Japanese Gem

“We cover the rice with both main dishes: chunks of chicken in coconut milk, mushrooms, and coriander; and cuts of beef with cherry tomatoes, in a yellow curry sauce. Both selections are quite delicious…” Shifra Zach celebrated Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, at Oyamaa restaurant in Petach Tikva

It was just one of those standard days, in one of those standard shopping centers near Petach Tikva, and it was then and there that Anat and I found a true gem – a proper Japanese restaurant, unpretentious, and meticulous. Every detail attests to the thorough thinking that went into the restaurant: from the d?cor, with its bamboo lighting fixtures on the ceiling, the stylish bar, and streamlined wooden tables, to the menu itself, which is designed as an easy to read booklet. The table is already set with chopsticks, soy sauce, and dipping saucers. The clientele is apparently appreciative since the place was nearly full, in spite of a stormy weather forecast.

Oyamaa is the name of the joint. It has been in business for over 2 years. How to celebrate such a long time (in restaurant terms) in the business? Raise the level of authenticity, and serve foods appropriate for the Shogatsu (Japanese New Year) – foods that symbolize prosperity and renewal. We welcomed such a meal, plus all you can drink Saki. Saki, the Japanese rice wine, is a deceptive spirit. At first sight, it seems like a harmless drink, but its effects are soon felt – you have been warned.

As opposed to the traditional western meal, Japanese cuisine does not involve a first course, a man course, and a dessert, but rather, all courses served together, with rice, of course, being the centerpiece, as it serves to soak up all the various flavors. However, we, as a result of many years of western conditioning, start from the lighter items and move on to the heavier: first the sushi platter, an addiction we both share. Oyamaa’s sushi is certainly worthy, although we would have appreciated more than 2 kinds of sushi. The cute gyoza dumplings were quickly finished not much later.

Then we split off: Anat takes on the dishes which I consider “inedible” – fried shrimps in tempura and pork yakitori skewers, which she quite enjoys. I go for the ramen – a traditional Japanese soup with a slightly smoky taste, served with half a hard-boiled egg, chicken breast, and chopped scallions. The only problem with this tasty soup is that it challenges the expected social table manners. The noodles slip constantly off the spoon. The only way to eat them is to slurp them up Japanese style. Eventually, I improvise and wrap them around the fork as if they were spaghetti.

We fill our plates with rice and cover it with both main dishes: chunks of chicken in coconut milk, mushrooms, and coriander; and cuts of beef with cherry tomatoes, in a yellow curry sauce. Both selections are quite delicious, although, in our opinion, they resemble each other in flavor too much. It would have been better for one of them to have been piquant to ad some variety to the flavors. The surprise comes courtesy of the vegetable – a warm plate of steamed beans, with added sweet tahini to give it a fresh flavor, which we will try to reproduce at home.

I decide to add a fish dish to the already full meal – “salmon taku,” oven-baked in a white miso sauce. This was an inspired choice because it turned out to be the highlight of the meal: a rectangular cut of salmon, think, minimal in preparation, with a pinkish color, and juiciness. The miso sauce was gentle, and the dish was served over stir-fried spinach leaves – nothing less than wonderful.

When it comes to desserts, the Asian kitchen does not have that much to offer, and so the dessert menu has to borrow from the world of cr?me brule and tiramisu. That have been said, there was a stroke of brilliance to be found: “mascarpone roll,” a freehand variation on the sushi, taken in the direction of sweetness: rolls of dough, filled with mascarpone cream, served with chocolate and vanilla dips – cute, tasty, and original.

17 Itzhak Rabin Way, Petach Tikva