Friday, January 4, 2008

Kappa Restaurant

One night, my friend and I decided to finally try dinner at Kappa, a wonderful gem of a restaurant tucked away in a hidden corner of San Francisco's Japantown. Locating the restaurant for the first time was slightly challenging. We went up a flight of stairs from the J-town Denny's, peered skeptically into a Korean karaoke lounge, and finally found the entrance behind a sliding wooden door next to the lounge. The only indication of the restaurant's existence was a small sign with the words "Kappa" inscribed in neat hiragana.

Yet aside from the odd location, this was one of the best meals I've had outside of Japan. Once I stepped inside, I was instantly transported back to the small, intimate restaurants in Japan, where salarymen drink and eat in between hearty laughter after work hours. The restaurant can only fit about ten seats at the bar, so the dining experience allows you to converse with both the chef and his wife, who served customers while wearing a full kimono (which is very commendable since it's hard to even walk in kimono without looking like a penguin). I almost forgot that I was in the States.

Temple in Japan

As for the food, let me begin my review with some words of caution. Not everyone will appreciate the food at Kappa. The restaurant serves food in the koryori style, which is harder to find outside of Japan. Small, stand-alone dishes are presented with minimal garnish and seasoning, in an effort to highlight the original flavors of the ingredients. There is no standard menu, as the availability of items varies with the freshness of the ingredients. The result is a sensual, refined dining experience that allows you to enjoy the flavors, scents, and textures of some of the most traditional Japanese cuisine.

If you're looking for California rolls, contemporary fusion fare, gyoza, and teriyaki bento boxes, do not step foot into Kappa. And take your gaijin t-shirt with you. Kappa doesn't even serve sushi, although I'm sure the chef would do an amazing job if he wanted to.

For newbies, the best thing to order is probably the omakase pre-fixe menu. For $85 per person, the chef will select a variety of dishes to introduce you to koryori dining. My friend and I were fairly confident about what we wanted though, so we just ordered a la carte.

While Kappa doesn't serve sushi, it does serve a great selection of sashimi. Each slice was thick, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Wasabi and shoyu were completely unnecessary. The uni (sea urchin) was especially amazing.

I had to order the ankimo (monkfish liver), and I was not disappointed. This Japanese delicacy is usually served with daikon, green onions, and ponzu sauce. Good ankimo is creamy and velvety, but not too heavy.

Next we had the hirame usuzukuri - thinly sliced halibut sashimi dipped in a mixture of shoyu, thinly sliced green onions, and spicy daikon. The fish had a wonderful texture, and I liked the contrast between the coolness of the hirame and the spice of the daikon.

One of the daily specials was a grilled red snapper, which was easily the best dish of the meal. Reminiscent of hamachi kama, but the meat was thicker and sweeter.

Finally, the blackskin pork - thick and fried in batter without too much excess oil. The squirt of lemon added a refreshing zest. Not pictured but also worth trying are the satsumaage (fish cake) and the anmitsu (agar jelly served with sweet bean paste) for dessert. The sake selection is also very decent.

With the limited seating, reservations are a must. The portions are small, so don't show up starving. And the prices can add up to a hefty total, but if you're a fan of traditional Japanese fare, it's well worth it to visit once in awhile.

Dewa mata suguni ne!

Kappa Restaurant
1700 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 673-6004


Anonymous said...

ooo that looks good!! thanks for the recommendation. i LOVE good japanese!!!! :D

Unknown said...

Gosh, the portions look really small...

Anonymous said...

Why am I not surprised by Helen's comment? =P

Anonymous said...

oishi soo! Wow, looks amazing although I guess I've had my week's worth of maguro... I've got to get over there!

Anonymous said...

Never tires of it!
Even explained the whole process of making it on my blogs!
Seems to grow popular in every corner of the States and Canada!
In France, we do cook it as "Foie de Lotte".
Great report!