Affordable Tokyo Kaiseki – Intangible dining, tangible savings
Affordable Tokyo Kaiseki is not something I thought I would ever get to write about it. It’s on the list of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage. It’s both shocking and traditional, minimal and decadent and any other number of expensive sounding, contradictory adjectives. Cheap Kaiseki in Tokyo is a unicorn but it remains a must on the when in Tokyo to do list. Nemoto however has some options for you. Nemoto has an instagram account littered with incredible food photos. After a visit to their page we noticed they have a “Otameshi course”.
The verb tameshi comes from the practice of testing the sharpness of a steelsmith’s sword. Presumably for mowing down one’s enemies. For those wondering where to eat kaiseki in Tokyo but concerned about the price, the Otameshi course is for you. It comes in at around 25 USD and has all the glitz, glam and surprises of a hundred dollar meal. It also has a semi open kitchen allowing you to watch in awe as the chef slices what by all accounts is vegetation from some other planet.
Early bird gets the Otameshi
To order the Otameshi Course you need to arrive at the restaurant before 7pm. After 7pm the option disappears into the ether and you are back at the full price course options. Even after 12 years of living in Japan Kaiseki dining remains shrouded in mystery. Every course needs an explanation. Not an explanation of the chef’s vision but an answer to the question, “what the hell is this?” While Nemoto is serving up some of the most affordable Tokyo kaiseki, the course options are not up for negotiation. That’s ok, you are in the chef’s hands now. He will be right there in front of you preparing everything. Simply watching is worth the cost of the meal. The chief ingredient in any Kaiseki meal is whatever is freshest and in season. Mother nature is deciding the menu and she says it’s time for some savory duck custard.
Cheap Kaiseki in Tokyo – A play by play
First up on the counter was Chawamushi. Chawamushi is one of the more common starters for a kaiseki meal. It is a savory egg custard. Typical varieties are made from dashi and feature a single, lonely shrimp and what would appear to be a 3-leaf clover. It’s never been on the top of my list as it seemed like a flan that had lost it’s way. At Nemoto however they have swapped out the dashi broth for a duck broth and then topped it with a big piece of slow cooked and extremely delicious duck meat. I was pretty into this meal as soon has he set the bowls down and said “duck”. I did. Then I realized he was referring to the chawamushi. From the price, I had assumed cheap kaiseki in Tokyo would lean towards the mundane. Inaccurate.
Readers of this blog will know I am not above a little milt. Or, if you prefer to be immature, fish jizz. I approve of immaturity. I used to start every meal at the Olive Garden with, “How are the bread sticks, today?” My friend would then inquire about the “fagioli”. Pronounced phonetically, of course. Today’s fish jizz could one day have been a school of red sea bream. Sadly for them and luckily for me, it is now sashimi. I have had cod milt many times. This was my first time to try Red seabream. Red seabream is a seasonal, winter celebratory fish. For special occasions. Red seabream milt is literally, the champagne of fish jizz.
The milt is pictured in the bowl on the left. It was topped with some sliced onion stalks with a bit of a savory citrus sauce, similar to ponzu but not quite as strong. The flavor is incredible and the texture extremely soft. It’s very similar to cream choice. Now I’m wondering if you could smear this on a bagel… To the right we have ankimo. Which is monk fish liver topped with gelatinised ponzu sauce. Ponzu sauce is a citrus infused, style of soy sauce. It is not bitter like most liver dishes and incredibly soft in texture. On the bottom we have perfectly formed cubes of maguro sashimi topped with a sesame dressing and lovingly decorated with a single, unblossomed branch of a peach tree.
Fish Heads done right
We’ve had the milt, now bring on the head. Again, this is Red seabream. Even affordable Tokyo Kaiseki needs to abide by the rules of serving seasonal items. I had no idea how delicious a fish head could be. Much like beef, the cheek area is some of the best meat. This was lightly salted and grilled to perfection. That’s it. Served along side it is some grated daikon radish, doused with soy sauce with a side of yuzu citrus to squeeze on top. This was incredible and each bite of meat tasted slightly different.
A single shiitake
It was amazing. I set out hoping to eat a single, grilled shiitake mushroom served under a pine needle and that’s exactly what I got. The odds? Just incredible.
I appreciate this Simpsons joke more everyday. This is even funnier than when I was 13.
Three cheers for affordable Tokyo Kaiseki
While not included in the Otameshi tasting course there are some reasonable priced sakes available here. They bust the bottle out on the counter and fill up a different style of carafe for you depending on the sake you order. Lots of fun seeing the different bottles. An affordable Tokyo kaiseki meal is the perfect excuse to spend a bit more on booze. Nothing washes down a bit of milt like some nihonshu.
Udo is a Japanese mountain vegetable in season mid to late winter. It was very similar to a massive, white asparagus with a curly top. The udo was tempura fried and dipped in a a bit of sakura salt to bring out its natural flavors. This is my favorite way to eat tempura. Just a bit of specialty salt. You better believe this went great with the sake.
Grilled Rice Balls
Finally, to make sure you end the course feeling full the rice comes out last. The theme of this lunch was red seabream. Mixed in with our rice ball are flakes of red seabream and a bit of loose seaweed flakes. This is then lightly salted and grilled on the outside to crunchy perfection. These are a blast to eat. If you’ve never had grilled rice before you are in for a treat. Paired with some salty pickled vegetables and sake made this the perfect end to an incredible meal.
Where to eat Kaiseki in Tokyo
You’ve got a million options. If traditional Japanese Court Cuisine is something you are in the mood for then costs are unavoidable. What Nemoto has done is incredible. They have offered a chance to try some of the basics of a Kaiseki meal without bankrupting you. If you are looking for cheap Kaiseki in Tokyo, this is the place for you. Zero complaints, 5 out of 5. Would eat again.
Affordable Tokyo Kaisei at Nemoto
Nemoto’s hours are unlisted. Closed Sunday.
Arrive before 6PM to try the Otameshi course for under 30USD.
Things to do nearby:
Take a walk around the Araki Cho neighborhood. Araki cho has countless tiny bars perfect for a post dinner drink. My personal favorite is called Kitchen Tatsuya Storie. Lots of beers, cocktails and more nibbles.
In the mood for Kaiseki? While this place doesn’t quit fit the bill of affordable Tokyo Kaiseki they are still incredible. Be sure to check out Miyawaki.