Shalom Japan Review
By Stephanie Mieko Cohen
“Two Japanese Jews walk into a Japanese-Jewish restaurant...”
Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but this is actually just a tale of my sister Marissa and me heading to eat dinner on Father’s Day 2019. My father, Michael Cohen, was a Kosher caterer who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. He is no longer with us, so for every Father’s Day, my family and I make sure to do something that we know he would have loved. This year, my sister and I chose to go to Shalom Japan, a Brooklyn eatery combining Japanese and Jewish cuisine. Seeing as my father married my Japanese mother (Cindy Tanaka), I thought there couldn’t be a more perfect place to eat… and boy, do the Cohens like to eat! Now I give you a review of Shalom Japan:
This quaint little restaurant is just a short walk off the J train. As you walk in, you are immediately greeted with bright colors. The bar and the tables are a dark espresso wood, topped with effervescent hues of pink, red, green, and blue patch-like squares. It’s somehow very Asian and, in a way, a more refined version of those quilts you find on a couch in your Jewish grandparents’ house. Nailed it. We get a corner spot and immediately hear a baby crying. Marissa and I look over and see a family with two babies— maybe one and three years old. I do a double take. I look at the parents, then to the kids and realize they are also Hapa. Suddenly I am taken back twenty-five years ago and see my sister and me. It was pretty adorable.
Our friendly waiter brings menus over and we peruse drinks. The names are all incredible— Marissa went with “Sweet and Sawa,” a combo of Mizunomai Shochu, Four Roses Bourbon, Yuzu Honey, and Egg White. I went with the “Horahcane,” their spicy twist on a Moscow Mule with tequila. Both were refreshing and delicious. We obviously had to get one from each culture.
After putting in our food order, I decided to head to the bathroom, where I was in for the cutest surprise. On the bathroom wall is one of my favorite pictures I have ever seen: a little Japanese boy donning a bowl haircut, suspenders, and a tie, eating a deli-style sandwich. It is a campaign for Levy’s bread, and the slogan says “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” I loved it so much I took multiple pictures, a situation that apparently happens frequently according to our server. He also mentioned that the owners of the restaurant Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi have a little boy who looks just like him. It was such a cute and memorable touch.
And now the part we all came for: the food. We started out with the Toro Toasts, with scallion cream cheese and everything bagel spices. This was EVERYTHING. While it may sound like a fish and cream cheese combination would basically be the same as lox, the tuna was prepared with soy in a way that had strong Japanese flavors. The mixture of fish flavor sensations and bagel seasoning was the perfect balance of salt.
Our next appetizer was the Knish. Who doesn’t love potato wrapped in dough? The knish came with a side of spicy Guldan’s mustard (just the way I like it!) and pickles! Yum! While still delicious, I think the potato knish was the least innovative of the plates we had. It did have cubed potatoes instead of mashed, and there was a subtle addition of cheddar cheese added for texture and depth, but all in all, it tasted like a traditional knish.
Next up: Local Sea Scallops. This was the special, and I have to say, this was our favorite dish of the night. The miso butter added the perfect creaminess to the sauce, and the maitake mushrooms were meaty and savory. It was buttery and rich, but the scallops and green onions made the dish bright and gave a lightweight sensation. It was served in a cast iron to keep it cooking, hot and textured. This description is not doing it justice. So delicious. A definite highlight.
After our three shared plates, Marissa and I ordered two entrees: she got the Matzo Ball Ramen and I got the Okonomiyaki. Marissa is a vegetarian so unfortunately she did not get to try mine, but luckily for me, I got to have a few bites of hers! Haha! The Matzo Ball Ramen as a concept alone is genius. Marissa said it was an interesting first bite, as “it tasted like chicken soup with ramen noodles.” I agreed. It’s a strange sensation that your taste buds are not prepared for, especially when you are familiar with both of these soups as separate entities. As we continued eating, however, the flavors started to open up. The matzo ball itself was the perfect texture, something that can be hard to achieve as we have learned by attending many Passovers over the years. And of course, having a father as a Kosher caterer, we are a little biased. The soup also contained baby corn (one of my favorite ingredients) seaweed, and wonton noodles, which added amazing crunch and extra carbohydrates (bring them on)! Adding the Japanese ingredients to a chicken based broth was really unique and tasty. It took some warming up to, but we both really enjoyed it, and I was in love with the creativity.
The Okonomiyaki was incredible. Picture a scallion pancake, topped with tender, juicy Wagyu pastrami, and sprinkled with scallions, sauerkraut, and bonito flakes. Wow. Once again, another brilliant fusion of Japanese flavors— the pancake, the incredibly tender Waygu and soy glaze, and the bonito for texture. The pastrami and sauerkraut were the perfect touch to bring you back to the comfort of the Jewish High Holidays. I really wish Marissa could have shared it with me because I ate the whole thing.
We were so full at this point, but we felt we would be cheated of the full experience if we didn’t order dessert. There were too many to choose from, but being in a chocolate mood, we ended up going with the Challah French Toast. Although we could barely move, there were no regrets because this dessert was the cherry on the cake to a delicious meal. The Challah bread was the perfect texture to soak up all the flavors of chocolate and bourbon maple syrup. The crème fraiche added a delicate balance, and, of course, we ate it all.
Needless to say, our experience at Shalom Japan did not disappoint. Marissa and I cannot wait to come back and bring our fellow Hapas to join next time! Most importantly, I know Michael Cohen would have given it two thumbs up.
Go check out Shalom Japan.
310 South Forth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Stephanie Mieko Cohen is a Los Angeles native who made her way to New York City. She is Yonsei and is a proud member of the NYC Hapa fam! Performing since the age of five, Stephanie has appeared on Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatre, Television, Film, and in the Voiceover world. She is a certified Vinyasa yoga instructor and an advocate for mental health awareness, equality, and spreading kindness. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys crafting, writing, eating as much Mexican food as she can, reality television, and playing with kitty cats. Follow her on instagram @stecohen www.stephaniemiekocohen.com