Maruyama, Gion District, Kyoto, Japan

Food: Just wow. A 13-course kaiseki dinner. It is the most "true to the seasons" meal I have ever eaten. And I happily ate a dozen or so things that I had no idea what they were. Here are two good primers on kaiseki: Understanding Kaiseki & Japan Talk: Kaiseki.

Wine: I drank two types of daiginjo sake that went beautifully with most of the courses. If you're new to Japanese beverages (like me), maybe they do a beverage pairing, which would be worth it.

My take: This was a wonderful experience. The food was top-notch. The setting is traditional and calm and lovely and the service outstanding. It has 2 Michelin stars if you care about that. But that's not the reason to go. Unforgettable.

Satsuki Course: Sea bream and conger sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves, taro & vinegar water with "hojiso" or perilla buds. 

Sakizuke Course: Sea bream sashimi with horsebeans and "itadori" or local vegetables (mystery!)

Mukozuke Course: sashimi course of sea bream, shrimp and cuttlefish

Yakimono Course: roasted spring salmon with black sesame and fermented soy beans. Pickled lotus garnish.

Oshinogi Course: Coal-roasted tofu with red and white miso glaze. And a young pepper tree leaf, a tongue-tingling delight!

 Takiawase Course: Pork, bamboo shoots, peppers and more of those pepper tree leaves. Perhaps the sake made the photos blurry?

Takiawase Course: Pork, bamboo shoots, peppers and more of those pepper tree leaves. Perhaps the sake made the photos blurry?

Chinmi Course: Beef. Scallop in a hollowed out mandarin orange with leeks, asparagus and mushrooms.  Plus a tomato, an amazing one.

Mizumono Course: Dessert.  Warabi-moti (like a green tea Japanese Turkish Delight) and banana sorbet with fruit.

Daiginjo sake (don't know producer)