Sunday, November 18, 2018

A super rarified dining experience at Ryotei Susaki

Not the most obvious looking restaurant frontage!

Its interior looks like that of a ryokan 
but it's actually a ryotei

The (entire) room that I -- and I alone -- occupied 
over the course of my dinner at Ryotei Susaki!

The first course (featuring salmon roe, chestnut, river fish, tofu, 
sweet potato and a whole, solid egg yolk) looked like this; 
the rest of the meal I'll leave to your imagination! ;b

Some ten or so blog posts ago, I wrote about having feasted on Hida beef at Hida-Takayama (or just plain Takayama), including at a multi-course dinner at an "old school" ryotei.  Today, I'd like to more specifically discuss the ryotei in question in the context of my dinner there being the kind of dining experience that I've only ever had in Japan -- and totalling just a handful in my life so far.

It's not just that Ryotei Susaki serves the kind of meals that many people would describe as kaiseki but which its purveyors describe as Sowaryu Honzen ryori.  Rather, it's also the setting in which the meal I had at this Takayama fine dining establishment was served: with the diner (if dining alone) or his/her party being allocated an entire room for the duration a meal; and that room inevitably having a tatami floor, a tokonoma (alcove) within which can be found a hanging scroll and ceramic work for the diner to look and appreciate from time to time during the meal, along with a beautifully landscaped garden visible through glass doors/windows.  

The first time I had this kind of rarified dining experience, I must admit to having been totally unprepared for it.  My mother and I were visiting the Kyushu temple town of Dazaifu, which I had read was home to a fantastic tofu specialist restaurant along with a super popular Tenmangu shrine and an ancient temple with beautiful Zen gardens.  After visiting the Tenmangu shrine, we decided to go to the Dazaifu branch of Ume-No-Hana for a lunch that turned out to be one of the most memorable -- as well as lengthiest (lasting circa three hours!) and fanciest -- I've ever had.   

Looking back, I'm amazed that we managed to get into that kaiseki restaurant as walk-in customers.  Knowing better these days, I sought to make an advance reservation in person at Ryotei Susaki soon after I arrived in Takayama -- only to discover that this dining establishment's very discrete premises was well nigh impossible to find in the dark (which had fallen less than an hour after I arrived in that mountain town)!

As it transpired, I had major problems locating the oldest ryotei in all of Gifu prefecture even during the day the next day.  In fact, I actually walked past its building -- which, like the restaurant itself, dates back to the 18th century! -- several times both during daylight and in the dark before I finally found the place -- and even then, it was after getting detailed information as to its location from a staffer at the third Takayama tourist office I visited (and also the one closest to the ryotei)! 

After having successfully made my booking, I duly made my way through super quiet and dark Takayama streets to the ryotei on the appointed evening.  At the lobby of the restaurant, I was met by a friendly kimono-clad woman who led me through the carpeted corridor of the ryotei to a large private room with a single table and chair in it that I quickly got to realizing was reserved for me alone for the duration of my meal!        

If my assigned waitress hadn't been so friendly, I think I wouldn't have felt as comfortable as I did dining at Ryotei Susaki.  Even so, I must admit to thinking that it's preferable to have at least one companion while dining at this kind of place, for the same reason that I have about preferring to stay at a traditional ryokan: that is, the service can so attentive as well as superb that it can actually feel rather overwhelming!

Funny but true: Early on during my dinner that evening, I wondered if there were a hidden camera in the room that enabled the staff to see when I had finished with each course as the next course was carried in by the waitress with such great timing!  Of course, I got to realizing after a while that that was not indeed the case.  Still, my harboring that thought for a time is a measure of how the staff seemed so able to anticipate my needs.  

Pretty much impeccable in every way, the staff treated this diner like an honored guest and Very Important Person.  And while I surely was not this storied establishment's sole customer of the evening, the service provided sometimes made me feel like this was so on top of my never having caught sight nor heard any sounds indicating that there were other customers in the ryotei the entire time that I was there! ;b 


Paul said...

Curious ... was the egg yolk seasoned at all? Or was it supposed to be a dipping for one of the other ingredients?

YTSL said...

Hi Paul --

The egg yolk didn't taste seasoned. Also, it was solid, so couldn't used as a dip! Incidentally, I was told that the egg yolk symbolized the full moon... :b