How quickly time flies! My husband and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary last week…the wedding felt like it was yesterday! Last year we went to Napa for a gourmet-filled weekend (which I just realized was never posted!), made a green tea custard chiffon cake (to resemble our wedding cake’s top tier) and devoured that with family and relatives. This year due to both of our busy schedule, we weren’t able to duck out for a quick weekend getaway, but Joe managed to score a last minute Kaiseki Ryori reservation at a restaurant I’ve been dying to try. Kaiseki is a high-end (thus $$$$…) and very traditional form of Japanese cuisine, usually involves multiple courses that showcase various techniques. Japanese food isn’t all about raw fish and chicken teriyaki, as you can see in the following photos and descriptions. Anyway, Wikipedia gives a pretty detailed explanation of this delicate form of cuisine, check it out if you are interested.
My grandparents grew up during the Japanese colonization period in Taiwan and many of their close friends were from Japan. So even though I was born and raised in Taiwan, I was introduced to traditional Japanese cultural at a very young age by my grandparents, thus my deep appreciation and love now for Japanese food. Even with an overabundance of Japanese restaurants in the bay area, not many serve home-style cooking or traditional izakaya style food. Most of them claim that they do, but there is always a fusion twist. You must imagine how excited I was to find this restaurant opening near us!
Onto our meal at Hachi Ju Hachi !
As I’ve mentioned, their motto is all about tradition. Traditional techniques and traditional dishes, none of the fusion ordeal. Please don’t expect to order California rolls here, as most sushi rolls drenched with sauces were invented in the States. Instead, opt for the boxed/pressed sushi. They are pressed in a rectangular box, thus the boxy shape. Most of the dishes are petite, order a few varieties and share with the table.
The special Kaiseki reservation needs to be made at least one week in advance. It’s usually a 7-course meal of the chef’s choice, and he rare repeats a menu twice. Chef Suzuki is a very skilled master who trained for decades specifically on this type of cuisine. He told us that in Japan, one needs to be certified and licensed to be a Kaiseki chef, and a good Kaiseki chef will not present to the customers the same ingredient cooked in the same way twice.
Hachi Ju Hachi has an open kitchen and you can see the chef and his assistant preparing your meal. It’s a very quiet work environment and they work in a very smooth and steady pace, in total sync with each other. Very cool to observe. We sat very close to the kitchen as Chef Suzuki likes to personally bring out all the dishes and present them to the Kaiseki customers. He is so modest and humbled, and have a great sense of humor, very easy to talk to. The overall decor of the restaurant consists of wooden tables and chairs, and a long wooden counter with plenty of lights. The walls are decorated with customers’ praises and signatures. Clean, non-pretentious, not-at-all fancy though very welcoming, completed with a playroom for children in the back so that the parents can enjoy their meal in peace.
I started my meal with the “variety” sake flight. ($15) My favorite was the Hoyo Kura no Hana on the left.
First course: Edamame soup, seared red snapper, mushroom, and “fu” which is baked gluten. When soaked with soup, the fu acts like a sponge and soaks up all the flavors.
Second course: Corn tofu with ume boshi, ginko nut, shrimp, pickled cucumber, stewed mushroom in a soy broth. This is the dish that changed my life. The corn tofu tasted like sweet and eggy creamed corn with the same soft and silken tofu texture. It apparently is extremely time consuming and is rarely offered. We loved it so much that the chef gave us two pieces to bring home.
Third Course: A variety of delicious small bites. In the front left-right: brined kombu (kelp) with herring roe, salmon wrapped with thinly sliced daikon, smoked duck, fried herring skin with roe. In the back left-right: Pickled lotus root, unagi tamago (grilled bbq eel wrapped in layers of sweet cooked egg), pickled cucumbers with fish stewed in sweet miso (so tender that you can eat the bones inside)
another shot of course #3
Fourth Course: Soft-like-pillow scallop dumplings with somen noodles in a vegetarian broth. The topping is tororo konbu, a kelp that has been pickled and then shredded and dried paper thin. Once added to the broth, it almost melts with the soup and has such sweet and intense flavors.
Fifth Course: Fried salmon with the perfect crispy skin. Grilled melts – komochi-shishamo – komochi meanings “having kids”, all of them have fish eggs inside. Yes you eat the whole fish, no need to worry about bones as they are soft enough to ingest. Salty and cripsy, they are the perfect snacks with an ice cold beer.
At this point I ordered more sake to go with the meal. This is the Dewazakura Dewasansan “Green Ridge”, crisp and floral/fruity notes like green apple. Very nice! ($10/glass)
Sixth Course: Sashimi course with halibut, yellowtail (hamachi), and fatty tuna (otoro). YUM!
Seventh Course: It is customary to end with a rice course. Yaki Onigiri aka grilled rice ball in tea, like an ochazuke. Pork belly stewed in black vinegar. Pickled cucumber. So comforting and delicious. Not sure if you can see the intricate knife work on the pickled cucumber but with one bite, it crumbles into million pieces in your moth, very cool!
Dessert Course: Pear stewed with plum white wine, sweetened black beans, and sprinkles of salt.
At the end of the meal, we signed our names on the wall by the kitchen. It can be easily spotted since it was written in purple on a wall of mostly black writings. We talked to Chef Suzuki some more and had another round of sake with him on the house. Here is a picture of us by the kitchen with the chef.
Kudos Chef! Can’t wait to see what he has in store for us the next time we visit!
Hachi Ju Hachi
14480 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070
(Kaiseki meal needs to be reserved at least one week in advance, ~$135/person)