It is Sunday morning, but it could be 2 a.m. inside Nikkei. The Uptown Japanese-Peruvian restaurant is moody and dimly lit save for splashes of neon light. This dramatic space, with ukiyo-e-style prints lining the walls, sets the tone for the manner in which people take their place at the table – by slinking, not sitting. Upstairs, the rooftop bar affords the kind of views that compel people to patronize an establishment, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse. In other words, it’s sexy. But also confusing; confusing because it is part club with reggae music pumping throughout, and part convergence between two seemingly distinct cuisines.
According to Nikkei’s press-release, Peruvian and Japanese cuisines merged long ago when “…thousands of Japanese workers relocated to Peru” during the Japanese diaspora. What this intersection has translated to is a fascinating, guinea-pig heavy cuisine for which the primary seasoning agent is wasabi.
Well, not quite. But it has resulted in some pretty inventive dishes, as evidenced by Nikkei’s new brunch menu. Chefs Nick Harrison (TJ’s Seafood) and Ross Demers (On The Lamb) have put their own spin on Japanese-Peruvian fusion with dishes like huevos con caviar – an opulent take on deviled eggs with aji panca, marinated caviar and wasabi creme fraiche – a miso and green tea butter take on chicken and waffles, and a tower of passion fruit-spiked French toast.
Speaking of passion fruit, the Passionate Daiquiri ($8) swirls sour and floral into one boozy, Bacardi-soaked cocktail. Hints of lime and passion fruit juice lend the daiquiri an air of sophistication, taking it from its Styrofoam roots and elevating it to orchid garnish-worthy. Other notable drink options include a king crab maki bloody mary ($12) and cocktails designed for groups (or for single persons with poor coping skills) like the lychee and yuzu sangria ($22.)
An order of the pato con migas ($16) featured a soft scramble into which succulent bites of duck confit were embedded like fatty, pink-purple jewels. Bits of tomato, edamame and fresh salsa kept the dish light and bright, while queso fresco crumbles added a little extra salty, nutty note on top of the rich duck. Tucked into the accompanying miniature flour tortillas, this migas served as our first introduction to the world of Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and a good one at that.
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The shrimp bathed in coconut-tomato sauce ($18) took us straight from making Japanese-Peruvian food's acquaintance to mentally plotting the course of our future, replete with a Japanese-Peruvian wedding and Japanese-Peruvian babies. From the toasted coriander seeds that garnished it to the sticky, sauce-sucking rice and the tangy, slightly sweet coconut milk and tomato broth that surrounded an obscene number of perfectly seared shrimp, this dish served as a lovely illustration that shrimp’s place at the brunch table can – and should – extend beyond shrimp and grits.
Ultimately, do not be surprised when you find yourself eating shrimp at 11 a.m. as reggae music swells and your waiter refills your sake box. For here at the sensory menagerie of imagery and sound and flavor that is Nikkei, pleasure is derived from discord.
Nikkei, 2404 Cedar Springs Road. Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.