By Jac Bergenson
The craze has hit the Hudson Valley.
On a rained-soaked evening in North Brooklyn—rather Beacon, NY—I made my way to Isamu on a whim after its exterior décor had caught my eye earlier in the day. A fusion of traditional and modern design, the dining room was unassuming and accented with calligraphy, with a popping and colorful sushi-bar.
My guest and I sat, greeted in some combination of English and silence, and scanned the menu, which was a little more run-of-the-mill than I had expected. It didn’t take long for us to order. The entertainment came not from inventive menu items, but again, from our server, whose “English” utterances would have hardly been audible even with a hearing aid or three.
A few minutes later I got some sort of salad—topped with what I presume was a ginger dressing—and what I believe was miso soup—again, no explanation from my server. I suppose the meal’s accouterments were a pleasant surprise, and the salad was crisp and flavorful, at least. But admittedly, my sixteenth attempt to try tofu, this time in the form of the miso soup, left me unimpressed…for the sixteenth time. Yes, I have counted.
Later, my guest received her wonton soup, which met her Chinese take-out expectations, but did not exceed them, and I received my California rolls. It is hard to go wrong with California rolls—they are responsible for the American sushi explosion, after all—and I did quite enjoy them. The rolls were made with fresh crab, which alone gives them a leg up on the competition. In addition, the chefs did not skimp on the avocado and cucumber, and in the context of the California roll, managed to make Tobiko (that vibrant orange roe on the outside of the roll) tolerable.
The server did not give my guest and me much time to savor our sushi, heralding the arrival of our entrees by sliding them straight into the plates already sitting on our table, gingerly poking and prodding my guest’s pepper steak, while my tempura chicken sat comfortably on the edge of the table.
The pepper steak was fantastically tender, and I could have eaten my guest’s whole plate had she not devoured it herself. The peppers were a bit under-cooked, with a quite a bite to them, but they were only an accent to the dish, not a main component.
My tempura, on the other hand, was a bit mislabeled. I expected the traditional tempura battering, and received panko-crusted strips instead. Tempura or panko—fried food is always delicious—but a little bit of honesty on the menu could not hurt. Nonetheless, the chicken, and tempura battered zucchini that accompanied it was savory and light, but a little light on the seasoning. I found myself reaching for a saltshaker and did not find one.
Unfortunately, though my guest and I had room for dessert, we summarily decided to skip it. The offerings consisted of two varieties of ice cream, Japanese mochi (rice cakes), and a fried banana (tip: fried plantains are much more savory). If dessert is not the main attraction, it should be more than an afterthought. A caramel, chocolate, cheesecake, or citrus dessert, or any combination of the four, would have instantly given the dessert menu a much needed kick.
It’s a shame. While the evening was not unpleasant, Isamu’s experience is more befitting of a take-out restaurant than an upscale sushi-bar. Come for the food, but do your research first—unless you speak Mandarin, you’re on your own.