Photo by Austin McAllister
310 S. 4th Street, Williamsburg
You might expect a Japanese-Jewish restaurant to churn out some heavy-handed, hard-to-eat, gimmicky fusion food. Fortunately, these two disparate food cultures come together with a light touch at Shalom Japan. Yes, there’s a matzo ball ramen, but for the most part, the food draws subtly from its husband-and-wife proprietors’ cultural influences. Aaron Israel, who worked at Mile End and Torrisi, constitutes the Jewish side of the family, while Sawako Okochi, who has experience at Annisa and the Good Fork, reps Japan. Their ethnic union is echoed in the décor: a dark curtain over the kitchen bears their logo, the merging images of a Jewish star with the Hinomaru (the “circle of the sun” from the Japanese flag); on the wall of their must-visit bathroom, there’s a framed poster-size ad for Levy’s “real Jewish rye,” featuring a little Japanese boy with a sandwich and the tagline, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” And you don’t have to be Japanese to enjoy the glowing, high-tech toilet, which offers jets of water (aimed at the front or back—your choice!) with the touch of a button, followed by a warming fan to dry you off gently. Konnichiwa!
The Japanese-Jewish menu is written on a chalkboard, listing cryptic items like “Aburaage Pouches, Raclette, Green Tomato Relish” and “The Jew Egg,” which you’ll need a server to explain. The former involves pockets made from tofu sheets, which are fried until golden, stuffed with zucchini and nutty, melty raclette cheese, and then topped with pickled green tomatoes. The latter is a play on a Scotch egg, a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg with a well-spiced falafel crust standing in for the traditional sausage. Both options are highly noshable and pair well with the wheat-y and floral Hitachino Nest White Ale on draft. House-made chickpea tofu has the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture of panna cotta but gets a savory spin from juicy heirloom tomatoes, grilled eggplant and a sesame vinaigrette. Aromatic braided challah loaves are baked with sake kasu, a byproduct of sake production, and served with whipped butter that’s studded with sake-soaked raisins. In the simplest Far East-meets-Middle East mash-up, tuna tataki gets paired with rich black tahini, then garnished with dill. Our only disappointment was a Rosh Hashanah special: duck braised in Katz’s artisanal viognier vinegar. Both our server and the bartender highly recommended the dish (it’s worth noting that it was the most expensive item on the menu, priced at $27), but the big portion and basic preparation just seemed to highlight what we’d already figured out: putting unexpected Japanese touches on Jewish dishes and vice versa isn’t just a cheap gimmick here.