Yukawatan, Karuizawa, Japan – Restaurant Review

By Jonathan Spira on 22 February 2012
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A popular getaway for residents of Tokyo, the city of Karuizawa is easily accessible by Shinkansen (bullet train). While the trip takes roughly only one hour, but the difference between the two cities is striking.  Karuizawa is not only the home of a well-known resort, the Hoshinoya, but also of a classic French-style restaurant, the Yukawatan, which is part of the Bleston Court Hotel (which is under the same ownership as the Hoshinoya).  Another restaurant is No One’s Recipe, which serves a Europea-American style brunch and will be covered in a separate review.

Yukawatan is in a separate building from the hotel. Most of Yukawatan’s food is locally sourced from the Shinshu (信州)region that is home to the hotel and restaurant.

I was told to abandon my samue leisurewear (standard issue at the Hoshinoya), and I returned for the evening to Western dress; a jacket, slacks, shirt, and tie, for the occasion.  Other diners were dressed similarly, and guests at the Bleston Court hotel don’t typically wear the leisurewear  found on guests at the Hoshinoya.

The Yukawatan focuses on fresh, seasonal produce of the region, as well as fresh fish from the many rivers in Nagano.  The restaurant refers to fish such as salvelinus (char), seema (masu salmon), and ayu (sweetfish) as “game in water.”  The menu, of course, also offers “game in forest”, including boar and deer.  But the overriding theme here is clearly French cuisine and service, alongside traditional Japanese hospitality and sensitivity.

As always in Japan, the welcome was gracious and formal.  After being seated, I was presented with a hot towel accompanied by a flower.  Then came the flatbreads, which were so good I considered just enjoying them for the evening – but just for a moment.

Choosing a wine was easy.  I prefer to sample wines from the region I’m in, even if I’m not familiar with them, and I selected a Sauvignon Blanc from the Obusé Winery Domaine Sogga.  The winery has been awarded numerous prizes in the Japan Wine Competition, and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, elegant, and fresh.

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