Category Archives: Fusion

A Cicada in the midst

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Cicada

I heave myself against the rough wooden door, and sink in to Cicada. Into the warmth, the darkness that feels like a fireside even in the summer when Cicada’s fireplace is unlit, and the feeling of being the only guests there. I am whisked past the gold glow of the bar area, and I suddenly find myself seated in a shadowy corner drinking the fruitiest sangria, and taking occasional sips of my date’s stellar mojito. The waiter had come and gone so seamlessly I’d barely noticed. And while part of my wants to curl up and roast smores, I am becoming giddy with the summer feeling of sangria on the beach. Keeping my lips to my straw, I fall in to the menu.

The pages of intriguing options fly around my head and I become quite sure I will not be able to pace myself. Lamb Tagine? Asparagus with Hazelnut Salsa? Clams with Chorizo? Hummus? Gnocchi? Something from the impressive cheese list? Sumptuous sounding dishes jump off the page and I start to think one of each might be the only way to go. But we are only two, so let’s be reasonable.

Olive oils to choose from first —do they really make olive oil outside Italy? My date and I are happy to ponder this question, but skip the French and Californian options just the same. Our warm flatbread is a tasty teaser and we are happy with our olive oil choice. Meals somehow get chosen, and once we are done, it’s time to peruse the lengthy wine list for more meal accessories.

With the first dish I might worry that we will peak too soon, but worries seem to be kept at bay, seeing as how I can’t stop grinning as I eat the spicy Moroccan crab cakes. Light and slightly crunchy with no heavy bread flavor, they are topped with a brilliant green sauce of coriander, lemon oil and orange juice. The tastes meld together, tangy and moist, and I am completely taken in.

It is almost a little sad when the plate is empty, but onwards to the rich and hearty Portuguese meatballs. Further on to the velvety ravioli in spinach crema sauce with rucola. Lord, I love rucola. We are already so head over heels into our meal. Although I find the following snapper with potatoes, olives, and rosemary a little too salty, the fish skin is crispy and the meat itself broiled to perfection. Our heady bliss is renewed as the roasted lamp chops with anchovy and rosemary are delivered. We find they match perfectly with the red wine we’ve moved on to, and as we surreptitiously try to gnaw on the stubborn sinews of meat still left on the bone, we start to notice the sleepy satisfaction in our stomachs.

But no matter, it is dessert time now, and our sweet teeth have been jealous for some attention. My Valharna 70% cacao rare cake with chocolate gelato, whipped cream and strawberries, is warm and soft, not oozing. A small bite seems to last, imperceptibly melting in my mouth for days, and yet I take another, and another. My date tries his tiramisu and moans aloud. The lady fingers are perfectly soaked, the ratios of each layer perfect. While I’m not sure exactly what about it makes it a “Cicada style” tiramisu as the menu states, it certainly fits with the entire Cicada experience, which has left me utterly transported.

And days later, when I walk by, I have this urge to press my nose up against the glass. It’s four in the afternoon, and they are closed, and my mid-week me doesn’t have time for a break anyway. Still I glance back as I walk away, wanting so much to escape there again.

Cicada

5-2-40 Minami-azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047

03-5447-5522

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Savor Savor Tibet Tibet

As we entered the resoundingly minimal interior of Tibet Tibet, we couldn’t help but feel that the huge black Buddha in the back of the room was beckoning us to stop thinking about crowded trains and other stresses of city life. Situated on a small side street set apart from Shimokitazawa’s funky secondhand shops, this restaurant is the perfect spot for an eye-opening dinner.

We chose a seat on the soft white mats instead of the sofas, sauntered up to the low glass tables and, after glancing at our options, summoned the staff by ringing the worn metal bell (an electronic one would have seemed alarmingly out of place). Fruit-infused shochu arrived first: delicious concoctions of fresh fruit soaking in alcohol in glass jars prominently displayed as faux-art pieces on the wall behind the bar (¥500- ¥700). We recommend the blueberry, pomegranate and raspberry varieties on the rocks.

Every time we visit Tibet Tibet, we gain new appreciation for its inventive Southeast Asian dishes. A shining example is the harumaki spring roll loaded with shrimp, avocado, tomato, tobiko, yellowtail, green onion and carrot drizzled with a gingery ranch dressing (¥880). The presentation in thin rice paper is understated, yet the flavor is somehow both rich and light— and tremendously addictive.

While nibbling on potato-pork croquettes with wasabi mayonnaise (¥680) and an excellent, lightly fried corn and shrimp tempura with sprinkles of shiso (¥700), we got ready for the night’s feature presentation: the Himalayan Coconut Curry (¥900). Arriving in a big wooden bowl, the moat of thick curry hounded the plateau of sweet purple rice in the middle, which was like an eroding desert island guarded by stalks of fresh cilantro and warm avocado wedges. While we generally shy away from curries that aren’t loaded with chili, we can’t help but dish out spoonfuls of hyperbole when contemplating this dish’s brilliance, which lies far more in the balance and ratio of the fresh ingredients than any attempt at taste-bud mutilation.

On nights when the turntables in the corner are silent, Tibet Tibet plays an eclectic mix of Latin, African, Indian and Indonesian music, which leaves us questioning exactly why the restaurant is named after a country that’s barely represented on the menu. This mix of ethnicity was demonstrated yet again with a large urn full of tom yum kun, a mildly spicy, steaming and almost Vietnamese version of the popular Thai noodle dish, replete with green vegetables and crowded with soft tofu (¥880).

Tibet Tibet has found its identity by serving an unpretentious mélange of Southeast Asian cooking. The beautiful irony is that, in doing so, it has succeeded in creating a distinctive character while straddling the culinary borders that so often pigeonhole restaurants into serving popular but mediocre dishes. So take a moment. Forget what you think you know about fusion, and just savor, savor.

2F Nice Bldg, 5-29-9 Daizawa, Setagaya-ku.Tel: 03-5433-1565.

Open Sun-Fri 6pm-1am, Sat 2pm-1am. Nearest stn: Shimokitazawa, west exit. www.livemedia.co.jp/wwc/wwctop/yuutop/tibet/tibetindex.html

Reinventing the Wheel… (or at Least Adding Avocado)

SushiiiiiiiJapan has some customs that are regarded as indelible such as not wearing shoes indoors, or thou shalt not stick chopsticks vertically into food. At the risk of sounding blasphemous to my Japanese compatriots, California may have a thing or two that it can teach Japan about creativity in the sushi world.

Coming from someone who eats sushi daily and has learned to appreciate the subtleties in the texture of hirame, having avocado and waterfall-like salmon gnawing at my unagi eel definitely induced winces. My friend thought avocado was just a food Californians ate to show the rest of the world how pretentious they are. And I admit, telling Japanese people how to reinvent sushi doesn’t exactly help my case.

San Francisco and L.A. are full of restaurants which produce salmon/mango/macadamia nut rolls by the dozen, but finding these Calimaki institutions in Tokyo was a bit of a surprise. Still though, with a prime location amidst Tokyo’s foreign population in Azabu-Juban and a extensive drink menu with many top sakes and such novelties as white wine mojitos, Rainbow Roll sushi makes up in taste and invention what it lacks in tradition.
restThe restaurant’s namesake, a crab-avocado California roll covered in generous slabs of shrimp, salmon, squid, and nobiko is succulent and unique, as is the Dragon Roll, soft warm eel embracing avocado. The ambiance is sleek and modern, and though the basic sashimi selection was fresh and well-prepared, I wouldn’t go back unless I wanted to experiment. There are myriad impeccable sushi restaurants in Tokyo, but only one where making fun of Californians is so much fun. Don’t take your Japanese grandparents… They probably won’t get it.

Rainbow Roll Sushi

Monte Plaza 2F, 1-10-3 Azabujuban, Minato-ku, Tokyo
(One minute walk from exit A5 of Azabu Juban Station on the Oedo and
Nanboku lines)
Tel.03-5572-7688