December 1, 2007
My brother Yutai suggested that we go try something nice while I was in town visiting him in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago so he picked Kappa based on some glowing Yelp reviews. (We wanted to go to the French Laundry but I didn't know I was coming for sure until it was too late to attempt to make the two-months-ahead reservation).
I have never used Yelp so I don't know how accurate it is in general, but at least with this restaurant, I can tell it is reviewed by easily-impressed neophyte Japanese food eaters.
The tiny 10-bar-seat restaurant is located in Japantown, hidden in a dark entryway above a Denny's. The sign by the door is small and only in Japanese. So you're thinking: "Wow, just like one of those fabled hidden Tokyo eateries where only regulars are allowed inside! This must be good!"
While Kappa has a small regular menu, they pride themselves on their seasonal omakase menu, starting at $85 per person. The omakase menu has to be ordered ahead of time when you make the reservation, which is what we did.
We took our seats at the bar and and a couple of cold small plates came and went and we were not particularly impressed. These are mostly small dishes you can get in simple Japanese eateries. We're not talking about kaiseke here (though to be fair, they don't advertise themselves as such, next to their name, they write 小料理, or "small dishes").
Then you see that their sashimi pieces are all pre-sliced and you know they can't possibly take their food too seriously. For this kind of price, everything needs to be prepared right in front of you, not pre-cooked, pre-sliced and pre-assembled.
And everything that night was pre-cooked, pre-sliced and pre-assembled and just kind of arranged on a plate in front of us. For example, the salmon-wrapped egg yolk pictured above just came out of some storage bin or fridge or something and placed on a plate for us instead of the chef wrapping the salmon around the egg in front of us. Even the rice ball underneath the sushi came pre-balled!!! I was outraged.
And by the way, this salmon-and-egg-yolk thing was the most unusual piece of the night (unusual, yes; delicious, no), everything else was extremely ordinary. We were served stuff like tuna sashimi, grilled unagi, katsu and grilled hamachi kama. Again, all stuff you would get at simple Japanese eateries costing a fraction of what they charge here.
I was absolutely flabbergasted by their gigantic cohones to serve pre-cooked simple small dishes at a price reserved for kaiseke meals.
Nothing tasted particularly awful, per se, but nothing should, at their price and reputation. But the thing is, nothing was good either. It was just a long string of meh. And there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to any of the pairings during each course. At one point, we were presented with a busy plate featuring a slice of duck breast, the salmon-wrapped egg yolk, a horse macherel sushi (with the pre-sliced fish on top of a pre-balled rice *shudders*), a chicken meat ball, a grilled shrimp, a tamago and a cream cheese wrapped with hamachi sashimi garnished with caviar. Aside from the fact that they were all cold and prepared ahead of time, there was nothing about them visually, texturally or flavor-wise that they should be presented and eaten together.
1700 Post Street, Suite K (at Buchanan)