Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Japan 2017 -- Ruminations on Western Food in Japan

Japanese chefs are now omnipresent in Paris and, indeed, all over France. I'm talking about chefs making genuine modern French food with, perhaps, a stylistic acknowledgment (often unconscious) of his or her Japanese origin. I guess they like living and working in France more than returning to Japan. Of course, many young chefs get training in the West and return to Japan.

Some Western style food in Japan is excellent; some is not, particularly outside of Tokyo.

We returned to an Italian favorite in Kyoto called Kyoto Nese. The food was excellent and the service beyond. The man behind the counter remembered us from four (or possibly six) years ago and could not have been nicer. The food was authentic and good and beautifully presented. Look at this linguini with clam sauce: not a traditional presentation . . . but it should be.

Linguini with clam sauce at Kyoto Nese
I wish there were more good Italian restaurants in Kyoto, but I fear there are few. Ones that we have tried over the years have always been disappointing.

Our favorite French restaurant in Kyoto for many years was Bellecour The owner chef had never trained in France but served amazingly authentic and excellent French fare. The owner is no longer the chef, spending his time at his informal bistro and catering facility, and the restaurant, now La Part Dieu, has lost its soul. The set meal includes a sashimi course and the so-called French food, while pretty good, is not French. Presentation is everything, from the amuse bouches served with holly to the 64-vegetable salad to the foam for dessert.

Dinner at La Part Dieu in Kyoto
Even La Mer, the French restaurant at the wonderful Shima Kanko, had no clue.

Dinner at La Mer at Shima Kanko
I mean, really, what is this stuff?

I don't want to over-generalize. I am sure that excellent French and Italian restaurants exist in Japan outside of Tokyo, but apart from Kyoto Nese, we haven't found them. Surprising in this era of global cuisine, but there you have it.

Bobby Jay

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