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Eating out / A fusion of tradition, modernity

The Japan News

Kifu executive chef Hitoshi Kagawa prepares sashimi.

By Susumu Arai/Japan News Staff Writer“The executive chef has about 20 years’ experience at high-end Japanese restaurants in New York.”

When I first heard about Kifu, a restaurant in Tokyo’s Kagurazaka district, I imagined it would serve California rolls — a variety of sushi popular in the West that I quite enjoy.

Yet after dining at the restaurant on an autumn night, I found my expectations to be wildly misplaced. In fairness, I’d never experienced New York’s rich Japanese food culture before.

My nine-course meal began with a serving of parboiled pike conger in broth soup with pickled plum and wasabi. The soup stock, a crucial component of traditional Japanese foods, had been carefully prepared.

The sashimi in the third dish, homemade seaweed salt carpaccio of kingfish with early autumn vegetables, was similarly delightful and could have been served at a high-end sushi bar.

The dishes successfully made use of fundamental Japanese culinary techniques. Each course had been fashionably prepared using novel methods.

The kingfish, hiramasa yellowtail amberjack, was served with sliced vegetables such as okra and Japanese ginger, as well as an oil-based sauce made with sudachi citrus. The chef recommended that we eat it with salt — not with soy sauce as one normally does at traditional Japanese restaurants.

The seventh dish, grilled New Zealand lamb chop with herb miso sauce, was the most Western of the nine courses. However, the chef succeeded in softening the taste of lamb, sometimes thought to be too strong in Japan, by adding a unique sauce made of miso, soup stock and balsamic vinegar, while maintaining its juiciness.

“I never compromise on traditional Japanese culinary techniques. But overseas, including in New York, there are many ways of enjoying Japanese food. I would like to explore a new world by bringing in such approaches,” said Hitoshi Kagawa, 51, Kifu’s executive chef.

Kagawa moved to New York when he was 22 to work at a Japanese restaurant and acquired U.S. citizenship when he was 47.

The chef said that when he first started working in New York, he struggled to procure ingredients for Japanese cuisine. Now, every ingredient is readily available as more and more Americans enjoy Japanese food, with the level of local Japanese cuisine approaching that of Tokyo.

“My experience there helps me come up with new ideas,” said Kagawa.

The nine-course meal costs ¥12,000 (excluding tax and service charge). The dishes change every month.

*Kifu

Open: 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. (L.O. 9 p.m.)

Closed on Sundays and national holidays

Address: 14-7, Wakamiyacho, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo

Tel: (03) 3268-6033

English menu available.

Credit cards accepted.

Visit http://www.ilusa.jp/kifu/

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