We walked through the door at La Mer in Kakogawa, and there was no one in sight. We called out, and no one came. I took a step forward and noticed a family of four eating in the corner. The father was instructing his children on how to properly use Western utensils in a fancy restaurant.
I called out again. I could hear activity coming from the kitchen. Finally, a very unassuming elderly woman appeared and looked a little surprised to see us. She showed us to a table, one of only four in the main room (there was another in a private room in the back). We received two menus, and she explained the La Mer Course: you pick three items, typically one salad and two main dishes. Also included in the course is soup, dessert, and coffee. The menu was in Japanese and French, which didn't prove too much of a challenge, but I needed to use my smartphone to search for the meaning of a couple of French words I didn't recognize.
We finally ordered, and in due time our food started coming. Each course was brought with minimal fanfare and maximum efficiency, like one would expect in a fine, French restaurant. The meal opened with the salads we chose, mine topped with Iberico ham and my wife's topped with salmon, duck, and foie gras. Both were excellent. Next came a purple potato soup. It was a good example of making a simple dish very well instead of trying to overcomplicate it.
For the first main dish, I chose a veal filet, which was about as tender as beef gets. My wife ordered white fish, which was topped with a delicious green sauce that we were unable to identify. For the second main dish, we both ordered the lamb. It was lightly breaded and was one of the most tender and delicious lamb cutlets I have ever had. Beside it was a small swirl of perfect mashed potatoes.
Dessert was a tart-inspired slice of apple pie, alongside a scoop of ice cream. It was light, hot, flaky, and a perfect end to a nearly perfect meal. The chef came out before we left, and we were able to praise him and his delicious meal. He was very gracious and explained his philosophy behind the dessert we had just finished. He told us they had been running the restaurant for 15 years, and before that he worked at a hotel and "club for foreigners" in Kitano, Kobe.
I was impressed to find out that the chef learned all of his craft in Japan and had never been to France. Our meal at La Mer was a great example of someone striving for excellence, resulting in a fantastic experience for the customer.
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I enjoyed living in Japan for nearly seven years. After studying Journalism and Japanese studies in Chicago, I first went to Japan in 2005 and taught English for two years. I returned to the States, but I soon found myself back again. My second time in Japan was only for one year, which I spent working at a Japanese company. On my third stretch, I returned with my wife and ended up working at a study abroad agency, helping Japanese students pursue their dreams of studying English in different countries. I spent all of my seven years living in Hyogo, the heart of Japan, where I split my free time between traversing the great outdoors and seeking out design-centric shops and cafes in Kobe and the Hanshin area. Hyogo has a little bit of everything, and it's the perfect fit for someone who loves both beautiful, natural scenery and modern, urban adventure.