Something funny happens to food when a hipster neighborhood abuts a Hasidic one. Well, to be fair, South Williamsburg might be one of the only places in the world where this happens, but there’s something odd indeed going down on S. 4th Street. This stretch is already home to pork-happy, “un-kosher” eatery Traif, as well as its Mexican-Asian spinoff Xixa (pronounced shiksa)–both strong contenders for the borough’s most creative menu crown. Now comes S. 4th’s most oddball outpost yet, the Japanese-Jewish culinary mashup that is Shalom Japan.
Sprung from the brains of Aaron Israel, formerly the chef at Mile End, and Hiroshima-born Sawako Okochi, formerly of Good Fork, Shalom Japan opened last month, and despite its unassuming setting on the east side of the BQE, the 40-seat spot is already attracting plenty of interest, with no tables available for several hours when I stopped by on a recent Tuesday.
The menu changes nightly, and every dish is inventive. Some are traditional Jewish dishes with Japanese touches like challah bread made with sake kasu, the fragrant, fruity byproduct of sake production. Others are traditional Japanese recipes with a touch of Brooklyn (think udon noodles amped up with tender pork, smoky kale and crispy root chips). Some are just plain perplexing when you read their menu descriptions–like the Jew Egg, a play on a Scotch egg, only with the soft-boiled egg encrusted in falafel and smoked eggplant. (This one is apparently inventive enough that no Japanese flair is needed.) Challah bread pudding turns up on the dessert menu, accompanied by mochi blintzes wrapped around red bean ice cream.
On the plate, Shalom Japan’s dishes aren’t actually as far out as they sound–most of their non-traditional ingredient mashups just work. The sake challah is a warm, sweet-and-salty delight, served alongside a tasty golden raisin butter. While I don’t approve of raising the no-longer-free bread and butter rates to a new high of $7, this ain’t no run of the mill bread and butter. A tender tuna tataki came served over a delicious black sesame tahini, while perfect slices of duck are paired with honey, granny smith apple and vinegar. Cocktails like a Plum Luck–genever, plum, sweet vermouth, rice wine vinegar and vanilla–are much more balanced and not as sweet as they sound, and that Jew Egg was maybe the best thing on the menu–crispy on the outside, just a touch soft in the middle, flavorful throughout and topped with a tart wedge of fried lemon.
On second thought, Shalom Japan might not be that bizarre of an eatery after all.
310 S. 4th St. (corner of Rodney Street); 718-388-4012