On a narrow alleyway called Hozen-ji yokocho in Osaka, Kigawa is a warmly lit, cozy, concise space that won a Michelin star for its kappo-style menu (although it seems to have since relinquished that). I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon it, but most likely it was this WSJ article on Osaka’s resurgent food scene. While kaiseki is a unique and highly enjoyable meal, I wondered how it would compare to the proximity to the kitchen that kappo would offer. Not quite as intimate as omakase at a talented sushi chef’s counter, but with more moving parts and more complexity to the particular dishes, kappo couldn’t be condensed into quite so direct a line between chef, food, and diner. But for what it was, kappo was one of the times I wished most intensely that I spoke some Japanese. Each course offered a moment of interaction with the kitchen, and that Kigawa’s chefs took the time to write out the English translation of each dish on scraps of paper was a step beyond.The initial place-setting:This was a block of either gluten or something made with mountain yam, but more importantly, topped with salted sea cucumber entrails, with a nib of wasabi. The sea cucumber part was exceptionally funky, a nearly simultaneous spark of salty, sour, acidic, pungent, viscous, and creamy, like a uni spiked with something as sharp as yuzu, with a little kick from the grainy fresh wasabi.This arrangement had a smattering of small bites, with (1) barracuda and lily bulb paste sushi, boiled fish paste, and gingko nuts (center), (2) prawn and lily bud, yolk and vinegar (small bowl on the right), and (3) tofu in miso (small cup on the left).Then, a visually stunning and palate-freshening array of sashimi and accouturements: conger eel (bottom right), smoked Japanese mackerel (bottom center), squid (top center), young yellowtail (top right), maguro (top left), another fish I don’t recall, and a sprig of shiso flowers. Side note: I love shiso flowers. This thickened clear soup of tilefish, octopus roe, and a slice of snow fungus. Butterfish stuffed with crushed tofu and matsukake mushrooms (the thin, black, crunchy strands one finds in a lot of ramen bowls), with taro balls flavored with dollops of uni sauce, miso sauce, and water pepper sauce, plus a twig of pickled ginger. A cold seafood salad of sorts, with halved muscat grapes, Shimeji mushrooms, scallop, walnut, garland chrysanthemum, in a thin nutty paste.A dish of sliced duck, potato, maitake mushrooms, pumpkin, eggplant, green soybeans, and a rich, sharp Japanese cheese.A soup of dried bean curds, almost like a jam, topped with a few shreds of nori. This dish served as the palate cleanser, in a sense, and a transition to dessert. Grape jelly, pineapple, mint, and fig simmered in red wine with sesame cream sauce.And to finish, a mild green tea and a sliver of plum jelly.The meal was well-paced over an hour and a half, with the deliberate, hushed activity of Kigawa’s small kitchen as our chief accompaniment. Chef Osamu Ueno stood near the head of the kitchen, over a long cutting board, expertly handling a long fish knife and the careful fileting of sashimi, chatting with an older Japanese couple. Our friendly chef-server was younger, and spoke a tad of English, occasionally smiling at us as he shuffled between the kitchen and our counter and the small back office where he was writing down our translated dishes.
The freshness of the ingredients and the precision with which they are assembled are astonishing, particularly with the sashimi. Some of the flavors and sensations were memorable: the hot fattiness of the tilefish, the contrast of bloody lean meat and pan-seared buttery fat of the duck, the concentrated sweetness of the grape jelly. Kigawa served as an early herald of the kappo movement, breaking down the barriers between the kitchen and the dining room, so it was great to see and experience the first manifestation of that idea.
Kigawa (1-7-7 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku; tel: 06-6211-3030)