94 East 7th Street between First and Avenue A
$130 for two, with drinks, with tip
I’d like to think that kaiseki is Japan’s answer to Spain’s tapas if only a pincho is served in bejeweled bread held together by a hand-carved toothpick. The most basic types of food need to go a long way in a kaiseki meal, so presentation is key to make them more appealing. For the Japanese, it’s an aesthetic experience.
I remember my first meal at Morimoto where a selection of fine sashimi was served on a large porcelain square container. The tub was so ridiculously big that it took attention away from the fish. Sometimes, you only need the most humble utensil to appreciate a skillfully-executed dish, no? At Kyo-ya, however, the attention to both food and presentation are pretty much equal: both are of very high quality. A very simple mackerel roll was beautifully presented with edible flower petals, while the uni came on top of a miniature bale of hay. The fish was served on a small mat woven together with a soft piece of thread while a twig of what looked like mistletoe stuck out of the crushed ice. Even the wasabi was on onion-skin paper I’ve only seen used for truffles. The accessories seem unnecessary, but Kyo-ya makes them so delicately that they don’t come off cheesy. Each order, even our very simple udon soup and plate of grilled sardines, came out looking like very special gifts.