Kappa is for anyone serious about Japanese food. With so many sushi restaurants popping up these days that place a lot of attention on their fancy rolls topped with (sometimes unnecessary) dressing, the true taste of the ingredients are masked. People have also come to associate Japanese food mainly with these fanciful rolls in order cater to local Western palettes and unfortunately these over beautified rolls are also distractions to what true and authentic Japanese food is all about. Aside from the creation of master sushi chefs at the bar, there is a whole other side to Japanese food: delicately cooked food prepared in the kitchen.
Kappa is a fresh of breath and provides a smidgen to what one would expect in a traditional restaurant in Japan. Run by a humble husband-and-wife team, we had a very intimate dining experience at Kappa which seats no more than 10 people (cue for advance reservation!). The food is prepared and handled with care solely by the husband while the wife handles the serving aspect of the restaurant. No employees are hire to work at the restaurant and therefore the restaurant operates on a very personal level. Because the food is sourced and prepared by the husband alone, they often are not able to accommodate walk-in customers other than those with dinner reservations especially when they are experiencing a busy night.
The focus of Kappa is the omakase dinner, a traditional concept in Japan which means diners leave it up to the chef to decide what he thinks are his best dishes he would like to present for the night. The chef at Kappa worked around his creativity when deciding on the dishes to present to diners based on seasonal ingredients. Our 7-course meal was delicately prepared with no overblown garnishes but instead placing the attention on the true flavor of each ingredient used. Our order of nigori (unfiltered sake) was a great way to start of our excellent meal.
Omakase generally begins with a light course before progressing towards more intensely flavored items. To begin, we had uni (sea urchin) wrapped in whitefish served in clear soup. The broth was very lightly flavored but the taste clearly shone. We also really liked the hint of peel in the broth which was not too intense but enough to perk up the broth.
The delicate piece of rare tuna was lightly seared on the sides and accompanied with mustard miso vinaigrette. Complementing the tuna were seaweed and sesame seeds. The small blob of intensely flavored mustard miso vinaigrette provided a great small burst of flavor with the very lightly flavored tuna and seaweed.
The generous serving of dungeness crab meat here was accompanied with cucumber slices and very light vinegar. A piece of shiso leaf was also delicately placed on the petite saucer. With minimal distractions to the main ingredient in focus here, we got to savor the pure taste of dungeness crab.
Progressing towards the richer items, we were each served a platter that came with eleven different bite-size items: (1) skate wing and ginger, (2) squid with spicy roe, (3) grilled chicken ball stick, (4) tuna and ginger, (5) duck with spicy miso paste, (6) eggplant and ginger, (7) halibut, (8) eggplant and bonito, (9) tonkatsu, (10) corn fritter, and (11) grilled prawn. For someone who does not enjoy eating eggplant, the standout in this platter for me was the eggplant and ginger piece and this says a lot. Another favorite was the skate wing which was soft and tender, complemented by a gelatinous texture.
Moving on to sashimi, we had hamachi (yellowtail), maguro (tuna), sake (salmon), and kampachi (amberjack). Each freshly tasting fish was sliced with a generous thick cut.
Kappa also serves fresh root wasabi which is naturally sweeter (and more expensive) than the regular wasabi paste.
The piece of baby scallop served on its shell with plum sauce was every bit enjoyable. Fresh Japanese scallops are generally sweet tasting and this petite piece was exactly that.
Not to be underestimated was the unagi nigiri which we enjoyed very much. The piece of unagi was still warm from the kitchen and had just the right amount of unagi sauce coating on it. The texture of the unagi was incredibly light and moist, almost bordering on being airy. The smoked salmon nigiri was also very well done.
The watermelon jello was impressive purely because the taste of real fresh watermelon juice shone through. The jello was not any typical artificial tasting item but instead was flavored with real juice. Eating the jello felt like we were eating real watermelon, but in jello form.
We knew once again that Kappa was a winner when T turned to me and said, "You know, I don't even like cheesecake but I love this cheesecake". Topped with macha powder, the green tea cheesecake was creamy without being overly rich nor overly sweet. The slices of pear and papaya were great accompaniments to the dessert platter.
My favorite item on the dessert was the mochi with red bean filling. Coated with very finely ground peanut powder, the mochi was the softest I have ever tasted to date. Mochi with inferior quality generally comes with a texture that is a little more chewy and rubbery, but the mochi at Kappa was so good I did not want it to end.
Kappa impressively stays true to the Japanese cuisine and perfectly showcases the delicate nature of the food.
1700 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115