During my short trip to Osaka, I decided to concentrate on Kyoto and took the train there the following morning. Kyoto is a fascinating place full of contrasts where the old meets the new and the modern with the traditional. As a former imperial capital it retains a regal air that makes it so different from other modern cities in Japan.
I have always admired the Japanese innate sense of beauty evident in their daily lives - the presentation of food, flowers, interiors, etc. The clean and simple style verge on minimalism, yet some of us equate this with elegance. Kyoto was the right place to find these manifestations and as an amateur photographer I welcomed the surprises that I encountered around every corner.
I am passionate about food and while in Kyoto I looked forward to visiting the Nishiki market (known as Kyoto's kitchen) where anything edible is found here and many restaurant owners get their food supplies early in the morning. The market is a covered arcade that is about 6 blocks long, making it an ideal destination for a rainy day (which was the case during my entire stay here). It runs east-west from Teramachi to Takakura street and one block north of Shijo street. Pickled vegetables are big in Japan and there is no shortage of stores selling these in the market. Stores range from chic and stylish produce boutiques to mom and pop tiny stalls, but all of them are quite engaging and fun to discover.
Being in Kyoto, I also wanted to experience a kaiseki meal, even a condensed version if you will. Underneath the Kyoto station one can find Porta, the largest underground shopping mall in the city. The mega complex holds more than 200 stores, boutiques and restaurants. Because of its convenient location, I spent some time here and frequented a couple of good Japanese restaurants. A few establishments are quite popular with the locals and you can find a line out of the door during lunch time. Most of the cuisine is predominantly Japanese ranging from okonomiyaki (pancakes with a variety of toppings) to kaiseki style meals, although I also saw a Chinese and Italian place.
In addition, there is the Isetan department store food basement where one can find an astonishing array of pastries and food stuff. If you crave for bread Andersen bakery with its self service approach provides a good fix. Just pick up a tray and thong, select what you want and pay at the cashier. The Cube is a group of stores selling typical Japanese crafts and food. There is a location down here as well as on the first floor by the main entrance of the station. Inside Isetan there is a group of restaurants located on the 11th floor with another food hall below. During my short visit I saw blocks of fish roe, seafood and deli items sold.
Kaiseki meals are considered the height of Japanese cuisine composed of a variety of small dishes showcasing different cooking techniques. Food is carefully arranged in order to maximize the visual aesthetics and the meal should be as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the mouth. Fresh and local ingredients are used and the result should be a balance of taste, texture and appearance. It might include soup, sashimi, a simmered, grilled, steamed or fried course, a vinegar dish to cleanse the palate or pickles, in addition to other dishes that are up to the chef's discretion.
After one more trip to the Isetan's food hall followed by a satisfying meal at an underground restaurant, I took the train directly to Kansai airport to catch my flight back to San Francisco. Today's flight was slightly overbooked by about 18 people but there was some decent availability in J. I did not foresee any problem getting onboard. I checked at the kiosk and went through security quickly. Once at the gate I used the free computer provided to check some email. Soon more people arrived at the gate and at 1 hr. before departure a couple of names were called. It was now 15 min. before departure and I was not called yet. At this time I saw a couple of people milling around and a quick glimpse at their boarding management cards revealed that they were non-revenues too. The nail biting continued and finally people approached the gate agent for information. The agent had a fistful of boarding cards in her hands and started asking for names. When I gave her mine I was presented with a boarding pass for seat 11E in J. I was thankful and proceeded to board the plane. Once I settled in my middle seat I saw a couple over at 13AB get up and move to the front. The door closed and those seats remained empty. I asked a flight attendant if i could occupy those seats and she asked me to wait. About 30 seconds later she came back and gave me the ok. She told me to take the window seat because 13B had to remain vacant for the child seating directly behind it. By now I felt pretty lucky because I went from a middle seat to a window with an empty seat next to me in business. As a matter of fact I was the only person in the cabin in a 2 seat row with an unoccupied seat on the side. Who said 13 is an unlucky number?
The first picture was taken from another flight but it is the same equipment so you can get the idea of what the seats look like.
UA KIX-SFO cabin
FA's handed out menus and pre-dept. drinks before take off and once we reached cruising altitude service began with hot towels followed by drinks with warm nuts. The purser came to my seat and asked for my 1st and 2nd meal choices. I asked her to surprised me and she liked the answer. As a non-rev I was happy to be given anything and I am not a particularly picky eater, which is a blessing.
Here's the sample menu:
A selection of vegetarian and seafood sushi rolls with pickled ginger, edamame and fresh salad greens, served with shiso vinaigrette
If you have chosen the Washoku Zen meal, the appetizer selection is served as the starter.
PAN-SEARED FILET MIGNON WITH BALSAMIC ONION DEMI-GLACE Baked stuffed potato with chives and asparagus
COUNTRY-STYLE CHICKEN WITH CHICKEN JUS LIE Penne pasta with three cheese sauce and spring peas
WASHOKU ZEN SELECTION Appetizers of snapper sushi, simmered shrimp, lightly salted flounder wrapped in seaweed, chicken in cod egg roll, baby bamboo with dried fish flakes, beef sirloin with Japanese dressing, maitake mushroom and cha soba noodles topped with tenkasu
A main course of sea bass wakasa yaki with gin-an, simmered enoki mushroom and mizuna and baby asparagus served with steamed rice and Japanese pickled vegetables Served with green tea Items in this meal may contain MSG.
to finish ARTISAN CHEESE SELECTION Served with red grapes and crackers
prior to arrival FRESH SEASONAL FRUIT PLATE With creamy yogurt
For the heartier appetite, you may select the following entree: VEGETABLE FRITTATA WITH OVEN-ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE Pork link sausages
Today's menu features beef from Australia.
champagne NICOLAS FEUILLATTE BRUT RESERVE PARTICULIERE NV, CHAMPAGNE
white wine PAZO SAN MAURO ALBARINO 2007, RIAS BAIXAS, SPAIN
PELLEGRINI OLIVET LANE CHARDONNAY 2008, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
GEYSER PEAK CHARDONNAY 2009, ALEXANDER VALLEY
red wine EVODIA GARNACHA 2009, CALATAYUD, SPAIN
CHATEAU PESQUIE LES TERRASSES (GRENACHE BLEND) 2009, COTES DU VENTOUX
CHATEAU SIGOGNAC MEDOC CRU BOURGEOIS 2008
sake GEKKEIKAN JUNMAI-SHU IS AVAILABLE ON FLIGHTS TO AND FROM JAPAN
Fonseca Guimaraens LBV Port will be offered during the main meal's dessert.
Drink with warm nuts.
The appetizer with the combined salad seemed lacking. I am not in favor of lumping appetizers and salad together and to me this is a cost saving move.
Notice the salt and pepper container.
At least the butter is nicely piped into a ramekin.
My surprise main meal turned out to be the chicken. Although it tasted fine, the presentation and quality were deficient and they were nothing gourmet befitting a front cabin. As a matter of fact this could have been frozen dinner from a supermarket plated on china.
The passenger behind me asked to be served later but the flight attendant advised him that all meals were already placed in the oven and his request could not be honored. That was really premium service!
For dessert, a selection of two cheeses with grapes was plated from the cart and this was a more proper way to deliver it as opposed to being pre-plated. I opted for the ice cream and asked for a bottle of Kahlua to pour on top. I had to remind the flight attendant to give me the wafer because at first she just handed me the ice cream without extras.
The whole dinner service was quick and at times seemed rushed. There was some turbulence during the first hour of the flight so that might have accounted for the speedy delivery. Afterwards water runs were made frequently but no snacks were available in the galley. I was hoping for some leftover cheese and grapes but there was none. About 1.5 hrs before arrival the second service started and the flight attendants offered orange, apple, tomato or cranberry juice from a tray. The cart was rolled and I was given the frittata along with a warm croissant.
Landing was smooth and we passed by downtown San Francisco in our descent.
Osaka - KIX
San Francisco - SFO
I enjoyed my visit to this part of Japan and hope to explore Kyoto more in depth in a future trip. This is one culture that has an exquisite sense of visual aesthetics and this trait is evident in their daily lives.
I feel fortunate that I was able to get J class on the return and have an empty seat next to me. Catering and service need to improve significantly in order to be considered in the same league as the most prominent Asian carriers. Luckily the new J seats that UA has installed is a step in the right direction, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
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