif or first course. M steers clear of alcohol, so she drank her Ginger Ale in lieu and I downed her glass. We then moved on to the freshly made Yuba, which we were instructed to partake with some soy sauce. Normally I'm not a big fan of tofu skins, but this was so silky and well-made that I finished everything. 

Third Course Item 2: Smoked Chicken with Spicy Piri Sauce
I was attempting to eat everything in order, but given all the time we spent marvelling over the presentation of each dish, I only just finished my second course before the fifth was brought out. It was the house specialty - a soft shell crab tempura. Not wanting to eat it cold, I had to abandon my plan of going down the list. It was worth it though, to eat the crab while it was still crisp, juicy and piping hot. 

Third Course Item 3: Sliced Figs atop a Cream Sauce
The main reason we decided to stay at Yado Kanzan was because the reviews online about their food had been overwhelmingly positive, going so far as to be nigh on superlative. There was one lady who visited with her husband and declared the chef to be a cooking master. Google translate really does have a tendency to make Japanese sound poetic but impossible to understand, but the bit about the food being great (Best in Minakami!) got through loud and clear. 

Third Course Item 4 came in a beautifully glazed ceramic box.
Soft-shell crab done, I attempted to pick up where I left off, and moved to the dish of small appetizers. I never like Nama Fu (Wheat Gluten, in this case shaped and dyed like a maple leaf given the Autumn season) because it's disconcertingly squishy and tasteless, so I ate it first to get it out of the way. After that, it could only get better. The dried Yuba roll was suprisingly enjoyable, and the soy sauce cream cheese was a gem, slowly melting away on the tongue and striking in how well the umami (Savoury) taste of the sauce blended so well with the sweet creaminess of the cheese.

Third Course Item 4: Soy Sauce Cream Cheese with Glazed Wolfberry
Japanese fruits always seem so utterly perfect, and the figs were no exception. Each sliver was uniformly soft save for the bit of crunch at the end from the seeds, and subtly luscious. D wolfed down everything, including the flower garnish, but only asked me if it was alright to eat the petals after he'd already ingested it. The juicy slices of smoked chicken came with a Piri Piri sauce, but most of the spiciness had been toned down to suit the Japanese palate. 

Third Course Item 4: Bamboo Shoot with Homemade Meat Miso
My favourite of all the appetizers had to be the spear of bamboo shoot that came with their homemade meat miso. The rich miso paste came in a small dollop that the bamboo was to be dipped in, and was chock full of delicate bits of minced meat. After I'd finished my bamboo stick, I polished off the last of the paste with the help of my chopsticks.  

Fourth Course: Aji (Jack Mackerel) Tataki and Madai (Red Seabream) Sashimi
The sashimi course was interesting as both types of fish served had a bit of crunch to their texture, and a tinge of sweetness in their flesh. 

Fifth Course: Soft Shell Crab Tempura
M & I spent some time in between bites looking at the place-mats while D topped up our glasses of sake. At our level of drinking, we still can't pick out most of the complex notes at the Junmai Daiginjo (純米大吟醸酒) level, though not for lack of trying. For now, we're sticking to normal Junmai (純米) brews. 

The placemat
Some places will allow you to pick the sake cup you drink out of, and Daisuke-san had come around earlier with a basket full of cups in varying shapes and sizes. I always choose the more unusual of the first two cups that catch my eye, so this time the cup with the purple glazing won out. 


We asked Daisuke-san what the proper way of eating grilled fish was - do you eat one side and then flip the fish over, or do you eat half then pull the bigger bones out of the way by the tail to get to the other side? He laughed, then mimed grabbing the fish and biting through it from the top, telling us that we could eat it however we wanted to. For quite a number of fishes though, the main skeletal system can be easily removed by grabbing the tail and sweeping it across to the head of the fish. 

Sixth Course: Salt Grilled Fish with a Pickled Ginger Stick
The fish was piping hot and fresh off a charcoal grill when it got to our table, and skewered in such a way that if you used a bit of imagination you could imagine the fish having swum through rivers looking something like it did on the plate (Just somewhat less charred). I would have grabbed the fish by both ends and bitten through it like Daisuke-san suggested, but M & D have been lamenting my lack of social graces long enough that I dared not.


The next course arrived in a flurry of 'Please be careful, the bowl is very hot'. Lifting away the lilac lid with the thick piece of string tied to the top, we were met with a perfectly cooked and shelled crab leg, atop a golden ball of fried tofu that was an island in a sea of kudzu (Arrowroot) sauce.  

Seventh Course: Fried Crab Tofu Ball
The tofu itself was stuffed with crab meat.

Cross Section of the Tofu Ball
Daisuke-san came over to tell us to dip the prawn crackers into the kudzu sauce, and we taught him how to say 'keropok', which is what it's called in Singapore. 

Seventh Course came with fresh Prawn Crackers
The prawn crackers tasted very fresh, and I wound up eating mine without the sauce, all the better to crunch down on it. There was an extra cracker in our bowl, and I nicked it quite shamelessly. 

Glazing of the bowl
There was an entire tea service next to our table, and as we waited for our main course I made us a pot of green tea with the tea bags provided. 


The main course was pan-fried sea bass, accompanied by homemade sauces. The accompanying vegetables, including the peppers and winged beans, had all come from Yado Kanzan's own garden, freshly picked mere hours before dinner. The sea bass was fragrant on its own, but went so well with the tangy shiso (Perilla) sauce.   

Eighth Course: Sea Bass Steak with Shiso (Perilla) and Carrot Sauce
By the time the rice arrived in little bamboo bowls, we couldn't stomach very much more. But the pungent, sour and very very salty blob of ume (plum) paste proved too much to resist, and after mixing it well with the rice I finished most of my bowl. 

Ninth Course: Rice with Plum Paste
The pickles had been on the table when we first arrived, and by the time the rice came out we'd already eaten everything. Unlike the usual pickles served, these seemed like they'd only been lightly salted, and you could still get the original sweetness of the vegetables.   

Tenth Course: Pickles
The soup came with yet more perfectly cut sheets of yuba, and stalks of mushroom hidden underneath the clouds of miso. 

Eleventh Course: Miso Soup with Yuba and Mushrooms
We were glad that dessert was only a small, refreshing scoop of Yuzu sherbet studded with bits of candied peel, as we probably couldn't have handled anything else. 

Twelfth Course: Yuzu Sherbet with Kiwi
As our table was cleared, Daisuke-san came over to let us know what songs he'd be playing for our final course, a short Shakuhachi set. (Since music is the food of love and all that jazz.) One of the pieces was a response to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. 


We had no idea what a Shakuhachi was until the first piercing notes rang out. If you've ever watched a Japanese period drama or movie and you hear a mournful sounding wind instrument, it's most likely a Shakuhachi. Then again, the range of pitches that can be produced is massive, and sounds can change dramatically by a minor alteration of the blowing angle or the degree to which the finger holes are covered. 

Thirteenth Course: Shakuhachi Performance
As we left the dining room, orders were taken for breakfast the next day, and we had a choice of grilled Japanese trout, salmon, or sausage as our hot item. 


M opted for the sausage,


D had the salmon, 


and I was very pleased with my grilled Iwana. It was a hearty breakfast, and even with the previous night's massive dinner, we made sure to eat more so we'd have energy for rafting later.


It was an exquisitely prepared breakfast. Apart from the small dish of Ikura (Salmon Roe) that went so well with rice and my grilled fish, the braised wild vegetables were also very memorable. We also each had a slice of pear, the fruit du jour, and two grapes. Japanese fruits are very expensive, which is why you only ever see them in small portions. 


At the end of breakfast, we were served coffee and tea, as well as bite-sized chocolate and strawberry ices. It was massively indulgent, but since we were on holiday we somehow managed to make space for it. 


The food had been excellent all-round and we were so glad the reviews we'd read had been accurate on this point. 


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