Casual gourmet Japanese in Israel

Kitto Katto serves authentic Japanese cuisine unlike any other in Israel.

Casual gourmet  Japanese (photo credit: Courtesy)
Casual gourmet Japanese
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tel Aviv boasts a fair share of Japanese restaurants, including a number of upscale ones. Earlier this year, the chef and owners of one upscale restaurant, TYO, opened a less formal eatery and named it Kitto Katto, a slang expression that translates to “good luck.”
Kitto Katto is situated one block from Dizengoff Center, in the premises formerly occupied by the restaurant Table Talk. It comprises two seating areas, each with its own bar, one indoors and one al fresco on a covered patio that is surrounded by greenery, rendering it pleasant and sheltered while still allowing for lots of fresh air.
The cuisine is called “local Japanese,” which doesn’t have quite the same meaning when divorced from its native country. The reference is to cuisine that is more regional than national, as it draws on the childhood memories and experiences of chef Yama San. By definition, therefore, it highlights dishes that are not going to be familiar to people used to more generic Japanese cuisine. Or, as our waiter put it, “real Japanese, not modified to suit Israeli tastes.”
As befits an authentic Japanese eatery, the alcohol menu features sake, characterized in no fewer than three different grades of quality. There is also an adequate international wine list, with a limited selection available by the glass.
There are eight specialty cocktails (NIS 52-58), most combining Western and Japanese spirits. The Polish Samurai – an exotic and complex blend of vodka, shochu, vanilla syrup, apple, chamomile, Sancha tea, jasmine and lime – was served most unusually from an Oriental tea kettle, while the Shiso Smash – rum, ginger, shiso, lychee, yuzu and lime – was more robust but equally pleasant.
The separate English and Hebrew food menus contain basically just two categories, one under the heading “local Japanese” and the other primarily sushi. Since the sushi menu is essentially transplanted from TYO, we focused on the long list of other dishes, which, we were told, are meant for sharing. Aside from the few soups and salads, the only hints toward size are in the prices, which range from NIS 25 to NIS 98.
We started with the edamame and corn snack, which we initially ordered to accompany our drinks. It turned out this freshly fried snack takes a while to prepare, so instead, these golden brown “cigars” filled with kernels of edamame and corn became our appetizer. Served with a delicious ma-po (mayonnaise and pozu) dipping sauce, these crunchy treats were addictive.
Next we had the yuba and truffle salad, which the menu explains as revolving around yuba, described as the “sweet and fatty” part of tofu. Unfortunately, there was so little yuba among the greens that we had to ask the waiter to point it out to us. We each got the barest taste of milky white strands, but that did not really diminish our enjoyment of the salad, since it was the outstanding truffle vinaigrette dressing that stole the show anyway.
Another dish that merited an explanation on the Hebrew menu was the Chawunmushi, a childhood favorite of the chef. The written description of the dish was also quite detailed: “savory soft egg custard, flavored with mirin, white soy, sake, dashi sauce and surimi,” chock-full of “fish, chicken, shrimp, edamame and shimeji and shiitake mushrooms.” It wasn’t always easy to distinguish the flavors of the various components, but overall the dish was exquisite. 
Our second “main course” was the Sugata lobster, morsels of succulent lobster tempura with seaweed tempura and crispy rice noodles – all excellent on their own, and brought to a sublime level by a rich and creamy Parmesan and lobster bisque.
Six desserts (NIS 45-52) are outlined in separate menus, making for difficult choices. The most familiar-sounding to Western palates was a chocolate bar with ginger ice cream. When it arrived at our table, the waiter poured hot fudge sauce over the works, turning it into a decadent delight.
Finally, the Kalo Goma was a semifreddo crême brulée made with black sesame. Topped with fresh blueberries, this cool and distinctive dessert was a worthy finish to a memorable meal.
Kitto Katto
Not kosher
64 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 778-1101
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.