Two-week-old Shalom Japan’s concept sounds like the set-up to a bad joke (so a Japanese and Jewish person walk into a bar…). Per the restaurant’s website, it’s serving “authentically inauthentic Japanese and Jewish food in South Williamsburg from chefs Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi,” which makes it sound like the spot has either two disparate concepts operating side-by-side or a menu steeped in some sort of weird gimmicky fusion.
Ignore the sound bite, though (both chefs have serious chops, for starters–Israel did time at Torrisi, Okochi at Annisa), and study the chalkboard list of food, and you’ll notice that it’s not exactly gimmickry at play here. The syllabus reads more like New American fare (how vague–isn’t it all New American at this point?) with pointed Jewish (pastrami, challah) and Japanese (udon, abura age) influences that are, yes, often combined. See, for example, the sake challah with raisin butter, the panko caraway lamb ribs, the lox bowl with rice and daikon, and the abura age (tofu) pouches stuffed with pickles and raclette.
And whatever it is, it certainly seems to appeal to the South Williamsburg residents–when we stopped by on a recent night, the spot had the relaxed rhythm of a neighborhood joint: Tables were full throughout the night, but each seemed to empty just in time for the next party to arrive; we never noticed a line or a wait list. In joints like this, we’re partial to bar seating, and we’re glad we grabbed a stool–as with many eateries of its ilk, the servers and bartenders at this spot seem genuinely pleased to chat up the guests. As a bonus, the acoustics in here make it hard to hear people around you, so it’s possible to feel like you’re having a pretty intimate dinner even at the counter when you can’t get a table.
The bar is also a good place to explore the cocktail list–where you’ll find both Manischewitz and sake worked into drinks–as well as a well-edited selection of local and imported craft beers and a substantial wine list that dabbles in some unusual regions and producers.
Don’t mistake “Jewish” for “Kosher,” by the way–we didn’t dig deeply into the ingredients of each dish, but the night we ate here, pork figured prominently in the chilled udon soup; the tarted up base also bobbed with kale and crispy root vegetable chips. That udon, by the way, seems to change on a fairly regular basis, but it’s what we’d recommend if you’re just going to pop in to check the space out and don’t want to blow your dinner budget for the week. At $18 it’s not exactly cheap, but you can pair it to a $3 Schaefer’s beer and get out of there without sawing off a limb. On a similar note, budget-conscious diners should skip the challah. It’s a solid starter that pits sweet against savory in a dense, fluffy roll, but the braid tallies at $8. We’d rather spend the cash on a nicer beer.
Shalom Japan, located at 310 South Fourth Street in Brooklyn, is open for dinner every night but Monday.
Hit the next page for a few photos.