One of the highlights of my recent trip was a ten-course gourmet dinner arranged by my friend Yuki. The restaurant, Okatani, is in Nishinomiya, located between Osaka and Kobe. Mr. Okatani was employed as a chef at Kitcho, considered one of the finest restaurants in the world; it was founded by the late Teiichi Yuki. Mr. Okatani's last position was head of chefs at Kitcho Kobe at the Royal Hotel in Osaka. Mrs. Okatani worked for Kitcho as well. Yuki and her parents have been friends with the Okatanis for many years.
The interior was intimate; we were the only guests that evening. Our party included myself, Yuki, her husband Shige and their daughter Haruko, and their friend Himeda-san, an award-winning package designer at Panasonic.
The finest Japanese cuisine places an emphasis on simplicity, a harmony of textures, colors and flavors, seasonal freshness, and aesthetic presentation. Dishes made of porcelain from Japan's famous ceramic centers, glossy lacquerware from the town of Wajima on the Noto Peninsula, and fine crystal from France were chosen to showcase the fresh, local ingredients and artful arrangement.
It was an honor to be their guest, and I continue to savor the memory of the wonderful evening.
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Seated at the black granite counter, we were able to watch Chef Okatani prepare each dish. The meal began with a sake toast. The lights were briefly dimmed and the candle, placed inside a holder made of rolled daikon accented with heart-shaped carrot slices, provided the illumination for the opening course. Delicate bites of sweet potato, lotus root and other fresh vegetables. Behind the prawn is a half-moon orange peel cradling a slice of foie gras topped with a berry gelee. Second course: sushi wrapped in leaves and topped with thin slices of ginger Third course: A mild broth with a delicate white fish and wakame (seaweed). Fourth course: slices of fresh sashimi and lightly seared scallops, accented by a carrot and daikon curl. Fifth course: Locally grown, freshly harvested takenoko (bamboo shoot), scored and cooked to perfection Sixth course: Fried fish with a green-leaf dipping sauce Seventh course: Grilled lobster with broiled uni (sea urchin eggs) The design of the ceramic dish, with its graceful willow branches and red and white flowers, is evocative of spring. Eighth course: Inside the beautiful dish were fresh broad beans, two different kinds of root vegetables, and silky tofu "skin" Refresher course: A small plate of pickled cucumber, eggplant and daikon to cleanse the palate Ninth course: Thin slices of raw fish in a sesame-seed paste were placed in a lacquer bowl. Steaming broth poured over the filets gently poached them. A perfect balance of subtle flavors. Tenth course: Spheres of grapefruit and papaya suspended in a clear gelatin with a sprig of mint. Served with a custard-flavored "English sauce".