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Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

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Talking turkey: The Checkers brasserie at Hilton Osaka is one of many Kansai restaurants offering a mouthwatering seasonal spread over the holidays. Other options range from traditional Italian dishes at Via Transito in Kyoto to the Oriental Hotel in Kobe's Peking Duck.

FOOD

Dishing up a delicious Kansai Christmas

It's not too late to book a festive feast at restaurants around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe


By JOHN ASHBURNE
Special to The Japan Times

Thought you might be stuck with a KFC bucket this Christmas? Luckily it's not too late to make holiday dinner reservations in Kansai — plenty of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe hotels and restaurants still have tables open, so there's no need to scrap for a seat at the festive feasts.

Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, making it perfect for a family gathering — and the "ancient Japanese tradition" of going on a date on Christmas Eve is likely to see restaurants crowded on the Saturday night.

The recommendations that follow all still have seats available. Bonne Noel and bon appetit!

Hilton Osaka

Located in Osaka's mecca of commercialism, Umeda, the Hilton has a long history of entering into the festive spirit, yearly boasting a giant Christmas tree in its foyer and a Christmas Train and Gingerbread House for the kids.

The hotel has two excellent Christmas options. The second-floor brasserie Checkers is offering a special "American-style" Christmas buffet Dec. 22-25, replete with roast turkey and cranberry sauce, roast beef, potatoes, salad and a wide variety of Japanese, European and fusion dishes. Octopus and kanpachi amberjack sashimi with your Christmas pud, anyone? At both lunch and dinner there are two 90-minute seatings. Lunch is ¥3,800 for adults, ¥2,250 for children; dinner is ¥5,900 and ¥2,900.

The modern Genji restaurant on the third floor has a Christmas teppanyaki special featuring wagyū steak, sautéed Canadian lobster, cheese fondue, foie gras with truffle sauce and a buche de Noel chestnut tiramisu. Lunch is from ¥4,200, dinner from ¥17,000, "pair" dinner ¥20,000 (for two).

(06) 6347-0310, www.hiltonosaka.com.

La Veduta

Kyoto, Siena, Paris, er ... Honmachi. Toshifumi Nakahigashi, the 29-year-old executive chef of the St. Regis Osaka's north Italian specialist La Veduta, interned at Michelin-starred restaurants in Tuscany and Paris before bringing his expertise back to his native Kyoto. His father, Hisao, is owner-chef at the famed mountain-vegetable cuisine specialist Soujiki Nakahigashi.

Twelve floors above Osaka's business district, Nakahigashi is weaving festive magic with all the seasonal culinary bells and whistles, including Hokkaido lamb with pears, and chestnut tagliatelle with a lobster ragout. The top-of-the-line dinner includes fugu globefish with truffles and Kagoshima beef chateaubriand.

Opulent Italian-style surroundings, spectacular night views and a nifty rooftop Zen Garden make this a Christmas date spot to impress. Lunch is ¥10,000; dinner ¥18,000-30,000. Just don't mention the recession.

(06) 6258-3333, www.stregisosaka.co.jp.

Café Absinthe

Get into the seasonal swing with a shot of Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec's tipple of choice at this hip glass-fronted Mediterranean-style fusion restaurant and bar in Amerika-mura, near Triangle Park. As Oscar Wilde sagely observed, the legendary firewater isn't very good for turning drunks into poets, but is excellent for making poets drunk. Just the job on a cold Osaka winter evening.

Manager Dmitri Farberov rightly points out that the ¥2,500 Christmas Dinner special, with scallop and red snapper ceviche, apple tart tatin, fondant chocolate and special Christmas chocolate fondue is one of those Yuletide rarities, a true bargain. Hookahs are available too — Toulouse-Lautrec would no doubt approve.

Via Transito

Salvatore Mannino's restaurant at Gojo-Kushige is perfect for a relaxed, intimate candle-lit Christmas dinner. The native of Sicily runs his one-man, four-cat show with charm and inimitable flair, replicating the home cooking of his childhood on the Southern Italian island in the small converted traditional Kyoto townhouse.

The chef will prepare a traditional Italian Christmas dish, Cotechino con Salsa di Mele (pork with apple sauce), and an exquisite Torta al Cioccolato (chocolate cake). See if he has any Sicilian cheese in stock — it is amazing. The menu is à la carte at dinner and lunch; budget around ¥5,000 per person, more if the wine keeps flowing. Via Transito seats 10 at most, so early booking is recommended.

(075) 821-3253.

Restaurant Pascal Peignaud Kyoto

Housed in a beautiful century-old Kyoto residence in Shimogamo, and decorated tastefully with French furniture and porcelain from the owner's Brittany homeland, Restaurant Pascal Peignaud Kyoto exudes elegance. Little surprise that it is a favorite stop when the bigwigs of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy are in town.

The menu doesn't disappoint, a blend of Parisian flair and contemporary delicacy of touch. From Dec. 23 to 25, Peignaud offers a Christmas dinner special with foie gras mousse, turkey soup, poached lobster, veal with mushroom in white sauce, tagliatelle with black truffles and more, for ¥11,000 per person including tax and service charge. Reservations essential.

(075) 781-2234, www.peignaud.com.

Tadg's Irish Bar and Restaurant

Christmas dinner with the jovial Tadg McLoughlin is fast becoming a Kyoto Yuletide institution. Whisky-cured salmon, roast turkey with giblet gravy, winter vegetables in a cream-cheese sauce and Christmas Pudding prevail. Candlelit dinner on the 24th is followed by the full Christmas lunch from 1 p.m. on Christmas day, at ¥3,500 per person. The spacious restaurant in Kiyamachi is perfect for families with children, and the extensive craft beer selection will keep Mum and Dad amused as the crackers pop and festivities, er, fest.

(075) 212-6339 www.kyotoirish.com.

Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel

Japan's Christmas obsession is commonly argued to have arisen in Yokohama, but the good citizens of Kobe beg to differ, maintaining that Buddhist offertory objects were placed beneath pine trees in the city in winter as early as 1897. Resident foreigners took this as "the Japanese Christmas," and so the festivities were born.

Kobe's best-known venue for the celebrations is the waterfront Oriental. Its all-you-can-eat special Christmas buffet lunch and dinner, running from now until Christmas day, adds Chinatown favorite Peking Duck to the traditional staples. Lunch is ¥2,625, dinner ¥5,460.



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