Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shoraian, Kyoto (松籟庵,嵐山)

Ahhhh, the whispering bamboo forests of Arashiyama. Strangely, it was quiet here despite it being the Saturday of a long weekend, and the one of the forced exodus from Tokyo.

And it was quieter after we walked through the forests, along the river, and up the rough rock steps to the entrance to Shoraian. Down the gravel path...

and the steep hillside stairs to the entrance. This must be one of the most dramatic approaches you can make to a restaurant, albeit in a very peaceful and understated way. It's Kyoto, efter all.

The food is peaceful too; being in Arashiyama, what you're in for is a course centered around tofu soup. It starts with a scoop of fresh tofu (I think this is called 'abalone tofu' after the shell-like shape), some powdered salt, and a glass of plum wine.

By the way, seating is floor-only, but they will offer you the low chairs that people sometimes use. Not zaisu; the embarassing ones that raise you 12 inches above the ground to tower over everyone who's sitting sensibly. Still, beats the floor, eh?

With that little tofu thing done, it all went out of control, food-wise. This is the misleadingly-named 'hassun' course (I maintain, although I forgot to ask, that hassun in Kyoto-style courses refers to the traditional size of the square plate that that course traditionally comes on). Despite being too big and too round to be a real hassun, this was a lovely presentation. I think you know what most of the items are, you Kyoto cuisine experts you, but let me say the blue cut glass dish on the right contains bamboo shoots coated with a paste made from baby prickly ash leaves (kinome) as well as the first firefly squid I've eaten this year. The brightly-colored thing mid-bottom is a scallop coated in arare (アラララレ!) which was gummy and thick, but pretty.

You know, that photo is kinda washed out. I wonder why.

Could it be the copious natural sunlight streaming in the old-fashioned windows, illuminating this beautiful view over the river? Yes, it could. This is nearly priceless. I feel bad telling you about it, but this place is already famous enough that I'm not spoiling anything.

Another nice thing about getting the short course - they don't overload you with tofu. Instead of a whole pot of cubes, it was just one each, cooked on a little spirit burner and dish in front of you. I should probably say something "The gentle warmth of this traditional heating method is thought to permeate the tofu more slowly and evenly. And it will certainly warm you to your very core," but that would stupid, wouldn't it? It's just tofu in soup. With a wheat-gluten flower.

Oh, and fried tofu in thicker soup. A good agedashi, this one. Rice was decent, but you can't beat getting it fresh from the cooker at home. Pickles were predictably excellent - it's Kyoto.

Tofu ice cream was, it wasn't predictable. This was the first time (though not the last for the weekend) that we saw tofu ice cream. Note that it's not soy milk ice cream. I'm not sure of the provenance, but it's not soy milk ice cream.

For such a popular place, it sure wasn't crowded (partly because someone booked for 1:30 to guarantee the window seats). After 30 minutes, we were alone. It was awfully tempting just to abuse their hospitality and settle in for the long haul, opening the windows, turning the chairs to catch the breeze, ordering a beer...

Too tempting, really.

1 comment:

  1. I was sure I had posted something about going to Arishiyama in Septemeber but it seems to have got lost in the ether. I'll make a note of this place.