Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Menami

Is Menami the best restaurant in Kyoto? And therefore in all Japan? The ajimi team thinks so.

Kyoto is justifiably famous for its cuisine. Born in an unforgiving environment - frigid in the winter, stultifyingly hot in the summer, a bit to far from the sea to create a fresh seafood cuisine - Kyoto ryori has made the best of limited resources and its plebian food products to develop a truly elegant kaiseki tradition, a delicious and varied tofu cuisine, nishin soba - a Kyoto specialty served with a dried herring, obanzai ryori - the home cooking of Kyoto, and many other wonderful regional foodstuffs.

Menami is a modern obanzai restaurant, reviving and updating the cuisine under the sure hand of chef/owner Ippei Yamamoto. A block off Kawaramachi, the less snooty party district on the opposite side of the Kamogawa from Gion, Minami's decidedly modern interior emphasizes the beguilingly simple and perfect food that comes from its kitchen.

Sitting at the dining bar, with full staff on hand, the counter was lined with bowls of the day's bounty. Like a Spanish tapas bar, one could just point and choose from any of the delectable offerings on hand. We chose to give our waitress a budget and let the feast begin.

First up was an elegant plate of perfect sashimi - maguro (まぐろ- tuna), madai (まだい - porgy), and hirame(ひらめ - flounder). The maguro, which far too often comes badly cut or partially frozen, was simultaneously rich, unctuous, and almost melty. The madai, clean and fresh. And the hirame was slightly briny, with a toothsomeness that gave it completeness.

Next came dish of sei no hana (せいの花 - broccoli rabe), perfectly steamed with light wasabi-tinged dressing. A gentle crunch, a slight wateriness, and a zip of spice brought us out of sashimi heaven and set our taste buds buzzing for the next dish, which were some satoimo (さと芋) - rich, slightly glutinous taro tubers - in a brilliant yuzu and tonyu sauce, a classic of obanzai ryori. The flowery citrus danced playfully with the big round tastes of the spuds and soy milk


Next came a hotate kakiage tempura. With rough cut carrots, onions, and scallops in a perfectly cooked batter with sea salt and slice of fragrant and wonderfully sour sudachi, the simple fritter reached sublime heights.


Then came a plate of beautifully cooked gyu no shippo (牛のしっぽ - oxtails). Slow-cooked so the meat was hashi-tender, the fat, gelatinous and flavorful. A perfect expression of umami for the closing of the meal.


A coda arrived with a simple salad of steamed broccoli and lettuce. No frills, but none were needed. From the presentation, to the choice of the best ingredients, to the orchestration of the dining experience, Menami left its mark as one of the most memorable dining experiences we've had.

Menami
Kiyamachi, Sanjo-agaru
Nakagyo-ku
Kyoto 604-8004
tel: 81 75 231 1095

NV

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