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Kyoto style dining in Japantown
by Amy Sherman on Dec 16, 2004
Imagine you are able to transport yourself to Japan in an instant. You climb weathered wooden stairs to a balcony where, though there is no sign in English, a sliding door opens to reveal a ten-seat bar and the glimpse of a kitchen. The traditionally dressed chef and his wife greet you warmly as you enter this windowless cocoon of a restaurant. Around you are seated only Japanese patrons and the menu is more of a list of suggestions than anything else. No fewer than 15 sakes in a wide range of styles and prices are available. Welcome to Kappa.
Kappa is located in Japantown and though directly above the landmark Denny's, it's not easy to find even with directions. The restaurant is "koryori" style that, depending upon your source, translates into English as old-fashioned, pub style, or small plate style. Your meal will likely be unique as the selections are based on seasonality and availability. The menu offers single portion dishes including savory meatballs, fish cakes, asparagus, shitake mushroom, blackskin pork, hirame usuzukuri--thinly sliced halibut presented sashimi style, and unagi--barbecued freshwater eel. Each dish costs anywhere from $6-$15, and $20 and up for sashimi, but it will take plenty of small dishes to make a meal. You can see how this can easily add up to an astronomical sum, but the prix-fixe meal is a reasonable $75 per person.
The fixed price meal is the house suggestion for first-time diners; on a recent visit it included nine courses. The meal begins with a small mound of monkfish liver with various garnishes and a spicy ponzu-type sauce. Next a juicy bamboo root with a green creamy pepper miso, after this comes a warm custard-like cube of homemade egg tofu with a crab and lime zest garnish. One plate comes looking like a horizon, with large thin piquant slices of red and white pickled turnips from Kyoto. One of the highlights of the meal is to-die-for sashimi- the kind that melts in your mouth. The selection includes one slice of hamachi, two slices of tuna belly, pale and glistening, a slice of clam, and the sweetest freshest uni ever, all served with fresh ground wasabi, not the ubiquitous bright green reconstituted powder you find in most Japanese restaurants.
Another plate is of assorted single bites that includes asparagus in a thick sesame paste, surimi wrapped in paper-thin slices of daikon, homemade unagi sticky with barbecue glaze and complemented by a fresh shiso leaf, a grilled scallop with red miso, a large poached shrimp in a cold creamy sauce and a mini piece of mochi stuffed with red bean paste.
The last few dishes are heartier, for example, a piece of sake-marinated, grilled rock cod and three fried treats- a panko encrusted piece of halibut, a sweet fish cake and a breaded shitake mushroom stuffed with shrimp paste. For dessert there was some agar, red bean paste and green tea ice cream and cups of green teas.
For a trip to Japan without leaving the City you can't do any better than an evening spent at Kappa. Perhaps because the restaurant is so small the service is just like you'll find in Japan, attentive and outstanding. But with only ten seats, you'll want to make reservations.
Call for reservations after 4:30pm, even the answering machine message is mostly in Japanese!
by Amy Sherman on Dec 16, 2004