Hiroshima is a relatively small city with a splendid assortment of Michelin star restaurants, sixteen stars in total. I am a fortunate writer, eating my way through each of them, while sharing my opinions about my favorites. This time, I visit a newer restaurant with deep roots in the city.
I love izakaya, not just for the food and drink, but also for the lively interplay between the counter staff and the customers. As much as I love fine dining, I often miss the relaxed feeling of an izakaya, even if the the food takes a backseat to the drinks and conversation. Well traveled, cigar loving, and gregarious chef Yousuke Tanaka offers a refreshing respite from the formality of upscale dining, while still creating first-class food.
Tanaka has panache and makes running his restaurant seem really easy; the crown prince of one Hiroshima’s long established restaurant families, who run one of Hiroshima’s other Michelin star restaurants, and married to yet another chef. My companion asked what meals were like in his family home, anticipating culinary adventures that ordinary folks rarely experience; chef laughed and said their kitchen looks like an unused showroom, the family doesn’t eat at home.
On a side street in Ebisu-cho, set on the edge of the nighttime drinking district, from the outside Kazura [葛] is understated, yet opulent. Once inside the staff is obliging, after all you are the guest of royalty, which is even better than being the king, as you get all of the indulgence, without the responsibilities; shoes on, shoes off, your choice; do you need help in English, of course we can do that – if you’re happy, chef will be happy. Staff clearly want chef to be happy.
Chef’s chief steward, Ryuta Hayashi, started us off at our private counter in the kitchen, with our first four courses of the twelve to come. Beginning with a succulent root soup, on to a traditional vegetable course, matched with champagne from the wine pairing menu, we also noticed that he could understand our English as we commented on the meal.
At this point it was still a very nice washoku dinner, yet predictable, perhaps by design, to make what would come even more extraordinary.
Sumiso. Translated it means vinegar and miso paste. It doesn’t translate. A savory blend of white miso and mustard over a sinful fusion of baby and adult eels, and then this creation was perfectly smoked. Words fail to convey the depth flavors contained within; my notes just have the word “Wow!” written repeatedly and circled heavily. This is the point when Kazura becomes supernacular. Kisetsu is a seasonal vegetable dish, this time, with a nod to the bean-throwing setsubun holiday, consisting giant beans stuffed with vegetable and crab; who thinks of these pairings? Apparently Tanaka’s grandparents did. He grew up learning these recipes that his family has used for generations, although, he confided later, he likes to change things up occasionally.
As course five, some wonderful sashimi, appears, Chef Tanaka does as well. We think he is checking in on us, as he slices some more fish at the counter. Nope, this is another, even better sashimi course he has prepared for us and he’s staying. My partner requests water, he sends the sommelier out to bring back water especially used in sake making. Tanaka’s first shirako (fish milt) dish, velvety and rich, like a warm ice cream that has found ambrosial lightness, it ruins all others for me. Handily prepared as he banters with us about his family, our mutual travels, and his love of basketball, he’s done this before. Many times. Many many times.
More matched wines, an exceptional medley of sea urchin and rice, Wagyu steak, perfectly grilled lamb, and a cheese course. Each of which deserves its own paragraph here. The shirako makes another appearance in the anago zosui, which is a risotto like dish coupled with salt water eel; glossy, unctuous, and perfectly done.
Chef noticed we enjoyed the shirako, and as it’s limited by the season, he brought some more back for us. There are no gimmicks or stunts, chef is just effortlessly producing one of the best meals of my life as we try to recall the names of the best NBA players of the eighties. Like Michael Jordan once did, Tanaka does this six nights week.
We’ve finished dessert, but chef wants to chat some more, so he sends out to his nearby bar for some grappa; as an espresso with beans from the extended family’s coffee establishment is being prepared for my companion. We could spend all night here, truly, because it’s not yet ten in the evening and the last order at Kazura is around midnight. And just like at an izakaya, chef befriends you, before leaving we link our social media accounts, and three nights later we bump into each other at a nearby bar I told him about. This is Hiroshima at its finest, winning me over with yet another sensational meal.
Atmosphere & Sound
Cultured, relaxed and embracing. Kazura is in an old home and there are several different rooms with different character, from tatami rooms, to seated dining areas (recommended for groups larger than six), an outside dining area, and counter seating (highly recommended for groups of six or less). English speaking staff who can answer your questions, help guide you through the meal, or assist you with any meal concerns, are present. The vibe is animated wherever chef is; elsewhere, it depends on your group. Families with children are also welcome, although you’ll want to book a private room.
The Kazura course menu at ¥10,000 or ¥15,000 which include a meat course are both recommended for first timers. The Ebisu course menu, which focuses on fish is a more inexpensive option. There are also modestly priced versions of the course menus starting around ¥7000. Kazura’s à la carte menu ranges from approximately ¥10,000 to ¥20,000. The menu changes seasonally, although, depending on the availability of local produce, it can change daily.
Drinks and Wine
An excellent wine pairing available to compliment your meal, also other wines, sake, spirits, beer, and soft drinks.
Monday-Saturday 18:00-01:00 AM, last order is at midnight.
Closed Sundays and holidays.
Reservations are highly recommended.
Street level, however this is an old style Japanese house, so there are many small steps that would have to be negotiated.
3-28 Ebisucho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima