Shoraian 

Shoraian
Google Maps

I planned to spend a half day visiting the famed bamboo forest of Arashiyama and the nearby Iwatayama Monkey Park.  Shoraian is conveniently located between the two.  Now, I make the place sound easy to find, but keep in mind it is in the middle of a forest.  I guess people get lost trying to trek through the bamboo forest to find this place, but that is the most direct way to get there.  Your other option is the longer route, to head toward the Togetsukyo Bridge and then follow the river upstream.  We had Google maps which worked amazingly well navigating us through the bamboo forest.  We were an hour early to our reservation.  The extra time allowed us to just stop and take in all the natural beauty of the restaurant’s surroundings.

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The restaurant itself is situated right on the bank of the river.  The dreary rain put a damper on what would have been a lovely view, but I was still able to appreciate the old rustic Japanese feel of the restaurant.  We sat on the floor, achey stiff knees, hips, and all, ready to enjoy a Kyoto specialty of Shoraian, tofu.  We opted for the Shofu set lunch at 5800 yen.

Appetizer tofu and plum wine
The tofu was completely unadultered and unseasoned, which allowed us to appreciate the inherent flavor of the tofu.  The very fine powdery salt only highlighted the delicate flavor Most people say tofu doesn’t have any flavor but that’s not really true.  The plum wine tasted like candy, like a Jolly Rancher or Starburst. It was really tasty and fruity.DSC08936

Was it any better than the freshest tofu I’ve had back home?  The Annoyer and I agreed, probably not.DSC08937

Assorted Specialties Plate
Overall, these little bites represent fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients from Kyoto.  Everything was simply prepared.
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spring roll, radish, shiso
I didn’t like the shiso here, but it good refreshing bite.DSC08944

vegetebles, ground tofu, nuts I’m sorta making things up because they didn’t explain the dishes to us.  This was just slightly sweet.  Interesting.
fresh bamboo We ate a lot of bamboo in kyoto.  It was crunchy and covered in some sort of Asian pesto.DSC08945

boiled daikon
The daikon in Japan are really sweet and juicy. It’s not just this bland root that gets flavor from being pickled. Not sure what the sauce on top was. DSC08942

shrimp
Slightly overcooked, but it’s still shrimp so hard to hate on this.
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firefly squid, fiddlehead fern, sweet sesame sauce
Firefly squid are not for everyone. They just burst with the sweet salinity of their innards so it can be quite unpleasant to those not partial to that oceanic mouthful. The sesame paste helped to temper that ocean gut taste.
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azuki rice
Not sweet, just subtle azuki flavor.DSC08946

strawberry, cream cheese, reduction
I thought it was going to be tofu in the center, but it was actually cream cheese.  A nice cheesy fruity bite to round out the plate of appetizers.
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Special Item yuba
I had never heard of yuba before, but I have eaten tofu skin before.  This was a slightly slimier version.  It was cool and refreshing in a light soy sauce with touch of wasabi.
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Kyo-ryori Seasonal Selection
Bamboo must be a spring thing because I ate a lot of this in Kyoto.  It comprises the main centerpiece of this dish.  The yellow blob in the background is a sweet potato cut into the shape of a butterfly.  The ombre pink thing is mochi shaped into a flower.  The Japanese really are obsessive with detail and presentation.  I loved the ham essence in the broccoli.  The other whitish blob is not cauliflower, but rather fish eggs.  Pretty tasty.  The charred bamboo was crisp and refreshing.  The bit of pickled onion balanced everything out.  This was actually a very nice dish to highlight springs bounty and beauty.
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Tofu Gratin namafu, mushrooms, eggplant, squid, bamboo
This was a definite departure from the previous light courses of seasonal eats.  It was definitely quite creamy and cheesy but in a delicious way that didn’t feel too heavy.  I’m not even a cheese lover per se.  What I thought were black sesame mochi squares were actually namafu or wheat gluten combined with mochi flour.  They were chewy and not too distinct from regular mochi in my opinion.  Eating this was like digging for treasure.  Every scoop came up with something delightful and tasty.  YUMS!
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Toyuba Tempura
I’ve never had tempura bamboo.  I guess there’s a first for everything.  Yuba was crispy like a chip and a little greasy. Still, I could have kept munching on a bunch of these with just a sprinkle of the matcha salt.
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Yadofu
Fresh tofu was boiled in a mini hot pot with a bit of kombu.  It was served with a dashi-soy sauce, wasabi, and green onions.  It was really a very simple dish.  The Annoyer was not too impressed.  He felt like he could make this at home.  I would agree but I still liked it. You could actually have refills of this, but one portion was more than enough.
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Mini Steak of Wagyu Beef
This meal diverted from soy protein to animal protein.  It was much appreciated.  The meat was perfectly medium rare with great smokey char.  It was also served with wasabi and soy sauce.  Green onions sauteed in butter as well as daikons (under the beef) completed the dish very nicely.  I’ve concluded that Japanese BBQ better than Americans.
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Agedashi Tofu.
Silky. Sweet. Salty.  Very well balanced, but Raku still takes the cake for best agedashi tofu in my book.
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Pickles
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Tofu Pudding plum jam
By itself I didn’t take to this much, but the plum jam added some fruitiness that enhanced the flavor and subtle sweetness in the pudding.
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Yuba Ice Cream yatsuhashi
I thought this was going to taste like the kinako ice cream, but it was definitely more like tofu.  I liked it better than the pudding but kinako is hands down better.  The mochi square might have been yatshuhashi which is another specialty sweet of Kyoto.  It is made from glutinous rice flour, sugar, and cinnamon.
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Shoraian is very unique and very Kyoto.  The restaurant is traditional, serene, with that old feudal Japanese charm.  The style of food served felt very much like the kaiseki meal we ended up having later in the trip.  It obviously wasn’t as elaborate, but the focus on seasonality was apparent.  While tofu was the specialty, I didn’t think they did anything spectacular with the tofu.  At the end of the day, it just tasted like tofu to me.  The place is pricey, but the beautiful setting, excellent service, and great care and effort that was taken to craft our multi course meal might have justified the price tag.  I don’t feel any need to return, but if you’re looking for something unique, something very Kyoto, and something around the Bamboo Forest, Shoraian is your place.

10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome 
8 – Very good (factoring in service, ambiance, uniqueness)
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here

 

 

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