18 December 2023
Crafeat: Tasting the Tradition of Japanese Artistry and Cuisine,
Envision a dining experience where each dish, born from the bounties of local seas and mountains, is cradled in lacquerware excellence. That is the immersive experience you can enjoy at Crafeat.
Joined by Taya Takahiro, the tenth-generation successor of the esteemed Wajima lacquerware establishment Taya Shikkiten, we spent a wonderful evening of culinary luxury steeped in the rich and intriguing heritage of Ishikawa Prefecture.
As dusk settles over Kanazawa's bustling dining district, the doors of Crafeat swing open, ushering in guests to a space where the concepts of "crafting" and "eating" merge, offering an unparalleled experience of savoring exquisite Japanese cuisine on premium lacquerware.
The ground floor welcomes casual diners, while the upper level offers a more intimate setting with a maximum capacity of eight guests, reserved for a pre-fixed course dinner prepared by Chef Okumura.
As we sat down at the counter on the second floor, we were welcomed with a simple and graceful setting of Wajima lacuquerware chopsticks, placemat, and spoon placed on locally crafted washi paper.
The first course: black goma-dofu with a persimmon walnut mix.
Goma-dofu is a delicacy made from a rich sesame paste transformed into a rich, mousse-like consistency. The dish's intense sesame flavor is delightfully balanced by a refreshing combination of sweet persimmon and toasted walnuts.
Served in a striking black lacquer bowl, a subtle swirl of walnut oil in soy milk beautifully sets off the deep hue of the black sesame tofu. The smooth lacquer spoon sinks into the creamy sesame tofu, creating a seamless blend of texture and taste.
The next dish: a bouquet of bite-size delicacies served in a Wajima lacquered plate inside a maki-e decorated, lacquerware Jubako bento box.
The Jubako set is accompanied with four lids, encapsulating the distinct beauty of Japan's four seasons in scenes from beloved Japanese folktales. Taya explains, "The lids are crafted to delight all members of the family, from young children to the elderly. They're designed to bring joy and a sense of togetherness across generations."
On the lid of the summer design, summer's red Mt. Fuji stands before Princess Kaguya.
Served in one of the finest Wajima lacquerware soup bowls, the next course was a soup made using blowfish and tuna flakes. The lavish use of gold powder particles of varying sizes endows the surface with depth and dimension, enhancing a scenic landscape with pine trees.
The shimmering droplets on the lid draw inspiration from a time-honored Japanese kaiseki tradition. This signifies the dish's pristine nature, untouched and pure. Chef Okumura gently spritzes the lid with water infused with Hiba oil.
Inside, a fish cake with mukago, tiny tubers of Japanese yam, is served in a delicately flavored dashi soup.
The fresh flavors of the next course's sashimi was fittingly paired with sake from a local brewery in Noto.
Sake cups coated in lush lacquer were the premium choice of drinkware. "Meticulous maki-e craftsmanship brings the fish drawn in the bottom of the cup to life with such finesse that it appears to be actually swimming through water," explains Taya.
The selected sashimi for that day were buri, yellowtail and nodoguro, known as "blackthroat seaperch" in English.
The buri was lightly seared and topped with grated burdock from a local producer. Two slices were plated on a thick Suzu ware dish, a revived stoneware made in Suzu city, located at the tip of the Noto peninsula.
The nodoguro, a white meat fish popular in Ishikawa, came lightly smoked with roasted Kaga tea leaves in a Yamanaka lacquerware Jubako bento box.
With its fatty flavors, Chef Okumura paired it with freshly grated wasabi and snow-flake shaped salt crystals. "I feel this is the best way to enjoy the rich flavors of this fish," he explained.
The shimmering slices of fresh nodoguro were served on small Kutani ware plates from Kokuzo Kiln.
In a wide-lipped red lacquerware bowl, freshly cooked chestnut rice was topped with slices of slow-cooked wagyu beef with a thickened mushroom sauce. This menu was Chef Okumura's take on one of Ishikawa's local dishes, jibu-ni.
Next, a surprise in a turtle-shaped crispy wafer, used for the Japanese confection monaka. The delicacy inside—stewed suppon, softshell turtle. Suppon is a rare delicacy in Japan, not often found on menus. Its melt-in-your-mouth tenderness was truly exceptional.
A century-old antique sakazuki sake cup was the canvas for the tempura. The gold design, named horai shochikubai, refers to the combination of a crane, turtle, pine trees, bamboo, and plum blossoms, a symbol of premium auspiciousness.
A nine-tier sakazuki sake cup, a traditional piece of sakeware, is a rare find nowadays. Its opulent gold designs and deep, nostalgic vermilion—a color now impossible to replicate—are what set it apart. Today, the formula for red lacquer is a closely guarded secret, known only to the Industrial Research Institute of Ishikawa and not shared beyond their walls.
The last item on the menu before dessert was a warm noodle dish in a hearty shrimp broth.
The heartwarming noodles were served in one of Taya Shikkiten's signature bowls. Taya enthusiastically shares, "Without a foot, a rice bowl transforms into a very versatile item. It's perfect for various dishes, like these noodles. The bowl is designed to fit comfortably in one's hand, with a subtle indentation on the side for easy holding."
Our gourmet journey concludes with a delightful morsel of chocolate cake, served with a miniature version of a spatula used by Wajima lacquerware artisans.
And the plate used for this sweet treat? An inventive twist: a Wajima lacquerware cup, playfully set upside down.
Only a two-and-a-half-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo, this small treasure in Kanazawa has become more accessible than ever. Crafeat is a place where culinary delight and lacquerware beauty come together for an unforgettable culinary journey navigated by the friendly narratives of Chef Okumura. On their website, Crafeat recently included a comprehensive explanation of its latest menu and the tableware used in English.
Get ready to be delighted visually and gastronomically with the experiences that await at Crafeat.