CAN WE KAISEKI? Chef Yoichi Kawabata and his wife Mogi Kawabata believe Santa Barbara diners are ready for their traditional style of simply prepared food, which includes am appetizer box (below) filled with everything from wagyu beef bites to roe-filled fish bellies.
Yoichi’s Introduces Kaiseki to Santa Barbara
Clean, Pure, Elegant Japanese Cuisine Now Served on East Victoria Street
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Though Santa Barbara supports a lot of restaurants for a relatively small town (thanks, tourists!) and pioneered farm-to-table menus (thanks, farmers markets!), it’s historically been tough to succeed when focusing on a tight niche of ethnic cuisine. Italian and Mexican? Slam dunk. Friulian and Oaxacan? Good luck.
Yet recent strides indicate a shift: raw fish in a Mediterranean style at Olio Crudo Bar or in a Peruvian way at Cielito, for instance, or Southeast Asian street fare at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar, and even the daytime weekend Ethiopian at otherwise French-focused Petit Valentien. And since our collective palate appears well attuned to sushi and the culinary culture that comes with it, perhaps we are indeed ready for kaiseki, the upper echelon of Japanese eating.
By Paul Wellman
Yoichi's Kabu Sumach shitate a clear soup with turnip, himeji mushroom, shrimp, and egg cake.
That’s the gamble of Yoichi’s on East Victoria Street, where an extremely fresh, multicourse menu is prepared in the pure and meticulous kaiseki way, intended to show off the true essence of each ingredient, from wagyu beef and miso black cod to mountain vegetables, flying fish sashimi, and eel-wrapped tofu. “People imagine a very fancy thing, especially in America, and it is fancy, but it is simple cooking, using traditional techniques to bring out the real flavors,” said Mogi Kawabata, who runs front of the house while her husband, Chef Yoichi Kawabata, cooks in the back. “If it’s mushrooms, it has to taste like mushrooms.”
By Paul Wellman
Chef's selection of sashimi at Yoichi's.
Raised in Mongolia but fluent in Japanese, Mogi met Yoichi in San Francisco, where he was cooking after stints at, among other places, Nobu in Tokyo. They got married, had kids, and were visiting a friend who worked at Sakana on Coast Village Road when they realized Santa Barbara could be their new home. After remodeling the former Spiritland Bistro in a stylish yet sparse style with starkly dark and light tones, the couple opened Yoichi’s this summer and have been serving their seven-course, $85 set menu ever since, changing it up at the beginning of each month.
Yoichi's appetizer box includes delicately sweet, roe-filled momochi ayu; rich wagyu bites; fresh oyster with ponzu; mountain vegetable from Japan; and the salty boiled baby sardines with rock seaweed.