Remembering Kaikaya, or Things I Find in my Cup Holder

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it’s possible that the Tiny Desk Writers procrastinate from time to time with our posts.

I’m not sure if this is obvious – nor do I think I want to know whether it’s obvious – but more often than not, our topics are inspired by A) spontaneity, B) late-night/early-morning desperation, C) fear of being the first one to miss his/her post day, or D) all of the above.

Now, I try to plan ahead and avoid this tendency, but somehow life always gets so busy, and planning just does not happen. Over the past couple of days, I was really feeling as though it was going to be one of those weeks when D) gets the best of me. I was, that is, until I hopped into my car this morning and looked in my cup holder.

A couple of weeks back, I talked about the magic of pocket treasures and the ability of these mini relics to transport you back in time upon discovery. This magic found its way into my cup holder this morning in the form of an unusual memento: a white souvenir button with the words “I ❤ FISH” printed on the front.

I stared at it for a moment, wondering why it is that I ever wore a button that marked me as a devout fish lover in public. Where did I get this? Why is it in my cupholder? What does “Japan Fish Meister” mean, and who are the other 247 fish meisters in Japan that came before this 248th one?

It wasn’t until I started reading the smaller text that I realized where I had acquired this button. This was a souvenir I took home from KAIKAYA by the sea, a restaurant in Tokyo where I died and went to fish heaven.

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This simple little button instantly makes my mouth water.

To brief you very quickly on KAIKAYA – it’s a small restaurant, tucked behind the streets of Dōgenzaka, that serves fresh seafood caught in Sagami Bay. Housed inside a small building decked with red awnings and a vibrant mermaid mural, the restaurant exudes a sense of warmth and comfort that transcends its exterior and permeates what lies within its walls: a place where chef-owner Mr. Teruyuki Tange’s life experiences and love for the sea come to life through delicious food, great company, and lots of laughter.

I remember so clearly the night I visited KAIKAYA. I had just flown into Narita from a business trip in Hong Kong, and with twenty-six hours in Japan I figured I’d Bourdain it and create my own version of The Layover. After shuttling westward for over an hour to Tokyo and weaving my way through the small streets of Shibuya to find my hotel, I was ready for some good grubbing.

Now, like any good travel t.v. personality (hah – humor me here), I most certainly did not find a good place to grub at on my own. My coworkers at the time had stopped in Tokyo as well for some meetings, and my awesome boss was nice enough to arrange for his friend who lived in Tokyo to bring my coworker and me to the fish mecca that was (and, I hope, still is) KAIKAYA. (John, if you are reading this – thank you. I clearly still think of that meal to this day!)

I was going to give you a play-by-play of the events leading up to dinner at KAIKAYA, but in the interest of length and time, I will just cut to the chase.

I said it once and I am saying it again: this is the meal during which I died and went to fish heaven. I am telling you – if I were a cat, I would have lost every single one of my lives to sheer gastronomical bliss during this most perfect nine-course meal. Nine courses of fish prepared in a variety of ways, from carpaccio to sashimi to braised; refreshing salads and warm, comforting rice dishes; and a simply impeccable dessert of oolong tea and sakura ice cream… everything was just so perfect.

I could keep gabbing on about how delicious everything tasted, but food porn is better, so…

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Started with a hamachi carpaccio…
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… and moved along to a big fat plate of sashimi.
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Took a break to learn that fresh wasabi has a much more creamy flavor than the paste we get in the States…

 

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… and then moved right along to the braised tuna dish that taught me that fish can taste like pulled pork.
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Classic comfort dishes like a solid fried rice served as the perfect intermission between all of the stupidly delicious fish courses…
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… And beautifully simple desserts like this sakura ice cream float with oolong tea served as just the right finale to an incredible meal.

At the end of the dinner, my eating partners and I sipped our final drops of oolong, threw our towels in, and high-fived each other. We had beasted all nine courses in the meal! Mr. Tange came out from the back to snap a Polaroid of us to post on the wall and share with us stories of his life. With our group being the last in the restaurant, speaking with Mr. Tange felt like talking to a celebrity; it was as though we were VIPs with backstage passes to meet the people behind the magic we’d just tasted. I think I even felt a little bit starstruck when Mr. Tange invited me to follow him on Instagram. #coolkidsclub #madeit

After a series of several thank-you’s back and forth, we finally decided it was time to stop keeping the staff from closing up shop, said our goodbyes to Mr. Tange, and went on our merry way out into the dark and dewy streets of Dōgenzaka.

In the end, I am not quite sure how I acquired the I ❤ FISH / KAIKAYA by the sea button, nor do I know why that button made its way into my car cup holder. I don’t even know if I ever did actually wear the button. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be throwing it out. I’d rather keep it in my cup holder and keep it as a constant reminder of Mr. Tange’s kindness and hospitality – and of that time I discovered the pathway to fish heaven.

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My eating partners-in-crime for the night. In a little restaurant near a police box in Shibuya, this picture is hanging somewhere on the wall. (I’d like to think so, at least. I’m just going to tell myself that.)

 

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