ZSAT: Osaka, Kahala / by Alice Zhao

And to top off our epic day, we had a seriously epic dinner at Kahala. Jared first heard about this restaurant through the site Chubby Hubby. Reading his post on Kahala made us salivate over the food photos. We knew we wanted to try the same stuff. The good thing about food blogs is that you can gain insight on what is good and what is bad. Though most of posts are subjective, it can give you a good idea on the restaurants you would like to try. It is definitely also convenient to look up local food bloggers in the area you are visiting and see what they recommend. I guess that might take the adventurous part of traveling out of never knowing what to expect from a restaurant you find off the street. This method is pretty hit or miss, and in most of our past experiences, it's a miss. And especially since our time in Japan was so incredibly short, Jared wanted to make the most of it and tried getting reservation at Kahala, a cult restaurant made famous by celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda. From the post we found out they only seat 8 people per session and 2 serving sessions a nigh, which pretty much means that reservations are really hard to get, especially in the city where the phrase "kuidaore", or eat till you drop is widely used.

1 month before our trip, Jared called Kahala and luckily there was an open spot for the day we wanted to visit. The restaurant staff speaks English, so that is a plus. Especially trying to make reservations through the phone 2000 miles apart. (FYI, it is better to purchase a phone card to call internationally since AT&T; charged him 10 dollars to make a phone call lasting only a few minutes.)

Our reservation was for 8:40 pm. They tell you have to be on time but anytime earlier, you are not allowed into the restaurant. So to not chance on being late, we took a taxi. We gave the driver the map and he was a little confused on the locale, even though he is staring at the map with the address and he has a GPS in his car. (I really miss taxis in Malaysia and Singapore, they really seem to know their way around the city). Ten minutes later, we pulled into a tiny street filled with bars and restaurant and businessmen and their escorts prowling the streets. (If you've been to Japan and walked around at night, you know what I'm talking about!!) We arrived 10 mins early, but the door was locked. Though, you could hear people inside laughing and talking and having a good time. We decided to wait outside and people-watch for the time being.

It wasn't until 9:15 were we able to go in. We climbed up the narrow stairs to the second floor into a room no bigger than a normal hallway with 8 chairs facing a tepanyakki grill. No wonder they wouldn't let us in before our appointment, it was so narrow and cramped in there. You couldn't possibly fit 1 more person! The restaurant is dimly lit besides the bar lights above each of our seats, and is sparsely decorated by some flowers and lacquer ware, which we found out later is another hobby of the master chef's.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
After everyone was situated, our waiter/chef/bar tender/probably dish washer (they do everything here) gave us a glass of chilled ice wine. We could both taste that this was no ordinary wine, the kyohou grape flavor was so intense with the proper sweetness of ice wine. This must be the best ice wine we have ever tasted- ridiculously clean and crisp. (FYI, kyohou grapes in Japan can sell for 50+ USD a bunch, more about this on a later post). Jared asked our server for the name of the wine, and then our server took out what looked to be a jug of moonshine- much like the ones you see in Prohibition photos (ha!). We were told this ice wine was made especially for Kahala by an unnamed Osaka distillery, and not available for retail. What a shame because we would have bought back 2 jugs worth. So we drank that glass to the last drop. I still dream about that glass of wine...

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
Ice wine made from Kyohou grapes. If anyone knows where to get something like this, please let us know.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
Chawanmushi with basil seed and sea cucumber.

Our first dish as a chawanmushi. The eggs were silky smooth and the sea cucumber and basil seeds added a nice but subtle crunchy texture to the dish. It takes great experience to get the eggs this silky.

When the the next dish came out as a platter, our waiter told us that Chef Yoshifumi Mori makes his own lacquerware as a hobby. All the lacquered dishes we ate on that night was hand made by him. The entire restaurant truly felt designed and crafted by this single chef.

Osaka, Kahala RestaurantFrom top left-to-right: Fried frogs legs, chu-toro with mustard seed and reversed lime bowl, greens with roasted buck wheat, fried dried scallops, raw Japanese ham wrapped ricotta cheese, potato chain link, Crispy rice flour dome with roasted black garlic cloves underneath

First off, the plate was gorgeous to look at- almost too pretty to eat. We tried the frog leg first. it was seasoned well and as the clichéd phrase goes, it tasted like chicken. Moving on to the tuna, you could taste the lime scent on the fresh tuna from the reverse lime bowl. The ham was really nice and flavorful paired with the mild cheese. In most of these dishes, the fresh ingredients are showcased by the cooking method and not masked by sauces. You can taste each of the ingredients used, which is sometimes lost in Western cooking.

The fried potato chain is no small feat. Using a single block of potato, it was cut and trimmed to form an inter-locking chain with no breaks in the chain at all. I didn't want to eat it because it must have taken a long time to carve. Imagine doing this for 16 people per night. Unbelievable!

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Abalone, cheese and brown rice.


This cheese was a homemade Japanese cheese. There was really nice umami flavor from the cheese and abalone.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Dried mullet roe soba.

We had had mullet row twice now on this trip (Singapore). It must be a popular ingredient this time of the year. I'm not sure we are big fans of dried mullet roe, but this version was a lot better than the one we had at Iggy's. It has a strong pungent salty fish taste which can be overpowering.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Seared whole shark fin with hamo (conger eel)

This is the first time we had a whole shark fin. I know this sounds cruel as there is only one top fin per shark. This is the stuff you usually see in movies or Iron Chef Japan. The stuff you get at Chinese restaurants are usually fake or low quality shark fin. This was top grade. Shark fins are usually sold dried and has little taste. So to introduce flavor and to soften the fin, it was braised 3 times in chicken consomme, then seared prior to serving. The shark fin fully absorbed the flavor of the consomme and was extremely tender. We still dream about this dish, but it'll probably be a once in a lifetime experience.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Woodear mushroom and yuba soup.

A nice clear soup with earthy flavors to cleanse the pallet.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
5-Layer premium Iga beef.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I now present to you the signature dish of Kahala. What looks to be slabs of beef is actually 5 super thin layers of premium Iga Beef.

Osaka, Kahala RestaurantChef Yoshifumi Mori came out and cooked each portion himself. This is the best way to cook such high quality beef. A quick sear on high heat for roughly 10 seconds on each side. The outer layers are cooked, but the inner layers are still rare. You can really taste the fat in the beef as it melts in your mouth. It was so tender and flavorful. We were told there are 2 ways of eating this, one is to dip it in ponzu sauce with grated daikon and chives or to eat it with fresh grated wasabi and soy. No matter which way we dipped, it was excellent none the less.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Can you see the 5 layers in the top left photo??
Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
Chef Yoshifumi Mori
Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
Watercress salad
A simple salad to go with the beef. The slight bitterness of the watercress is a great way to remove the fatty taste of the beef. We were also served 3 or 4 small vegetable sides on the plate, but did not take any pictures of it, because we were in heaven eating the beef. If only they serves us more beef and less sides.
Osaka, Kahala Restaurant
Rice with grass seed and egg, accompanied by fresh pickled radishes.

By this time, we were an hour and a half into the meal and were already really full. When asked if we would like the small or medium size bowl of rice, I opted for the small bowl. The one in the picture is the medium bowl, I don't want to know what the large bowl looks like. Jared barely managed to finished his medium size bowl as I struggled with my small bowl. The seed and rice were a bit slimy, giving it an interesting texture, but it was a great way to finish off our meal.
We asked how many more dishes were coming and our waiter say in English, "only a few more". (!!!)

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Seasonal pear with burnt caramel sauce and white beans, coffee custard.

The pear was super juicy and sweet and the burnt caramel offset the sweetness of the pear. The coffee custard was rich and decadent, yet not overly sweet.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Chocolate covered pear with candied fennel seeds and chai milk tea.
Finally, we had reached the end of our meal. Or shall I call it a journey instead, as each dish progressed from one flavor to another, one texture to the next. I think all of the different tastes and texture profiles that were had in this meal and I can honestly say it is one of the top meals I had ever had. I am glad we got to experience this, even though this meal set us back 600+ USD, but it was worth every penny. You can really see the passion in Chef Yoshifumi Mori cooking as he finds the best and freshest ingredients from all over Japan and the time his team spent creating and preparing the eat dish. What a truly great way to end our epic day.

Osaka, Kahala Restaurant

Kahala

Kishimoto-Bldg 2F 1-9-2
Sonezaki-shinchi Kitaku
Osaka City
530-0002
Tel: 06 6345 6778