Sumibi Kappo Ifuki is a kaiseki restaurant in the heart of Gion in Kyoto, and as per the name (I think “sumibi” literally means charcoal) the chef - Norio Yamamoto - focuses on grilled food. Many, but not all, of the dishes you get have passed through the grill.
This was the second of four kaiseki meals on this trip (five if you count our ryokan, but that was a mediocre and forgettable meal, so I am, well, forgetting about it), and this was the second of back-to-back kaiseki dinners. Some would claim that kaiseki dinners can get repetitive, as many serve the same seasonal ingredients, so fair warning. I had absolutely no problem eating this many kaiseki meals though, given the sheer variety of dishes you encounter in any single meal. Where the food the previous night at Hyotei was more serene, Ifuki’s was more bold. We didn’t score counter seats and instead ended up in a private room.
Table setting with the restaurant’s name on the napkin
The initial appetizer with five different dishes:
Fried botan ebi (looked a lot like the fried taro you get at dim sum)
Moroko with kinome (Japanese pepper leaf) -I looked this up and it seems to be some kind of river fish
Tairagai with chestnut and gingko nut
Maguro and koue? (grouper) sashimi - yes, it’s a poor angle for a picture, since the grouper is hidden
White miso soup with shirako and tofu - it’s hard to go back to normal miso after this. So rich and concentrated. We had white miso three times on this trip - my dining partners preferred this one over Hyotei’s, but I liked Hyotei’s more. Is there anywhere in LA that serves this??
Zuwai kani two ways (grilled, of course)
At this point, we were given two decisions: we would each get a type of grilled seafood, and a type of grilled meat. This worked out perfectly because there were three of us. For seafood, one person chose the guji (tilefish), and two of us got the kinki (they had two options - one shio /salt, and one with soy sauce).
Guji - that yellow piece is the really grilled, crispy skin; I just have to stop here and say that Yamamoto-san’s grilling skills are sublime - he’s able to evoke both crispy and tender textures simultaneously
Kinki with shio - I know that kinki from Nanba looks fantastic, but this was a step up even above that. The skin here was crispy, yet delicate, like paper. Yet the meat was so tender, juicy, and decadently oily - those shreds are of some kind of seaweed. I might be able to count on one hand the number of times I’ve had any cooked fish better than this, if at all.
Kinki with soy sauce - Really Excellent; the one using shio was better but even this piece surpasses most cooked fish I’ve ever had on its own
Next we had a choice of meat: suppon, bear, or wagyu. Of course we got one of each. This is where I’m glad we had a choice of BOTH seafood and meat. If we had only gotten a choice of one, a couple of us might have chosen meat, and, well, that would have been a mistake.
Suppon meat and liver - the texture was like pigeon, but it was gamier and smokier. This was tasty and the best of the three, but it was significantly inferior to the suppon I had at Kimoto a couple days hence
Bear meat - this tasted like warm beef jerky, and that’s not a compliment for a grilled dish at a kaiseki restaurant. I’m glad I can say I tried this, but I wasn’t a fan.
Wagyu from Tajima prefecture - Rich as you would expect from wagyu, but not the most flavorful piece of wagyu I’ve had
We went from the very best highs of the grilled seafood and crash landed back on earth with the meat. Luckily, the next course, though simple, dragged this meal back to its previous heights.
Soba in dipping sauce, with a touch of yamaimo and sliced mushroom; it was small, but it made quite the best statement. Granted, I haven’t been to that many soba places, but this was the best soba I’ve ever had - so well executed with the texture, the balance of soba vs. dipping sauce, the flavors of each component separately and integrated
Next we had a choice of two dishes:
- rice with pickles and one of any of the following: tachi-uo (beltfish), grilled oysters, and one or two other options I’ve forgotten
- suppon porridge
I chose (1) with the tachiuo - I thought the grilled kinki and guji had been stellar so was looking forward to this dish. It was a bit of a disappointment - the skin was a bit soggy, and the fish was a bit over charred
My dining partners chose the suppon porridge and haven’t stopped raving about it to this day. It’s amazing - really flavorful broth with the perfect texture, and it gave you that homey feeling that the best soups and porridges offer. You can see from the picture that the broth was fairly thick and rich.
Dessert - fruit and a Japanese “cookie”
All told, the entirety of the meal and the number of “wow” bites more than offset the couple misses. This meal was excellent; I would highly recommend Ifuki. The service was very warm, helpful, and friendly, and we were served by the okami-san for the latter half of the meal.