Taian - Osaka, Japan

Dinner - Saturday, December 27, 2014

My friends have mixed opinions about this place. Most of them, when asked, told me to "just go and see for yourself" - not particularly effusive, it would seem. However, at only 13000 yen for the sole dinner menu, it was a bet I was willing to take.
An interesting note - for the first time ever, I had to use my credit card concierge to make a reservation, because the restaurant would not accept a request from a local friend on my behalf.

The interior is surprisingly spacious, with a long L-shaped counter and a single table, where our party of four was seated. The restaurant was full, and a party of boisterous (and strangely touchy-feely) middle-aged Japanese men (perhaps on a "boy's night out"?) provided our entertainment for the evening.

Dinner led with the hassun platter, featuring (clockwise from top left): yuba with wasabi; konowata (sea cucumber innards); scallop with shellfish sauce and seaweed; sweet potato chips; shiro-ebi with yamaimo and nori. The yuba was fantastically rich with soy flavour, and its creaminess was offset by the wasabi. Likewise, the tiny shiro-ebi were redolent of the sea, although I do not believe Winter is a customary season for them.

Tsukune, shitake, daikon
A wonderfully clear shitake dashi (I don't think there was any seafood in the stock), warm and light in flavour. The translucent veil of simmered daikon hid a soft chicken meatball. Simple, delicious.

Unexpectedly, this turned out to be the best piece of buri we ate on this trip. Well-marbled flesh with a firm texture that still yielded easily - a true exemplar of the species.

Kumamoto wagyu
Taian is known for its grilled items, and for good reason. This course is the only point during the dinner where deviations are allowed - each person is allowed to select one protein from a number of choices, including short ribs (very tender), chicken (smoky - excellent), fish, anago, and the wagyu above. The meats are served with spiced salt and sweet miso. The beef was perfectly cooked - rare interior, smoky and crusty exterior. Had we not enjoyed some superlative Hida-gyu in Takayama 2 days prior (which has set a new bar for me), it would've been the standout beef dish of the trip.

Horsehair crab, ginger, hourensou
Chilled crab, its natural sweetness brought into focus by the sharp ginger. Next to it, thick leaves of blanched hourensou (Japanese spinach). A great palate cleanser to follow the meat course.

Shirako, daikon, gingko
Fugu ochazuke
The rice course was served ochazuke-style, with a fugu broth poured tableside. A fried fugu "furikake", topped with wasabi, was crunchy and salty, like a refined Japanese take on bacon bits. Very clean flavours, very tasty.

Strawberry, pear, persimmon, kuromame
Dessert was sweet - fruits in a syrup, topped with a chunky pear sauce. On the side, we were each provided a vial of pear eau-de-vie to dispense to our heart's content. A liberal dose of the brandy worked wonders, taming the sugary fruit.

The Michelin guide, I think, throw people off. Did I think this a meal worthy of 3 stars? To my mind, no. Fortunately, we were well-prepared and had no expectations going in. With that mindset, I found the meal quite excellent (the buri and the beef were top-class). Courses are simple - the food is not technique-driven. Ingredients were not rarified. Instead, we had a very good dinner for a very good price. I have no qualms recommending this place to others - perhaps with a disclaimer about the Michelin Man.

1-21-2 Shimanouchi
Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0082
Phone: (+81) 06-6120-0790