Design Dish: The Art And Ceremony of Japanese Fine Dining


All photos by Adrián Gregorutti/Allison Regan

Kenzo sign by calligrapher Kei Kobayashi

Similar to some of the finest Japanese restaurants in Tokyo and NYC, the new Kenzo restaurant by Kenzo and Natsuko Tsujimoto is not located in a high visibilty location in Downtown Napa – it’s hidden on a side street in a non-descript building. But when guests enter, they retreat into the rarified world of Japanese fine dining, Kaiseki, a veritable ceremony of delectable, seasonal small plates designed to delight all the senses.

In the Kaiseki setting, as in tea or flower ceremony, intimacy of space and simplicity of décor is intentional to free guests from distractions and to heighten the art and performance in front of them. But it’s also this economy of design that draws one’s attention to the exquisite materials used and attention to detail, a hint of the perfection to come in the dining experience. For the 400 square foot main dining area, Creative Director Natsuko Tsujimoto selected beautiful vertically grained teak for the walls, hand shaved with a scalloped, Naguri finish, the carving technique an art form dating back to Medieval Japan. At the 10-seat sushi bar, the deep and wide Japanese cypress counter is designed to enhance viewing of the skillful preparation of the fish and engagement with chefs. Above, the lit spherical pendant lamps designed by Toyo Ito for Yamagiwa, appears like delicate rice paper through the intensely black Sumi color typically used in calligraphy.

Seven of the 27 seats in the restaurant are reserved for the private dining room. The wall is adorned with Mizuhiki cord sachets made of tightly wound and colored Japanese paper, the craft another ancient Japanese art form. The knotting typically represents togetherness.

Main lobster, Japanese autumn vegetables with yuzu flavored mousseline

The restaurant concept, menu and training was overseen by Executive Chef Hiroyuki Kanda, whose Tokyo restaurant Kanda has been recognized with three Michelin stars every year since 2008. The prix fixe menus feature a range of preparations traditional for Kaiseki such as grilled, raw, soup, rice and confection, using the finest imported ingredients, authentic Japanese flavors and innovative techniques. The selection of ceramics is also an important part of the aesthetics of Kaiseki, the eclectic mix carefully chosen by Natsuko from regions throughout Japan to highlight the uniqueness of each dish. The menu is complemented by the range of Kenzo Estate Napa Valley wines as well as a selection of fine sakes.

The seed to open a true Japanese restaurant here in Napa was planted by the Tsujimoto’s friend Margrit Mondavi 6-7 years ago. After more than two years of careful planning, Kenzo realizes that dream in all its culture and flavors. Kenzo Restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 1339 Pearl Street in Downtown Napa.

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