Sunday, March 21, 2004

Kappa Restaurant Review


Small plate restaurants may seem like something new and trendy. But that's not necessarily the case. Many cultures have a tradition of small plates--tapas from Spain, dim sum from China, and koryori from Japan. If koryori is new to you, you're not alone. Koryori is actually a Kyoto version of kaiseki, a traditional ritualized seasonal meal that is born of Buddhist traditions and was developed to accompany the tea ceremony. Restaurants that serve it cater primarily to Japanese clientele and unlike sushi or tempura, koryori has yet to be widely known outside of Japan.

But there are koryori restaurants in the US, though you may have to do some research to find one. This past Friday night Lee and I enjoyed a koryori dinner at Kappa, on Post Street in San Francisco. It felt like being let in on a secret. Not only was the style of cuisine new to us, but the entrance to the restaurant was somewhat obscured with no sign in English. The restaurant had no windows and the door was solid so from the street you would never know the place existed. And the menu was quite puzzling, very few items were listed and some of them were only written in a transliteration--like "hirame usuzukuri, tsukune, and satsumaage". Finally there were many strips of paper with Japanese writing on them that must have been seasonal or special menu items but again, no translations into English.

The prix fixe menu was recommended for first time diners and was well worth trying. A total of nine courses were served, each delicious and exquisite in its own way. As an example, one plate consisted of six assorted single bites including asparagus in a thick sesame paste, surimi wrapped in paper thin slices of daikon, homemade unagi sticky with barbecue glaze and complemented by a fresh shiso leaf, a grilled scallop with red miso, a large poached shrimp in a cold creamy sauce and a mini piece of mochi stuffed with red bean paste.

The evening went by leisurely as we ate dish after dish and drank cup after cup of sake. The chef/owner and his wife seemed to take real pleasure in serving everyone, smiling and bustling about. It may have been a secret, but we were treated graciously and made to feel welcome. With only Japanese people in the restaurant, all speaking Japanese, it felt more like Kyoto, than San Francisco.

Kappa
1700 Post St., Suite K
San Francisco
(415) 673-6004 - Call for reservations after 4:30pm
Mon - Fri: 6pm - 10pm
Saturday: 6pm - 9pm