|Terra Tokyo Italian at Tras Street|
Once in a while, we survey the flood of Italian restaurants around us and we wonder why no one is daring to do something vastly different. We’ve seen our fair share of pizzeria, trattoria, osteria and fine dining Italian and we’re hankering for something that breaks the mould.
While every new Italian opening offers a glimmer of hope, our prayers mostly went unanswered. Things changed when a wave of Japanese-Italian restaurants swept into town years back, tantalizing diners with a brand of Japanese-inflected Italian cuisine prepped with bountiful Japanese-imported ingredients.
|Chef Seita Nakahara|
The latest to join the fray is Terra Tokyo Italian (“Terra”) by Seita Nakahara, former executive chef of Enoteca L’Operetta, who spent 4 years cutting his teeth in Sicily, Piedmont and Tuscany before holding the reins at L’Operetta for another 4 years.
Terra packs in no more than 36 in a cramped shop house in Tras Street. The bijou space is slightly awkward with a private room to the left of the entrance, a couple of high seats, a main dining room and a 4-seat counter that offers completely no eye-level view of the semi-open kitchen. Not that it matters for when you catch a glimpse of the tall and wavy-haired Nakahara, any angst will magically dissipate into thin air.
There are various ways to savour Nakahara’s cuisine – the a la carte menu that features only 5 pastas, 5 starters and 5 mains, the 5-course degustation (S$98++) or the 6-course omakase (S$128++).
During our omakase dinner on a packed weekday night, Nakahara dispatched what he labels as “Tokyo Italian” plates to “oohs” and “aahs” at the table. To be sure, Tokyo Italian is not fusion cuisine but a mix of classics and modern Italian creations prepped almost exclusively with Japanese ingredients.
|Sardines, eggplant, sudachi|
Raw sardine from Chiba prefecture was marinated briefly in Okinawa salt and sugar, then stacked on Niigata eggplant and served in a light bath of sudachi (a Japanese citrus fruit) vinaigrette with petals of edible flowers from Niigata. It was ethereal and this could well be the first time I describe sardines as such. (4.5/5)
|Chilled capellini, tonburi, Hokkaido uni, fermented lemon dressing with yuzu|
Chilled capellini swept in as a mound crowned with greenish-black pearls of tonburi (seeds of burning bush plant, also known as mountain caviar in Japan). Oodles of the pasta were tucked in the embrace of tongues of Hokkaido uni and basking ever so lightly in an invigorating elixir of olive oil, yuzu and fermented lemon that refreshed the palate as it excited it. This dish made the ubiquitous pasta of chilled capellini with caviar and truffle oil at bigger name venues seem so torpid, so yesterday. (4.75/5)
|Tempura of sujiara fish|
Next, tempura of sujiara fish (also known a blue spotted grouper) arrived with a wedge of sudachi. On the side was a pasty trapanese sauce made in-house with Japanese cherry tomato, Japanese peanut, basil and bell pepper. Pristine as the fish was, the heady trapanese surely stole the thunder from its star cast. (3.75/5)
|Bigoli pasta, iberico pork ragout, peanuts, Parmesan cheese|
Pasta followed – homemade bigoli (a thick extruded pasta) with a rustic ragout of iberico pork (the pork was sourced from Mr Yoshioka, a Spain-based Japanese farmer). To finish, the pasta was strewed with fresh Chiba peanuts and a dust of Parmesan cheese. Although familiarity sometimes breeds contempt, this pasta dish did not fall into that “trap”; Nakahara managed to make this dish his own with a sprinkle of fresh peanuts. (4/5)
|Tajima wagyu, red wine just, Niigata leek, tomato caponata, Hokkaido potatoes|
Nakahara revelled in his respect for Italian tradition by fielding a classic for mains – a not-too-fatty shoulder of char-grilled Tajima wagyu in red wine jus. This arrived alongside Niigata leek and a mound of tomato caponata with bright-yellow roasted Hokkaido potatoes. There was beauty in the simplicity of the wagyu – pink inside and a coat of char on the outside – and it perfectly embodied Nakahara’s “less is more” philosophy. (4.25/5)
|Shine Muscat grapes, fig ice cream, panna cotta, moscato jelly|
Thankfully Nakahara steered clear of tiramisu for desserts. Instead, he fielded Shine Muscat grapes from Okayama with fig ice cream, panna cotta and a jelly of moscato. It was light and toothsome, and a fitting emblem of the Tokyo-Italian that Nakahara seeks to showcase. (4/5)
It’s hard to find fault with a meal like this, where the ingredients are pristine and execution spot on. If there were something I could change, it would be to add a third and more extensive tasting menu, say 8 to 10 courses, so that Nakahara has a larger platform to distill his talents and Japan’s bountiful ingredients.
54 Tras Street, Singapore 078 993 |+65 6221 5159 | terraseita.com
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.