Kashiwaya was my first three-star Michelin restaurant in Japan, and part of why I wanted to visit was its unique background: the kaiseki restaurant had been in existence and within the family since 1868, although only in its current incarnation since 1993, redesigned by its head chef, Hideaki Matsuo, a student of theoretical physics, and his wife around the nuances of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony when they took over the restaurant. Relais & Chateaux has a really interesting short Q&A with Chef Hideaki.
Getting to Kashiwaya is a bit of an oddball walk southeast from the subway (Ryokuchikoen, on the red line, or Kandaimae, on whichever line that is). It’s in a completely nondescript suburb, with low-slung homes and a profusion of uniform, narrow streets crisscrossing the easy hills of northern Osaka.
When we finally found its gate, it was a bit like stepping into the garden of a ryokan somewhere farther up in the mountains: surprisingly tranquil, lush, the presence of moss and stone paths, sliding doors and paper windows.We were greeted by Chef Hideaki’s wife, our amazing hostess (whose name I unfortunately forget to ask), who then surprised us by ushering us to this sliding door, suspended in the middle of the wall. I couldn’t stop smiling, thinking how ridiculous I looked trying to squeeze my fat ass into the tatami room.
And then, somehow, we were inside, and the door slid closed, and there was nothing but the enclosed serenity of the space, the distance hum of the world outside our shoji window, a beautiful marble-topped table and floor-level chairs, light-colored wood running the lengths of various edges, and these mysterious white doors.
We soon found out what the door was for, as kimono-clad Mrs. Hideaki slid it open to enter the room, kneeling and in the traditional way of using her right hand to set our table while her left gracefully cupped the loose fabric of her sleeve. She spoke fairly good English, which was a nice surprise for us, and gave us a small cup of hot black tea to start the meal.The first course was a small bowl of crab, with baby greens and a yellow flower in almost an ohitashi style (with a light gelee instead of the dark dashi marinade). This came with a bit of simply steamed baby taro, incredibly sweet chestnut, and two edamame. Restraint was a fairly consistent theme to the meal (aside from it being lunchtime).
Next, a soup of grilled conger filet with leek and, surprisingly, yuzu rinds, which in the heat of the soup transferred their intensely aromatic citrus essence to both the soup and anytime I put my face near the bowl. I love yuzu, so no complaints on the sensory overload, which contrasted with how visually composed and subdued the rinds appear.
A fresh plate of sashimi.