Worth the Splurge: Restaurant Suntory’s $42 Seasonal Kaiseki Lunch
Japan’s seasonal delicacies inspire a feast that satisfies the eyes and palate.
Imagine strolling along the tranquil Meguro Riverwalk south of bustling Shibuya. It’s autumn and the leaves are already starting to turn warm shades of ochre and umber. The air is crisp, but your favorite coat keeps you cozy as you wander in search of your next meal.
Now imagine you’re in Waikīkī, on the third floor of Royal Hawaiian Center. The contrast is glaring—but it’s where you’ll find the stalwart Restaurant Suntory, a king in Japanese dining that transports you directly to Nihon like a bullet train bound for Kyoto. Rarely do restaurants take me out of everyday life, but when I think about Suntory’s shunsai zen kaiseki lunch, I can’t help but yearn for my next visit to Japan.
Seasonal flavors play a leading role in the $42 menu, which changes monthly and is limited to 18 sets per day. The theme of October’s menu is “shokuyoku no aki” or “the peak season of appetite.” Autumn is truly the best season to experience in Japan, both for the weather and the food.
The first course includes a trio of dishes: tuna and kampachi sashimi served with goma or sesame dipping sauce, a dobin teapot with mushrooms and duck simmered in a savory broth, and cream cheese tofu with black pepper sauce. Kampachi becomes the vessel for the creamy sesame sauce, whose soothing, warm aroma is associated with fall when sesame seeds are harvested at their peak. This makes it a perfect introduction to the rest of the meal.
Lift the lid of the teapot to reveal a medley of dashi-simmered mushrooms and duck breast, both hallmarks of fall cuisine. Squeeze a touch of lime juice to brighten up the fatty pieces of duck and pour a spot of dashi into your cup. Sit back and enjoy the essence of fall as you imagine leaves floating in the breeze. The light cream cheese tofu serves more as a palate cleanser before the next trio of dishes.
Kushiage skewers of eggplant, pork and shrimp; simmered karei (flounder) with roe; and atsuage deep fried tofu and daikon with sansho pepper miso round out the next course. Eggplant in Japan is synonymous with fall; here it’s prepared as kushikatsu along with pork tenderloin and shrimp. Dip into the rich katsu sauce and let the skewered veggie melt in your mouth. It’s so simple but elegant and delicious.
Nitsuke, or simmered dishes, are executive chef Go Kamikubo’s specialty. He simmers loins of seasonal karei, plump with roe, in a braise using shoyu, mirin and other ingredients. The broth is then fortified with flavors from the fish bones and strikes the ideal balance of sweet and savory. Just beware of the tiny bones that hide well within the tasty flounder.
Japanese enjoy sansho pepper when it’s green in the spring and as a red pepper bursting with seeds in autumn. The seeds are toasted, crushed and incorporated into the miso that coats cubes of fried tofu and simmered daikon. The bright aroma and mellow heat offset the rich, hearty qualities of the other dishes for a harmonious balance.
Miso soup and white rice with accoutrements round out the final course. The rice, a koshihikari from Niigata prefecture, is prepared with Menehune purified mineral water to allow the grain’s textural and flavor qualities to shine. An accompanying plate holds tsukemono, takuan, seaweed and mentaiko (spicy cod roe) to go with the rice. If a Japanese restaurant were judged purely on how well it prepares its rice, Suntory would earn all the stars.
The meal, if you have any room left, ends on a high note with a sweet almond pudding topped with fresh fruits and seasonal peaches. Fans of almond float will enjoy this little bowl. I leave nothing behind.
To reserve the shunsai zen lunch, make a reservation online. You can leave a note in the comment box or email email@example.com with your name and reservation date to request the shunsai zen course. A reply from the restaurant will confirm your reservation. This limited special sells out in the first and last weeks of the month, so you can improve your chances by reserving a day in the middle of the month.