I have known Mrs Nanao for the longest time when I was an expat in Tokyo. Indeed, the highlight of every business trip since to Tokyo is a dinner at Nanao. Firstly, Nanao is unassumingly Japanese - then you warm to Mrs Nanao's hospitality (her restaurant takes her family name) and even though she speaks no English, you need none to enjoy your dinner - there is no menu!
Nanao serves top-class Kaiseki by keeping a fixed monthly menu - thus keeping cost down and quality consistent. For those unfamiliar with Kaiseki, these are little dishes created by the chef out from whatever is freshest and available at the market for that time of the year. If you like something, better remember it, because you may never find it again - at least not in that combination of flavor, texture, taste, sight, smell or in the case of Nanao, temperature - and for me, only Nanao has subtly intertwined and able to tickle all 6 senses at one sitting - let me explain by describing a dinner I had recently.
Dish 1 - cold konyaku, gluten, mushroom n crunchy vegies in black goma sauce;
Dish 2 - cold fish-liver tofu w a light gelatin n thinly-shredded ginger n cucumber cubes;
Dish 3 - deep-fried mushrooms n persimmon;
Dish 4 - sashimi w cold citrus soya sauce gelatin n cooked crysanthenum petals w shredded mountain tuber called nagai-mo;
Dish 5 - soft warm rice w crab meat n thinly-shredded ginger;
Dish 6 - mushrooms in a milk/buttery gratin on a bed of spinach;
Dish 7 - fish-ball w unagi, ginko nut, lotus root, wood-ear fungus, gluten n mushroom in a piping-hot thick yuzu-flavored soup;
Dish 8 - kyoto salad: this is a delicate salad served cold w a light vinegared soya dressing w crispy toasted rice;
Dish 9 - a small thick piece of beef grilled and cube-cut in a beefy soya sauce;
Dish 10 - dessert of a mochi in caramelized sugar w a dusting of goma powder and macha ice-cream.
Accompanying all of the above w whatever sake or shochu hot or cold, dry or otherwise - to your heart's content - and I can guarantee that your palate will be thrilled for having tried something rarely found in even some of the better restaurants in Tokyo.
The price is a fixed Y7500 which hasn't changed for years - drinks additional, of course.
And at the end, as you stumble out to the cool evening of Azabujuban, and as the host and her all-ladies cast thank you for patronizing their little restaurant, all you can say in reply is, "Oishikatta, gochisoo sama deshita!"
Then wait for the next month before making another trip to Tokyo to dine at Nanao - in my dream...
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