Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mare Cucina - IKSPIARI Maihama, Urayasu, Chiba

A small chic Italian restaurant in IKSPIARI, and thank goodness, no long queue. Well, that's probably beacuse it was 10pm. Actually, looking at the interior, it reminds me more of the Spanish / Mediterranean - California architecture style in Santa Barbara. Overall, it's a delightful place, and probably popular among the expats as I spotted quite a lot of gaijin (foreigners) in the crowd.

The menu is an Italian-Japanese fusion, but unlike similar establishments in downtown Tokyo, this restaurant actually serves a more authentic Italian food in the sense that they do not overdo the Japanese influence like using mentaiko (Japanese-style fish roe) for pasta sauce or something. Instead, they choose native Japanese ingredients as a non-dominant element of their creations.

In Japan, almost every non-Japanese restaurants do modify their menu to suit the Japanese palate, and in my experience, it's rather hard to find restaurants serving purely authentic foreign cuisine in Japan. But that's what make dining in Japan such a pleasant experience, because the Japanese have become experts on blending other cultures with their own, creating a dining sensation unlike anywhere else in the world. As somebody who has never lived in Japan, I prefer non-Japanese cuisine modified for Japanese taste rather than the other way around. I especially dislike Japanese food tweaked to suit other tastes, like Korean-style teriyaki chicken (with sesame seeds sprinkles), or Indonesian-style chicken katsu, with the obligatory sambal (Indonesian chilli sauce).

Broccoli, sweet potato, and prosciutto di parma antipasto

-> The shiitake-based sauce used to dress the broccoli, and the usage of the satsumaimo (sweet potato) illustrates my point on the clever fusion of Japanese-Italian cuisine. The Japanese element is not dominant - the broccoli still tastes like broccoli, and the satsumaimo is just a clever substitution of more Italian-esque ingredient like, say, pumpkin. So even though it's sweet potato, it still tastes like Italian food since satsumaimo has no strong flavor, so the Italian identity is not lost. Meanwhile the prosciutto di parma (Parma ham) is just a delightful addition to this antipasto. I like the fact that they sort of 'leave' the prosciutto alone, because the only thing that should go with prosciutto is plain saltine cracker or something flavor-less.

Kurobuta pancetta to han-netsu tamago no karubonara
(kurobuta pancetta and half-boiled egg carbonara)

-> This pasta is simply marvellous. Firstly, this is the first time I've tasted pancetta made from Kurobuta. Kurobuta is a breed of Japanese pig, and it's considered the most highly-prized breed of pig in Japan. Some sources say that it comes from the ancient breed of Black Berkshire pigs. It's the most exquisite and expensive breed of pig in the world. The Japanese dubbed the kurobuta as "the pork for royalty". Understandably, this dish is wonderful. The chef really knows how to accentuate the wonderful pancetta by not overdoing the carbonara sauce. The flavor, aroma, and texture all comes from the pancetta, not the sauce.

The addition of half-boiled egg to pasta dishes is so Japanese (I think). In Japan, eggs are used to make many dishes "special", like tonkatsu, gyudon, ramen, and of course, pasta. In Indonesia, eggs are used to heighten the 'class' of the food, hence the common expression "special pake telor" (special - with eggs added).

Tomato rerishu to pesuto no tan-yaki sake
(Chargrilled salmon with pesto and tomato relish)

-> According to the menu, this course is classified as "wafu no main course" (Japanese main). However, I can't decide on what is so Japanese about this dish. The tomato and pesto is clearly Italian, and the salmon isn't even a traditional Japanese fish (contrary to popular belief). However, it's still delicious. The pesto could be a little bit stronger in taste, but it's okay.

Caramel banana mille-feuille

-> The Japanese love mille-feuille. Although it's hard to eat, but the caramel is to die for...

The Coffee. I really love the brown rounded sugar cubes. So much better than those non-Japanese stiff-brick-y looking ones. (boy, can the Japanese do anything wrong?? I mean, besides their excessive whaling...)


Leony said...

Hi Erik!

It's me again ! I've been wanting to read your entries since the beginning of last week when I checked your comment on my blog on Monday at Soekarno Hatta airport, before my work related trip to South Sumatra and Lampung. Too bad, in the secluded area there I couldn't find any internet connection ! Even my Telkomsel couldn't make regular calls (sigh !).

And Rik, your new entries are: AWESOME !!... Baru nyadar why I like your entries so much... probably karena semuanya dilengkapi dengan gambar-gambar yang menggiurkan, sehingga pagi ini, perut saya yang lapar karena belum sarapan makin keroncongan saat baca entry2nya...unlike my blog that has no picture at all because I am not experienced enough in producing good pictures => in other word = i'm lazy.

I also found out many things about you such as: how you love kids meal so much that you even adore them, and also how you like heart-shaped foods haha! So where are you now ? back in Sydney, or at your hometown Batavia, or still rambling around in Japan ?

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