Dinner with the Prince at Kyo Ya

10 Jun

Chef Chikara Sono

Several months ago I helped get a job for the young friend of a man I hardly knew. The young man, a lawyer, turned chef, wanted a career in marketing and branding food concepts to the world. He wasn’t sure whether to work for a large corporate public relations company or a boutique market research firm, and his fate, for a short time was in my hands. I like helping people get jobs, making the connection, watching them flourish — as it had been done, once or twice in my past, for me. There was something special about this young man. He looked and acted like, well…a prince. Elegant as all get out, he had charm, experience, and could talk food as though it was his second language. He even dared correct me at the first breakfast we had with a colleague of mine, a PR guru, also keen on
helping burgeoning stars become who they are.

The young man has been at his job three months now and has already created several big food ideas for his clients — two of them quite brilliant, I might add. But acting like the Prince that he is, he decided to take me to dinner as a “thank you.” So, two nights ago I was treated to a dinner sitting face-to-face with one of the city’s great sushi masters at Kyo Ya — located in a hidden gem of a dining room in the East Village. The Prince was at my side, as we sipped a very credible chilled sake, and watched the parade of some of the most exquisitely presented dishes I have ever seen. Sono, the sushi master, had laughing eyes and bewitching hands. He remembered the Prince from the last time he was there and began preparing a series of dishes for us. Watching Sono was watching “poetry in motion,” with the grace and reverence one generally reserves for a prima ballerina or anyone who had confidently mastered his craft.

The succession of dishes delighted us, one after the other. The pressed salmon sushi exquisitely formed and presented like jewels. The just-made tofu sat in a broth that tasted so primal that it reminded me of how the great writer Lawrence Durrell described the taste of a black olive — “a taste older than meat; older than wine. A taste as old as water.” Much of the fish came directly from Japan (with a solemn nod to what had transpired there not so long ago), and reminded me of the vastness of the ocean and its inhabitants.

I had more sea urchin that humanly possible in one sitting, and the most extraordinary sheaths of fresh herring dabbed with sweet miso. There was a lidded custard, known as chawanmushi, loaded with snow crab, exotic mushrooms and a discreet cube or two of pork. In another lovely ceramic bowl, was an offering of more sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and slivers of seaweed in dashi broth. We relished every morsel and gesture. Even the salt played tricks on your tongue.

The experience brought to mind an old Japanese proverb that has informed my cooking for years. “That if you can capture the season on a plate, then you are the master.” The Prince had made a very good choice, indeed.

Kyo Ya
94 East 7th Street, New York. 212-982-4140
(a 27 food rating from Zagat)

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