Dining at Kaiseki Furukawa
The Hassum or expression of the season course was by far the most engaging, featuring black soybeans, a chestnut and candied sardines.
Nothing chef Shigueyuki Furukawa does is unintentional. The bowtie he wears has a purpose, as well as the music he listens to as he mindfully preps. The two restaurants he runs, Kado No Mise—an elevated sushi restaurant on the first floor of a building owned by his managing partner, John Gross—and the second floor Kaiseki Furukawa—a space offering 10-course seasonal tasting menus—are fittingly located on the northeast corner of North First Avenue and North First Street. First and First seems like the right spot for a man trying to be the best possible harbinger of what Japanese food truly can be.
Furukawa began cooking and developing himself as a Kaiseki chef in Tokyo before moving to New York and then to Kyoto. In 2009 he came to Minneapolis seeking work as a Japanese chef. The culture of Japanese food in Minneapolis surprised Furukawa, who was more familiar with creating dishes based around seasonal flavors that celebrated subtlety. Instead he was met with an over abundance of Japanese restaurants focused on serving spicy tuna rolls.
Shigueyuki Furukawa is the only Kaiseki chef in the Midwest. His 10-course meals are both beautiful and delicious, plus a lesson in Japanese cuisine.
He accepted a position as a chef at the former Origami restaurant (the same location where his restaurants now reside). It was there that he set his intention to show Minnesota, as well as any visitors, the greatest and most sincere expression of Japanese cuisine. He began small, simply by introducing more traditional and authentic ingredients to his cooking. The man uses real wasabi in a restaurant world of razor-thin profit margins. It’s not a secret why the powdered horseradish mixed with dyes reigns king, that is until you try the real stuff, then you’re hooked. Furukawa kept his focus on quality. He cultivated an identity through his culinary choices and his presentation of both his food and his look. The ever-present bowtie perched atop his chef’s whites is no accident; it’s all part of the path.
Over the years Furukawa searched for a place to open what would be the first, and only, Kaiseki restaurant in Minneapolis, not to mention the only Kaiseki restaurant in the United States outside of New York and California. Opportunity arrived at the very door where he had been working. Origami closed and John Gross, a real estate professional who had been renting an office above the restaurant, decided to buy the building and approached Furukawa about opening a restaurant. Enter Kado No Mise, stage right, shortly followed by Kaiseki Furukawa and a Japanese whiskey bar. The stage was set, the lights on and the story was ready to unfold. Furukawa finally got his chance to tell the tale that mattered to him most: the tale of Japanese cuisine.
As I have come to understand it, Kaiseki is one of the most sincere expressions of Japanese cuisine. The dinner is multi-coursed and is guided primarily by the seasons—even the serving vessels reflect the season. It is not known solely for sushi—which is what Kado No Mise is known for—but rather for its intentional coursing. Each dish leads to the next for a reason. The pacing tends to go slow and deliberately, often taking up to two-and-a-half to three hours at a time. The reason for dining is to experience the season as told through Japanese cuisine.
The dark, exotic Japanese whiskey bar shares a floor with Kaiseki Furukawa.
Furukawa is so incredibly passionate about the Kaiseki experience as a way to understand, or at least witness, Japanese cuisine. He views his role as chef, specifically as a Japanese chef, as an opportunity to embrace the beauty of Japanese food and flavors. The subtle tastes and accents of both in food and expression of service make both Kaiseki Furukawa and Kado No Mise two of the more engaging dining experiences in the Twin Cities.
In speaking with Furukawa, I asked how he viewed his role and why his incredibly specific Japanese restaurants mattered to Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities. He expressed that he was on a path to show the Midwest what traditional Japanese food, and to an extent culture, looks like. The reason he is here in Minnesota is Kaiseki. Everything is intentional. To dine at either Kado No Mise or Kaiseki Furukawa (especially the latter), is to dine with intention. The experience will be brought to you by one of the most sincere chefs in the Twin Cities. Each bite you take will have been thoughtfully constructed and considered. Your entire service will have been considered in accordance to your needs and the whims of the season. Can you honestly say that has happened to you elsewhere in Minnesota?
Experiencing the tradition
The 10-course menu for January focused on family togetherness, harmony and renewed spirit and heart, our chef told us. The food was beautiful and each element represented a specific nod to the season, such as gold flakes for prosperity and a willow branch, the first tree to flower in Japan, to symbolize the coming of spring. The black soybeans took three days to prepare and were eaten one at a time to learn diligence. The Hassun course included candied sardines as a symbol of spring, because traditionally sardines and anchovies are used as fertilizer in a rice paddy.
The menu on January 4 was:
- Sakizuke, an appetizer
- Hassun, an expression of the season
- Suimono, broth with gold leaf, a carrot knot, a teeny-tiny baby turnip and sake-steam tai
- Tskukuri, seasonal sashimi
- Yakimono, branzino
- Takiawase, simmered daikon with watercress, tskukiji yuba, koimo and fresh wasabi
- Agemono, Pearl oyster, shitake mushroom and onion
- Shokuji, rice and snow crab, homemade pickles, miso soup
- Mizugashi, mandarin yokan with milk gelée
- Okashi, mocha
A lot to eat, but the pacing and the blending of flavors and textures filled our senses as much as our stomachs. It was later than I normally dine, but the time flew by because watching the dishes prepared was entertaining, and haven’t we all been hearing experience is what today’s diners crave when they go out to eat?
Before serving the final course close to 11 p.m., the chef asked if we were OK with matcha tea, which is high in caffeine. We took the caffeine hit in order to watch the ceremony around the tea preparation.
I went home wanting a shark skin wasabi grater and a bigger bank account so I could experience all the seasons there.
—Nancy Weingartner Monroe