Well paint me silver and call me a mackerel, because I did not see this one coming. Minneapolis is getting a bona fide kaiseki restaurant.
This is a big deal. Kaiseki is an elite Japanese dining tradition, it’s a meal that evolved from Buddhist temple meals and typically consists of a procession of many small courses, each prepared with great care, and designed so that each dish flows from one to the next—creating a whole that in totality evokes the mood and spirit of a season, a time, and a place. The influences of kaiseki meals have been reverberating through the top restaurants in the West for some time. Do you remember when a fancy restaurant meal in the United States or Europe consisted of an appetizer, a big honking entrée, and then dessert? Then, suddenly, nine or eleven tiny seasonal courses became the norm? Most people attribute that change to Western chefs' exposure to Japanese kaiseki restaurants; Ferran Adria has said explicitly that he was deeply influenced by Japanese traditions to create his work at El Bulli. Even though these elite kaiseki restaurants are so very important, there are but a few in the United States: Los Angeles’ n/naka comes to mind, as well as New York City’s Brushstroke, and Masa—the most expensive restaurant in the country.
But take note, Los Angeles and New York—Minneapolis is getting a real kaiseki restaurant. Owner and chef Shigeyuki Furukawa says he aims for it to be one of the ten best kaiseki restaurants in the country, in a league with Masa, and on par with spots in Tokyo and Kyoto. It will be upstairs in the old Origami space downtown, and will be called Kaiseki Furukawa. Furukawa is a Tokyo-area native who spent many years training in kaiseki cooking in Tokyo, then cooked in New York City, Kyoto, and Minneapolis for the past six years, where he ran Origami.
The master plan, Furukawa told me, is to open this September or October, after interior construction is completed; he’s bringing in a Japanese architect from San Francisco for the design work. The old Origami building will host the kaiseki restaurant upstairs and another yet-unnamed restaurant downstairs, a high-quality, seasonal, pristinely Japanese-style (that is, no mayonnaise and no crunch rolls) nigiri sushi spot. Furukawa guesses the kaiseki pricing will be something like eight courses for $120, which will unspool over two hours. The menus will change month by month, in both the kaiseki restaurant and the more casual sushi spot. “I think this is kind of a big, big challenge—but somebody has to do it,” Furukawa told me. “In the Midwest, in Japanese restaurants, it’s basically tuna, salmon, and hamachi, sea bream and fluke all the time. But every fish has a season, just as every vegetable has a season. In summertime it is jackfish season, and cucumber and eggplant season. In winter it is hamachi and blowfish season, and radishes are a winter vegetable. I don’t know if Midwestern customers will understand the kaiseki concept, but I want to try. Ramen Kazama gives me hope. In Japan you have a ramen place, a tempura place, a nigiri sushi place. [Ramen Kazama] is just doing ramen. Customers seem to really like it. I hope they will understand a place that is just nigiri sushi.”
I hope so too! Welcome Kaiseki Furukawa, and your kid brother of a nigiri-sushi-only restaurant—you just made Japanese dining in the fall all kinds of exciting.
Interior design inspiration images provided by Furukawa: