One of the things that surprises first-time São Paulo visitors is that the city has some
of the best Japanese food in the world. No, really! The reason is simple: no other city outside of Japan has as many Japanese descendents. Not even New York.
So it naturally follows that Brazilians are used to eating Japanese food. There are thousands and thousands of sushi places, many of them better than most of what you find in the U.S.
And then there are the top Japanese places. Which, of course, are always up for discussion. Some claim Jun Sakamoto is the best in town, others swear that it's Kinoshita. I think that it's sort of like comparing apples and oranges. Jun does traditional sushi, and only sushi at the counter, while the hot dishes play second fiddle. He does not mess with the classic niguiri. No fusion going on here.
At Kinoshita, the opposite is true. They'll do basic sushi and sashimi but that's definitely not their strong suit and it would be a waste to order something that boring, At Kinoshita, the way to go is to order the tasting menu, which changes often, and prepare to be wowed.
But I digress.
I want to tell you about a third highly-rated Japanese restaurant, called Aizomê. The city's biggest weekly magazine (the New York Magazine of Sao Paulo), called Vejinha, elected it best Japanese in town, which raised many eyebrows. I, for one, was skeptical. The best in town, really?!
Turns out the voting rules had been twisted, and it wasn't exactly a very fair win. Won't bore you with the details. Point is, I went there to try their tasting menu and it became instantly clear to me that while it was quite good it's also a couple of notches BELOW both Jun and Kinoshita. No question.
The chef is Shinya Koike, or Shin for short. The restaurant is quite small, with an U-shaped counter, and opened in 2007. Boring, old-fashioned décor.
Strange amuse bouches left me wanting more: some sort of root with julienned carrot; green beans with miso and sesame; eggplant with miso; morsels of overcooked fish; seaweed with more of the julienned carrots.
The tasting menu started with angel-hair-like cucumber with shrimp in a martini glass. Refreshing.
Eel with foie and mushroom "risotto" (not exactly risotto). Nice sweet-savoury contrast, silky and soft texture.
Carpaccio of halibut with ponzu sauce and beet sprouts. Not original but delish.
The sashimi was over-spiced. In fact, why spice it at all? The octopus came sprinkled with what they call "7 peppers". Firey indeed! The yellowtail was seasoned with sesame oil, which was too bad because I love the taste of that fish.
Mushroom custard with truffle oil. And, next to it, duck
served atop a silky mandioquinha purée and pink peppercorns. Not sure this was meant to be eaten with chopsticks, it was very awkward. And the pepper took over the dish... Not my favourite.
Then came the sushi, also overly seasoned with pepper. Strange sequence.... The heartier, strong-flavoured duck should
have followed it. Still, the niguiri was beautiful.
Fish with aspargus and zuchini flower. Not memorable.
Surprisingly, the desserts were the highlights of the meal.
Tofu cheesecake with berry sauce:
Chocolate Soufflé (more like a molten lava cake).
Sliced fruit with ice cream.
In short, Aizomê is a good bet if you've already been to Jun Sakamoto and to Kinoshita
and really want to try something new.
ps. take your own wine and pay the corkage fee, since their wine list is laughable.
Alameda Fernão Cardim, 39, Cerqueira César, tel. (11) 3251-5157
And more Japanese restaurants reviewed in this blog: