East Meets West (or Not)

Chef Michael Cimarusti at the Mediterranean-inspired Providence in Los Angeles once told me he liked using soy sauce for his gravies at home, since it adds richness and color. Growing up in a Cambodian household, I’ve always been a fan of this kind of mix-it-up cooking, where Eastern ingredients flavor Western dishes (I’m sure the hamburgers my mother made when I was a kid contained both soy sauce and fish sauce). So it was with a sort of glee that I headed over to Dieci, a tiny new spot in the East Village, where I’d heard Japanese chefs were turning out small-plate Italian. The menu, however—except for the mistyped “Hunger Steak,” topped with a garlic butter–caper–soy sauce—sounded pretty straightforward, and well, bland: orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe, string beans with tomato sauce. But the Berkshire Belly dish saved my meal. On a bed of flavorful lentils and topped with onion sprouts and a saba dressing, the lusciously fatty and superbly tender pork seemed, oddly enough, with its decidedly non-Japanese ingredients, pretty Eastern to me—beautiful, delicate, and restrained.

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