After our first full day in Kyōto seeing 1,0001 Buddhas, centuries old gardens, and , we were famished.
Arriving at the restaurant, we walked down a long, dark corridor. I looked up at a diploma from a French cooking school proudly displayed above a handsome wood desk.
“And how are you this evening?” the woman asked.
She ushered us to the shoe cubby after the chef came out to say hello. I offered a friendly bonjour, thinking I was cute.
We then weaved through a dim room decorated with greenery, up a flight of slightly-spiraled stairs where one of our waitresses slid the paper door open to our private dining room.
As we gawked at how fancy the place was another kimono-clad woman brought the drink menu. Only alcohol. I felt weird about ordering a drink without seeing a food menu. Funny since I’d never see a food menu.
A geisha (as explained on Mike’s blog, they didn’t have traditional geisha hair or makeup, but their function in the restaurant is far above that of a waitress), knocked softly and entered with the price options, just four numbers listed on a simple sheet of paper.
¥15,000 ($150) was the cheapest option. The only description offered was “a well-balanced meal.” Well, trying to contain the oh-holy-shit feeling welling up in my stomach, Mike and I quietly agreed on the cheapest option.
I specify quietly because, being completely out of my element, I was terrified. We were so worried about being polite that we stopped talking each time the geishas came back. They must’ve thought we were very strange since they barely heard us speak for the two hours we spent eating. This also explains why the photos are from an iPhone and the video is a bit shakey. I was being stealthy.
The decadence of the situation was only magnified by the fact that Mike was in a rainbow-colored plaid linen shirt with scruff and I was sporting a $13 dress, matted hair and smudged eyeliner.
Here are some of the 15 dishes we ate:
Our amuse-bouche was a cheese-filled baby tomato with a vegetable, fish, and triangle cracker.
Following that we ate an asparagus tart with red pepper sauce and a tomato rose; Cappucino pea soup (this was actually bland);Foie gras with roasted apple and a sauce;Seared fillet of sole topped with cheese (sorry, no photo).
We rested for a moment, wondering when we would stop eating. It’s about 40 minutes into our meal and we seem far from the promised entree: filet mignon. I mused to Mike that I couldn’t believe I’d be spending $75 on food.
“Huh? You mean $150.”
“No. Half of $150 is $75, right?”
“Yeah, but you’re paying $150 and I’m paying $150. It’s per person.”
“No… That means this is a $300. That can’t be right.”
Mike just stared at me while it sunk in. “Oh, god. It is $300, isn’t it? Oh my god…”
The chef’s specialty: bass with mushrooms in a butter, cream, and white wine sauce with a crescent biscuit. A man who worked at the restaurant brought us a palette cleanser of lime sorbet and we thanked him in Japanese. His jaw dropped and he asked us if we spoke Japanese. We both laughed and said we spoke a little, and he told us we had Tochigi accents.
We then had our filet mignon with mashed potatoes and vegetables.
At this point panic set in. All throughout dinner we knew we were waiting for this steak. Now that it was over, what happens? Will dessert be a separate menu? Can we leave? What time is it?
Then we were brought a second round of tea and the chef came in to chat with us. We told him that we’re from New York City originally but living in Tochigi to teach English. He asked us which dish was our favorite. Then he handed us his business card. We sat awkwardly, wondering if we could just get up and walk out for about 10 minutes before furiously biking back to our room and saying, “We spent $400 on dinner” all night.