The kaiseki tasting menu at Kamakura includes a course labeled “encouragement.” It comes four dishes after the “warmth” course, one after the “steam” course, and immediately before the “crispy rice,” which they must have come up with on the day the guy who names the courses was out sick. The “encouragement” course - pork belly topped with chocolate balsamic - is excellent. But unfortunately, it’s almost too appropriately named, because after seven courses that could go by names varying from “disappointing” to “hey, this isn’t bad” to “aw man, this is kinda disappointing again,” it’s the pork belly that makes you think Kamakura is close to being great instead of what it actually is, which is just OK.
Between the leather booths and the minimalist furniture that looks like it belongs in a new age spa, Kamakura feels a little like a first class lounge at the airport, or a place you might go to celebrate a deal that made you the regional leader of hair loss pills. And while you’re served a piece of sushi so tiny that one of Johnny Depp’s pinky rings would comfortably fit on it, you’ll hear people making bad golf jokes and telling war stories about their last merger or acquisition. If they’re enjoying their meal more than you, it’s because they could be expensing it - at $156 per person, you almost have to in order to not be let down here.
To be clear, the food at Kamakura is not actively bad. It won’t make you swear off crispy rice forever, or completely regret the two hours you spent here. The problem is that most of it won’t make you do anything at all. You’ll shrug your shoulders at a caviar-topped oyster that isn’t appreciably better than one with a squirt of lemon and some mignonette. You’ll wonder why the wasabi dashi broth doesn’t taste like wasabi and the egg custard doesn’t taste like anything at all. And while the sushi is good, you’ll worry that if you take your eyes off it for a second, you won’t be able to find it again. For every good dish, like the hamachi topped with bourbon barrel-aged soy sauce, there will be three that make you wonder if your taste buds were dulled by your new toothpaste.
It isn’t only the $156 kaiseki menu that will have you thinking you would’ve been better off going to a more affordable place so you could actually pay your phone bill this month, either. Even if you order a la carte, you’ll still pay $35 for a few pieces of wagyu beef that don’t have much flavor to them and are so small you expect them to be tethered together so they don’t get lost crossing the street.
What’s such a shame about Kamakura is that there are a lot of things we actually like about it. There are a few good-to-great dishes and everything is plated beautifully, there’s a roof deck with views of all the people who just bought “Bahstan is Wicked Pissah” shirts in Quincy Market, and the menu is filled with ingredients like caviar, truffles, and otoro that usually make up excellent dishes. But the pieces just don’t fit together, particularly when you consider what it costs. If you drop a couple hundred dollars here, the encouragement you’ll need is the hope that one day you, too, might have a lax operations department that lets you expense mediocre meals.
Kaiseki Chef’s Counter Dinner
Ten courses that will include things like nigiri, stuffed morels, and wagyu beef. You’ll pay $156 for it, genuinely like three-to-four dishes, and wonder why you’re still hungry at the end.
Kaiseki Dining Room Dinner
Pretty much the same thing as the ten-course chef’s counter meal, except it comes with two fewer courses and leaves you with 34 more dollars.