Last Saturday my friend Bobby treated me and some friends to a sneak preview 7-course meal at his sleek new Japanese restaurant, Hamon Washoku (note, web site still under construction at press time) which opens today. Replacing the French crepes-n-coffee spot known as the Laurel Street Cafe, the space has been transformed into a tranquil zen oasis of dark wood, live bamboo and stylish furnishings. It would be easy to blow right past Hamon Washoku, which I managed to do despite knowing the street number and focusing on finding it (my better half would say that it was a classic case of my lack of perceptiveness, but that is another topic altogether!). The front of the restaurant is very understated, marked only by tapestries adorned with the restaurant's name written in kanji (reproduced here to save you from my wayward fate).
Hamon translates as "knife literature" (with washoku simply meaning "food of Japan") and according to Bobby is meant to convey the artistry of the fine knifework practiced by the restaurant's head chef Suzuki-san, together with harmony in cooking. Continuing this theme, the restaurant's business card, viewed edgewise, reveals a glimmering silver "blade." The place even commissioned the creation of a custom knife, a hefty blade forged according to traditional samurai methods and engraved with kanji including hamon, and with a ripple representing the ebb and flow of life. This "chef's knife" (or as Dungeons and Dragons groupies might call it, "short sword") will be wielded by Suzuki-san.
We experienced a beautiful, delicate, kaiseki meal that is described below. Besides the artistry of the food, I appreciated its freshness, and small touches such as real grated wasabe (Japanese horseradish) versus the bright green paste-from-a-tube one normally gets. However, keep in mind that Hamon Washoku will not initially offer kaiseki (which is sort of a good thing, in the sense that one does not normally partake of such elaborate food on a regular basis). The chef was putting the finishing touches on the daily select menu, so I did not get to take a look at it, but Bobby's vision is to offer both higher-end, artistic Japanese haute cuisine a la carte, as well as everyday fare meant to attract regulars looking for a simple but delicious meal. By the way, for now it's a dinner-only place, open 3pm-10pm.
By the way, in a sure sign that Yelp is headed for world domination, Hamon Washoku already exists on the reviews site despite not having opened yet, and has several raving fans (albeit all "friends of the house" who also enjoyed a sneak preview prior to the grand opening).
Without further ado, here is a description of the kaiseki menu I experienced Saturday:
Ume "Plum" Course
selected mushrooms steamed in a light broth, with mitsuba leaf accent
mozuku seaweed, spring rain vermicelli, wakame seaweed, daikon radish with ginger vinaigrette
spicy cod roe piped into lotus root, sweet omelette rolled eel with soybean miso, braised ginger prawn in sake and soy, green tea powder dressed taro potato, topped with sweet yuzu red miso, herring roe dressed with sake pulp, pine needle thorned sweetened black bean
seared kobe beef, cherry stone clam broiled
choice vegetables braised individually: asparagus, kabocha pumpkin, mini round eggplant, japanese turnip, grilled tofu, bread-pudding rounds, assembled in one dish; puree mountain potato, junsai vegetable topped with red plum lemon vinaigrette
O GO-HAN MONO
seared duckling braised in sake and soy, braised sweetened chestnut, braised asian pear with sesame miso dressing
assorted pickled vegetables
Some pics are below; unfortunately I spaced and forgot to bring a high-res camera, but props to my buddy Paddy for snapping these photos with his trusty iPhone. (Flash required.)
741 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070