So, I'm now officially unemployed (by choice, fortunately). Without going into too much detail, I'm planning to go back to school, but I've got some time to kill. Luckily, this means I'll be able to catch up on some Arthur Hungry meals from the past year. Chuck, who just last week posted pictures from a year-old meal at RyuGin, has inspired me to take a look at my backlog, and post stuff even though it's a bit outdated. It can be done. So, without further ado, here's the last meal from Kyoto last year.
Hachikian (Japanese-only website, but Google Translate kinda works), despite its unassuming storefront pictured above, is really quite a unique place. The restaurant runs a small-scale poultry farm outside of Kyoto, which breeds specialty chickens and eggs and showcases them in Hachikian and its 3 smaller outposts. The main restaurant on Marutamachi specializes in a multi-course chicken kaiseki, using many different parts in many different preparations. This meal from September 2010 had some chicken preparations you really won't find anywhere else, as well as a few things some of you might be pretty scared to actually eat!
First up was this plate of chilled appetizers. Nothing too remarkable, but a good set of clean refreshing flavors to start off the meal.
Beef tataki is pretty ubiquitous here in the US (and probably the rest of the world), but nowhere other than Hachikian have I ever found chicken tataki. Obviously, the danger of eating raw/undercooked chicken is pretty appalling to most. At Hachikian, it appears to be completely safe (at least, I've been twice and I'm still standing). And I'm glad it is, as chicken provides a very different textural element than beef or fish. It's a slightly chewier and lighter than you'd think, and very delicious.
This milky white chicken soup was as pristine as can be. Simple, clean, and intense chicken flavor. I'd love a pot of this the next time I get sick.
This looks a bit like the more common ankimo at first glance, but actually tasted quite different. It had a silkier, more tofu-like texture, with a slightly sharper liver taste. I loved it.
I realize we've been trained since youth that eating raw chicken would be like a death wish, thanks to our dear friend Salmonella. At Hachikian, the chickens are disease-free and have been served as sashimi for 40 years without incident. I won't waste my breath trying to convince you that raw chicken is "safe" - it's probably a terrible idea to try it in all but a few places. Suffice it to say I felt comfortable enough to try it at Hachikian. I've eaten it twice in my life with no issues, and my dad has eaten here more times than he can remember. Here's a Chowhound discussion about it if you're interested.
Once you get over the mental aspect of it, you'll find that raw chicken tastes pretty good. The different parts varied in texture - the heart had a slight chew, along with an almost-refreshing "crunch" similar to chilled Chinese-style jellyfish. The gizzard was also chewy, with a more even bite throughout. The white and dark meats were both like a lean fish, with the dark meat having a bit more muscular fleshiness. Sustainable toro replacement it ain't, but this stuff was interesting to say the least.
A very simple dish here, cooked not unlike Chinese steamed chicken. The crunch of the white onion played well with the skin.
Kawa - the simplest (and guiltiest) of chicken pleasures. The version here is superb. Crispy, slightly chewy, and all-around awesome.
This was the highlight of the meal for me. Most preparations at Hachikian are pretty traditional, and just focus on the quality of the chicken. This dish was a total curve ball. The center was minced chicken, like you'd use in a meatball, sandwiched between two pieces of bread. The entire thing was panko-crusted and deep fried, but then served in a clear chicken broth. The result was like a wet cross between a Japanese croquette and a Monte Cristo. This was extremely savory, with an umami level that was off the charts.
Some simple BBQ chicken with green onions. The sauce was a cloying teriyaki-ish glaze that I didn't enjoy too much.
Both very tasty. Like the sashimi, the dark meat definitely had a more muscular texture to it. Still, raw chicken is closer to fish than one would imagine. The rice was serviceable, considering Hachikian obviously doesn't specialize in sushi.
The lightest and clearest of the various soups we were served. This contained just a few pieces of fish cake. Again, a very pristine and concentrated chicken flavor.
Of course, what chicken meal would be complete without chicken wings? This giant wing was simply grilled - a little too much so, in my opinion, as it had too strong of a smoky, charred flavor to the skin. The meat was juicy and tender though.
A beautiful, silken rendition of the classic egg custard. No bells or whistles. The egg flavor was quite subtle and very delicate.
Another highlight. I'm not sure which exact part of the chicken this came from, but this was probably the best piece of meat of the night. Very rich and fatty, and perfect with just a squeeze of lemon.
The roll on the left wasn't too memorable, but the meatball was exceptionally moist, and crumbly once broken. Very tasty. The fried pieces of skin would be best described as a chicken version of chicharrones, but firmer and more crackly. They'd have made for an awesome beer snack.
Hachikian serves one non-chicken item at the end of the kaiseki - their specialty duck noodle soup. Like the chicken, the duck used here comes straight from their own farm. The soup was a simple broth, and flavoring was handled mainly by the duck meat itself. This bowl of noodles was good, but I was pretty overwhelmingly full already at this point. I guess in true Japanese fashion, they have to finish you off with one big starchy item to fill you up in case you are somehow still hungry.
This simple shaved ice drizzled with a ginger syrup was fine, but fairly unremarkable. I guess it was good to wash down all the food with.
Hachikian is really a unique experience. It's not the type of thing I'd eat regular, but if you love chicken like I do, it's definitely worth a stop just to try. The quality of the birds here is as high as anywhere, and the generally simple preparations really highlight that.
Hilarious side note: the guy who runs the place is a friendly, jovial character, who actually kind of looks like a chicken himself. (If you click on their website, there are some caricatures of him that are shockingly accurate.)