Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hashimoto Kaiseki Yu-zen


6435 Dixie Rd., Unit 10
Mississauga, Ontario

This review is in response to Ms Kates' review published in the Globe and Mail. I have been putting off writing a review of Hashimoto; I feel I'm obliged to describe the food and the experience as a whole at the same artistic level as the art-form/meal presented to us. Ms Kates' review is certainly the catalyst of this post.

We have been to Hashimoto's Mississauga location several times until it became outrageously expensive. First we went there two years in a row to celebrate my birthday - there are few things in the world better than an intricate, beautifully-crafted meal. Since Kaiseki Ryori emphasizes bringing out the most flavor of seasonal ingredients as possible, we then realized that we should visit Hashimoto at different times of the year. Although the chef promised that he would email us the pictures, we only received pictures for ONE of our visits. A picture is worth a thousand words, without further ado, here are the pictures sent by Hashimoto.

I won't bore you with the origin of Kaiseki Ryori; abundant information is available on the Internet. In short Kaiseki represents the most sophisticated form of Japanese cuisine. Each dish is a painting, a miniature landscape, a self-inclusive cosmos. It is like poetry on the plate, intriguing you with its brief yet immortal beauty. Kaiseki is the Japanese interpretation of food enlightenment.

With perfectionism deeply programmed in the genes of the Japanese, Kaiseki is, naturally, the quest for perfection. What is perfection? How can it be achieved? Where can you get the BEST ingredients? How was it handled? How fresh is it? How should it be prepared? In Kates' review, she suggested that Hashimoto should use local ingredients to lower the costs. I don't think she understands the integrity of Kaiseki Ryori. The chefs take pride on offering nothing but the ultimate. I wouldn't be surprised if Hashimoto decides to use acupuncture-treated fish to retain the best flavor. Some chefs achieve near perfection based on their classical training and working with familiar ingredients sourced from trusted suppliers. Their mission is to extend the tradition. Using foreign ingredients is, simply put, unacceptable. In their eyes, Iron Chefs Michiba and Morimoto are radical.

However, it is almost sad to see Kaiseki Ryori going down this route. Originally created as a light meal consumed prior to tea ceremony or as its name "Holding Stone" suggests, a monk pressed a heated stone on his (empty) stomach to keep warm during meditation. The emphasis is on the harmony of man and nature. In today's language: sustainable slow food. How it deviates from philosophical enlightenment to elaborate materialism really puzzles me.

If a Kaiseki restaurant uses local ingredients instead of luxury imports, will it lose its aura (as fancy Japanese food)? This leads to another question: how much should Hashimoto charge for his creations? How do you assign a monetary value to such craftsmanship? With the intensive labor for small number of guests, there's a reason that Hashimoto has to charge so much. But that's about as expensive as dining at Fat Duck, one of the most highly-rated restaurants in the world, and I'm not sure I would place Hashimoto at that level. But it is true it will be a "once-a-lifetime" dining experience.

That being said. If you are willing to spend $500+ to experience the ultimate form of Japanese cuisine, I'll say you should visit Hashimoto. This saves you a trip to Japan. (And there's no guarantee you'll get satisfying experience in Japan; the really high-end ryotei (restaurants) might not welcome foreigners in fear of being labeled as a "faux-Kaiseki" restaurant which only attracts tourists who know little about Kaiseki, or simply afraid that they cannot provide the level of service they're known for.) The quality of food at Hashimoto is unparalleled even by the Japanese standard. Unless you're Japanese or at least fluent in Japanese, this is as close to (traditional) Kaiseki Ryori as you can get.