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Bleston Court Yukawatan

Tucked away in a romantic, forested setting is a truly inspiring dining experience: Bleston Court Yukawatan, a French restaurant serving exquisitely crafted food with a distinctly Japanese sensibility. Patterned after fine establishments in the French countryside, this hidden gem in Karuizawa should send the Tokyo Michelin guide teams further afield. With only 24 seats, the elegant, intimate room has a soaring ceiling and impeccable service, setting the background for Executive Chef Noriyuki Hamada’s culinary wizardry. Opened in March of 2011, it’s a place where you might feel a little underdressed in your fleece outerwear, so make sure you pack a nice jacket or dress for your romantic weekend escape from Tokyo.

The menu is seasonal, in the Japanese tradition, and makes use of the natural bounty of Shinshu (the old name for Nagano) ingredients: wild herbs in spring, mushrooms in fall, and ayu (sweetish) from Karuizawa’s crystal-clear rivers in summer. Our visit was during the fall, and featured fresh mushrooms and vegetables as well as Shinshu natural chicken, local Obuse pork and fish.

There are three courses to choose from at 12,000, 18,000 and 22,000 yen, and fine wines from the Obuse vineyard can also be paired with each course. Whatever course you choose, the effect is surprising and spectacular. Although Savory Japan rarely features Western cuisine, here is a perfect blend of French and Japanese sensiblities that is not one or the other. Furthermore, it’s not only the complex flavors and elaborate preparations that delight the palate, but the exquisite artistry of Hamada’s imaginative food design, each course a tabletop tableau, that enchant the eye.

Noriyuki Hamada, Chef at Yukatawan Bleston Court
Above: Chef Noriyuki Hamada is a rising star. Above, left: An assortment of appetizers. Below: An assortment of roasted pork: Shoulder, offal, loin and belly
Roasted pork

bleston court yukawatan
Address: Hoshino, Karuizawa-machi, Nagano 389-0194
TEL: 81-50-3786-0066

Amuse bouche at Yukawatan

For instance, just after being seated we were presented with a miniature terra cotta planter with a tiny seedling and gardening tools, just the right size for a dollhouse. But to our surprise, the “earth” was edible, a savory and slightly sweet mousse covered with chocolate cookie crumbles.

Then, the amuse bouche arrived — a series of eight tiny appetizers perched on stone balls of varying temperatures (so as to keep each “dish” at the optimal temperature) — each a preview of the coming courses. Notable among them were a cherry tomato filled with gazpacho soup. The concept and plate was, of course, custom-designed by Hamada.

Edible seedling sashimi canape
appetizers soup
Above, clockwise from top left: An edible arrangment of chocolate "earth"; sashimi with caviar; Black truffle foam; Saku-goi (carp) and foie gras terrine with "Ume" plum confiture. Below, clockwise from top left: Shrimp and seafood terrine; Yamane fish fritter with okahijiki (seaweed) on a gumbo sauce; Peaches pressure-cooked with white wine jelly; Roasted Shinshu chicken breast with seasonal vegetables.
Carp and foie gras terrine Yamane fish fritter
Shinshu chicken Peaches with white wine jelly

More visual delights appeared — all too lovely to touch, let alone consume. Particularly beautiful was a cold seafood dish crafted into a spiral, decorated by an intricate series of crispy, lacey rings. We’ve never seen anything like it.

Other highlights included a meltingly soft pork dish that was cooked for three days, and truffle “foam” soup. All courses were served in small portions (also in the Japanese tradition) that left you wanting more). However, with the multitude of courses (eight or more— we lost count), we were stuffed by the time dessert arrived.

However, AFTER the dessert, we were in for another surprise: The finale, a selection of candies, cookies and petits fours. So elaborate that the arrangement took up the entire table; so intricate and delicate that we wondered if Hamada’s hands were doll-sized. How could a human being create such perfect macaroons, sugar lollipops and delicate petit fours?

Petis fours

We had to know more about this amazing chef, and to meet him in person. He appeared at the end to wish us farewell, and he was, fittingly, delicate and pristine in person, and younger than we expected. In fact, we later learned that in 2004 he was the youngest winner at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or Japan and took third place at last year’s Le Tattinger contest. Hamada is surely a rising star, and we look forward to watching him as his career grows. It’s also a rare treat to find someone of such talent in the countryside, and marked a high point in our already wonder-filled stay at Hoshinoya Karuizawa.

The press-releases claim that dining at Yukawatan is a “once-in-a-lifetime experience”, and we would have to agree. It truly took our breath away, and will remain as one of the most memorable dining experiences of our lives.

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