Sugoi, Saikou, Kakkoii*
Jerusalem's Kosher Japanika
by Sybil Kaplan
Photographs by Barry A. Kaplan
Address: 34 Derech Bet Lechem
Hours: Sunday through Thursday--12 noon to last customer
Friday--12 noon to one hour before Shabbat
Saturday evening--one hour after Shabbat ends until last customer
Delivery hours: Sunday through Thursday--12 noon to midnight
Friday--12 noon to 3 p.m.
Saturday night--9:30 p.m. to midnight
We have to admit it--we are biased. From the day the first sign went up, each day when our bus passed, we watched the renovations as Japanika took shape on Derech Bet Lechem in 2013. Since it opened in June 2013, it has become our regular "going out place" and a place to introduce our friends to Japanese cuisine,
*Whether you call it sugoi (great), saikou (the best) or kakkoii (awesome), it is special. This franchise, owned by Ben Teper, also franchisee of an Aroma cafe in Rishon le'tzion, is now managed by a lovely young couple. Peleg Cologne, 25 years old, has been with this Japanika since it opened, his first job after completing the army and world traveling. Also managing is 24-year-old Maayan Ben Shmuell, who has been with the Jerusalem restaurant since it opened, is pursuing a degree in economics and Eastern Asian studies at the Hebrew University, and came with five years experience from Japanika in Rishon.
A chef runs the kitchen, and there are three Chinese sushi makers in this restaurant, one of 25 in the chain (and only one of two which are kosher).
One major change since opening is the addition of business lunches served from 12 noon to 5 p.m.There are four choices, ranging in price from NIS 46 to NIS 63 and include an appetizer and cold beverage.
Another nice addition are home or business deliveries on electric, speed-controlled motorcycles with insulated food containers.
Walk through the black wrought iron fence up to the glassed entrance; there are glassed-in patios on either side, with wood tables and black leather chairs seating 26 on one side and 32 on the other.
Continuing into the building itself, one passes a Jerusalem stone area for the hostess and cash station and enters into a room with a vertical bar and 14 bar stools. The sushi makers are in the back, and the kitchen is to the right. Through a door to the right is a room with a rectangular bar with 11 bar stools, track lights and a window to the patio. Off the main room to the left is another seating area with tables for 22 and another bar with 11 bar stools.
Before sampling some of the 10 categories from the menu, the condiments were placed on the table including ginger, teriyaki sauce, spicy mayonnaise, sweet chili, wasabi, and spicy chili.
A special note: there is no MSG in the food, and all soy sauce on the tables and in the food is the low-salt variety.
There are 13 appetizers on the menu ranging in price from NIS 9 for steamed white rice to NIS 33 for Tuna tataki, the first appetizer we tried. Tuna tataki is a blending of tastes and textures--seared red tuna on a seaweed base with radish and carrot salad, sprinkled with ginger, miso and Yuzu dressing. (Yuzu dressing is 80% soy sauce with ginger, garlic and vinegar added.) And what a beautiful presentation this makes! The taste is also exquisite.
Next were Japanese pickles (NIS 12), a little spicy but not overwhelming--cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, ginger and lemon in a rice vinegar, sesame and togarashi marinade. (Togarashi is a blend of Japanese spices.)
When they next brought out the Pi Kai, Maayan and Peleg didn't realize these were my companion's very favorite--chicken wings in a chili and orange sauce, beautifully garnished with sesame seeds and chopped green onions and spiced just right (NIS 27). For chicken wing lovers, you could easily come in and add an order of rice and a salad or soup, using the wings as your main course.
Adama (edamame), the green soybeans served with sea salt and lemon wedge (NIS 12) completed our tasting of appetizers. Little did they know we have edamame, a native of Taiwan cuisine, at home often, but here the sea salt was very appealing.
On the menu, there are three salads and 7 main courses and grill which we did not try.
Of the 4 soups, we had a sample of our favorite, miso--served with tofu cubes, wakame seaweed and spring onions in a fish stock base (NIS 12 for the full bowl). This soup is always excellent; my companion adds, "even in warm weather."
There are 5 noodle dishes, and Peleg wanted us to try his favorite--Chicken Udon Phuket--with udon noodles (a thick noodle made from wheat flour) and vegetables (such as bean sprouts and leeks) in coconut milk and Asiatic pesto (NIS 49). (Phuket is an island off Thailand.)This is a really classic noodle dish, a little spicy with a lot of vegetables.
The last thing we tried was a "special" for Chanukah; then it was made during the winter; now it is a "special for summer," not on the menu (NIS 44). Eight pieces of sushi with vegetables inside are dipped in tempura and fried. Grilled, diced salmon is then placed on top and an avocado sauce is drizzled on that, followed by a sprinkling of chives and panko. Heavenly? We began eating them before a full photograph could be taken! Must order them next time.
The two menu pages have 26 choices of maki, futomaki, nigri, cone roll, sashimi, tempura maki, sushi sandwich, and Japanese sushi, ranging in price from NIS 13 to NIS 39, plus 6 choices of combinations with 14-22 types, ranging from NIS 37 to the combination for two (NIS 78).
There is no dessert menu, so just ask your waiter or waitress. We knew they have a chocolate souffle, but we needed something lighter to end the delectable foods. Out of the 5 choices, we decided on coconut sorbet (30 NIS) and were delighted with its refreshing flavor.
The words in the beginning for "great," "the best" and "awesome" really say it all, in our opinion, for kosher Japanese food in Jerusalem.
The author and photographer were the guests of the restaurant.