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TATAMI
A marvelous venture in modern Japanese dining  

By bazaar staff, May (2011) edition of bazaar
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Tatami
Tatami
 

A locally inspired concept at its core, Tatami, the modern Japanese dining hub, marks a new era for the local dining scene, where an intelligent blend of talented gastronomic and design connoisseurs realized a dining concept that surpasses international standards. Intrigued by the recent buzz of impressed bloggers and excited online tweets streaming into our twitter timeline, we couldn’t wait to visit the venue for our latest installment of fine dining in Kuwait.

The Japanese art of Tatami, traditionally conceived as a noble architectural style based on piled bamboo mats, is implemented throughout the venue in an inspired industrial presentation. Whilst keeping to the authentic Tatami 2:1 ratio of planning as a main guiding design principle, the art of Tatami is visible under a new light; minimalist, raw and untreated on the inside, yet clean cut and modern to appeal to even the most avid design fanatics. Executed by renowned architect Jassim Alshehab, Tatami is a design haven, as positioning the new restaurant in the heart of Kuwait City makes for an ideal lunchtime escape from the crowded streets of the business district. Complete with an elegant outdoor seating area bordered by quaint potted planters as well as sufficient parking space exclusive for its resident business tower, a visit to Tatami is a refreshing break from trying to squeeze your car into the nonexistent parking areas that are the highlight of any given trip to downtown Kuwait City.

Greeted with a calming fusion of aromatic jasmine and rare Japanese cherry blossoms, one is immediately tantalized by the bare, earthy interior of the restaurant. A harmonic mixture between industrial and modern materials, bright copper pipes highlight the comfortable side-seating area as well as the sleek sushi bar, a definite focal point for customers. Preserved portions of the concrete ceiling and large columns are left untreated, however the subtle lighting bouncing off the copper pipes, combined with the rich auburn walls and seats, delivers an instant feeling of coziness. One cannot help but feel immediately at ease, especially when treated to a special tour of the modern Japanese menu by none other than the innovative and talented executive chef, Danna Al-Tourah.

Initially coming on as a consulting chef for Tatami, Danna now dedicates all of her time at the restaurant developing a deep clientele, and a definite loyal following for her signature creations which have been the talk of the town for recent weeks. Although Tatami only recently opened its doors in March, Danna explains that its better to reserve your table nowadays as nights are always quite busy and people like to come in larger groups for a social evening.

When exploring the varied menu, she proudly asserts, “From raw fish to succulent Wagyu steak, the freshly sourced ingredients are the winning element here at Tatami.” Staying in tune with the minimalist, earthy character of the restaurant, Tatami’s menu fixates on delivering healthier, organic elements that are prepared from scratch, ensured to deliver an intense burst of unique flavors. Graced with contemporary twists on traditional, classical Japanese recipes, Danna states, “I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel here, however when trying to be creative it’s important to deliver something different that people will definitely enjoy.”

As per our chef’s recommendations, we begin sampling the signature Seaweed Sesame Nori Chips. A healthier alternative to commercial potato chips, the oven-baked black Nori chips are laced with an addictive aftertaste; a tangy explosion of spices combined with the toasted sesame seeds forces us to nibble on these chips throughout our entire meal. Although not traditionally Japanese, the Nori chips are a delightful modern creation, and a definite must-try for first time visitors to Tatami.

Taking the liberty of relieving us from our wonderment at the diverse items offered on the menu, Danna invites us to try the Spinach and Shitake Mushroom Gyoza as well as her rendition of Negimaki. Instead of the traditional seaweed wrapped version, we’re offered with beautifully wrapped tender beef parcels. Simple, bare and uncovered, the bite-sized portions of slow cooked beef Negimaki are phenomenal in their pure simplicity. Offering both vegan and non-vegan choices for Gyoza (dumplings), an impressive presentation proves a successful case of ‘less is more’ as garnishes are kept to a minimum. A perfect concoction of shredded carrots, spinach, tofu and Shitake mushrooms, our Gyoza quickly vanishes, leaving room for the very interesting option of Pan-Seared Wagyu Tenderloin and chips. Another contemporary take on Parisian steak and chips, the slow cooked, moist, and tender beef is marinated in a special soy reduction sauce. Deemed by Danna as her ‘champion sauce’, it requires at least two days to prepare. Replacing thick cut potato chips, battered potato chips are a fun addition to dip in the signature sauce. Considered by traditionalists as a bolder take on Japanese cuisine, Danna enjoys the positive feedback from customers, including our wild-eyed glares of joy. She smiles and comments, “Wait till you try the sushi rolls, you will be pleasantly surprised.”

A rainbow of seafood sushi rolls descends upon us, and once again, we’re quite amused by the names of the dishes, Naked Salmon and Crispy Almond. Straight to the point and inventive, the sushi rolls at Tatami clearly reflect simplicity and modernity. The Naked Salmon roll, for instance, is the flawless combination of raw salmon, avocado, and light white rice paper leaves, allowing one to savor the freshness of the delicious cut of raw salmon without the need for any unnecessary sauces.The combination of toasted almonds and a spicy honey sauce, on the other hand, is yet another imaginative twist on the traditional roasted eel and shrimp sushi roll. A noticeable feature of the sushi rolls includes the smaller, bite-sized portions. According to Danna, this makes the process of eating more ‘social’, and people are able to easily consume the rolls without having to stop between bites for a break. Evident to her every word, the rolls quickly disappear. Our final entrée was the chef’s favorite, the Miso-Glazed Black Cod. “It’s absolutely like butter!” Danna excitedly exclaims as she beats us to sample the dish. We couldn’t argue, as one bite of the marinated cod is a transcendent experience! Expertly prepared, the Black Cod melts in the mouth, especially when sampled with the shredded ginger and carrot side salad.

After our venture between the inventive appetizers, sushi rolls and entrees, we decided upon the Chocolate Truffle Molten cake for dessert. Although one might think that we would be extremely satiated by all the different dishes we proudly devoured, we’re still feeling surprisingly ready for the dessert challenge. Because all of the dishes at Tatami are prepared using healthier, fresh ingredients, we find no hassle in dipping our spoons and tasting the mouthwatering molten cake. For all true cocoa lovers, the molten cake is the faultless blend of pure chocolate. Prepared with less flour, we’re consumed with chocolaty goodness and are afraid to tamper the perfect taste with the light vanilla bean ice cream. Now we can officially confirm a state of complete satiation, as we are extremely pleased to have sampled Tatami, and cannot wait to revisit this exceptional addition to Kuwait’s competitive cluster of Japanese restaurants.
 

Try your taste at Tatami by calling 2225 1266 to reserve your table. Tatami is located at Shaymaa Tower on Omar Bin Khattab Street in Sharq, Kuwait City. For more information, please visit www.tatami-japanese.com.

 
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