Monday, August 3, 2009

Restaurant # 1: KaneTanaka

Hello all, my name is Rabeeh, i am Lebanese, and as you can probably tell from the title of my blog, i enjoy both travel and food, and have decided to start this blog in order to document my recent trip to Japan and share these experiences with others. Accompanying me on this trip were my fiancee, Maya, my younger brother Walid, and my younger sister Dala.
Before i begin, i would like to thank Paul for his travel blog ( his excellent blog was an inspiration for both my trip, as well as this blog.
This was my first trip to Japan, but will definately not be my last!

Most of the restaurants that i sampled have either been awarded stars by the renowned Michelin Tokyo Guide 2009, or are very traditional Kaiseki restaurants that are held in very high regard throughout Japan.

I will start with Kanetanaka, since it is the first restaurant we went to upon arriving to Tokyo. I had reserved months in advance and naturally, was very excited about trying it.
Kanetanaka is a famous Kaiseki restaurant offering the most traditional Japanese fare. It is renowned throughout Japan, and the world as one of the finest Kaiseki restaurants.

As we entered the restaurant building, several waitresses and the restaurant host (a position that we were not accustomed to coming from outside Japan) were at the restaurant entrance to greet us. We were feeling like kings already!
First off, the room was extremely spacious, as you can see in the picture. Much larger than i would have expected of a Japanese Restaurant.
As this was my first ever dining experience in Japan, I must confess that i was astounded by the level of service at the resturant. We had two waitresses at our disposal and they wouldnt allow us to do as much as lift a finger! In fact, i remember one of them appologizing to me because i poured some sake myself!
I must add that at this point I thought that such a high level of service was due to the level of the restaurant itself, however, as i was to learn later, the level of service was exceptional throughout the country. No matter where we went, be it a coffee shop in Tokyo, a souvenir shop in Kyoto or a 10 course Kaiseki meal in Ginza the level of service was always top notch.

On to the food,

The menu is strongly influenced by the season, in this case summer.
Summer favorites include Unagi (Freshwater Eel)
Hamo (Pike Conger) and Uni (Sea Urchin).

As you can see, the price is not mentioned anywhere on the menu. As i was to learn, that was characteristic of most upscale restaurants in Japan.

On to the first course:

From right to left: Roast duck with green onion, Rolled eel and burdock, Steamed Awabi (abalone), "Briled" sweet potatoes and what they called "dry sand borer".
Honestly i was not impressed by this dish. The ingredients did not seem as fresh as i would have expected. Although i did enjoy the plum wine.

The next course was chilled somen noodles with broiled hamo (pike conger) and okra.
Again, nothing spectacular.

Here comes the sake we ordered. At 70,000 JPY (760 USD) it better be fantastic. I guess the first night in Tokyo was reason to celebrate!
Now im a big sake fan, and have had sake countless times outside Japan, but this was in a different league altogether. Truly top notch.

This was the "Clear turtle soup with Matsubara's red rockfish and rice cakes".
I had gone to Tsukiji, Tokyo's famous seafood market, earlier that day and saw the aforementioned rockfish. It was a very strange, ugly variety of fish that resembles a rock and rests on the seabed until some unsuspecting little fish swims close enough to be nabbed by it.

The rockfish in this soup was extremely boney, but not like you would expect a fish to be boney, the bones were like an exoskeleton around the flesh.The flesh itself was sweet in flavor. It was quite pleasant.
Now having never tried turtle before I was looking forward to this plate. I did not however detect any turtle flavor in the broth.
I did enjoy the soup nonetheless.

This was the sashimi course. Like all japanese cuisine lovers, I am a big fan of sashimi, especially sashimi of exotic varieties in a top notch restaurant in Tokyo.
The bowl on the left contained cubes of raw Awabi (Abalone) suspended in water and ice with "soldum, udo root and cucumber". The orange cubes in the water (what i assume they described as soldum" tasted almost like melon.
The bowl on the right contained the rockfish sashimi, Uni (sea urchin), "Quick fried shrimp", Squid and a "cucumber blossom".
The Sashimi plate was excellent, all the fish were extremely fresh. The Uni (coincidentally my favorate, and much to my joy, a summer favorite in Japan) was very sweet, while maintaining its strong "sea" flavor. The Ebi was very sweet, it was lightly seared on the outside while completely rare on the inside. The squid was very creamy in texture, it almost melted in the mouth, again divulging a sweet flavor. The rockfish was rather tough in texture (comparable to fugu as i was to learn later on my trip), allowing us to savor the sweet flesh for a little longer while chewing the meat.
Now the Awabi was the strange part. I had tried abalone many times before however it had always been cooked, either steamed or braised. This on the other hand was raw, and peculiarly, was cut into thick cubes rather than slices. Now abalone's texture is the reason the japanese love it so much. The best way i can describe the cooked texture is like a japanese fish cake with a slightly tougher texture. When raw, the abalone is very tough. The cube cut preparation produced chunks of Abalone that would crunch when you bite on them, they were really, REALLY hard. The sauce offered with the abalone was green in color and was made from the liver of the Abalone itself. Now as this was my first time trying both the raw abalone as well as the sauce i didnt know what to expect. What i got was an extremely "fishy" tasting sauce coupled with crunchy raw abalone. As this was my first time trying this plate i thought that perhaps this is how it was supposed to taste, and perhaps enjoying such a traditional plate would be an acquired taste. I did however try the same dish a few days later at Kitcho-Arashiyama, where it was truly excellent, and in retrospect i dont know what Kanetanaka were thinking serving that!

On to the beef course!
This was broiled tenderloin with baby green peppers and onion, served with a grated raddish sauce. The beef was Matsuzaka A5 grade beef and was quite frankly spectacular.
It disintegrated in your mouth as it was very tender beef intertwined with fat from the marbling.
Truly delicious, it made up for the Awabi sashimi from last course.

This plate was Foie Gras in Japanese egg pudding. Clearly a fusion dish, accomodating what i would call a french craze that is going on in Japan. Being a fan of Foie Gras i did enjoy this plate, however i would not have expected such a fusion dish from Kanetanaka.
Notice the dinnerware that Kanetanaka uses. These are all antique pieces worth hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars.

The next course was a fig with Tofu and Sesame Miso Dressing. It was sort of a palate cleanser, perhaps to clear the heavy taste of the Foie Gras from the previous course. This simple dish was quite enjoyable.

This course is simmered eggplant, Lobster and "stem of taro". The stock was very light bringing attention to the lobster and eggplant. The eggplant, grown in Kyoto, is superb.

This plate was curiously not mentioned on the menu but was presented to us as a courtesy from the restaurant staff.
It was described by our waitress as "Suppon Risotto". Suppon ofcourse being softshell turtle.
The course consisted of rice simmered in Suppon broth with small pieces of turtle meat, topped with Egg and chives.
It was very mellow in flavor, perhaps even bland. Nothing spectacular here, although i did get to sample the Suppon, which curiously tastes like fish.

A traditional Japanese meal always comes more or less in the same order with the carb plate (rice or noodles in this case, accompanied by pickles more often than not) coming just before the dessert, so that if you are not yet full they will finish you off with more rice!
This was chilled Udon (wheat noodles) with a sesame sauce on the side, and accompanied with wasabi and chives.
It was a basic plate quite honestly, nothing out of the ordinary.

Now this was the first time i tried a japanese melon. At first I was unimpressed with this dessert. However, and you will not understand me if you have never tried a japanese melon (or japanese fruits in general for that matter), it was heavenly! By far the juciest melon imagineable (it was dripping liquid) as well as the sweetest, most flavorful melon i have ever had in my life.
I know, how can it be so good its only a melon, right? Trust me, it was "Subarashi" as they say in Japan. This was melon grown in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the Japanese Islands.
It was accompanied by jellied Azuki (sweet bean) paste. Quite traditional and ubiquitous in the summer throughout Japan. Not pictured here is cold Matcha (Japanese powdered green tea).
Im a big fan of japanese teas in general, and matcha specifically.
During the course of our meal, the restaurant hostess would come into the room and sit with us, now this was not customary behaviour anywhere I have been before but as i was soon to learn was the norm throughout all the high end restaurants that we visited in Japan. At first i found it rather awkward but as we progressed in our vacation, i started to look forward to these cultural encounters. The hostesses were always so polite, and although my knowledge of japanese is very limited, and their knowledge of english is more often than not nonexistant, we managed to communicate through hand gestures/basic Japanese.

Now we were done with the meal and it was time for some serious business (the bill).
Okanjo Onegaishimasu! I uttered reluctantly to the waitress, knowing that the dinner cost would definately put a dent in my wallet! And much to my dismay, she returned with a piece of paper with 204,000 JPY (2,220 USD) scribbled on it. I had expected as much to be frank.

Although it was outrageously expensive the service was out of this world. Never in my life had i been so spoilt and pampered. The food was also great, although some plates were dissapointing, other plates more than made up for that. It was a great experience overall and we all thouroughly enjoyed it!

Upon leaving Kanetanaka, we found the whole restaurant staff on the ground floor of the restaurant, lined up to greet us. They all bowed down and yelled simultaneously "ARIGATO GOZAIMASTA". I still cant get over the great service and treatment which we received in Japan, they truly spoil you there!


  1. Rabeeh,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience -- as a fellow lover of Japanese food it's really an honest and enjoyable read for me. I probably will never go to Kanetanaka in my lifetime (you know how much traveling I can do with 204000 yen?), so that makes it even more interesting for me. I'm sure it would be a unique experience you'll remember for many years.

    If you don't mind, would you please sharing the pic of the menu in higher resolution? I'd like to see what the courses are called in Japanese.

    Thanks again! I'm waiting for the Mizutani pics!


  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your interest and for posting here!
    I uploaded a higher resolution image of the menu, you can view it at the following link:

    I would appreciate it if you can help me translate some of the terms better as my description was a bit vague.

    Although we went to almost 20 restaurants that i will try to document on this blog, the only place that did not allow us to take any photos was Sushi Mizutani. I did take photos with the master himself tho, Hachiro Mizutani, but the food itself was off limits. I remember exactly what he served us and will write about it some time during the course of this blog but i will not have any photos to share.
    As for Kanetanaka hopefully you will go there one day, we never know what is in store for us in this life!

    Thanks again for showing interest in my blog!


  3. Wow I'm looking at the menu and I don't even know where to start. Actually most of the English is pretty accurate, but there are some interesting points.

    In the appetizer course, the "Dry Sand Borer" could be better understood as Wind-dried Sand Smelt ... so you know it's a Himono meant for exciting your palate. Rich flavors, rather than freshness, was probably meant to be the focus of the dish.

    In the sashimi course, "Soldum" is typically one of several kinds of plums. Summer is the best season of course, which is why it's on your plate. Udo root is usually for medicinal use, and I've never had the root in a meal (the young leaves are great though!). Very interesting.

    In the steamed dish course, after listing the foie gras the menu also adds "ikigimo arimayaki", which may be loosely translated as "broiled liver, sansho flavor". Not sure if that flavor rings a bell to you.

    And your favorite melon hails from Yuuhari, Hokkaido. This is regarded as the king of melons, as you would no doubt agree I'm sure.


  4. This is really very interesting rabeeh. the turtle soup must have been one of a kind.and the desserts look really good.

    1- what was your favourite dish out of all ?
    2- are there any exotic spices in the japanese food ?


  5. Thanks for posting omar.
    as for the answers to your questions:
    1- The beef course. Simply unbelievable.
    2- Japanese food is traditionally flavored mostly with soy sauce/dashi/mirin rather than actual spices, although they do have quite a few spices involved in japanese cooking nowadays, they are mostly more recent imports to japanese cuisine.

  6. Hello Rabih,

    This is a great post. Thanks for sharing, really! I am planning for my (second) holiday to Japan this Christmas, and I'm trying to line up the best restaurants. This restaurant sounds great, but US$600/person for a dinner is unfortunately too much for my wallet! I can only enjoy this restaurant through your meal!

    Now I shall read more of your other posts..

  7. Great review Rabih. Now it's your turn to inspire me in discovering Japan. Questions for you, please: how did you get to most of those restaurants? By taxi or walking from train /metro stations? What was your trick to find them easily? I find directions (for Tokyo) using gps or google maps tough to understand: for eg, it’s written turn right, left, take the crosswalk, like 5 times in a row, lol. Do you think a good old guide (book) with maps would solve the dilemma?