Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery (at Market), 546-5090, www.kyo-ya-restaurant.com
The chic, minimal entry and bar of this Japanese restaurant are much more high-style than its rather ordinary, spare, and underdecorated rooms. But what comes out of the kitchen is Japanese food of the highest order: The simplest dish of grilled squid, for example, is carefully scored, properly smoky, kissed with ginger, and displayed to perfect advantage. Kyo-Ya's ingredients, conception, preparation, and plating are all exquisite. One of the best ways to sample its cuisine is to order the kaiseki dinner, seven courses that change monthly. The first course is an assortment of appetizers with contrasting tastes and textures, followed by sashimi and several courses of meat or fish, ending with sushi and a Japanese sweet. The cost is $80, almost a bargain in a place where virtually all the a la carte dishes are in the double digits (reflecting Kyo-Ya's location, in the venerable four-star Palace Hotel, as well as its skill).