Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kawakami (川かみ), Takayama (Gifu ken)

Hey, how do you like to eat your high-class local beef? Dipped in squid guts and seared within an inch of its life on a piece of hot rock recently extracted from the gates of hell? What a coincidence! Me too! This is the place for you!

Kawakami is a little out of the way – it’s in Takayama for a start, and even then it’s at the very far northern end of the shopping street. Actually quite some distance after the stores have run out, so I’m not sure how you’d find it unless you were just walking aimlessly around. If you know the geography, it’s about as far north as Hachimangu’s enormous torii, but on the other side of the river. We found it while…walking aimlessly, actually coming to it from the back and thinking it was someone’s house (judging purely by the young mother and baby playing in the back room). At the front, it has a clean-and-neat, recently-constructed-but-traditional look that tends to imply to me that the proprietors are serious about what they do.

Since we weren’t available for dinner (see previous post on Sakana!), we went for lunch. Inside is a little older than expected, almost like they transplanted a lot of the fixtures and fittings from an older restaurant elsewhere. I guess I would say outside looked <5 years old, but inside looked 10-15 years old. Not a problem, just funny.

The lunch menu is variations on a theme – normal beef or good beef, served with the aforementioned sauce and hot rock for cooking (the dinner menu evidently expands into lots of normal washoku – the fish delivery came while they were there, and to me a place that’s getting a fresh hamo for the dinner crowd has to be pretty serious). To your lunch set, you can a small appetizer, sashimi, tempura or any combination of these.

I found the beef simultaneously better looking and less tasty than that at Sakana. I think it was filet, judging by the relatively limited marbling, and the taste reflected that. The sauce was an interesting addition: we weren’t really prepared to like beef dipped in squid guts (I’ll stop saying that soon) but I found that I didn’t really want to eat the beef grilled as it was, and kept compulsively dipping it. The appetizer was some type of green jelly (as in, gelatinized dashi loaded up with finely chopped leaves) topped with uni, and was nice. The sashimi was tuna akami, boring, and some kind of kobujime (maybe hamachi?) that was, I kid you not, full of bones. Quite a surprise from an otherwise top-class restaurant, but nothing that ruined my enjoyment.

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