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I ate my sashimi in a 250-year-old Edo bowl at Kyo-to

Delectable ootoro and hotate sashimi in a 250-year-old Edo bowl.

MANILA, Philippines — Monastic silence welcomes you at Kyo-to Kaiseki restaurant on Palanca Street in Makati. A small, nondescript scroll-like sign that reads “Kyo-to” is etched on the entrance of the restaurant, which is actually on the ground floor of the Prudential Guarantee building.

By the well-lit kappo, a dining bar for eight, Ryohei Kawamoto, the Japanese chef of the restaurant, brings out a century-old Meiji bento box wrapped in special Japanese paper. The bento box reveals a big shiny slice of raw ootoro (tuna belly) from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. With Zen-like demeanor, chef Ryohei gently cuts into the ootoro. Each bite-size slice is placed on the side, like a work of art.

From another bento box he takes out two big, fat Hokkaido hotate (scallops), cuts them into bite sizes, and, again, each slice is lined on the side like a work of art.

Indeed, dining at Kyo-to is basking in the centuries-old Japanese tradition as the ootoro-hotate sashimi is served in a 250-year-old Edo bowl. When Ryohei came to Manila in 2011 to work at the Japanese ambassador’s house, he brought with him his collection of a thousand Edo plates, bowls, teapots and teacups. Some of his Edo pieces, a prized find, he uses to serve the guests at the 187-sqm. Kyo-to restaurant that can seat 40 people in its three dining rooms, two VIP rooms and the kappo.

The ootoro melts in the mouth, its velvety texture makes love to the palate, leaving a memorable, tasty sensation. The hotate from the waters of Hokkaido, on the other hand, is sweet with a gentle tang. It gives off a milky, creamy taste once it hits the gustatory buds. Heaven.

The dobin mushi soup with buri (yellow-fin tuna), unagi (eel) and Shimeji mushroom that the diner pours into a ceramic bowl from a small, gorgeous teapot is an excursion to a delectable dreamland. It is piping-hot — a word of caution there — but you don’t mind scalding your lips with this soup that heats your stomach and warms your soul. Hearty and heartwarming.

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And, oh, the slices of Ohmi beef (a kind of A5 wagyu) are luscious and lip-smacking. Here is a taste of carnivorous divinity served in a rectangular Edo plate that is sprinkled with shredded onions and mustard leaf. Don’t forget to ask for a bowl of Japanese rice to go with your Ohmi-god beef!

The Ohmi beef is prepared in the griller the minute you embark on this gustatory journey of set menu at Kyo-to. Yes, the customer is at the “mercy” of chef Ryohei at the restaurant that is only open during dinnertime, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. The set menu (of five, six or eight courses) varies according to the season.

My five-course set menu actually started with a beautiful appetizer served on an Edo plate. If a haiku could take physical form, it would look like the appetizer at Kyo-to, where lightly fried rice crisps, chestnuts rubbed with rock salt and sweet gingko were put together on a shida fern to look like beautiful poetry. I never thought a poetic line or verse could actually taste delicious!

Kyo-to restaurant manager Yasuo Takatsugu (who is also the VP for corporate planning and communications of Prudential Guarantee) swears that only the best and freshest ingredients enter the kitchen of the restaurant because “we source our ingredients in local markets in the Philippines and also in the markets in Japan.”

Ryohei had an early love affair with the kitchen because his caring mother showed him the way to it. An excellent cook herself, Ryohei’s mother imparted to her son the joy of cooking.

“That I should cook with love. And love will make good food taste even better,” says chef Ryohei, who was hired as the personal chef of Prudential Guarantee owner Robert Coyiuto before he took on the kitchen of Kyo-to restaurant.

He worked at the renowned kitchen of Kitcho in Tokyo for eight years, beginning as a dishwasher, cleaner until he became an assistant cook. He was promoted and allowed to cook, eventually earning the privilege of preparing seafood for mukozuke, a course of sliced seasonal sashimi, which, according to Takatsugu, is “considered as the highest honor in the Kitcho kitchen. The Kitcho kitchen, he says, is the origin of the centuries-old kaiseki cuisine, which has its history engraved in the tea ceremony of the monks.

Kai means ‘pocket’ and seki means ‘stone.’ Literally it means ‘pocket stone,’ which, in the olden times, is a ritual done in tea ceremonies where people put a heated stone in their pocket to warm them during the cold weather,” Takatsugu explains.

And before the dinner ends, chef Ryohei serves with a smile a bowl of mochi ice cream with soybean and tea powder. It is the perfect sweet ending to a beautiful dining experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kyo-to Kaiseki restaurant is located at 119 C. Palanca Jr. St., Legaspi Village, Makati City. For reservation, call 0917-596-9697 or landline 805-7743.

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