Food & Drink | OSAKA RESTAURANTS

Fukushima Mori: Slow 'kaiseki' beside a minimal rock garden

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

I’m seated at one end of a wooden counter, hewn from the dark wood of a bubinga tree and streaked with hues of purple and red. The white pebbles in a nearby rock garden fan out around a patch of moss shaded by a single Japanese maple tree. And on my other side? Three empty seats. Beyond that, all Fukushima Mori’s tables are occupied. And by the end of my long two-hour lunch, I can see why — Fukushima Mori’s cooking is adventurous, and nearly always rewarding. As to the reason why I was put at the far end of the counter, beyond the reach of all other diners, I can only speculate. Unfortunately, this kind of enforced solitude often happens when dining alone in Japan. But the innovative cooking made up for the isolation.

Broadly speaking, the fare here is kaiseki ryōri (elaborate multicourse cuisine), but Fukushima Mori indulges in a bit of globe-trotting to give the meal a more international appeal.

Lunch opened with a tapas-like offering that included temaki uni, a little glob of urchin atop a small sheet of seaweed. The combination of the iodine-rich urchin and the briny nori was superb. As with all self-respecting kaiseki chefs, the team at Fukushima Mori has an eye for detail and decoration: the anchovy on cracker bread was decorated with a sprig plucked from an ear of sweetcorn. The marine motif was rounded out with a small bowl of mozuku, an edible seaweed, served in a vinegary dashi.

The thick, starchy Korean soup of hamo (conger eel), leek and wheat gluten was more decorative than it was flavorful. This was improved upon with the sashimi course, which was one of those times that I wished the restaurant’s no-photo policy didn’t apply. The sashimi cuts of minke whale, salt water eel and golden eye snapper were served on a small mountain of ice inside an deep earthenware bowl that resembled a sea shell. Behind me, a group of five fished from a bowl so big it took over their entire table.

The house specialty, handmade cold soba noodles topped with tiny sakura ebi (stardust shrimp) and strips of laver, and served in an ornate vase, was an antidote to the irrepressible summer heat.

Also worth mentioning was the wagyu: two delicious and tender cuts of Nagano-bred sirloin beef served with ponzu (citrus-based soy sauce) and fried garlic chips. The penultimate dish, tai-meshi (mixed rice with sea bream), is a simple but substantial ending to a lengthy meal — and what you can’t finish, you can take home.

The ¥4,000 prix-fixe lunch menu (not including tax or a 10-percent service charge) is a generous and modern interpretation of kaiseki ryōri, but it does require time.

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