What happens when you match a smart businessman with a law degree who has owned an Aroma Café for three and a half years with the CEO of a 24-resturant chain? The result is the two-month-old Jerusalem Japanika in the Baka neighborhood, between the newly renovated First Station railroad station and the trendy restaurant area of Emek Refaim.
One of Japanika’s chefs. Image Barry A Kaplan
Ben Teper, the 34-yer-old owner, witnessed how Japanika, the neighbor of his Rishon le Tzion Aroma café, worked. “I decided I wanted to branch out and I started looking for a place. This one had a different atmosphere.” Renovations began the end of February and the restaurant opened the end of June. The downtown Japanika is no longer affiliated with the corporation.
Limor Oren Mizrachi, CEO of the chain, realizes Jerusalem is different and says, “to be successful we have to talk to all audiences. We want our customers to come three, four, five times a week, make our kitchen your kitchen.”
The special feature of Japanika is for customers to get value for their money–this is a key element that Japanika brings to Israel. In addition, the restaurant has the ability for customers to choose what they want in sushi–their own vegetables, fish, toppings and sauces. Another element is that Japanese food is very healthy food.
An entryway divides the glassed in section which seats 58 people at black tables and black leather chairs. Through a stone passageway, one finds a small room for private groups on one side and a long room with bamboo walls, with a bar in the back and bar stools, seating 14. An open window looks into the large, organized kitchen in which chefs from China and Thailand work.
A side room has a second bar which seats 12, tables and chairs for 22 and black and white tile floors.
One of the rooms is a smoking room.
CEO Limor, who is responsible for developing the foods on the menu with the chefs, has been a restauranteer since 1998–since after the army–at all different levels. She studied hotel management in Israel and Mexico.
On the menu are appetizers, salads, soups, noodle dishes, main courses and grill, 7 types of sushi, Japanese sushi, and 6 combinations.
Umami Roll at Japanika. Image Barry A Kaplan
With Ben and Limor as our host and hostess, the first guided us through four of the 13 appetizers beginning with chicken satay–grilled chicken breast on a skewer in a slightly spicy peanut and coconut milk sauce (23 NIS) and covered with crushed peanuts.
For vegetarians, the vegetable spring roll in a cone-like shape, is filled with cabbage, carrots, sprouts, mushrooms and spring onions and is served with a chili and mint sauce (23 NIS).
Ping pong is a clever appetizer of rice balls, the size of ping pong balls, filled with seasoned baby chicken pieces, Thai spices and then deep fried; they are served with a spicy mayonnaise sauce (21 NIS).
For those who love Thai food, like the author, the Thai-styled chicken cucumber salad comes with a peanut butter, coconut milk and soya dressing (19 NIS) and is wonderful. Limor invented this salad, it is very popular and sells 3000 a month countrywide.
Of the five noodle dishes, we were served the Udon Phuket, available with just vegetables (46 NIS), with tofu (46 NIS) or with chicken (49 NIS). This delicate, flour noodle absorbs the sauce made of coconut cream and basil, and the bean sprouts crunch with the noodles–all giving it a Thai dish.
From the 7 main courses and grill, we tried the Sweet and sour–a traditional Chinese dish–stir-fried vegetables with chicken, peanuts and pineapple, served with white rice which absorbs the flavors and taste, in a lemon and ginger sauce (48 NIS). This is a favorite of children.
From the 11 special Japanese sushi rolls, we tried the Umami Roll–spicy tuna, tempura sweet potatoes, cucumbers, chives and asparagus, coated with tuna and avocado (36 NIS). This dish is made with fresh tuna flown in from Scandinavia and is very tasty as well as colorful.
The last dish was also from the special Japanese sushi rolls, Japanko, the most popular dish on the menu, invented by Japanika, which sells 30,000 a month.
This roll offers customers a choice of Panko-coated fish and two vegetable and is served hot with a teriyaki sauce (29 NIS).
For the sushi, maki, futomaki, nigri, cone roll, sashimi, tempura maki and sushi sandwich are available.
For these, one can also choose from raw salmon, salmon skin, spicy salmon, tempura salmon, red tuna, spicy tuna or seasonal fish; for vegetables and toppings, one can choose from avocado, asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, sweet potatoes in tempura, shitaki mushrooms, kanpyo (dried gourd strips), Tamagu, spring onions or tofu.
One must mention that each dish was exquisitely presented–almost too beautiful to eat!
Japanika has take away and deliveries available and private rooms for special events.
For those who like Asian food as much as we do, Japanika was a very special experience. It is easy to see that indeed eating here often could definitely become a wonderful habit.
The author and photographer were guests of the restaurant.