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    Volume 9 Issue 14| April 2, 2010|

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Traditional Japanese Kitchen

The tasteful, minimalist decor adds to the classy ambience.

Eating out has always been the urbanite's favourite pastime, more so in the case of Dhakaites who have limited entertainment options. Restaurants are therefore cropping up a dime a dozen especially in the Gulshan-Banani zone displaying an emphasis on creating the right 'atmosphere' as much as the quality of the food.

For the food connoisseur no news could be sweeter than a brand new restaurant offering authentic cuisine from a distant land. Izumi, Dhaka's latest addition to trendy (not to mention a little expensive) eating out options - authentic Japanese cuisine, prepared by Japanese chefs with ingredients flown all the way from the country of its origin - Japan. This includes the melt-in-your mouth salmon to the taste-bud teasing wasabe sauces.

The decor of the place is inviting enough. Spacious, with minimalist accessorising, the restaurant exudes a quiet sophistication that could only be described as Japanese. Japanese (and Bangladeshi) paintings adorn the walls while lanterns are sparsely hung to give a subdued glow that complements the soothing Jazz tunes in the background. The wooden floors and panelling, glass doors, wood chairs and tables, typically Japanese clay tableware and a lovely courtyard with a waterfall where one can also dine - all add to the classy ambience of the place.

For the sushi lovers Izumi offers the widest choice of the raw delicacies, says Sadat Mehdi,one of the main owners who came up with the idea of this venture. Hideo Aoki, an apprentice chef is busy at the sashimi bar when we visit and delicately slices, rolls and cuts the raw fish vegetables into artistic compositions for the clients who get a kick out of watching how their food is being prepared. Behind him on the wall is a large-sized calligraphy work that roughly translates to 'The spirit of Buddha' (to follow the right path) done by famous Japanese artist Sekijyou Kaneda. Sadat and another partner who happens to be a Bangladeshi Japanese, had gone to visit Kaneda outside Tokyo to acquire some calligraphy work for the restaurant and Kaneda was so pleased that they were planning to set up a Japanese restaurant in Bangladesh, he gave it to them for free. Izumi's logo has also been done by Kaneda.

But when it comes to fine dining, the real thing that matters is what the food tastes like. The food can at best be described as extremely delicate; each item on the menu has a distinct taste to keep the appetite whetted. It is the variety of the sauces poured over the freshest of vegetables and tender meats and fish that provokes the taste buds to want more.

Nakajimaya Masayuki -- Izumi’s head chef. Hideo Aoki shows a selsction at the Sashimi bar.

Take the 'Shabu Shabu Salad' - crispy lettuce with boiled shredded meat in sesame ponzu sauce that has the right amount of zing to get things going in terms of your salivary glands. One could also start with some fresh sashimi or a 'Umaki' Japanese-style omlette stuffed with grilled eel. More familiar items are the 'futo maki' (mixed vegetables with fish roll) a traditional sushi roll and the seafood and veggie tempura, especially the shrimp tempura which is succulent and quite mouth-watering. For soup aficionados there is the tangy-flavoured Miso (red soya bean paste) or clear fish soup with Taraba crab.

In the grilled food section one may choose the 'Yakitori' - spit-roasted beef, chicken or scallops. There is also stewed fresh fish with radish to wake up the senses. The beef preparations, however, are one of their best selections. The 'Gyu Suleki' , a steak of beef with wasabi sauce is juicy and tender and one of the most delicious items on the menu. The restaurant uses the famous imported Masusaka beef (imported directly from Japan) and Yogu (beef from Japanese cows bred in Australia).

Nakajimaya Masayuki, the distinguished looking head chef of Izumi says that most of the items on the menu are pretty much the same as those he used to make in the five-star hotel in Tokyo where he worked; he has been a chef for 30 years. As is the tradition, Masayukisan had to go through the mandatory two-year apprenticeship before he could work as a fulltime chef. But he admits, his eyes twinkling, that he had always loved to cook and even as a teenager he often spent his free time in the kitchen with his sister cooking up dishes.

Sadat explains that all five partners of the restaurant were very particular about presenting food that would be totally authentic Japanese. Thus the trio of Japanese chefs who had to be lured away from lucrative occupations in their home country. Hidenobu Yashimoto, another chef, had his own restaurant in Tokyo.

Which possibly explains the high price tags on many of the items. "It's also because all the ingredients, including the 60 or so spices, have to be flown in every month from Japan," says Sadat. "This way we can keep the stock fresh and give our customers the best."

For those on a budget suggests Sadat, there is the 'Hot Udon' -thin wheat noodles with shrimp tempura or a rice bowl with beef, chicken and vegetables. The restaurant at present, only offers dinner although a set menu in 'bento boxes' at lunch time will soon be started.

So why did this group of young Bangladeshi entrepreneurs decide on Japanese cuisine as a lucrative investment? "Well to begin with, we just love Japanese food" laughs Ali Arsalan one of the partners. He adds: "but actually we felt this kind of cuisine was somewhat underrepresented here although it is extremely popular all over the world. So we decided it would be the type of food that you can't get anywhere else in Dhaka and it would have to be totally authentic and served in the right type of ambience."

No doubt a little heavy on the wallet, but sticklers for originality may find Izumi the right type of gastronomically exotic experience they are looking for.

-Aasha M. Amin

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