When talking about Jews and Asian food, one generally thinks of Chinese food for Jewish Christmas dinner. But at Shalom Japan, a recently-opened spot in Williamsburg, a husband-and-wife team is combining the cuisine of the Chosen People and the Land of the Rising Sun. The high-end fusion food is served in a setting that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Aaron Israel was already a leader of the Jewish food resurgence in fine dining before his latest venture. A native of Long Island, he was the chef at influential Brooklyn deli Mile End who originated the restaurant’s dinner service. Sawako Okochi grew up in Hiroshima and moved to Texas; she’s worked in elite kitchens like Annisa and The Good Fork.
Dishes receiving attention and praise include challah made from spent sake grain, and served with a butter of sake-soaked raisins; a “Jew Egg,” a take on a Scotch egg but with falafel instead of sausage; a “blintz” of ice cream and adzuki bean paste wrapped in mochi; and of course, chicken soup, served with a matzo ball, ramen, mandlen, and a chicken/foie gras dumpling “that could be gyoza or kreplach,” according to the New York Times.
Playful cocktails include the Oy Vey Iz Kir, a take on the kir royal made with Manischewitz, and the Kiyushiki (the old fashioned way of saying old fashioned in Japanese, says to the menu).
Almost equal attention is being paid to the restaurant’s bathroom, which features a high-tech Japanese toilet and a poster from Levy’s Rye Bread’s iconic “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s” campaign, featuring a young Japanese boy with a large sandwich.
But is the restaurant more than just a restaurant? Israel is modest about their “relation to Jewish culture.” He tells the Times of Israel: “It’s not for us to say how people will see the place—we just take care of the food.”