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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kansansoubekkan (観山荘別館)

Our most memorable meal of Fukuoka (and perhaps the enitre trip) was at Kansansoubekkan (観山荘別館), a kaiseki restaurant.

Let us be clear: I am not a kaiseki person and neither is my mother. I'm a fan of donburi, ramen, and mochi. I am solidly a B-class gourmand. My mother is the type of person that got bored in France because every meal took so long.

So kaiseki was a leap for us. For those uninitiated in what kaiseki is: Kaiseki is a multi-course meal that really takes food to an art form.

Only seasonal ingredients, cooked fresh, are used, prepared and plated in a way to highlight not only the taste but the visual appeal of the dish.

We were served 12 different dishes over several hours in a gargantuan private room with just us in it and a view of their beautiful garden. It was a crazy ride, and something I am so glad I was able to experience!

We were sat in a traditional style room, without chairs, but there were several larger parties that elected to sit in a more western banquet style. We took a tour of the garden and took pictures in it, which I don't think most people were allowed to do, because we certainly messed up the pretty gravel designs by walking on it.

Amuse bouche, somen, and greens
We started out with an amuse bouche of anago (saltwater eel) wrapped in a leaf with a sweetened broad bean and a tiny sweet cherry blossom square (I think it was like a cherry blossom version of mizuyokan, but my Japanese wasn't good enough). This was accompanied by a green tea somen and a mix of bamboo shoots, greens, and dried fish strips in a little cup.

Fresh tofu!
The fresh cherry blossom garnish was a beautiful reminder of the season, as well as the fresh greens and bamboo shoots. For someone who lives in a place without a lot of seasonality (Southern California is hot and dry with little exception) I really appreciated these fleeting garnishes.

Served alongside this trio was fresh-made tofu wrapped into a cone shape with a bamboo leaf, with light shoyu and sea salt.You just dont get tofu like that in America very often.

Tonyu nabe with pork
That bamboo leaf cone of fresh tofu was a game changer.

I love tofu, but I normally have it with a lot of other flavors and textures involved, like mapo tofu. Tofu, completely unadulterated was so smooth, so creamy, it was delicious with the salty hint of shoyu or salt. It was really a no-bullshit sort of dish that makes a person rethink tofu.

The next dish was tonyu nabe, or soymilk hot pot with pork. Please look how gorgeous that pork was. It was even tastier than it looked, if you can believe it!

I loved the plate beneath the salmon!
We also enjoyed sashimi garnished with a maple and a wasabi leaf served over crushed ice (not pictured due to an unfortunate blurry picture) , salmon topped with potato puree, some assorted agemono (fried dishes), and little tiny firefly squid with a vinegared miso and mustard dipping sauce. Again, seasonality was highlighted as apparently Spring is when the cute little squid are at their peak.
Tiny squid!

I think our relatives were very pleased we didn't balk at the whole squid, because we would have been missing out! I loved the dipping sauce served with it. I should learn how to make it!

We finished with a soup and rice course (or maybe it was between this dishes, it's a blur). We couldn't finish the rice, so they made them up into onigiri for us in a cute to go container. We ate these later and they were a delicious mixed rice with spring greens mixed right in.
Fried deliciousness

Last but not least, a simple dessert of strawberries and a tiny cheesecake.

The hostesses, who were dressed in beautiful kimonos, were very attentive, but the coolest bit of hospitality here is the restaurant writes everyone's name on a sign out front! It was pretty exciting to see our family's name written down (we felt very VIP).

The dessert with the onigiri to go!
Ultimately, this was a once-in-a-lifetime dinner. Everything from the room, to the kimonos, to the dishes (and the dishes served on the dishes!) was spectacular. Even though it is not our wheelhouse, it will be a dinner and a family memory we will talk about for years!

Our name is top row in the very middle!
Kansansoubekkan (観山荘別館)
3-10-41 Saburomaru Kokurakita-ku Kitakyushu Fukuoka
福岡県 北九州市小倉北区 三郎丸 3-10-41 観山荘別館 

***One thing that I didn't know about the Japanese: they are obsessed with their heaters. It was not chilly at all (I'm not wearing a jacket in the pictures we took outside, and I'm from Southern California--we can't even drive when it drizzles), but they had it ridiculously hot. Every where we went they had the heaters blazing.

I'm not used to heaters (as we never use them in Southern California), and found out I'm really sensitive to central heating. I nearly passed out in the warm stuffy room and my mother had to open the sliding doors to the garden! I've rode horses and done sweaty barn chores in 110 weather, so I guess it's something about the stuffy artificial heating that does me in rather than the actual temperature. I attributed this partly to jet lag since I was in Japan, but when I went to Portland on a business trip, I nearly passed out in an restaurant and had to eat standing outside staring at my dining party through the window.

1 comment:

  1. These photos are incredible! My hubby and I are planning a trip to Japan in February...looking at these photos, we may need to adjust our itinerary! So beautiful! :)