I’m not a fan of trendy, high-end restaurants, but my wife is, so sometimes I look for places that may satisfy us both. Karasu seemed like a good candidate and my hunch was right.
Many fine dining restaurants superficially borrow elements of Japanese cuisine like yuzu, ponzu, panko, fresh wasabi, and wagyu. Because of their shallow appreciation, they don’t contribute to influencing the American culture fundamentally. As soon as the novelty wears off, these fancy chefs move on to exploiting the trappings of other cultures. They are just cheap entertainers.
What I loved about Karasu, on the other hand, was that there is a sense of mastery of both cultures. Instead of symbolizing Japanese culture, it embodies it. I think it’s a kind of integration of foreign culture that goes so deep that it alters the host culture without the latter being aware of it. You love their food and drinks, not as a conceptual or educational exercise, but as a visceral experience. Because you love it, you don’t even need to know which culture it came from. You are sold and ready to make it part of your life from then on. Such an experience changes your soul forever.
Despite the trendy ambiance, the dishes they serve are down-to-earth, like tonkatsu, soba noodles, fried chicken, konnyaku, burdock, roasted sweet potatoes, pickled vegetables, and donburi. They are refined versions of what Japanese people would cook at home. It’s this everyday-ness of these dishes that make it a blind spot for the superficial chefs, and at the same time speaks directly to our souls.
The cocktails too are excellent here. All four of us liked our drinks equally. Usually, at most restaurants or bars, someone always says, “I like yours better,” but that didn’t happen at Karasu. I had two different ones, and I liked them both. The list of ingredients that make up each cocktail sounds like they were selected randomly but work surprisingly well.
This is the type of cultural influence that I myself aspire to where it may not conceptually be recognized as “Japanese” yet makes a lasting impact on the lives of others.
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