30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers

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Photo by David Nakamura


The restaurant is a favorite of famed film director Akira Kurosawa. He gifted a hand-carved wood block of Bairin's name in Kanji characters, which translates to "plum grove."


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura


The first course is small enough that I have a rush of hope that I will be able to finish all 30 courses. That dream is dashed when the waiter returns with a giant ezo ibara gani (king crab).


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura


The crab has with foot-long legs that are pre-sliced so we can easily spear the meat and dip it in a Japanese ponzo sauce with a vinegar and soy base.


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura


The rest of the evening is a race through course after course. The waiters do not stop serving, and, if you aren't careful, you can easily fall behind, which I did several times.


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura


The food ranges from small and delicately prepared...


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura

...To large and filling (No. 24: four large hanadai fish, with small scary fangs, but moist and tender flesh).

David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura


Course 13 is a huge plate of thick cuts of sashimi , including, in the center, a lobster whose eyes and antennae are still moving even though his flesh has been cut up and is resting in the shell.


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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Photo by David Nakamura


The wooden door slides open and a tiny elderly woman with gray hair is sitting before us seiza -style. This is 79-year-old Reiko Hirao, the proprietor. She smiles, then thanks us over and over, bowing so low that her forehead touches the tatami mat.


David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

10 OF 10
Slide_10_J.jpg

Photo by David Nakamura

The table resembles a Tetris game, plates, bowls and cups fitting together at right angles or clashing awkwardly.

David Nakamura explains how to prepare for and enjoy
30 Courses and Lots of Leftovers .

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David Nakamura is a staff writer for The Washington Post who believes that safe tap water is an important ingredient for any city that aspires to food supremacy. More

David Nakamura is a staff writer for The Washington Post who missed authentic Japanese food so much that he took a year off to escape to Tokyo on an international affairs fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations. He has written about politics, education, sports and, every now and then, Japanese food for the Post. He headed a team of reporters that was awarded the 2005 Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting after exposing excessive levels of lead contamination in the District of Columbia's drinking water and the government's failure to notify the public. His general philosophy is that safe tap water is an important ingredient for any city that aspires to food supremacy.

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