Bringing Kaiseki to the ‘Burbs

Wakuriya

There are over 50 Michelin-starred restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.  Per the just announced 2017 list, there are exactly 54, and I’ve been privileged to visit 16 so far. Most of the restaurants sit in San Francisco and Wine Country, so I’ve decided to make way to any in the Peninsula since relative to most other parts of the San Francisco Bay area, it’s pretty much a dining desert.  One restaurant that has been on the list for many years is Wakuriya, which is Japanese restaurant serving a Kaiseki style dinner.  In this day and age, restaurants, particularly popular high end ones and of the Michelin caliber, are moving in the direction of online ticketing, it’s rare to find restaurants that solely take reservations via phone.  However, Wakuriya defies this trends with the most painfully archane process where reservations open 30 days out and you need to call in your request on the answering machine starting at midnight, then they will call you to confirm your actual reservation.  So I consider myself pretty lucky that I managed to snag a reservation for 4 on a Sunday evening, and I invited RFotographer and EmAyWhy to join Hubster and myself.  With both of them being students of the Japanese language and avid foodies, I figured this would be fun dining excursion all around.  Credit for 90% of the pictures goes to RFotographer, being true to my nickname for him.

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Deviled Egg

This was as far from a deviled egg as one could imagine.  Although it’s hard to tell, there was a single New Caledonian blue shrimp (underneath a mound of bonito flakes) placed on top of a egg-like custard with some dashi gelee. I think the shrimp might have been raw, if not slightly cooked, but it was wonderfully sweet and the fish broth jelly pieces added a nice bit of savoriness to complete the chilled starter.

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Moriawase (Assorted Appetizers)

This appetizer trio was a wonderful balance between land and sea and cooked and raw and really represented a little of everything.  Starting from the bottom left, there was the Tasmanian ocean trout and ikura (salmon roe) sushi, then the Hokkaido hotate (scallop) and shio tofu salad, and ending with the Snake River Farms Wagyu beef with kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) sauce.  I thoroughly enjoyed each of these.  They were all delicious!

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Tounyu Miso Soup

This is the most unique take on miso soup in large part because they added soy milk to give it a creamier look and taste.  It definitely has richer taste with more depth and complexity.  Instead of seaweed and tofu, there was sliced spaghetti squash, lobster and mushrooms which added a lot of interesting texture.  It was a very well-conceived and executed dish.

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Bonito Sashimi

Underneath this artistic presentation of colorful greens and watermelon radishes, lies a couple pieces of bonito sashimi.  Sashimi was good but I think this dish was more about the aesthetics than the taste.

Japanese Eggplant with Duck Meat Sauce

The Japanese eggplant was tempura-fried and placed with some sweet peppers in a duck meat broth.  Even though the vegetables seem like the stars of the dish, I think it was the duck broth which really made this dish.

Sake Pear Sorbet with Ginger Ball

This intermezzo was nice palate cleanser.  The sake pear sorbet was refreshing while the ginger ball helped to reset my taste buds for the hearty courses to come.

Yamaimo No Mentaiko Gratin

Inside this red mini Le Creuset dutch oven was an Alaskan black cod with mushrooms and zucchini covered in a mentaiko (pickled cod roe) and yama imo (mountain potato) gratin.  It was an extremely refined preparation where the fish was perfectly cooked and unlike most other gratins was quite light without any heavy creams or sauces.

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Buta Miso-Katsu Donburi

Although this was essentially just tonkatsu over rice, I was still quite impressed by their version of a very common every day dish.  The pork was tender without being dry and the panko coating wasn’t heavy handed.  What I really appreciated most was how light the katsu itself was since normally, a deep-fried preparation naturally results in a very oily piece of meat but not in this case.  I actually think that was one of the best aspects of this particular dish.

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Kokuto Pudding

Our final course was Kokuto pudding for dessert which was a Japanese black sugar flan (on the left) with a budo (grape) mochi (on the right).  I really enjoy Japanese desserts because they are never too sweet and these desserts did not fail in that regard.  I liked the mochi because the grape added some fruitiness to the starchy pouch encasing it.

Overall, I really enjoyed the meal. Wakuriya, like many authentic Japanese restaurants, embodies refined techniques and delicate flavors.  Everything is nicely balanced in subtle but underlying complex flavors.  Nothing ever tastes overpowering. Most importantly, the end of the meal leaves me feeling completely satiated but never grossly full.  In my opinion, the food here perfectly encapsulates what one would imagine finding in the heart of Kyoto and with the simple decor and sweet Japanese hostess/server (who doubles as the chef’s wife) presenting each course in her heavily accented English, I can’t help but think I’m actually in Japan, as opposed to the random strip mall in San Mateo.  At $98, I wouldn’t say this a bargain meal, especially if you’re looking for a robust and hearty meal.  Some big eaters probably will feel hungry, but considering the quality of ingredients and technique and preparation, I actually felt this was money well spent on a very special and delicious tasting meal.
Wakuriya
115 De Anza Blvd
San Mateo, CA 94402

PAFO Ratings for Wakuriya:
Price $$$
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4½ stars

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