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Kappa Zushi

Kappa Zushi is widely considered to the best moderately priced sushi restaurant in Kyoto, specializing in Edo Mae classic sushi. The main branch is located on Pontocho, one of Kyoto’s main historic Geisha districts. The street is so narrow that it’s hard for more than two people to walk abreast, and is filled with restaurants, bars and clubs, which come alive at night. Kappa Zushi is located between Sanjo and Shijo, and backs up onto the Kamo river.

The interior is plain and classic: bright lighting and light woodwork. Large sushi bars dominate both floors, with several low tables along the windows to the rear. In the summer, a seasonal patio is constructed along the river, talking advantage of the cool breeze.

The sushi is classic as well. Many of the maki rolls popular in the States are American inventions and are not available in Japan. You don’t come here for California or Dragon rolls. In fact, the selection of rolled sushi and makis at Kappa Zushi is limited to 5 or 6, and include classics like negi-hamachi. Nigiri zushi dominates; the fish is extremely fresh and is of superior quality. There is an emphasis on seasonal varieties, and they often run out of a specific type in the middle of the evening. The size of the cut varies with the chef and his mood. On one visit, our chutoro (medium fatty tuna) pieces were cut thick, and so large they draped over the rice, touching the plate. And the texture was amazing – with no membranes whatsoever, and melted in our mouths. The flavor was sublime. The fatty salmon was also delicious, and the cut was so large that it struck us as almost obscene; the ends draped and lay on the plate. I felt like a savage creature – like Golum from Lord of the Rings – when I bit into it. On another visit, the cuts were large, but not extremely so. Upon leaving one evening, we overheard a diner asking the host to pay his respects to a particular chef, that he was a “fan.” Was this the chef on our first visit? We wish we wrote down his name!

There are various sets that include a selection of classic sushi (chef’s choice) as well as larger meals that include soup, chawan-mushi (savory egg custard) and grilled fish, etc. However, most people seem to prefer to sit at the bar, drinking sake and ordering a la carte as they go. The sushi chefs place the freshly made sushi on emerald green bamboo leaves on a raised shelf in front of each diner. Some of the chefs are friendly and talkative, and some are deadly serious. Lone diners also feel right at home here.

Prices are generally per piece, starting at 100 yen, and go up from there, with expensive varieties such as otoro commanding 400 or 500 yen.

The lantern sign for Kappa Zushi on busy Pontocho beckons.
The interior of Kappa Zushi is as classic as the sushi.
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