Ito - A Kyoto's new culinary gem
The restaurant landscape in Japan has undergone significant transformations since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the landscape for well-established Japanese restaurants remained largely unchanged over the years, with the occasional sensation rising to prominence thanks to social media and online influencers.
However, some venerable institutions did not survive the pandemic's harsh blows. Many struggled to stay afloat as their revenues dwindled due to factors such as lockdown closures during the peak of the virus's spread, inevitable no-shows due to illness, and the rising cost of operations. In some unfortunate cases, the quality of some once-beloved establishments saw a decline.
While the worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us, the dining landscape has witnessed a significant shift, particularly in terms of pricing. Before Covid, one could enjoy a luxurious meal for around 30,000 yen. These days, it's increasingly common to pay over 50,000 yen for top-tier restaurants. In fact, some restaurants that I once frequented now set their dinner prices at a staggering 100,000 yen during the winter season.
Yet, there's always a silver lining. In collaboration with TTT's editor, Leo Saitoh, I'm delighted to introduce our readers to my "New Culinary Gem Discovery" series, showcasing upcoming restaurants that offer reasonably priced dining experiences and are not impossible to book.
Ito, discovering the new gem of Kyoto
One such restaurant that emerged during the Covid era is Ito, which earned a Michelin star shortly after its opening during Covid pandemic. While I typically pay no attention to accolades like Michelin or Tabelog, the friend who recommended this restaurant is not one to be taken lightly.
Ito is conveniently located just a stone's throw from Kyoto Station, a mere 5-minute walk away. This hidden gem is peacefully nestled on the opposite side of the road from Higashi Honganji Temple, one of the largest wooden Buddhist temples in the world.
What sets Ito apart is its remarkably young chef, Shohei Noguchi. With experience in French restaurants in both Osaka and France, Chef Noguchi's cuisine beautifully incorporates modern French techniques. I would describe his culinary style as a unique fusion of Japanese and French-inspired dishes, than a french dishes. Achieving such a harmonious blend of two distinct cuisines is no small feat, as it requires an in-depth understanding of both culinary traditions. When done well, as Chef Noguchi demonstrates, it results in a truly remarkable dining experience.
My lunch started after Chef Noguchi had began grinding the most aromatic sesame. The freshly grinded semaru was put into the first welcome dish with tofu. Then followed by a vegetable dish which were beautifully plated. One of the aspects I particularly appreciate about Ito is its meticulous sourcing of ingredients, especially vegetables, which come directly from farmers in Hokkaido and other long-acquainted farmers in Kyoto. These carefully selected ingredients form the bedrock for sublime pesticide-free and organic vegetable dishes, as well as an array of other delightful specialties. The lid dish is grilled fish in beautiful dash broth. When I opened the lid, the first thought that came into my mind was monet pond in Gifu. Such a beautiful sight. Monet pond in Gifu is a place you need to see at least once in your life. Nothing quite like it. Then, as for the next dish I had fried hotaru ika with white asparagus. These western ingredients blended into the dish and I didn't feel anything odd added at all. The main dish was wagyu with greens before the rice course with grilled fish and fluffy dashi maki, topped with shaved katsuo boshi. Usually katsuo boshi is used to make dashi but here as a garnish to the soft and sluffy egg. My dessert was moshi and refreshing fruit.
The restaurant's interior further elevates the dining experience. Ito's modern lighting illuminates the elegant design. With private room, Ito is a rare kid & infant-friendly Kaiseki restaurant. The second-floor private rooms offer a splendid view of Higashi Honganji, allowing you to enjoy an elegant meal with your family while taking in the beauty of the magnificent wooden temple.
What truly makes Ito stand out is its reasonable pricing. At just 11,000 yen for lunch and 25,000 yen for dinner (33,000 yen for this winter as a temporary menu upgrade), it's a steal for the quality and creativity that Chef Noguchi brings to the table.
For your next visit to Kyoto, I wholeheartedly recommend including Ito in your dining itinerary. Supporting this young chef is a delightful culinary experience.
Localtaste embarked on a culinary odyssey long before the dawn of social media, traversing the globe from the Far East to the West, exploring over 160 cities across four continents, covering more than 400,000 miles in the past four decades.
His gastronomic journey has led him to thousands of restaurants, ranging from humble hole-in-the-wall eateries in Asia to the pinnacle of fine dining at Michelin 3-star restaurants in Europe and North America. Over the course of more than 4 decades, he has relentlessly pursued various culinary genres.
Despite not being in the food industry or a professional food writer, Localtaste's exclusive articles can be found solely on tokyotabletrip.com. This gesture serves as a tribute to Leo Saito's altruistic mission of helping international visitors uncover the exquisite beauty of Japanese cuisine.
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