This past New Year's Eve we found ourselves in Osaka, one of the "kitchens of Japan." Unfortunately for us, the time around New Year's is a dead zone in Japan: nearly every restaurant is closed for the week-long New Year's holiday. There were some restaurants open, but they were all located inside the major hotels. There was a part of me that wanted to stick to Japanese-only "local" food, but another that was pretty hungry. Having never tried Italian cuisine in Japan, I made a last-minute reservation at the newly opened Italian restaurant at the St. Regis: La Veduta. The dining room was gorgeous: oversized chandeliers illuminating an open kitchen with large windows providing a view over downtown Osaka. Our maitre'd was Piemontese, a pleasant surprise of authenticity being nearly 6,000 miles away from Italy. The menu was prix-fixe which took the stress out of ordering. We ordered a glass of champagne and mentally transported ourselves to Europe.
Staff in the kitchen at work
Risotto d'oro al Hamaguri e sugo al zafferano - Our first course was a giant clam sided with a "golden" saffron-infused risotto. The clam was served warm and firm -- a bit dry -- as if it had been boiling for awhile. The risotto tasted mostly of chicken stock with a hint of saffron on the nose. The gold was more for decorative purposes as it contributed no flavor. Our waiter told us that trace amounts of gold is actually good for the health. Go figure!
I fritti misti d'inverno con purea di sedano lapa e mela - A small assortment of fried snacks. Apple, fried taro, fried celeriac, and a potato puree. Though simple, these deep-fried breaded bites went really nicely with our champagne.
Spaghetti alla carbonara al profumo di carota - Spaghetti carbonara with shreded and fried Japanese carrot. The highlight course of the night. The rough surface of the spaghetti really soaked up the sauce creating a very thick and creamy texture. The giant carrot was sweet with a subtle flavor of maple syrup. The ham's smokiness brought the whole dish together. This was just great.
Dentice di territorio e rapa di tennouji - Filet of sea bream atop a turnip puree. The puree was not at all starchy making this very light. The fish was a tiny bit overcooked -- not dry, but not moist either.
Bollito misto al mostarda - A rendition of the classic Northern Italian "boiled dinner." According to legend, Prince Vittorio Emanuele would secretly venture from court in Torino to far away Moncalvo for the country's best boiled dinner. In this meal, all the ingredients are boiled separately and combined on the plate. This "rendition," however, featured a braised filet and a candied orange. The candied orange was very acidic -- even overpowering -- even when eaten with the fatty filet. The vegetables were ok; but boiled vegetables, traditional or not, are never really that appealing for me. Though they are a big part of the Japanese diet, particularly as part of kaiseki's simmered dishes.
Cotechino tradizionale italiano e lenticchie di spello - A traditional spiced pork sausage with lentils. This sausage is traditionally eaten at New Year's eve dinner with lentils to bring luck to the coming year. The sausage is usually slow-cooked for four to six hours; here, it was cooked for eight. The texture was low in fat making it pretty lean for a sausage of this type.
Pandoro al zabbaione al calvados - Pandoro (pan d'oro), or "golden bread," is a traditional Veronese sweet bread served around Christmas and New Year's. The bread is traditionally shaped with eight pointed sides so that if cut horizontally it looks like a star. Here, the soft bread was covered with sweet zabbaione flavored with calvados brandy. The bread was surprisingly light: a slice with my knife nearly compressed it entirely.
For being in the middle of Japan, I was impressed with the restaurant's desire to keep the dishes authentically Northern Italian. The service was excellent and our maitre'd kept us laughing the entire night. My biggest complaint is that some of the cooking times were a bit off leading to dry ingredients, as was the case with the hamaguri clam and the sea bream.
Given the restaurant's newness they're still trying to figure out the ideal balance between authenticity and pleasing the Japanese palate. I think with a bit of time they'll get all these kinks worked out.