Kaiseki at Yakimono

Israel’s pioneering Japanese restaurant introduces a new tasting menu.

Kaiseki at Yakimono (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kaiseki at Yakimono
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s been 25 years since Avi Cohen founded Yakimono, in the belief that Israelis would come to appreciate that exotic Asian cuisine.
Today’s plethora of sushi restaurants is testament to his foresight – although few have ever reached the heights to which Cohen, and now his son Alex, have reached at Yakimono.
The best way to experience Yakimono’s excellence is by treating yourself to its kaiseki degustation menu, the latest iteration of which will be offered for the next couple of months. Kaiseki is the term used for a multi-course meal that reflects haute cuisine. And that is exactly what the current banquet – eight courses, comprising 17 different tastes, prepared by expert Japanese chefs – delivers.
Yakimono’s exacting standards are legendary: the chefs it recruits exclusively from Japan must be certified from that country in an exact specialty – sushi, for example, or tempura. In addition, the restaurant’s suppliers of fish and seafood are among the most exclusive in the country. Finally, every condiment is homemade from scratch – from the soy sauce (which is gluten-free, unlike so many commercial brands) to the potent wasabi and the pickled ginger, which is snow-white, and not the industrial pink found in so many places.
The kaiseki feast starts off with Sunomono, four varieties of assorted pickled vegetables. They all do the job for which they were designed – stimulating the taste buds in anticipation of the food to follow. But the standout from the point of view of taste was the hijiki, a type of seaweed that resembles noodles.
Next came Sashimi Maki Moriawase with Suzuki Ususzukori: rolls of raw fish – salmon, tuna, mullet and sea bass – wrapped in raw vegetables, rather than in rice and seaweed, like ordinary sushi rolls. These beautiful morsels tasted as good as they looked.
This was followed by eggplant cubes in miso sauce, interspersed with al dente edamame beans. Few nations on earth prepare and consume eggplant in as many different ways as Israel does, but this method rivals the best of them.
The next two courses featured two of Yakimono’s flagship dishes: Maguro Pepper and Goma Sushi Mori. The former was invented by the Cohens as a way to introduce wary novices to eating raw fish: slices of red tuna, seasoned with black pepper and lemon, are gently seared, barely cooking the exterior while the interior stays raw. It has all the flavor of raw tuna, without the raw texture.
The Goma Sushi Mori, meanwhile, is even more unusual: a tuna sushi roll whose special chef’s sauce is based on tehina. (Originally, Avi Cohen and an Arab partner set out to create a “peace” sushi dish.) Not surprisingly, it is unlike any Japanese sauce you can imagine – and outrageously delicious.
This unique roll is actually arrayed on a glittering platter of shaved ice with four other more or less traditional combination rolls, each one better than the next. Which leads us finally to the last three courses, the first warm dishes of the evening.
The first of the concluding trio is the Mixed Tempura – giant shrimp, purple sweet potato and asparagus tempura, served piping hot straight from the fryer. Don’t let the paleness of the breading fool you: this is extraordinary tempura – crisp coating that enhances the main ingredients without overpowering the fresh seafood and vegetables.  It is served with a choice of sauces – or a saucer of plain sea salt, as Japanese purists would eat it.
The penultimate course is another Yakimono innovation: Jagaimo Manju is a potato bun stuffed with shrimp puree, like a Chinese dumpling. This variation on dim sum was perfectly good, just not one of the tasting menu’s better dishes.
The final course is black cod marinated in miso, a Japanese delicacy. It is a particularly rich fish, with a distinctive flavor; I especially liked what the miso sauce did for the accompanying glass bean noodles.
The kaiseki degustation menu, which represents some of the finest Japanese cuisine available in Israel, is a sharing menu for two people, priced at NIS 190 per person. In an effort to make the experience accessible to people who do not eat shellfish, given advance notice, Yakimono will make appropriate substitutions. Moreover, most of the best dishes on the menu are available at the kosher Yakimono in the Tel Aviv Hilton.

Yakimono
Not kosher
Rothschild Blvd. 15, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03)517.5171

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.