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Why Japanese Flavors Are the Next Big Thing

You don’t need to visit Tokyo to buy micro-brewed mirin or visit an izakaya for sake and snacks: Importers and restaurateurs are bringing the best of Japan to America.

Japanese Gastropubs

Just as Spaniards head to a tapas bar for snacks and sherry, the Japanese go to an izakaya for little dishes of food and glasses of beer, sake or the spirit shochu. Gritty versions of these Japanese-style pubs have operated in the United States for years, but new gastro-izakayas are offering inspired Japanese small plates with multiculti twists.

Los Angeles

Torafuku, a luxe chain with five plush locations in Japan, specializes in toasty kamado rice, which is made in a heavy stone cooker. Details 10914 W. Pico Blvd.; 310-470-0014 or torafuku-usa.com.

New York City

Izakaya Ten Chef Isamu Soumi turns out excellent small plates, like skewered chicken meatballs, to pair with sake from the playfully illustrated menu. Details 207 10th Ave.; 212-627-7777.

San Francisco

Umami Dishes like braised pork with nori and quail eggs have a California touch: humanely raised meats from Niman Ranch and produce from local farms. Details 2909 Webster St.; 415-346-3431 or umamisf.com.

Scottsdale, AZ

Taneko Japanese Tavern This new izakaya restaurant, which serves appetizers cooked on hot rocks, is from the owners of the Chinese chain P.F. Chang’s. Details 6116 N. Scottsdale Rd.; 480-308-9950 or tanekotavern.com.

Seattle

Wann Japanese Izakaya This upscale izakaya fuses Asian and Western cuisines with dishes like nori-flecked fries and daikon radish gratin. Details 2020 Second Ave.; 206-441-5637 or wann-izakaya.com.

New Japanese Imports

Amabito No Moshio Salt

Seaweed-infused water from Japan’s Inland Sea give this sand-colored salt an oceany aroma and a rich umami flavor (from $12 for 3.5 oz).

Zuiyo Akasake Mirin

This unusual sherrylike Japanese cooking wine, made from a sweet, red sake, is a step up from the corn syrup-sweetened variety sold in supermarkets (from $12 for 61 oz).

Benímosu Sweet Potato Vinegar

Made from purple-fleshed potatoes, this rose-hued, fruity vinegar from Kyoto is available plain or honey-sweetened (from $12 for 4 oz).

Fundokin Company Misos

These preservative-free misos, made from white or red barley, are more intensely flavored than most misos available in the United States (from $15 for 17.6 oz).

All products imported by New York Mutual Trading (nymtc.com).

The Next Soy Sauce

On the Noto Peninsula, which juts out into the Sea of Japan, fish sauces, known as ishiri, are used like soy sauce. Yamato ishiri ponzu, seasoned with citrus juices, is mild enough to use on raw vegetables ($4.50 for 4 oz; 212-997-0403).

Japanese Kitchen Essentials

Ultra-versatile Pot

This lightweight, inexpensive yuki-hira pot is made from hammered aluminum. The wood handle is removable and replaceable. ($29 for an 8-inch pot; korin.com).

Tofu-making Kit

Banrai, a soy-milk producer, has created a kit that includes fuel, nigari (a coagulent) and a pretty porcelain pot for making fresh, silky tofu ($88; banrai-life.com).

Supersharp Knife

Masanobu knives have Western-style blades and handles made by the same machine that forms Formula One racing drive shafts. They stay sharp longer than other knives, thanks to space-age VG10 steel ($288 for an 8-inch chef’s knife; korin.com).

Best Rice Cooker

Zojirushi is known for making some of the world’s best rice cookers. The company’s compact new Rizo, designed by Toshiyuki Kita, is cute enough to leave on the counter ($215; amazon.com).

A Cool Tool Resource Guide

Kate Klippensteen’s Cool Tools: Cooking Utensils from the Japanese Kitchen, beautifully photographed by Yasuo Konishi, is an in-depth look at Japanese utensils ($28; amazon.com).

Published May 2007
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