While many of Israel’s celebrity chefs are busy launching new ventures, at home and abroad, few are expanding their empires at the frenetic pace being set by Moshe Segev. It seems like every week there is an announcement of a new restaurant, or kosher eatery, bearing his name, in cities extending from Kiryat Bialik (Haifa) in the North to Beersheba in the South.
The most recent addition to his eclectic group of 11 restaurants is a clear departure from all the rest: Nihon Nu-Ba, Segev’s Japanese Bar. It marks the famous chef’s first foray into the Asian cuisine that is, by the numbers, the most popular in Israel.
Also new to the Segev brand are the decor and menu of the new place – once you find it, since there is no sign anywhere. It was only by asking at the Segev Kitchen Garden next door that we were directed to an anonymous black door that itself gave no indication that it is the entrance to a restaurant.
The dimly lit interior is dominated by a central bar that extends almost the entire length of the restaurant, perpendicular to the entrance. The tables, in turn, are perpendicular to the bar, and right up against it, making it easy for the bartending staff to serve a pleasant welcome drink: shot glasses of sake with amarena liqueur and black sesame. Also waiting for us on the table was a small bowl of spicy peanuts with pecans and raisins – a snack that is positively addictive.
Upon request, we were given English menus, which proclaim proudly across the top, “We work with fresh fish caught on the same day.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the menu had to be read section by section, because the pinpoint lighting is not sufficient to permit an overview of the entire menu all at one time.
By moving the horizontal menu under the light section by section, we were able to discern that there are four categories of food: Sushi, Vegetarian Sushi, Warm Dishes, and one with no heading, but which comprises dishes consisting of raw fish, plus two salads.
As befits an establishment that calls itself a bar, fully half of the menu is devoted to beverages, primarily cocktails and sake, plus other types of alcohol, as well as soft drinks. There are seven specialty cocktails, based on Japanese spirits, three of which are served frozen.
When the waiter came to take our order, we faced our next challenge: the techno music was so loud we could not talk with the waiter without straining to hear and raising our voices. We asked for the music to be turned down a bit, which – after a second request – it grudgingly was, ever so slightly.
We began our meal with something we presumed to be an appetizer, even if it was not labeled as such. In fact, we placed our order only after the waiter showed us a picture of the “Big Bites” (Crispy Rice), since he was unable to explain it otherwise. The crispy rice turned out to be two rice cracker shells containing raw spicy tuna, mango, sweet potato, avocado, cilantro and potato crunch. This starter (NIS 53) was not easy to eat, but our efforts were rewarded, as the combination of marinated fish, sweet fruit, mild vegetable, fresh herb, salty potato and crunchy shell yielded a magnificent interplay of flavors and textures.
Next we had the Mixed Leaf and Tobiko Salad (NIS 56) – bok choy, salanova lettuce, mizuna and tobiko in a soy-lime vinaigrette with sesame oil and wasabi. The mixed greens topped with tiny fish eggs and accented by a crisp dressing added up to an exceptionally refreshing salad.
From the sushi category we selected the Open Flame Roasted Sushi (NIS 71) – sea bream roasted over an open flame wrapped around avocado, nori (seaweed) and soy sauce. This unusual version of sushi was perfectly acceptable but unremarkable.
The four warm dishes – two fish, one beef and one chicken – are not really main courses; they were served simultaneously with (and were no larger than) the sushi.
The Seared Tuna (NIS 79) featured fresh red tuna that was seared on the edges only. The excellent fish was complemented by a flavorful sweet potato puree.
The Spicy Chicken Teppanyaki (NIS 65), meanwhile, was a sharing plate of tender morsels of pullet seasoned with miso and chili aioli that imparted just the right amount of heat.
We washed our food down with bottled beer imported from Japan. A nice touch was the frosted glass.
For some strange reason, the separate dessert menu – which also listed digestifs and hot drinks – was only in Hebrew. Only two desserts are available, so simply ordering one of each was the logical choice. Both desserts – the chocolate nemesis and the cherry panna cotta – were stunningly presented: the former was richly decadent chocolate with caramel, coconut, matcha parfait and black sesame tuile, while the latter was a sweet and creamy pudding juxtaposed nicely with dollops of tart lemon-yuzu chiffon.
We declined coffee with dessert, because Nihon Nu-Ba is not a place to linger for those who enjoy conversation with their meal. A further frustrating exchange with the manager revealed that evidently there are rules governing the volume of the music; apparently, it cannot be lowered below a decibel level suitable more for dancing than for socializing, even though there is no dance floor. Since we were also advised that there are no recesses of the restaurant where the music level is more tolerable, we beat a hasty retreat outside, to the quieter confines of the bustling shopping mall.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.Nihon Nu-Ba.
Sharonim Mall, Hod Hasharon. Tel. 077-414-2025.
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