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another to add to the 09 list, i hear its insane and still under the radar, but $$$$ (below is New Yorker)
94 E. 7th St. (212-982-4140)
by Leo Carey December 10, 2007
Kyo Ya specializes in kaiseki, a form of cuisine said to have originated in sixteenth-century Kyoto, initially as an accompaniment to the tea ceremony. To eat the full, ten-course meal at Kyo Ya, you have to book a day or two in advance, since esoteric ingredients are shipped from Japan. (The regular menu, however, can be ordered anytime, and abounds with similar dishes.)
The ambience is calm, the clientele largely Japanese, and the interior full of gorgeous details. A wall of rippling wood swoops near the bar; men’s and women’s toilets are marked by a fern and a flower, respectively. Plates, from thinnest glazed porcelain to chunky, asymmetric, almost volcanic stoneware, become an art form; you’re unlikely ever to see the same plate or sake cup twice. Despite the precision, there’s no anxious effort to impress, and you get the feeling that the staff would prepare food this elaborate even if they were just eating it themselves.
And it is elaborate. Pressed sushi is covered with a thin speckled film of kombu, edible kelp: it looks as if lacquer had been applied over the rice. A simple apéritif of shochu, garnished with tiny morsels of pear cut in leaf and star shapes, tastes the way you imagine dew might. Monkfish liver is presented in a vase of pebbles, abalone on a cushion of salt; you get to sear small rectangles of beef on a terrifyingly hot shiny stone. Dried mullet roe (which you grill over an open flame) looks like carrot, has the consistency of bean curd, and tastes like anchovy, only more so. Coupled with a rectangular tablet of daikon radish, it looks uncannily like a mah-jongg tile. Aigamo duck comes with a cake of mochi—a kind of rice polenta with a texture between dough and string cheese but stickier than either. (In Japan, people occasionally suffocate while eating it.) The kaiseki meal culminates in a dish that might seem plain: steamed rice. But the silvery Koshihikari rice from Uonuma is highly prized, and here it is served with condiments including twice-grilled salmon as light and brittle as a cracker and as salty and desiccated as jerky. If you can’t finish, you might be given a kaiseki doggy bag: rice balls encased in nori seaweed, and wrapped for the journey home in a bamboo leaf. (Open Tuesdays through Sundays for dinner. Dishes $9-$32; kaiseki from $120.)