La Table de Petite Caron

Along Nishikujō Harikōjichō in Minami ward in Kyoto sits an unassuming little place. It's hidden in plain site, situated on an angled corner. It's quite likely we walked past it on our way out and didn't give it a second thought. Our second pass through Kyoto, Anna, [Michael] Murphy, and I departed the large group to seek out something (anything!) else than the food court and sushi train at Aeon Mall. With not much time to spare, we ventured out to visit To-ji Temple.

On the route back from the temple, we spotted the open window and walked up to the outside stand at La Table de Petite Coron (Table of the Little Crown). Diners can choose to sit bar side at the window or inside at one of the five two-top tables.

The façade is awash in a soft yellow outside with a calming sea mist green inside. Light fixtures are simple bulbs screwed in. Cutlery is paper napkin and gold-adorned plastic wear.

"Come in," beckoned a beautiful young woman with a hand motion and a smile and in broken English, "Two left." Willing to risk the time, we agreed to share two plates of chicken curry among the three of us and sat down.

A warm enough day that I was glad the door was ajar, we served ourselves a glass of water from the sweaty glass jar. I gestured with my camera asking if I could photograph her as she worked. With a slightly embarrassed smile, she nodded yes and turned back to her work.

Watching this beautiful young woman prepare the plates was enchanting. Most American restaurants are fully equipped with industrial-sized steamers and ovens and ubiquitous triple-wash sinks such that cooking becomes a bit antiseptic. Industrialized. Small establishments of Japan are decidedly more bespoke.

She scooped the rice out of a common kitchen sized rice cooker. She worked from a small sink with neatly-ordered dish hanging overhead. Pots and pans were strewn about beneath a grease-spattered range. A hand grater hung at the ready just within reach.

What Japan lacks in formality and Serve Safe protocol, it more than makes up for in attention to detail and authenticity. (Strange how we Americans take so much care in safe food preparation but so little in the food quality itself.) How satisfying to watch her hand fry the chicken, carefully cut and lay the slices in perfect angled order on the plate. How endearing to watch her ladle up just the right amount of curry sauce and fill the void next to the sticky rice mound. How mindfully she garnished the plate with a small side salad and cheerful pickled radish rosette. All an embodiment of what food really means. So much more than simple nourishment. A connection. An offering. Nothing short of sumptuous performance art.

Perhaps with a perfect combination of hunger, angst for the time, and nothing short of a spectacular meal, hers was one of the best meals I've ever had. Unlike the vibrant burst of flavor in an Indian curry, the Japanese curry roux is more understated and sweet. The chicken was cooked to perfection, light and delicate on the outside, soft and moist through the middle. Because we were sharing and I was the "extra plate," I was sure to be diplomatic in my portions. Truth be told, I could have eaten it all.