Friday, November 27, 2009

Karaku, Kyoto (華楽)

Nice place they've got here. I like this whole Kyoto thing more every

Friday night, got up the courage to poke my head into one of the nearly
unmarked kappou on Pontocho. With a number of the places there, it's hard to tell what they do - just a name over the door. They could be people's houses for all I know. One thing that probably clues you in is the bird lanterns they have outside - you see this in other neighborhoods too, but not with birds. It seems to indicate membership in the neighborhood entertainment organization (and I don't mean anything seedy by that.

It turned out to be a 10-seater, staffed by a young master (the waitresses charmingly called him 'chief') who liked fast cars and cooked a range of stuff in his two-burner setup while also serving up awesome pickles and a range of Kyoto style cooked dishes scooped from big bowls on the counter.

This is called 'banzai' food. Not to be confused with tiny sculpted trees, and not to be confused with the 'long life' toast either (it's always written with the ban in hiragana when I see it, and the sai is either hiragana or occasionally yasai no sai). Should you be hygenically squeamish, perhaps Kyoto isn't for you?

Starter: egg tofu

The first of the banzai that we had - yuzu tofu. Disappointingly non-yuzu.

Pumpkin. Very well done - the color was bright orange like melon, and the texture was very nice.

Sardines boiled in soy sauce with ginger. These are a bit confronting for me so we didn't try them.

Excellent wintry sashimi - buri on the left and some kind of tai. They had a selection of fugu dishes, but I wanted to eat it raw and they had run out already (it was 10 PM).

Absolutely phenomenal pickles. I just love pickles. Unnaturally so. One disappointment of the weekend is that I learned there are places near the Eastern temples that serve all-you-can-eat pickles, 25 varieties, but I didn't go. Next time!

Grilled shiitake and manganji togarashi (big green peppers from Kyoto). Like the banzai, these are sitting out on the counter, daring you to order them. Or enticing, more like it. Big shiitakes like this are kinda rare, but when you can get one, the taste and texture are great. The inside of the cap is very pale and smooth - it looks almost like custard.

Deep fried tofu skin filled with fish and vegetables; some of these had shrimp, some had minced fish. All were nice.

The spiced salt was pleasantly swirled. Probably by someone's finger, but hygiene standards are just different here. If this bothers you, you definitely wouldn't want to see his kitchen.

This could be a regular event.

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