Fusion cuisine has been around for decades; back in the eighties, it was the haute cuisine of the rich and trendy and was as nouveau as its clientele's money. Many restaurants adapted this style of cooking, bringing bold flavors to traditional American dishes. Over time it became rather dated, as trends tend to do, and palates veered off into other directions. However, there is a small, unassuming restaurant in South Williamsburg that is making diners rethink fusion. The homey feel of the place suggests the current trend of farm-to-table Americana but there is a different kind of comfort food going on in the kitchen. Two cultures, where food has strong ties to traditions, are melding together in unique and exciting dishes; this restaurant, Shalom Japan, a Jewish-Japanese mashup, served one of the best meals I've had in a while.
The food, an ode to the 2 chef/owners' backgrounds, tries not to take itself too seriously. In order to set the mood, take a trip to the bathroom, just to get a viewing of this:
The wine list is unique, with several options not often seen on a menu. Slovenia, Serbia and other Eastern Europian nations were represented alongside France, Italy and California.
We opted for this Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011. It was rather herbaceous and mineral-driven upon first sniffs, but then a slight floral quality, as well as ripe peach, came through. Once we started drinking it, the slate and mineral qualities became more prominent. There was a moderate amount of acidity but nothing too punchy.
Once settled with our wine selection, we turned to the food. A sign of a good restaurant is the bread basket and although it wasn't gratis, the sake kasu challah was warm and eggy, exactly as challah should be.
Next up were the veal head croquettes with aioli and mustard greens. Although the meat wasn't discernable from other meat-filled croquettes, the nearly greaseless orbs were balanced with the vegetation they sat upon.
But oh, those croquettes took a backseat the Okonomiyaki, which was probably the best dish of the night. An okonomiyaki, meaning "as you like it," is a traditional savory pancake with a variety of ingredients either added on top or incorporated into the batter, then topped topped with some type of salty-sweet sauce. This particular variation had corned lamb's tongue, saurkraut (a clever twist on the traditional cabbage often found in the pancake) and bonito. It was like an open faced corned-beef sandwich on crack; almost too rich, my mouth kept wavering between the unctuousness of the lamb, the crisp exterior and gooey interior of the pancake, the sweetness of the sauce and bitterness of the saurkraut.
For entrees, we opted for the Shana Tova Duck and the Lox Bowl. For non-tribal members, Shana Tova is the traditional new year greeting during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. During this holiday, one is wished a sweet new year and apples dipped in honey is found at every holiday table. This cleverly named and interpreted dish contained slices of tender duck breast and roasted root vegetables, balanced with yup, roasted apples and honey. A perfect autumn dish, my only critique was that the duck skin could have been a little crisper.
The Lox Bowl, the other entree, was a light and refreshing counterbalance to the duck. Silky slices of cured salmon draped over a mountain of white rice, with cucumber, seaweed, japanese pickle and some salmon roe. It was a massive bowl of Jewish sushi. The umami of the seaweed and pickles was such a revelation when eating it; as much sushi as I've eaten in my life, I've never had the elements come together as perfectly as this. My only note was that there was an excessive amount of rice; we ate only about a third of it but it became monotonous once all the goodies on top were gone.
Of course we're stuffed but of course we order dessert. And how could you not when Shalom Japan serves on of the best bread puddings EVER? Chocolate challah bread pudding with a caramel and whiskey sauce. I can't even describe it without drooling. Just know that you need to order it. No debating.
Interested in checking out Shalom Japan for yourself? Visit the New York restaurants page on OpenTable for reservations to this delicious joint.