4711 Hope Valley Road, Durham
Originally reviewed by Greg Cox on 9/28/2012
Three bite-size pieces of kabocha squash, the color of their flesh evocative of autumn leaves, rest on an emerald bed of snow peas. Indeed, leaf veins are deftly carved into the delicate green skins of the kabocha. A garnet sliver of pickled ginger adds vivid punctuation to the edible haiku.
For all its poetry, the dish is just a prelude, a complimentary morsel sent out by Yamazushi owner/chef George Yamasawa as a welcoming gesture. I’ve ordered the kaiseki, a traditional Japanese meal roughly analogous to a Western tasting menu – but with a lot more history.
Tracing its roots to the austere vegetarian meals of Zen Buddhist monks, kaiseki has evolved over the centuries into an elaborate ritual that may consist of as many as 14 courses and last for several hours. By comparison, the five-course kaiseki I’ve ordered is modest. Even so, over the course of the next two hours (the deliberate pacing of kaiseki is an essential part of the experience), dish after dish will become etched indelibly into my memory of a supremely satisfying experience
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