The centerpiece of lunch at Grand Kitchen Tada is a blackened hot stone — as black as squid ink — upon which thin slices of wagyu beef fry. The meat is still sizzling as the server places the tray down, with a warning that the stone is hot and inedible. Well, she didn’t exactly say the stone was inedible, but may as well have — it’s about as obvious as telling me the rock was hot.
It seems that in this day and age, you can’t trust the customer. Coffee is hot, almond cookies contain nuts and hot rocks can burn you — these helpful warnings are so embedded in the patronizing language of food health and safety it’s hard to see them disappearing anytime soon.
Grand Kitchen Tada is located in a beautifully restored traditional machiya (town house) a stone’s throw from Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto. Sensibly, the interior designers have stuck with the dark palette that resonates with the authentic spirit of a machiya — for me, these town houses convey a sense of foreboding and of proprietary.
The restaurant is part — albeit the biggest part — of a complex of businesses under the same roof that includes an antique store, cafe and hairdresser, all of which share an interior garden. It really is a beautiful space, and in Grand Kitchen Tada they’ve wisely kept seating rather sparse where they could have packed more tables in.
For lunch there are two options: shikaku gozen (¥2,700) and the higher-priced maru gozen (¥3,500). The word gozen is used here in a similar sense to teishoku to indicate a set meal, but it also connotes a luxurious meal fit for the Emperor — lofty intentions, but in keeping with the restaurant’s name.
I opted for the maru gozen, which includes a serving of wagyu and begins with hōjicha (roasted green tea), pickled burdock root and konbu tsukudani (edible kelp marinated in mirin and soy sauce).
I suspect that the cooks at Grand Kitchen put a fair amount of consideration into creating structure through pairings. Consider the dainty pair of hotaroike (firefly squid) lightly boiled, dressed with a slightly acidic miso sauce and served over two cubes of nagaimo (starchy potato). It’s one of many small dishes that arrives on a large tray, but in that piquant serving it was a great example of complimentary textures and flavors, as well as great coloring. Later, a scallop from Hokkaido, still in its shell, was lightly smothered in butter and panko (bread crumbs); a good serving of tuna and yellowtail sashimi; a fragrant bowl of suimono clear soup; a salad of fresh vinegared vegetables; and, of course, the rock-bearing meat. (Lately, however, I’ve been craving less marbling and more of, well, meat, in my meat.)
Grand Kitchen Tada is a good introduction to Japanese cuisine: Its dishes are varied, beautifully laid out and served to you in a gorgeous antique setting. It also stocks a nice selection of sake: I nurtured a cask of Dassai from Yamaguchi Prefecture, which will befriend any dish.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.