A night in a strange and beautiful land

soup course in yamazushi’s kaiseki

I am fond of novels that I can crawl into and arrive in another land. Rarely can I achieve the same teleportation experience by watching a movie, and it has never happened in a restaurant. I’ve had many great meals in wonderful environments. But I’ve never, in a restaurant, had that same experience of visiting another world, until now.

Yamazushi in Durham has been around for years as a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant. Then The Hub and I read a review of a revamped Yamazushi. The sushi bar is gone, as are menus. The chef/owner, George Yamasawa, now serves five- or eight-course kaiseki. Kaiseki began as simple meals served during tea ceremonies, but the tradition has evolved into multi-course dining events. Each course is served singly, carefully timed. Kaiseki traditionally includes a rice

chestnut rice and japanese pickles

dish, a sashimi course, a fried dish and a grilled dish, among others.

Not only did the chef create the gentle procession of eight dishes to our table, but they were served in and on pottery he made himself, so I felt we were completely in a world the chef created.

The website advises emailing for reservations (essential) and someone will call to confirm. When she did, I was able to make some requests: no dairy or pork, per The Hub (vegan and vegetarian meals are possible). But, besides that, we had no idea what we’d find on our plates.

The experience was like a culinary version of the Japanese prints that show a winding trail up a mountain through forests and streams. North Carolina

marinated black cod on asparagus

scallops bathed in white miso. A dashi-based soup in a bamboo-handled teapot. My first taste of sea urchin, on the sashimi plate, which I ate without fear; the land I was in did not harbor fear. Crispy fried soft-shell crab with green tea salt. Black cod marinated for 48 hours in sake and miso, then grilled and perched on bright green asparagus. A bowl of rice with chestnuts, the nutty sweetness balanced by a plate of tart-salty Japanese pickles.

The Hub and I spent three hours in this lovely land, sipping sake between courses in ceramic cups we selected from among the chef’s handiwork. We had only to focus on each other, the food, and the gentle, pleasant passage of time.