24 February 2012

Dummy! Live it up!

Living at the Marriott, Amos and I are have been trying more than our fair share of restaurants in Nagoya. A part of me - the creative, slightly antsy, part of me -  is so ready to dig my hands into a kitchen and cook again; to make coffee and flip open a cookbook to leisurely decide what to make and spend hours strolling the grocery aisles to see what captures my attention. The lazy, and arguably wiser, part of me is arguing against that: Dummy! Live it up! People do your dishes for you! How hard is it to point to something and say "Kore o, kudasai"?! You! With your kvetching and your first world problems! Enough already!

(I occasionally have a running disagreement in my head, and one voice tends to channel an elderly Jewish woman. My little Irish Catholic heart can't help but love Yiddish: It's a language that forces you to speak with your entire body. I dare you to say 'mensch' and tell me it doesn't feel just so satisfying.)

Anyway... enough of the Yiddish (and what IS it with my overuse of italics today?) and baaaack to food. In Nagoya.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the variety of food here. More than sushi and gohan, we've eaten French, Spanish, (mediocre but cheap) Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Brazilian, Romanian, and we've only been here two (!) weeks (!!).

This week, we made our way to an Italian pizza joint that had caught my eye. It was, like most restaurants in Japan, tucked away in an alley, almost nondescript from the outside.The inside was skinny and long, tables at the front, pizza oven in the back, and a bar area shoved between. It felt like a sleeker, more hospitable Italian cafe: lines of wine bottles on wooden shelves against the white subway tile. Tables full of people smooshed in together, friendly arms reaching across for pizza and wine. Servers running back to the wood burning oven in the back, with the Japanese concept of service putting every other nation to shame. I immediately loved it.

Amos and I made use of my new phrase: grasu awain akai, kudusai - which may or may not be quiet correct but seems to get the point across - and we enjoyed some of the best wine we've had since we arrived as we waited for our ensalada caprese and wood fired pizza to arrive. Our pizzas were thin crust with very Japanese toppings: salami, capers, and jalapeños on one, pork, olive oil, and cabbage on the other. Japanese cuisine tends to emphasize extremely fresh flavors, with each dish constructed in a way that several individual flavors and textures shine, yet compliment each other seemlessly. That's why, in traditional Japanese cooking, you'll see several small 'parts' of a plate: a little of this, and a little of that, each with the presentation as important as the taste. There is no 'muddying,' no hodge podge.

I've noticed that this remains present even as the Japanese interpret foreign dishes. Our pizza had bites of the salty capers, then a hint of the rich salami, then the spice of the peppers with just a bit of cheese to compliment the crust and keep everything together. It wasn't sloppy; it wasn't greasy or messy. It was Japanese pizza through and through: a very detailed-oriented and well-executed presentation of a concept thought of by another country (Toyota anyone? This seems to be a running theme around these parts). What the Japanese do, they do well. And thoughtfully. While they might not come up with the idea, by golly, if they are going to do it, they are going to do it right.

My OCD side had reached nirvana.

I might have gotten a teensy bit carried away and announced that New York and Chicago had better watch out; they had some Asian rivalry. Don't fret: Amos pulled me back, and straight away at that. Let's be real.

But here? In Nagoya? It'd be mishegas to pass that up.

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