A little taste of Kyoto

Minato in Herzliya Pituah offers a wide array of authentic Japanese food in a quiet yet bustling atmosphere.

A little taste of Kyoto (photo credit: Courtesy)
A little taste of Kyoto
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For someone raised on Jewish soul food, dining at Minato in Herzliya Pituah can be quite an experience. From the moment you walk into this quiet yet busy restaurant, you enter a new world, a place that might be more at home in Kyoto than in an Israeli shopping precinct.
The wooden block tables and benches, the blackboard announcing the evening’s specials, but most of all the chef, Aki Tamura, visible behind a glass counter, creating the dishes that are sent out one after another to the diners with remarkable speed, all contribute to the feeling of authenticity.
Minato is a name familiar to dedicated diners out, since a dairy sushi bar of that name has been active in Caesarea for some nine years now. The owners, Matan Rosenthal and Kobi Ninio, decided to try their luck with a larger meat restaurant in a more central location, and Minato, Herzliya Pituah is the result. Judging by the steady stream of patrons on the evening that I was there, it seems to have been a good decision.
Our helpful waitress advised us to take the tasting menu – in Japanese it’s known as a Kai-Saki meal – in which about 10 small courses are brought to the table (NIS 280). By the end of the evening, we had lost count of the number of dishes we tried, but it was certainly more than 10.
The variety was astounding. You can try fish, raw fish, meat of all kinds or vegetarian all served with accompaniments that are distinguished by their originality and attractive presentation. The cooking is also done in many different ways – grilling, steaming, baking and frying – which made for a very colorful and interesting meal. One never quite knew what was going to arrive on the table next.
We drank sake, traditional rice wine, which is very mild and doesn’t have much of an alcoholic kick. The Japanese beer we drank later in the meal did the job better.
We were given an oshibori (a wet towel) before starting on the food, which is apparently traditional in an izayaka (Japanese restaurant). Some healthy-looking edamame appeared for nibbling until the food arrived, but it didn’t take long. We were told that Japanese hors d’oeuvres are called otoshi and are often served on large ceramic spoons.
Several of these appeared, some made of cubes of eggplant in a mildly spicy sauce, others of shiitake mushrooms in green onions. The aubergine soup with tofu was a new flavor for me – dark and smoky, pungent yet sweet. The only taste that I had actually encountered before was the ginger, which featured in many dishes.
Next up was another vegetarian choice – julienned carrots and potato, almost conventional; then snow peas with sesame sauce, a delicious combination of crunchy fresh snow peas covered in a thick yellow spicy sauce.
After this, some fish dishes appeared – sashimi made from sea bream, sweet and vinegary, and chunks of fresh seared tuna in a tasty brown sauce that seemed to have orange overtones.
The salmon eggs, another delicacy, were served on a cooked vegetable whose flavor I loved but could not identify. A discreet inquiry revealed that they were radishes.
More sashimi rolls appeared – one made with tuna, snow peas and shiitake mushrooms, the other fresh salmon and avocado topped with okra and minato sauce, a pungent mix of wasabi and mayonnaise. They came attractively served on crushed ice garnished with cucumber.
Everything was so perfectly flavored, that we felt the two bottles of soy sauce on the table were superfluous. When we inquired why there were two, we were informed that one contained less sodium than the other.
The next dish was so good, that we asked for seconds! This was sea bream tempura and pea-filled mushroom served on grated kohlrabi to look like vermicelli. For once, the tantalizing small amount just wasn’t enough.
After several more fish and tofu dishes, some meat arrived. The first was a slice of tongue rolled around chopped mushroom and topped with spring onion; the second was chunks of grilled steak in an orange sauce and grated daikon topping.
By now almost unable to swallow a sip of water, we nevertheless felt we must sample a dessert in the name of honest reporting. We had tapioca and coconut with strawberries, refreshing and not overly sweet, and “cheesecake” made from tofu, uncannily like the real thing.
For a very unusual culinary experience, Minato is definitely the place.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Minato Kosher 8 Hamanofim Street, Herzliya Pituah Tel: (09) 773-1703 Sun.-Thurs. noon to midnight; Friday 11 a.m. until an hour before Shabbat; Saturday night until midnight.