I had to go to China to find out about Japanese Kaiseki. Perhaps I should have been more up to speed, but hey, I takes my learnin's where I can gets 'em.
Kaiseki is basically a high end Japanese tasting menu where the chef works to highlight seasonality by presenting a a wide-ranging but balanced spectrum of texture, temperature, color, and flavor. Definitely my kind of party. Being Japanese, there are of course a lot of rules. But on this point I found I benefited from willful ignorance.
We weren't planning on splurging on any fancy meals during our time in China, but our friend Kent sold us on the idea with a wistful sigh; "Kappo Yu is my favorite restaurant in Shanghai."
Words like this are not to be discounted.
Communal area of Kappo Yu helmed by chef Terada.
The very next evening we found ourselves walking through an unmarked door, framed with a smattering of bamboo and single divided red curtain. Moments later we were cozied up comfortably to the bar grinning expectantly at head chef Yohei Terada and his talented sous.
Every man needs a good blowtorch.
As I watched the younger man grating wasabi root on an actual shark skin paddle, I got a sense of the sort of attention to detail we could expect.
Since we didn't have to make any food decisions, our little group put our heads together and decided to start with an aperitif of the house made plum wine (a little sweet, a little salty) followed by a bottle of extremely pleasant sparkling sake (which I will admit I didn't even know existed until it was in my glass).
The first dish out was a pillowy abalone chawan mushi with a slightly bitter liver vinaigrette; an undemanding and satisfying way to ease us into the meal.
This was quickly followed by a piece of grilled unagi with grilled apple, miso apple sauce, and a bit of steamed broccoli rabe. Fatty, sweet, salty, and smoky. Like a savage, I even ate the tiny apple cup.
Terada-san then took a cheap shot, blatantly trying to bribe our affections with a plate of obscenely fresh otoro, mackerel, and sweet shrimp sashimi.
With a side of otoro nigiri for good measure.
What kind of chumps does he take us for? I mean sheesh, it was barely even incredible.
Following the fishes, a martini glass of uni appeared, topped with an airy sweet potato mousse and a little spike of the same potato, fried. I'm a sucker for sea urchin dishes and this one was no exception. I did question the choice of serving vessel though. Seemed a bit like my 1980s auntie trying to get fancy with the parfait.
Check out the cool purple ume salt.
To counter the sweet and soft, out came salty and crunchy- a progressive selection of tempura bites. I think my favorite was the scallop wrapped in shredded onion, but the white fish rolled around shiso and plum and the plump scallop roe both made a good play for the top.
Palate cleanser intermission! Cold seaweed salad with fat salmon roe and cubes of mountain potato. Like an inspirational poster for my mouth; I felt buoyed up for the second half.
This marlin and grilled leek in a lightly sweet soy sauce (soy sauce sauce?) came out fighting. It was certainly worth eating but my favorite thing may have been the ass-fabulous covered bowl it came in. I love a good anticipation.
Our main course was Hokkaido king crab and Kagoshima beef shabu shabu. The thoroughly marbled and thoroughly enjoyable beef cooked in that iron pot of dashi in about 8 seconds. The crab took around a minute and was so sweet and meaty I briefly considered a career change to join up with the Deadliest Catch.
The final savory offerings were a selection of temaki or hand rolls. In theory we could pick two out of three between flounder, salmon roe, or eel. But unfortunately, these were the all-time best temaki I've ever had (entire life here, with all the eating parts included) and we made such an embarrassing show of smacking, oohing, and fawning that the sous chef kept making us more, even bringing out some otoro for an encore.
The seaweed wrap alone, crisp, fragrant, briny, still keeps me up at night.
Dessert was anticlimactic; a decidedly weak link in the otherwise impeccable line-up. I remember that it was three dishes starting with firm and cold and ending with liquidy and warm, but the flavors escape me. I wasn't overly worried though as I was still somewhat dazed from the hand rolls.
At the end of the night the chef himself, along with the hostess escorted us outside and thanked us for joining them. You don't see that everyday.
Kappo Yu's menu changes monthly, so you have plenty of reasons to go back. If you're feeling more like straight sushi, the sister restaurant Sushi Oyama is supposed to be stellar. If you make it, let us know what you think. Based on our Kaiseki experience it's definitely on the list for our next Shanghai visit.
Kappo Yu 割烹雄
Address: 33 Wuxing Lu, near Huaihai Lu / 吴兴路33号，近淮海路
Tel: 6466 7855 (you know, but with other numbers in front depending on where you're calling from.)
Hours: 6:00pm-11:00pm, closed Sunday