Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kurokawa's Iyashi no Sato Kiyashiki (いやしの里 樹やしき): Part 2 - Upgraded Dinner

Dinner at the ryokan for the second night was one of the best meals that I've ever had. It makes complete sense to me now that when watching episode after episode of Iron Chef Japan, so many of the challengers were chefs at renowned ryokans. The dinner at Kiyashiki was decadent, the service impeccable, and the overall experience unforgettable. 
Upon walking into our own private little room, we encountered a spread that inspired gasps of delight. The wooden tray of tastings of various Japanese cuisine was so delicious and diverse, yet perfectly balanced, that these items alone sent me into a world of culinary bliss.
The first stage of tasting
There was a small bowl containing a perfectly smooth, white savory custard - still a touch sweet, and complimented by a little slice of shrimp, and a small piece of sugar snap pea, which is now in season. The jiggly custard, the chew of the shrimp, and the crunch and juice of the sugar snap was a wonderful first bite to this meal.
Custard with shrimp and sugar snap pea
Then there was a tiny dish of one of my favorites: ikura or salmon roe. A touch of grated daikon made the flavor of the salty, briny roe all the more refreshing of flavors.
Salmon roe with grated daikon
There were also two vegetables on the plate: the longish vegetable, I'll admit, I don't know what it was. But it seemed to be some sort of a root vegetable, covered with a miso-based sauce. Very delicious. And of course, there was also a fresh fava bean, something I didn't expect to see in Japan, but that is always a welcome sight. 
Unidentified root vegetable and fava bean
A small mound of walnuts were braised in a sweet, salty sauce and topped with sesame seeds.
Walnuts, sweet, and still crunchy
Another item on the initial plate, you also had one perfectly formed piece of salmon nigiri. It was, again, unexpected, lightly vinegared and a wonderful little treat. 
Salmon nigiri
Finally, the centerpiece of this tray of food, was the item contained within the little bamboo tube. Upon lifting the cover, something I had never seen before was revealed. A savory, fruity little jelly, interspersed with vegetables, herbs and bits of seafood, I think shrimp, was so unique that it may have been my favorite item of the night. 
A wonderful, salty/sweet jelly, presented and cooked
in this beautiful bamboo container
So, though I was immersed in a world of delicious tidbits with the tray of food before me, there was another delight to behold. The table's center was sunken, revealing a gas grill, and a large cylinder parked in the middle. Two ayu, or sweet fish, were skewered upside down, and set along the side of the iron cooking device. The fins were coated in salt, and we were instructed to twist the skewers and turn the fish every few minutes by our wonderful young server. Each time that she came to bring us more treats, or to check on our beverages, she would also take a look at the slowly grilling fish, which remained cooking for about an hour. 
Ayu (sweetfish), slowly grilling against an iron cylander
When they were finished, the skin was crisp and salty. The innards of the fish were slightly bitter and helped to flavor that sweet, flaky white flesh. This may have been the most beautifully presented, delicious white fish I've ever had. Fun to eat, and set on the skewer so that it looked like the fish were still swimming. An amazing dish. 
The fish: flaky, fresh white meat with salty, crispy skin
If I've failed to do so before, let me emphasize that this was an incredible amount of food. There was also a sashimi course, brought in a large bamboo tube. Salmon, mackerel (I think), and delicate sea bream sashimi, with fresh grated wasabi and a touch of soy sauce for dipping, made up one of the best sashimi courses I've ever enjoyed.
The sashimi course
Next, our server slid open the door, bringing a suimono soup, lightly fishy and savory, complete with a piece of fish, cooked in the broth, a shiitake mushroom and a wakame-wrapped seafood sausage ball. I've always loved these sort of warm, but refreshing light soups.
Suimono soup
The meat courses arrived shortly. First, there was something I've not had before (which was quickly becoming a theme of this dinner). This was horse sashimi, a delicacy at this ryokan. The meat was nicely marbled, chewy, and a touch minerally. A bit of onion, grated daikon and horseradish rounded out the flavor of the bite. I recommend trying it.
Horse sashimi, a delicacy
Time to grill. Also in the little dip in the table, there was a large circular iron plate. Our server had brought in quite a spread of decadently marbled meat and vegetables. We were told to first grill the meat, and try it with the condiments provided: salt, ponzu sauce, and a thicker steak sauce.
Grilling the meat - look at the marbling distributed
throughout each slice
Upon trying the meat, it was so rich, and so savory that the flavor was downright buttery, but still earthy and simply one of the best bites of steak you might ever expect to taste. 
Enjoying a rare piece of the meat with ponzu sauce
Quite an array of fresh, local vegetables were presented on a little weaved, bamboo tray. We were instructed to grill these next, and they nicely absorbed much of the fat left behind from the marbled beef that we had moments ago devoured. The mushrooms and fresh eggplant were especially enjoyable.
Grilling vegetables, allowing them to soak up
fat that had been left behind from the beef
Finally, the remaining items on the tray of things meant for the grill were cooked. Our server demonstrated that with these vegetables and konyaku, we could grill them, and also dress them with a unique miso-based sauce that was set on the side of the tray. Sips of sake and enjoying the rest of the vegetables, this was yet another flavor experience to behold and savor.
Fried tofu, firm tofu, onions and konyaku to grill
That sauce was incredible, especially with the chewy konyaku.

Konyaku grilling with the sauce
 We approached the end of the meal. But not before we were brought a little plate of tempura vegetables, and a small bowl of matcha-flavored soba. The tempura was crispy and wonderful, especially when given a little dip into the vinegared soba sauce. The soba was at its ideal springiness, and we slurped it down with loud sounds of satisfaction and enjoyment.
Tempura vegetables with matcha salt on the side
Who loves soba? I do. Especially with a wonderful sauce and grated vegetables.
Gratuitous close up of the mouthful of delicious soba
Yes, it's just about over.  The meal finished with the traditional plate of pickles, and our own bamboo container of the rice that had been grown in the next town over. 
A refreshing plate of pickles to eat with our rice course
Enjoying the daikon pickles on top of the best rice I've ever had just about set us over the top. I wish I could have a little bowl of that warm, chewy, starchy, but clean-tasting gohan right now. I miss it already. 
Best rice ever
So that was the upgraded meal plan. It was a mammoth amount of food, but just enough to leave us on the right side of stuffed. With the exception of the meat courses, each course was pretty light and healthy while simultaneously introducing an epic plethora of diverse, interesting, and unforgettable flavors. It was worth every penny, and nearly brought me to joyful tears. I encourage you to try and enjoy. Thank you Kiyashiki for one of the greatest meals of my life.

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