Boxed In

2007.Oct.18 Thursday · 6 comments

in Restaurants

“We must be careful of those who are boxed in linear thought with linear solutions to complex problems if we are to propel the human race and continue the forward progression of mankind.”

– Lance Winslow, Author

Buenos Aires – Some time ago, I got a series of very angry e-mails and post commentaries from a reader, who I’m fairly certain no longer frequents these pages, but if he still does, so be it. He’s an American expat, living in Japan, and he has embraced Japanese tradition… or maybe that’s TRADITION… because he was so rabidly defensive of “how things should be”, that he could have been the poster boy (other than the fact that it seemed to have slipped his mind that he’s white and jewish) for the Japanese Ministry of Culture and their campaign to protect “all things Japanese”. The e-mails varied in theme, but reached the peak of virulence when I reviewed a Japanese restaurant here that served… horror of horrors… both sushi and gyoza (dumplings). According to this self-styled expert, no such thing ever… EVER… happens in a “real” Japanese restaurant – a) because restaurants in Japan specialize in one type of food and wouldn’t have mixed the two (possibly traditional, but long no longer true), and b) gyoza are Chinese by origin and “real” Japanese would never serve them (origin true, but it was an import over 500 years ago, the style of dumpling is significantly changed from the Chinese original, and gyoza are served all over Japan). He summarized by demanding that I never review a Japanese restaurant again, and stick with things I was qualified to write about.

I wonder if he knows that sushi, too, was a Chinese import, almost 1000 years ago, but nonetheless?

Needless to say, and as anyone who reads these pages knows, I’ve ignored him completely (other than suggesting what he could do with “his” traditions).

Sake Sushi - gyoza hors d’oeuvreAnd, one evening last week, found me at a relatively new Japanese spot here in the ‘hood – Sake Sushi, Beruti 2640, 4822-9100. [Closed in early 2016] It’s a small spot, though it’s hard to judge how many folks could fit in the space, because it’s all booths, and we all know you can always fit another person or two in a booth. High-backed booths that give you a sense of privacy, but also, other than perhaps the folks at the booth directly across the center aisle, a sense of isolation. It was fine for me, I was on my own, had a book to read, and was comfortable on that basis, but if I was with people, I’d probably want to feel a bit more like I was in a restaurant that had others in it. Still, it’s quite pretty – done up in cream colors, with soft golden glowing lighting, pretty flower arrangements… and I’m sure my correspondent would shudder to find out… not a Japanese person working there. It seems to be run by (including the sushi bar), a team of young, scruffy Argentines who simply have a passion for things Japanese, and sushi in particular. Very pretty little plates used on the tables – though I think the three compartment soy sauce dish is off base – makes it hard to mix the soy sauce with a little wasabi, should that be your style, on the flip side, I like that there’s an additional small plate placed between the sushi platter and you, to set a piece down, or let the soy sauce drip off, or what have you. Saves on all those little dribbles on the table, you know?

Sake Sushi - gyozaI went ahead and ordered a plate of gyoza because I simply like them, and they make a nice start to a sushi meal. My goodness, it’s practically turning the world on its head, so to speak – eating a hot dish first, and an import to boot. The one oddity here, it turns out they serve a single gyoza as a sort of hors d’oeuvre, along with a little shot of some sort of mixed tropical tasting juices (which the waitress wasn’t quite sure what it contained). She apologized for serving it, knowing I was about to get a plate of the same, but said that the owners insisted everyone get one to start. That’s okay, I like dumplings, though I do think it’s a little silly to not have a secondary item available to place in front of those who order them as appetizers. The filling on these, quite good – nicely spiced, well packed but not overly dense – the dough a trifle undercooked – they did these potsticker style, where you fry them first on one side and then steam them in the same pan with a lid and some liquid – but they hadn’t quite fried them enough to get a good lightly crispy side, and they hadn’t quite steamed them long enough to cook the dough through. Not so underdone as to be an issue, but enough to be noticeable.

Sake Sushi - combo platterThere were a good number of options for ordering – several sushi and/or sashimi combinations, individual rolls or pieces – I opted for what bordered on “too much”, but it gave me the opportunity to try a good range of what they were offering – their 30 piece “special”, which includes salmon, white fish, shrimp, octopus – individual sushi, sashimi, simple rolls, and a few creative combination rolls. Thankfully, they’re light on the salmon and cream cheese combos – it appeared in one half roll, and there was a little cream cheese sharing a roll with some shrimp and avocado. Not that I dislike cream cheese, at all, but if I’m going to mix it with salmon, I usually like it on a bagel… or maybe atop a caramelized sweet potato… The quality of the fish was very good, all fresh. The rice was well made, and unlike many places I’ve encountered here, not overly sweetened with mirin.

Service was friendly and relatively efficient. It’s hard to say how the kitchen does when they’re busy, I was the sole diner until about midway through my meal, but both the gyoza and the sushi came out fairly quickly after ordering… okay, better to have held the gyoza back and finish cooking them for another minute or two… okay?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Almeida October 18, 2007 at 16:00

It would be fun to see that character loose on the local Japanese restaurant scene. Can you just imagine the scenes?

ksternberg October 19, 2007 at 10:34

Yes. I’m sure he would have much to tell the Japanese chefs in the local restaurants about how they’re doing it all wrong.

Stovetop Traveler October 19, 2007 at 20:43

I think maybe he, despite being Japanese, was trained as a French chef. Only those classically trained are so strident about knowing absolute truths when it comes to food – “I’m right, you’re wrong”!

dan October 19, 2007 at 23:34

Ahh, you missed one point – he’s not Japanese, nor is he a chef or even a cook – he just likes to eat out! He’s a 60-year old white, Jewish guy from somewhere in the U.S. who moved to Japan a few years ago to study various Japanese traditions and eat his way around the country.

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