One Night in Kyoto


On the last night of a trip to Japan we plotted our meal with the utmost care. We wound down into the ancient capital town of Kyoto after a raucous week of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between San Francisco and Osaka. Kyoto, a town known for its gardens and temples, also has a very lively, if refined, food scene.

Restaurants in Kyoto and other parts of Japan typically specialize in one type of food. We had, for instance, a spectacular tempura lunch inside the Yoshikawa Ryokan that started and ended with a large fresh fried prawn; we had meals completely composed of tofu; we had Zen vegetarian meals, meals with rice topped by colorful splashes of a variety of pickles, and a soba noodle meal. (The most famous noodle shop in Kyoto is Misoka-an- Kawamichiya.) One day a taxi driver even went into Juyacho Sanjoa, a restaurant that had no sign, just to make sure the owners were ready to receive us.

Kyoto restaurant

After ten days of adventuresome eating, but we had not had a bite of meat. We figured, given the proximity to Kobe, we couldn't leave Japan without a taste. And so we took a turn away from old Kyoto, with its tiny winding streets to a more modern , neon-lit part of town that had a bustle not unlike Tokyo. On the 15th floor of the Grannvia Hotel is Gozanbo, a great teppan-yaki spot for Wagyu (as it's called outside Kobe).

It took not more than ten minutes for our chef to cook our meat to perfection. The teppan yaki style cuisine brought back childhood memories of flamboyant chefs flinging knives at Benihana. We ordered a tenderloin from Nagasaki and a sirloin from the prefecture of Shiga, both Wagyu. Our chef attentively grilled elephant garlic slivers in oil, tossing them incessantly so they wouldn't burn and turn bitter. He chopped it and browned it only to toss it with a pile of bean sprouts. Besides the nondescript potato and chestnut soup, everything our chef cooked was stunning. Quickly grilled mushrooms and tofu were served alongside a tray of dipping sauces. But with the very rare, melt-in- your-mouth-steak needed nothing more than salt, garlic powder and tiny bits of wasabi.

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