Posted June 26, 2013on:
Kanazawa is well known for their Kaga cuisine, which is their regional version of kaiseki ryori, and it’s based around local specialities and fresh seafood because Kanazawa is located near the sea.
Looking around for a good place to have kaiseki in Kanazawa, the place that got mentioned the most was Zeniya, which was perfect since it was en route on the local loop bus after one of the major attractions in Kanazawa, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a definite must-visit for anyone interested in the arts.
It’s been around for a long time, first opened in 1970 by the current head chef’s father, and then taken over by him in 1997 and going on strong till today.
It’s definitely a bit more out of the way than usual, located in the Kata-machi district and down a quiet street in that runs parallel to the Saigawa river, but eventually recognisable from all the photos you see online of the front.
Upon entering, you’d think that the whole building only contains one small room with a counter of 8 seats but actually there’s a whole 2nd level with a bunch of private rooms with a total seating of 50+, where lots of media personalities and local politicians come to have a good dinner.
The counter room is pretty much dominated by the open-concept front kitchen commonly found in Japanese restaurants, that’s becoming more and more popular in Singapore now.
Something’s cooking under that cover.
And that is the doorway to the larger kitchen inside.
The rest of the counter was empty when I got there but fully filled up at the evening went on.
This is the head chef of Zeniya, Shin-ichiro Takagi, and probably one of the most pleasant chefs I’ve talked to before. It helps a lot that he’s able to speak in fluent English, having studied in Ithaca, NY, and also being invited as a guest chef to various places all over the world.
Upon hearing that I was from Singapore, he mentioned that he had been invited to Singapore several times, as a guest chef to large functions at the Swissotel.
He told me he was a friend of Goto Hisao, of Goto Japanese Restaurant, and then also asked me about the Japanese restaurants in Singapore, expressing the interest to try Aoki but he was always too busy.
Some green tea to start with.
The appetizer was a bigger show than I expected but in a way that was a good omen for the rest of the dinner to come.
The red dish contained an aperitif – amasake – a low alcohol drink made from fermented rice. The actual appetizer was some vegetable stalks carefully prepared and boiled in dashi, topped with amaebi and miso sauce I think. A dish of clean tastes to start dinner!
Preparing the next dish, suimono.
A clear soup of dashi, with amadai (tilefish) and special egg tofu – which described as making “tofu” from the yolk and white instead of soybeans. Topped off with yuzu peel and 1 lonely red peppercorn to add sparks of strong flavour.
His friendly assistant. Chef Takagi’s brother also helps out but mainly inside the kitchen so I hardly saw him.
Sashimi of tako, katsuo and tai (octopus, bonito, sea bream). First time I had raw octopus and it was much more tender than the usual boiled one we have at Japanese restaurants.
Carefully preparing the next dish.
A long dish of ika (squid)and manjugai, which is a local species of clam that you can only find in Kanazawa.
Then for something different, I got to cook the ika and manjugai myself on a hot stone, sourced from the rivers in Kanazawa. Chef Takagi tells me of the headache he had when he had to find hundreds of stones from the rivers so as to fly them to Singapore for the dinners at the Swissotel.
But chef Takagi advised me to only cook them on the hot stone for a few seconds, letting the outer layer become crisp.
It helps that chef Takagi finely scored the surface of the squid so you get a lot of crisp edges which gives a great contrast to the thicker texture of the squid.
Next was something that I actually would have expected at the start of the dinner – a platter of small dishes.
With the 2 dishes on the left uncovered.
Maguro sushi with shavings of parmigiano reggiano on top. A nice way to add a touch of umami to the tuna, which was very good as well.
Amusingly, chef Takagi prefers to eat at French and Italian restaurants whenever he dines out or goes to Tokyo. Maybe that’s where the inspiration came from perhaps!
Shirako marinated in sake, mirin and shoyu, with daikon and ponzu sauce. Not my most favourite thing in the world, it’s really an acquired taste. At least the marination made it better haha!
Uni and some veggies – very fresh and firm uni!
Some extremely strong tasting abalone liver (I think)
Next, the chef starting slicing slivers off a block of bonito that he air-dried himself for several months.
I guess you could say this is the Japanese version of beef jerky!
A dish of mostly seafood ingredients cooked in a light tempura style. I can’t even remember what they were anymore except it was all damn good.
As chef Takagi was preparing the next dish, he kept apologizing for the long wait in grilling it. Unagi preparation in Japan is divided into 2 styles: Kanto region (east) and Kansai region (west).
In the western Kansai region, including Kyoto and Kanazawa, unagi is broiled first until the skin is very slightly crisp but not brown at all, hence its name – shirayaki.
In the eastern Kanto region, including Tokyo, unagi tends to be cooked as the shirayaki style first, then it is additionally grilled with a thick sweet tare sauce and called kabayaki. This is the style we’re most familiar with.
Well chef Takagi was preparing these unagi in the shirayaki style but he intensified the heat at the very end to make the surface more crispy. This made it probably one of my favourite dishes of the night, and the chef mentioned it’s one of his favourites too!
It’s an example of how such a dish can be so simple yet so good. Melt-in-your-mouth tenderness inside with a crisp exterior, seasoned lightly but just right with salt and pepper.
Pickles and a small bowl of egg yolk.
Now for the typical ending, a rice dish.
It was ginger rice but the ginger was actually quite subtle. But I’m not a fan of ginger so this was probably the dish that I didn’t like out of the whole dinner.
Luckily, the dessert was fruits! And these were excellent! Juicy and sweet mangoes, melons, and blueberries. A fitting end to an excellent dinner!
If you happen to be in Kanazawa and you want a memorable kaiseki dinner, there’s no better place than eat at Zeniya in the capable hands of chef Takagi.
2-29-7 Katamachi Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa 920-0981