Category Archives: Culinary travel

New Orleans: ‘It’s Not All About The Jazz,’ Guest at Destination Wedding in NOLA Discovers

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin

Photos by Laurie Millman and Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most festive traditions of a New Orleans destination wedding is the Second Line parade. Here the newly married couple leads the line through the Bywater district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym — NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!

We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.

Prior to travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t have to deal with the nightmare of parking. 

For sightseeing around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.”  This bus follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods. With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)

Walking tours abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events, pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled through the beautifully groomed parks.

NOLA Electric Streetcar Trolley Stop © Laurie Millman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For an historic mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per person.  However, a word of warning: the trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least 15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.

Band entertains on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.

Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we soon experienced this first hand) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom.  A Brass band leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds.  The newly married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate led their wedding guests on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.

French Quarter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars, restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food, as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.

Musicians in the Spotted Cat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a  large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.

Maison on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood, often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo (like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food (mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).

Cafe Du Monde server line with trays of beignets and drinks © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts through “Day Passes.”

The scene at Café Negril © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our attraction recommendations are:

Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide.  Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.

In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo.  The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student;  $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).

The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12).  (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org 

Experience gourmet bug food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
At the Aquarium, see Greta the Great White Shark sculpture from plastics reclaimed from oceans
© Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:

The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.

While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets.   Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters

To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site:  $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket).  You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.

We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.

A giant mealworm becomes food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.

The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!

To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and  one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.

To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).

If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).

The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)

New Orleans turned 300 during 2019.

Here are more highlights of a visit to New Orleans:

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans. New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Horsedrawn carriage passes by the Oldest Tavern in US, reputed to have been built between 1722 and 1732, in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Voodoo shop in the French Quarter © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The French-style wrought iron that decorates buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
French Quarter, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Beads strewn from Mardi Gras past, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk over the Rusty Rainbow Bridge to Crescent Park Trail from the Bywater, along the water, to the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance which is why it is so perfect for a destination wedding © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, 800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Memorable Meal at Shalom Japan, Where East Meets Eastern Europe in Williamsburg and New York City Essence is in Every Bite

Chef Aaron Levy, who grew up in Great Neck, Long Island, opened Shalom Japan with his wife, Sawako Okochi, who grew up in Hiroshima, Japan, blending two culinary traditions, and lives the proof that this is a small world, meeting friends from Great Neck and Baltimore © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, David Leiberman, Eric Leiberman, Laini Nemett & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

“Tradition!”

Two cuisine cultures are ingeniously re-mixed, breaking open the “box” of strong tradition that underpins both: Jewish and Japanese. The end-result of this culinary reimagination is New York on a plate.

Shalom Japan, a quaint restaurant and bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is the ingenious creation of Aaron Israel and his wife, Sawako Okochi; Aaron hails from Great Neck, Long Island (a 2000 graduate of Great Neck North High School), and Sawako is from Hiroshima Japan.

Shalom Japan’s logo © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Combining Jewish and Japanese cooking traditions is not just a gimmick. Aaron and Sawako’s flavor combinations are astonishing, a sensory surprise. And the food presentations are as artful as his painting. Indeed, Aaron has created the ceramic dishes and saki cups and his paintings decorate the walls.

The couple are respectful of culinary traditions – this is not meant to satirize or stereotype. This isn’t just a matter of combining two things – it’s really ingenious new creations – you can appreciate the trial-and-error that must have gone into creating these recipes, preparations and presentations.

“With Jewish food and with Japanese food, ‘tradition’ is a box – it’s fun and challenge,” Aaron says.

The cultural mash-up is initially disorienting and fun (blows your mind to imagine and makes you smile) – you are simultaneously thrust into something familiar and comforting, and uprooted into some strange new cultural world. It kind of makes you think about what made something familiar in the first place.

But then there is the pure pleasure of the taste and texture and visual presentation.

Shalom Japan’s Tuna Tataki with Black Tahini © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The dishes begin with delectable fresh, seasonal ingredients. This is especially pronounced in the Tuna Tataki with Black Tahini – a luscious tuna belly, prepared to perfection.

You find yourself just suspending all thought – and for those who just want to take a discovery tour, can take advantage of the Chef’s tasting menu ($55 or $75 per person), which is served on ceramic dishes that Aaron created.

We visit on a Thursday night (the night before Passover seder, in fact) with family who had come from various parts of the country for the holiday, and with the plates prepared with sharing in mind,  the six of us are able to taste a fair amount of the menu.

Toro Toasts, Scallion Cream Cheese, Everything Spices © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Toro Toasts, Scallion Cream Cheese, Everything Spices –served on homemade challah, sliced to small squares and baked to toast – done with scallion and wasabi cream cheese, sprinkled with everything spices (like an everything bagel).

Shalom Japan’s Caesar Salad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shalom Japan Caesar prepared with white anchovy, Za’atar pita crumbs and parmesan.

Spring Jew Egg is their take on a Scotch egg which is a hard boiled, wrapped in pork and deep-fried.  Instead, at Shalom Japan this is a soft boiled egg, wrapped in falafel and deep fried; the accoutrement changes with season – in spring, it is prepared with labna, a tangy middle eastern yogurt, peas carrots, and spring greens on top.

Spring Jew Egg is Shalom Japan’s take on a Scotch egg © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Okonomiyaki, Sauerkraut, Pastrami, Bonito is based on a traditional street food popular in Hiroshima: a savory pancake, made with batter, cabbage, beansprouts and fried. “It translates to ‘have it your way’,  ‘how you like it’ – with different ingredients of choosing. We chose a homage to Jewish deli, New York style– so we chose sauerkraut and pastrami, with bonito – a style of tuna, smoked and thinly shaped.”

Okonomiyaki, Sauerkraut, Pastrami, Bonito is based on a traditional street food popular in Hiroshima © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sesame Temomi Mazemen, Pork Char Siu, Shishito Peppers, Shiso – this is similar to Ramen, but in a sesame sauce (not broth) with the traditional style Japanese noodle. (Shalom Japan is Jewish cooking, not Kosher).

Shalom Japan’s Matzoh Ball Ramen with Foie Gras Dumpling is a meal in itself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Matzoh Ball Ramen with Foie Gras Dumpling is Aaron’s take on matzo ball soup, so it has  many of the ingredients you would expect to find: grandma’s style broth,  potato, Aaron’s own matzoh ball recipe instead of egg noodles, ramen noodles. Admittedly, the foie gras dumpling added in is a strange touch. The soup can be a meal in itself  and you can add in extra Matzoh ball, dumpling or add egg.

Ricotta & Spinach Blintzes served with black truffle and honey. Inspired.

Ricotta & Spinach Blintzes served with black truffle and honey © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The wild, weird ride continues with imaginative cocktails concocted by beverage director Ian Morrison (the beverage menu pages outnumber the food selections), such as:

Meshugatini #2: Caraway-infused Vodka, Gin, Cocchi Americano, Pickle Brine, Fresh Dill

Winter Negroni: Hayman’s Gin, Contratto Bitter, Cynar, Walnut Liqueur, Burnt Rosemary

Y Tu Mamá También: Agave De Cortes Mezcal, Guajllo Infused Suerte Tequila, Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, SweetShine Ginger Liqueur, Lime, Yuzu, Ginger Beer

Konichiwa Brooklyn: Templeton Rye, Dry Plum Wine, Amaro, Maraschino, Brandied Cherry

Sweet and Sawa: Denen Mugi Shochu, Four Roses Bourbon, Yuzu, Honey, Egg White

Beverage director Ian Morrison has concocted imaginative cocktails, like the Meshugatini #2 which has pickle juice! © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a mind-boggling list of sake choices – like Fuku Chitose (“happy owl” described as “rustic, savory, pumpkin”); Tae No Hana (“sublime beauty” which is characterized as “dry, full, frosted flake, hazelnut, malt-ball”).

Even the beer selection is ridiculously eclectic, hailing from Japan, Germany, San Francisco, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington and Michigan.

There are surprising similarities and connections in the food traditions (like Gershwin’s melding of classical and jazz): “Both don’t use too much dairy; both do put a value on fish,” Aaron reflects.

Shalom Japan puts its spin on gefilte fish (not at all like Mother’s) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We asked Aaron what the restaurant would be serving for Passover – Aaron makes his own matzoh – and were treated to a variation on gefilte fish that he would be serving: fried fish ball (much tastier than Mother’s).

Desserts are amazing, also – I try the Uzu sorbet that has a grapefruit flavor; there is also a scrumptious bread pudding.

Talk about a small world! Laini had known Aaron since 2005 when he was an undergraduate studying painting at the prestigious art academy, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, and was mentored by Laini’s father who headed the Painting Department. She has been coming to Shalom Japan since it first opened five years ago; when she brought David the first time, he thought he recognized Aaron and soon realized they had gone to Great Neck North High School together.

Chef Aaron Israel grew up in Great Neck, Long Island; he opened Shalom Japan with his wife, Sawako Okochi, who grew up in Hiroshima, five years ago © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Aaron picks up the story, saying, “by senior year [at MICA], I knew I didn’t want to paint.” Cooking was his art. He got a job in a kitchen and cooked Italian for seven years. He met his wife, Sawako, cooking.

He has worked under some of the most acclaimed chefs in New York City in numerous fine dining restaurants such as August, under chef Tony Liu, and A Voce, under chef Andrew Carmellini. He was the opening sous chef at Torrisi Italian Specialties for Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, helping them to develop and open the restaurant. As chef of Mile End, he launched their acclaimed dinner program. Then, he became a food consultant in London. His work has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation and  by publications including the New York Times, Time Out New York, the Jewish Daily Forward, and the New York Observer.

Sawako Okochi ‘s culinary background is rooted in her Japanese upbringing in Hiroshima. She moved from Japan to Texas in 1995. In 2000 she relocated to New York City for the culinary program at the New York Restaurant School. After finishing an internship at chef David Waltuck’s Chanterelle, she worked for five years with chef Anita Lo at Annisa, rising to sous chef. She spent five years as the chef at the Good Fork and went on to be the executive chef at Lani Kai. She was named by Mother Nature Network to their list of 40 under 40 rising star chefs.

The flavor combinations which I admire so much, “don’t fight, like my relationship with my wife,” Aaron jokes. The couple have a three-year old son, Kyshu (who has already been to Japan three times) and live above the restaurant.

Shalom Japan brings to mind Helen Mirrin’s movie, “The Hundred Foot Journey,” about a cultural collaboration between Indian and French culinary traditions.

Sharing dessert at Shalom Japan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The atmosphere is most pleasant and relaxing – music from the 1930s and 1940s playing in the background – a décor that combines the best of Brooklyn with Japan. On the table, natural elements that evoke Japanese Zen sensibility, like the smooth stones (Jewish culture isn’t at all imbued with natural elements).

The room is cozy yet accommodating a surprising number of people, and on this night is packed – interestingly, a wonderful demographic cross-section of diners.

Shalom Japan offers a cozy atmosphere © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This could be because of “Free Ramen!” Thursdays, from 10 pm to midnight, where you get free ramen with purchase of any alcoholic beverage and half off Mars Iwai whisky, plus a late-night menu. But I must say, we arrived well before 10 pm, and the place pretty much filled up.

Shalom Japan serves brunch. Notable selections:

Okonomi-Latke: pastrami, house sauerkraut, fried egg

Matzoh Ball Ramen prepared with soft boiled egg, chicken, scallions, mandels

Jew Egg Sandwich Platter served with peas, carrots, labneh (a tangy, thick, creamy yogurt cheese), pita

Shalom Japan Burger, prepared with Martin’s potato poll, teriyaki bacon jam, grilled onion, lettuce, crack sauce and blue cheese

DIrty Matzoh Brie  prepared with bacon, cheddar, apple compote

One of the ceramic plates that Aaron Israel created for Shalom Japan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There were many locals and repeat visitors who were clued into the Thursday night happy hour, but Shalom Japan is worthy of a destination restaurant for any long-distance visitors to the city for its unique culinary experience that so expresses New York in a nutshell.

The restaurant is conveniently located just three blocks off the Williamsburg Bridge, a short walk from the J, M, Z, G, and L lines, and across from the Rodney Park Playground in the eclectically vibrant neighborhood of South Williamsburg.

Reservations accepted (you can go online); or just walk in. (Closed Monday).

Shalom Japan, 310 South Fourth St., Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718-388-4012, shalomjapannyc.com; info@ShalomJapanNYC.com, @ShalomJapan

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Okane is San Francisco SoMa Neighborhood Gastropub Serving Extravagant Japanese Cuisine at Everyman Price

Uni, the edible part of the sea urchin, is presented with the spiky part still on the plate at Okane, a Japanese gastropub in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Well off San Francisco’s tourist track, an exquisite dining experience awaits at Okane, a delightful, intimate neighborhood izakaya in the style of a Japanese gastropub, tucked into SoMa (South of Market), once a warehouse and light industrial district that became popular work/living space for musicians and artists and clubs until the techies took over and now is loosely known as the Design district.

Okane, which opened in January 2015, is the hip, casual sister restaurant to the more upscale, sophisticated Michelin-starred Omakase restaurant literally next door. Okane has already been rated a Michelin Bib Gourmand for 2017.

The casual, comfortable atmosphere at Okane Japanese gastropub confutes the elegance of the cuisine © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the casual appearance and really moderate pricing disguises the exquisite, opulent quality of the fish, much it that has been flown in directly from Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market (when you arrive, the list of fish that have come in that day are on a board).

The presentations are breathtaking, but when you bring yourself to take a bite, every morsel brings an astonishment of succulent flavor, so that even the memory of the meal makes your mouth water.

The experience is the culinary equivalent of euphoria.

It’s also an education in Japanese cuisine.

Okane is a SoMa neighborhood izakaya – a Japanese gastropub – serving traditional and refined Japanese “comfort” food and contemporary sushi.  Many of the selections would be common in Japan but are rarer to find in a Japanese restaurant in America.

Albacore Aburi © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The menu at Okane, which is owned by Kash Feng and Jackson Yu who is also the Executive Chef,  features an array of shareable vegetable, fish and meat course (Ippin, or appetizers)s, rice and noodles, nigiri sushi and sushi rolls, and assorted specialties.

Highlights from the izakaya menu include the Salmon Aburi with avocado, served with ikura, shio-kombu and truffle; Wakadori Karaage (fried young chicken); Nebeyaki Udon with shrimp tempura, chicken, wakame, green onion and fish cake; and Oyako Donburi with chicken, egg and green onion.

We were treated to Uni, the edible part of the sea urchin (Mario, the manager, actually saved it for our arrival) presented with the spikey part still on the plate, which was so fresh that when you poked it, it would actually still move reflexively. The meat is sweet, creamy in texture and delectable.

Okane’s chef preparing his artful creations © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was followed by a sampling from the sushi menu, overseen by Chef Rico Li, who creates  a mix of traditional nigiri selections and contemporary rolls. Among the most popular (for good reason): the Ginza which features shrimp tempura (giving it a bit of a crunchy texture), avocado and cucumber, topped with torched Hamachi, jalapeño (a fusion tip of the hat to San Francisco), and spicy blue fin tuna, and Shibuya prepared with avocado, shiso, tobiko (flying fish roe), topped with salmon and a tiny lemon wedge and a Japanese mint leaf; and the Shinjuku, with snow crab and avocado, topped with A5 Wagyu beef.

Ginza Roll, one of the most popular selections at Okane Restaurant, in San Francisco’s SoMa district © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We were gobsmacked by a succession of offerings, each setting off flashes of euphoric delight with each bite:

From the Special Fish Ippin Ryori: Albacore Aburi prepared with Japanese mustard mayonnaise and truffle; and Salmon Aburi with avocado, served with ikura, shiokonbu, truffle.

Okane’s Shibuya Roll © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Agi Tataki, one of the chef’s seasonal sashimi offerings, is mackerel sashimi with ponzu (a citrus-based sauce), onions, ginger and momiji oroshi (grated daikon radish and red chili peppers).

From the sushi offerings, we savored barracuda, salmon belly, Hamachi (yellowtail that already comes sauced so you don’t dip it), Tai (sea bream), Kinmedai (golden eye snapper), prepared with sea salt, lemon and torched is also sensational.

Amberjack Nigiri © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The authentic Japanese cuisine is complimented with a comprehensive menu of sake, Japanese craft beer (Okane is one of the only San Francisco restaurants to offer Coedo Pilsner, IPA and Black Lager on tap), and wine.

Okane doesn’t do many desserts, but to finish the meal, we experienced black sesame ice cream that is the perfect combination of sweet/not sweet – a taste a little like peanut butter – that becomes addictive. (Save room!)

Black Sesame Ice Cream at Okane, a Japanese gastropub in San Francisco’s SoMa district © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can sit at the sushi counter and be treated to Chef’s Choice, where you are served one piece to savor at a time, ($80 pp, compared to $150 at Omikase).

Okane is also unusual in serving brunch (what a concept!).

Okane’s interior design, by Aya Jessani, a San Francisco-based interior designer who also helped create the intimate space for Omakase – there are just 46 seats – is utterly perfect to make you feel absolutely relaxed, focused on nothing more than to savor every morsel.

Okane is the sort of place you happily wait in line for.

Hours Lunch: Monday – Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday – Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Check Average Lunch: $15-$20 Dinner: $30-$40 Capacity 46 seats and a four-seat sushi bar Private Parties For private events, contact Jean Francisco at jean@omakasesf.com or call the restaurant at 415-865-9788

Okane, 669 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-865-9788, www.okanesf.com. Social Media Instagram – @okane_sf Facebook – @okane-523346331167212.

For more help planning a visit to San Franciscocontact San Francisco Travel. 415-391‑2000, www.sftravel.com. 

See also:

San Francisco Throwing Year-Long 50th Anniversary Celebration of Summer of Love – Be Prepared to Be Blasted into the Past

San Francisco Goes All Out With Special Events, Exhibitions Marking 50th Anniversary of Summer of Love

Biking is Great Way to Tour San Francisco’s Must-See Attractions

A Day in San Francisco Revisiting the Past: Plucky Cable Car Epitomizes City’s Grit, Determination, Innovation

Beach Blanket Babylon is Rollicking Fun Musical Revue in San Francisco’s North Beach

Beats of North Beach, Rolling Museums, Urban Oasis: San Francisco’s Cultural Highlights Where You Least Expect 

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