I felt like I was back in Japan. Upon approaching the front door to Kyoto Restaurant it would have been difficult to miss the architected landscape that is common in Japan but emulated here in Salt Lake: small shrubs, bamboo, well placed rocks, and the ever famous Japanese maple trees aligned the restaurant. It was as if the landscape greeted me and allowed me to enjoy a taste of serenity, a style that no other restaurant in Salt Lake City truly strives for. Kyoto offers unique and authentic Japanese atmosphere and dining that almost takes you away from Salt Lake as you walk through the door.
We ended up waiting for a table and therefore I would recommend calling in for a reservation, but certainly Kyoto was able to accommodate us. We were seated at a table were you had to kick off your shoes and climb into a traditional Japanese style booth that was separated by paper wall partitions, which gave my guests and me the privacy that allowed for a rather intimate dining experience. If this is not what you would be into, don’t worry – Kyoto has western style tables and a sushi bar that you can be seated at and keep your shoes on. In the booth we were surrounded by original artwork, Japanese décor including a Noren, which is a traditional curtain that was hung in the doorway, to the kitchen, and real table flowers. As I looked around, I saw couples on dates, friends and family catching up, but not many youth. In fact, I believe our table had one of the youngest patrons there, but that doesn’t mean that kids aren’t welcome here. In fact, there are children plates available.
It was time to make a decision. What were we going to eat?! I loved the fact that the menu was a manageable length, offering those dining at Kyoto dishes that are familiar to other Japanese restaurants. The menu has tempura, varieties of teriyaki and sushi, as well as traditional entrees that you wouldn’t typically see in a Japanese restaurant, such as nabe and sukiyaki. I would have been thoroughly impressed if they had chawamushi or unagi-don, common dishes I ate while living in Japan, but already they had exceeded my expectations. All the food that we ordered had a solid presentation pleasing to the eye. For example, the sushi was plated nicely and the miso soup was served in traditional lacquerware. The nabe was served in an appropriate cast iron pot, as too was the sukiyaki. I was however surprised that the tempura wasn’t served with an oil sheet or on a different style plate. Still, everything looked appetizing.
My guests and I did not see coming what the first bite would bring.
My guests declared that the sushi sampler, that consisted of tuna, salmon, and California rolls, were “first rate, authentic Japanese ingredients, fresh-as-can-be sushi.” That’s right folks, even though Salt Lake City is landlocked, you can still find fresh seafood. Unbelievable. In addition, the tofu in the miso soup wasn’t little dehydrated cubes. The mini size Japanese salad was crisp. Indeed this salad is what one ought to expect from a Japanese restaurant. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the photo, mina-san.
The beef sukiyaki, lite tempura, and nabe dishes all came out of the kitchen hot. The flavors had the perfect combination of mirin and soy sauce, and the correct dipping sauces. And of course, a small bowl of rice balanced out the meals perfectly.
One of my guest describes the nabe that he ordered, “[It was] very hot initially, the broth was a light miso style but needed soy sauce to taste (a good thing) as too much soy would have overpowered [the] delicate fish flavors. [It] was excellent, served in a traditional iron pot with many delicious things added from egg, seaweed, fish roll, tempura, and there were several unique/tasty morsels which were new to me. The noodles appeared fresh and had a wonderful consistency.”
My other guest didn’t have any feedback on the lite tempura meal, as she was too busy enjoying her meal. (picture below)
I ended up ordering the beef sukiyaki because I haven’t had that since I went back to Japan last year. Sukiyaki is a very popular dish in Japan and one that I don’t see on too many menus here – I had to dive in. It really is one of the best dishes to share with friends and family. For this reason alone, it warmed my soul to order this. I had the pleasure to have some konnyaku, which is like clear spaghetti made from potatoes, which I am sure would surprise many people. I have always heard that one has to eat the konnyaku in small pieces otherwise it would get stuck in your intestines. Is this a myth? I haven’t found out. Whew. I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get treated to enoki or some other variety of Japanese mushrooms, but I had to munch on some plain ol’ American mushrooms. Booooring. Then I needed to remember that I was eating in America, because something was missing: traditionally speaking you would dip all of these cooked goodies hanging out in the cast iron pot into a small dipping tray of raw egg before consuming what you picked up with your chopsticks. But alas, we are in America and are prone to be terrified of salmonella and just haven’t warmed up to that idea. It was this missing piece to approach perfection.
As we all shared some green tea ice-cream we noticed how all the servers were wearing traditional kimonos and talked about how delightful our server was: she was formal yet warm and friendly. She was attentive and offered wooden chopsticks, as opposed to lacquerware chopsticks, too make it so the nabe was easier to eat. I also noticed the assistant manager walking around the restaurant from the main door to the sushi bar a number of times while we dined there. He wasn’t a hawk, but you could tell that things were running smoothly under his supervision.
This is the pinnacle of Japanese restaurants in Salt Lake. People should go out of their way to dine here and escape into the land of the rising sun without having to board a plane.
Damn, somebody needs to contact the Michelin Man.
Edited by MDK