Yeah, I know, perhaps I should mention something about the Michelin star in my title. But I figure there will be folks who know of Wakuriya and perhaps people "skimming" would spend enough time to read the first sentence of the post. I'm not totally sold on the Michelin Guide, it is after all a tourist guide. The one thing I've found with all the Michelin Starred Restaurants I've been to, the last one being The French Laundry, when I was young and thought it was all about expense and prestige, is that service in these named establishments have always been excellent.....sometimes a bit too much, but still excellent at its core. To be honest, it's not what the Michelin Guide said that drew me to Wakuriya, but the pedigree of the husband and wife team that runs the place. Katsuhiro & Mayumi Yamasaki both worked at the legendary Kaiseki restaurant Kitcho in Kyoto. The place has been on my list for quite a while. The restaurant takes only about 15 customers per evening, it's a small intimate experience. You call for reservations starting at midnight 30 days before. Knowing we were finally headed back up to the Bay Area, though only as North as Daly City, the Missus was all for a nice dinner...... So I called when I woke on a weekday morning 445 am, called an left a message for a reservation. And receiving a call back later in the day telling me, in the most polite Japanese way, "nice try, but you better try a bit harder if you really want to eat here...." I went home and told the Missus. Now usually, She'd be a bit irritated and decide the effort was not worth it....but for some reason, She was quite interested. So interested that She woke up just before midnight and called for reservations right when the clocked flashed 12:00.......and got a busy signal! She hung up and called back and left a message and later that day we found out that we'd gotten two seats at Wakuriya.
The tiny restaurant is situated in the most discreet and low-keyed locale....in a strip mall (of course - my kind of place) that contains a Safeway. It was the week after Thanksgiving; which turned out to be the coldest weekend of the winter. It was drizzling and pretty darn cold. As we walked to the door; we got the earliest reservations possible, 630, and had arrived a bit early....the door opened and Mayumi Yamasaki opened the door, saw us, and when we told her we had reservations, she asked us to come in because it was just to cold.
The interior is spartan; a couple of tables and a long wood bar. I don't know if it was by plan or just our timing, but we were seated at the bar, which only had two seats. We loved where we were, isolated from all the customers who would come in later, and able to watch the operations of putting together dinner take place.
I enjoy getting in early at restaurants.....though at time the kitchen hasn't hit its rhythm, I find the service and pacing to be much better, as was the case here; we got nice explanations of our dishes and even had time to chat a bit. Mayumi does the front of house.....this is basically a two person operation which means all of the front of house, Katsuhiro does all the cooking and most of the food prep. He works in silence. We heard him speak twice during our entire time in the restaurant...as we left; a "thank you" and "goodnight".
As you might guess the meal is in the style of Kaiseki, seasonal, much of it local, juggling taste and appearance, and was served in a fairly traditional order. I guess I'd call this "Modern California Kaiseki". Things started off with an apéritif, a wonderful infused nigori sake.
The Missus went with the "Fruity Flight"...the name still makes me laugh, with Yuzu Omoi - bascially yuzu infused sake, Kome Kome Shu - a light and tart "Riesling" like sake, and the Missus' favorite the Ume Shu.
I went with the premium sake flight; mainly because it had my favorite, Kubota Manju......
It is typical for a Kaiseki meal to start off with a Sakizuke, basically a small appetizer, almost like an amuse-bouche. In this case it was a fairly size-able oven baked "goma-tofu" topped with uni.
Goma tofu is not tofu in the classic sense; it is made with sesame paste and a thickening agent. Loved the rich flavor of sesame with the rich though refreshing flavor of the uni. This was actually a pretty good size appetizer.
The Zensai - the true appetizers featured three items; the lobster with egg yolk dressing and avocado.
The Missus is not the biggest fan of lobster, but this was tender and sweet, the ikura (salmon roe) added a perfect briney balance.
Fried Fresno Satoimo with miso two ways.....
This was served "dengaku" (topped with miso) style. The milder, sweeter, and less salty Saikyo miso version was a winner.
The grated apple on the Madai (Red Snapper) nigiri was a revelation....I would never for the life of me think of this combination.
The Onmono, which I thought of as "Futamono" was a nice, clean, dashi based broth with wonderful rich and velvety, kamo dango of sorts...duck meatballs.
So comforting on such a cold night.
Next up, the Sashimi Tsukuri. This was done in the form of a salad with a citrus dressing....
Nice, crisp, refreshing....the Missus said the Hokkaido Scallop hidden under everything might have been one of the best bites She's had in a while.
The Mushimono - steamed dish was a steamed black cod with sesame sauce.
Nice fish prep, the Missus isn't the biggest fan of sesame paste, so other than the brussel sprouts, this wasn't a favorite.
Some gelato to refresh....Satsuma Granite with sweet ginger syrup
By this time, 730 had arrived and all the other tables were full. Still, we had a bird's eye view of the proceedings. Things were never rushed, questions were always answered, and things moved like a well choreographed dance......no words between husband and wife, the magic of spousal instincts with regards to movement and order.
The next dish, the heaviest and most substantial was actually our least favorite of the evening; the wagyu no miso sukiyaki.
The meat was very tender, but had a strong metallic tinge to it; the miso sauce wasa bit too salty for my taste.
The end of the meal (except for dessert) was a typical Gohanmono - the rice dish. There was a choice of two offered, so of course we got one each.
The ebi no tempura donburi - fried shrimp over rice was nice, the shrimp tender, though the Missus enjoys a lighter, more crisp batter.....I loved the tsuyu which had a perfect balance for my taste.
The "Tai Chazuke" featured snapper with sesame paste and dashi over rice.
To me, this is comfort food elevated.......for the Missus, it had more sesame paste than She enjoys.
As for dessert, matcha and and white bean mousse with petit “tai-yaki”......
Well it must have been good since the Missus ate both of them!
We both really enjoyed our meals. The service was excellent, not only was our hostess efficient and knowledgeable, but also quite gracious....and those little things were apparent. When my first dish arrived, the settings were on my right....but after I ate it with my left hand, all my settings were placed on my left. The matcha to end the meal was as perfect as I've ever had.....we watched Mayumi preparing the tea; she added some hot water, then took a pause to check the temperature by feel, it was apparently too hot so she waited and then added water waiting to serve us until she thought it was the correct temp........which we got to see since we were seated at the bar.
While not quite in the league of Urasawa, I'd say this meal is well worth the $95 price tag (minus drinks). With 15 settings a night, you know this isn't a money grab......
I'm positive we'll try to return during another season....if the Missus can get through on the phone line!
115 De Anza Blvd
San Mateo, CA 94402