Part II of my Hyotei post begins with my favorite Spring vegetable: the bamboo shoot. Bamboo shoots are the symbol of Spring in Japanese cooking and revered for their soft yet crunchy dichotomy. It is said that the window of deliciousness is much smaller for bamboo shoots than for any kind of fish, and the best of the best bamboo shoots are those dug up in the early morning of the same day. This aspect of intense timeliness appeals very much to the spirit of kaiseki cuisine, and these tenderly crunchy bamboo shoots have been infusing Spring breeze into kaiseki dishes for a long time.
At Hyotei, these bamboo shoots were slowly cooked in delicate dashi. Cooking something white with dashi requires mastering of dashi itself, since the Chef must create seasoning that does not stain the bamboo shoots themselves. The cream-colored purity of the bamboo shoots you see here is evidence of the immense skill this kitchen contains.
I was so overwhelmed at how soft yet crunchy these bamboo shoots were. They broke apart with my chopsticks along the fibers. The fibers were so well-infused with dashi that they separated with ease. But they maintained their pleasurable texture so well. This was Spring at its best. If you have never had bamboo shoots that are neither pickled nor pre-boiled, a trip to Kyoto in the Spring is in order...
The next and final 'meat' course was house-dried fish. For the life of me, I can't remember what the fish was, but this dish is called, "Ichiya boshi" or "One night dried" fish. Unlike traditional dried fish, the reason for drying is not preservation but rather to increase flavor and texture. Drying the fish overnight eliminated excess water from the meat and concentrated the sweetness of the flesh. It was grilled to perfection and I enjoyed the smoky aroma accompaniment to the sweet fish.
Rice and soup signaled the end of the savory dishes. Although stuffed beyond belief, all three of us finished the scallop rice and clear soup. None of us even a grain of rice left on our plates.
Dessert was a two-course affair, starting with fruits. This dish symbolizes why Hyotei continues to be the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. Rather than being complacent with its traditional cuisine, the kitchen here takes adventures, incorporating new ideas and concepts from other culinary trends. Here, we see Strawberries with Gelee, a very refreshing touch after the multi-, multi-course meal we had enjoyed. As you see, they took away our elevated tray-tables for dessert. We enjoyed our first course dessert on trays of their own.
Concluding the affair (second dessert dish) was a traditional tea ceremony set-up, in which we were served a sweet treat, followed by green tea. I am not going to share the pictures of these here, since I am planning on doing a special green tea post some time soon!
In retrospect, the meal at Hyotei was nothing short of perfect. Everything was perfect. From the timing of my tea being refilled to the temperature of the soups, everything was calculated to an amazing exactness, and they made it seem so effortless. Our server was a charming lady with the warmest smile, and she made us feel totally at ease and comfortable. There was absolutely nothing pretentious to Hyotei and we were welcomed like old friends. Our server even let us go take a peak at their oldest dining room after our meal, which boasts a beautiful view of their meticulously maintained garden.
Hyotei, literally translates to Gord Eatery, and I have no idea what the reason behind their name is. But after eating there, my interpretation is that one is hidden away from reality in the comfortable Hyotei World, as if escaping inside a gord. Next time I am in Kyoto, I will definitely be stopping by Hyotei again.