Traditional amber wood and handmade pottery carried by waitresses in kimonos contrast against floor-to-ceiling windows and granite slabs overlooking one of the most impressive restaurant views in the city. Such an explicit juxtaposition of the traditional with the modern — two concepts whose constant interplay largely defines Japanese culture — contributes to Kozue’s uniqueness.
The dishes themselves are very traditional in flavor — there are no “twists” — but their presentation and the finesse with which the waitresses explain their components make this type of cuisine extremely accessible to westerners. The views from the restaurant are phenomenal. Perched on the 40th floor of the Park Hyatt, Kozue faces west. On a clear day one can see as far as Mount Fuji. The restaurant’s policy is not to guarantee window tables — even for hotel guests — but I think it’s worth waiting around for the next window table to become available.
The menu has three tastings, each progressively larger in size, and an à la carte section. I ordered a few dishes from the latter.
Assorted sashimi – A giant bowl filled with shaved ice set the stage for a few cuts of sashimi: yellowtail, red snapper, sweet shrimp, sea urchin, fatty tuna, fluke, and nege-toro, a mix of negi-onion and fatty tuna. The sashimi was centered by two pillars of raw seaweed, decorative leaves, white radish, and fresh wasabi. I eat sashimi a lot, but very rarely when it’s served on a bed of ice: it’s amazing how the cold temperature accentuates the clean fresh taste of fish. On some fish, like toro, it “freezes” the fat making it taste a lot less fatty but while keeping the distinctive smoothness of the fatty fish.
Sesame flavored tofu – This dish was outstanding! A roasted block of soft tofu with a dry and crispy solid outside and an inside that pours out at the slightest touch. This was a little difficult to eat at first because the tofu kept running from my chopsticks, but then I realized that the soft tofu and sesame mixture when eaten together as a soup was what this dish was about. The thick sesame sauce mixed with the tofu to provide a creamy, semi-sweet blend with a few chunky bites of tofu. The crab on top offered a little salting but the inclusion of the shellfish taste seemed unnecessary. I pushed it to the side and ate it separately after I finished the tofu.
Yonezawa Sirloin wrapped in hoba leaf – This steak was half-grilled in the kitchen and presented at the table wrapped in a hoba leaf with a hot-rock grill. Our waiter instructed us to continue cooking the steak until it reached the desired level of doneness. The do-it-yourself cooking was a bit of a table-side show that didn’t add much to the flavor, but it was still fun. The meat was very fatty and so cooking it further than I usually would really helped increase the contrast between the fat and meat. The hoba leaf itself didn’t add much flavor but rather seemed more like a visual accompaniment. It did, however, provide an easy way to put the meat on top of the grill and remove it.
Simmered chicken, bamboo, radish, and shitake mushroom in a hot pot – A table-side Japanese shabu-shabu with half a chicken and accompanying vegetables. The broth was simple and clear, we were essentially making chicken broth at the table and eating the chicken while we made it. We were served only the dark meat of the chicken with skin in-tact to provide extra flavor to the broth. This took awhile to eat, which was great, and when all the meat and vegetables were consumed the broth was transferred to a small bowl for drinking. Nothing from this dish was wasted.
I enjoyed my meal, but at the end I was still pretty hungry. Even by Japanese standards the portioning was minuscule, particularly given the excessively high prices. (And keep in mind I essentially ordered two main courses!) This meal was upwards of 35,000¥, which is above the price range of nearly all of the Michelin 3* restaurants in the city which offer more interesting menus. The tasting menus are definitely the way to navigate this restaurant, my mistake. I guess this is a pretty good place to visit if you’re practicing caloric restriction.
What Kozue does charge for, however, is one of the best views in the city and some very high quality ingredients. But there are an uncountable number of places in this city with superior food and more reasonable prices. What you’re paying for here is the view and all the care and patience involved with explaining the dishes to first-time kaiseki diners. For me, once is probably enough.