.Hashiri Bettei Kaiseki Aoki in Saratoga

Saratoga welcomes an acclaimed chef for Japanese fine dining

When Yuko Nammo noticed an available space to lease in Saratoga, she knew it was in an ideal location for what would become Hashiri Bettei Kaiseki Aoki. 

In 2023, she and her husband Chef Shinichi Aoki closed their Burlingame pop-up Kaiseki and spent a year looking around the Bay Area before reopening last December in Saratoga. 

They thought that visitors living nearby Hakone Gardens could hop in their cars and arrive at their new restaurant in less than five minutes. The proximity of a Japanese garden would extend the experience of the garden goers so that it would include a Japanese fine dining meal. 

Hashiri Bettei Kaiseki Aoki is a kaiseki ryori, a haute cuisine Japanese restaurant with a preset tasting menu. Nammo explained that a kaiseki dining experience can be a more formal banquet or, as in their case, based on the intricacies of a tea ceremony. Sake can play a central role in kaiseki meals but, Nammo emphasized, the mood at Hashiri Bettei is meant to be more sedate. 

“We actually use Japanese antique or vintage plateware,” she said. Savvy customers who’ve previously dined out at kaiseki-style restaurants will notice certain details about the plates and bowls, such as when they were made and by whom.   

Nammo is Hashiri Bettei’s okami or hostess. But, she explained, the role of a Japanese hostess is much more involved than her American equivalents whose responsibilities are usually limited to greeting customers with a menu and a smile before showing them to a table. An okami, in contrast, manages every aspect of the business, except for the cooking.

Hashiri Bettei is meant to embody the spirit and principles of an omakase restaurant, where the chef decides what to serve to a diner rather than vice versa. In order to build that kind of trust between the kitchen and the clientele, the diners usually become regulars. 

“If you have never experienced it, then it probably will be a little bit weird,” Nammo said. “We have to know the guests. If you don’t know me and I don’t know you, there is no trust to start.”

Before Nammo and Aoki’s Burlingame pop-up began, Aoki earned a Michelin star while he was cooking at San Francisco’s Sushi Hashiri. When the restaurant closed during the pandemic, the chef joined Nammo at her ramen restaurant. 

Ramen, Nammo said, is supposed to be served when it’s hot and it didn’t package well when it was served to-go. “Then we started to make a bento box,” she said. “And people asked us, ‘Can you do kaiseki?’”

After changing the focus of the pop-up, they realized it was time to move into a new space. One that could store all of the ingredients necessary to inaugurate a tasting menu featuring seafood. 

“We use dashi, a savory soup base that’s the soul of Japanese food,” Nammo said. “That’s one of the highlights of our kaiseki. The clear dashi is probably one of the most unique soups being offered in the Bay Area.” 

Since they opened on Dec. 1—much to Nammo’s surprise—people passing by on dog walks have asked her about the restaurant and then have returned later as customers. 

“That really made us feel like they were welcoming us as a new neighbor,” she said.


Hashiri Bettei Kaiseki Aoki

Wed—Sun, 6:30-9:30pm

14417 Big Basin Way, Ste. A, Saratoga

Text 650.885.1242

kaisekiaoki.com

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