I think that the appreciation of Japanese kaiseki art grows with experience. First time I had a kaiseki meal in Kyoto, I found it too unusual to enjoy. The flavours of most of the dishes were very mild, kind of “muted” and some of the ingredients were quite bizarre. Then again, for an ignorant foreigner like me, the über traditional Kikunoi (3 Michelin stars) was probably not the best place to start in the first place ( I liked much more modern kaiseki at Kanamean Nishitomiya in Kyoto… )
In order to appreciate kaiseki you have to understand it. Basically, it is the Japanese equivalent of haute cuisine, where preparing seasonal products and presenting them in a beautiful, artistic manner is fundamental. If Western chefs often aim to impress their guests by creating something interesting or surprising, Japanese chefs create momentum by balancing natural flavours and textures. They don’t alter their ingredients too much; instead of opposing, they complement flavours. (Therefore, sometimes kaiseki dishes might taste too mild for a Western palate.) One shouldn’t also forget dashi ( stock made from kombu and dried bonito), which is paramount in Japanese cooking and gives a sensation of umami.
Brushstroke, opened by David Bouley and Yoshiki Tsuji in NY earlier this year, serves traditional Japanese kaiseki. It is located where the high-end Austrian restaurant used to be. To my regret (I thought the Wiener schnitzel there was better than anywhere else in the world ! ), Danube closed few years ago. Brushtroke proposes two, 8 and 10 dishes kaiseki menus. ( You can have sushi and some other à la carte dishes in the bar area. ) I had the smaller, 8 courses menu and thought everything was very well executed. My only remark would be that some of the dishes like egg custard were served way too hot. Like tradition requires, ingredients used at Brushtroke highly depend on the season and are sometimes changed twice a month.