Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jap Us or Tapas, Kasadela

I will admit, the notion that Japanese cooking transcends sushi and sake bombing may cause quite the outburst. Even the plausible, emotionally charged refute. If your past Friday and Saturday night dinners have consisted of California Rolls and Sake-Sapporo combos, you might even take it personally.

Beyond the customary miso soup and edamame, there is custardy, sesame gomo tofu waiting to be sampled. And to neglect the sweet and smoky charred shishito peppers would be the ultimate crime. Even the roasted nori - dark, briny seaweed that so often envelope your endearing rolls of nigiri zushi, are well worth the risk.

At Kasadela, Yujen Pan does more than shine a light on Japan’s izakaya cuisine – he sets the stage. Opposite of what Masa, Megu and Jewel Bako are doing – offering seraphic meals fit for Japanese deities – Pan brings the playing field back down to realistic means. Back to a world where no dish costs more than ten dollars.

Izakaya cuisine is essentially pub grub food in a more refined form. Traditional spots usually contain large, illustrated menus with a multitude of small, colorful dishes covering every square inch. The idea of the dishes is to, most discernibly, complement your mutually increasing beverage tab.

To stimulate your palate, black edamame – a steamed and darkened version of the regular chartreuse-colored variety, offers a potently more pleasurable, salty savor. Whereas a triplet of crispy tori kawa – skewered, accordion-like chicken skins – make ordinary pork rinds seem like the last kid picked in dodgeball.

Though I must confess, I would’ve cared for a tad bit more. The whole bar snack theme at times is cute, but at other times makes you wonder why the dishes have to be so small. I might even go on to say I built an impulsive addiction to the special of charred pork cheek, smothered in sweet, vinegary scallions. Yet after savoring the last drop of its fragrant miso-based sauce, I felt so used and forsaken.

There’s a personal connection between each of his dishes. It could just be the concept that the servings are meant to be shared – like tapas, but only tastier. Each sauce and condiment is balanced and congruent, full of flavor and life. Each plate, served as soon as they’re prepared, complement those that precede them.

Yet the ika sugata yaki, a grilled whole squid, was a bit rubbery and waxy. The light soy sauce, too weak to make up for the muted taste, yearned for the aid of a minced ginger garnish.

A special of lightly grilled duck, served cold, was sleek and fatty. The ruby ribbons laced with smoky strips of fat worked well with a sour kimchee cabbage accompaniment. Though the duck’s richness was a tad shallow.

The space inside is as compact as the dishes. Situated on the entrance side rises a petite bar and extensive collection of sake; opposite through a door, is a small dining room consisting of no more than 20 seats.

You won’t find any elaborate pan-global combinations or rude service here. It’s far too relaxed and friendly to worry about the high stress standards of big name restaurants. With its soothing brick walls and warm glow of tea lights, the tranquil place is meant to unwind in.

After a long day of classes or when that desire for tiny, Japanese snacks crosses your mind, where better to rest than your local izakaya. By the time dinner’s complete, you might even be slightly rejuvenated - energetic enough to move on to the next step of the night, jäger bombing.

647 E 11th St @ Avenue C

$7.50 Pork Cheek
$8.75 Ika Sugata Yaki
$8.75 Cold Duck
$3.75 Edamame
$4.75 Tori Kawa

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