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FAVORITE RESTAURANTS
Kamigamo Akiyama

The northern edge of Kyoto gives way to verdant mountains of straight pine trees, birds, and even monkeys. Traveling here feels like a getaway, yet is entirely accessible. The area, called Kitayama, is home to several important shrines and temples, including Kamigamo Shrine. Just a few blocks east along the canal is an elegant rustic ryotei that is almost hidden from view. This is Kamigamo Akiyama, a one-star Michelin restaurant that occupies a class all its own. Chef-owner Naohiro Akiyama, (who is originally from Osaka) honed his skills at Kitcho, one of the most venerated kaiseki restaurants in Japan. Dining at Kamigamo Akiyama is an experience that is part theater, part education, and part tea ceremony. However, the effect is relaxing due to the warm personality of Akiyama and his young staff.

The rustic setting — a beautiful old house that backs unto the mountains — provides a backdrop for the food, which is fresh and exciting. There are only 10 seats at the counter, where the fun is to chat with your fellow diners as you watch your meal being prepared -— from scratch. Ingredients are often local, and of course, seasonal, in true kyo-ryori form. But Akiyama's inventive way with flavoring, including surprising elements such as karashi (Chinese style mustard) and use of special salt from the Seto Inland Sea makes one want to return again and again. Simply put, the food is delicious as well as artful.

Chef Akiyama, (c) 2010 Kirk Vuillemot
Above: Chef Akiyama prepares vegetables. Below: The May hassun course arrives under wisteria branches.
Hassun at Kamigamo Akiyama, (c) 2010 Kirk Vuillemot
 
The entrance to Kamigamo Akiyama, (c) 2010 Kirk Vuillemot

Kamigamo Akiyama is located a few blocks east of Kamigamo Shrine. English is not spoken, and reservations are essential.

Address: 458, kamigamo okamoto-tyo,
kita-ku, kyoto-shi, 605-0825
Tel: 075-711-5136
Left: from left to right and top to bottom: Grilled Tango torigai (clam) with onion; Suimono (clear soup) with tai (sea bream); preparing the sashimi platter; Saba (mackeral) flash-seared over smoking wara leaves; The hassun, a seasonal arrangement of deliciousness; Sawara with asparagus cream sauce; roast onion topped with scallop ragout and roasted uni (sea urchin); Five kinds of daikon; Miso nabe (hot pot) with Norway Salmon and local vegetables; Seasonal fruit

Diners arrive and wait for others (in their time slot) in an elegant room with seats around a large standing irori (fireplace), where matcha tea is also served at the end of the meal in a casual form of tea ceremony. This — as well as the seasonal fare — make Kamigamo Akiyama a favorite among students and practitioners of tea. It's also a favorite place for Kyoto-ites, and is therefore often full. If you intend to visit Kyoto, call at least a month ahead of time to avoid being disappointed. Our fellow diners were quite surprised that #1, we knew about the place, and #2 could manage to get in. All we know is that it's now a favorite of ours as well.

While dinner is a bargain, (the most expensive course is ¥11,000) lunch is a steal ¥3,600. However, while the food is similar, Chef Akiyama told us the presentation is much more simple. Due to its affordability and the location's convenient to the shrine, lunch is often fully booked three months or more (and as many as six months) in advance.

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