When most people think of American food, they think of traditional, homemade dishes like apple pie, backyard-grilled hot dogs and tuna casserole. We all have our favorites, but living in Japan, I mainly get my Western food fix by going out for the usual steak or hamburgers. Think of my delight when, upon visiting Suji's Restaurant & Bar just down the street from Roppongi, I was reminded that at the heart of America, there are actually two different types of food; the traditional and the creative. Pushing the limit with multi-ethnic dishes that were exciting yet familiar, my meal at Suji's was a perfect blend of both sides.
When my friend Lu and I walked into Suji’s one recent Sunday evening, the sun was setting but there was a warm woodsy glow emitting from the interior of the restaurant. Our English-speaking host sat us at a corner table near the windows, where we were surrounded by young parents celebrating their child’s birthday on one side, a cute middle-age couple on the other, and a few tables of fun-looking Westerners and Japanese. The atmosphere was quiet enough to hear the soft jazz music, but relaxed enough not to feel like we had to talk in hushed voices.
We ordered the reuben sushi roll (¥900) and the yakiniku beef wrap (¥1,600), two perfect dishes to test whether or not Suji’s is actually “authentic” American cuisine. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was a frequenter of the many Japanese-influenced restaurants of Sawtelle, Gardena, and Little Tokyo. To me, authenticity is when restaurants can effectively put creative spins on a home country’s traditional favorites. Thus, I knew I had the real deal when I was caught by surprise by this strange yet delicious experimental sushi roll consisting of sauerkraut wrapped in warm, succulent pastrami, with a cheyenne pepper-infused secret sauce that added just the perfect subtle kick to the tip of the tongue. This is new, I thought, as I slowly savored each bite. Even as the roll shortened, the cooling temperature didn’t negatively effect the flavor, which showed me that the quality of each ingredient was definitely attended to.
The yakiniku beef wrap involved a full-on, all-American style gorging. The fresh tortilla, crispy radish sprouts, and lettuce kept the balance of the flame-fired shreds of flavorful beef, and we barely cared that juices were running freely down our hands as we attacked our wraps and munched on the very crispy, not-too-salty pile of fries. We couldn’t finish the fries, but we still had room for dessert, which was kiwi raw cheesecake (¥500). Oh my god. Mango and strawberry sauce, creamier, smoother, yet lighter than usual cheesecake, with an Oreo crust? It was beyond amazing. Kyu, the general manager at Suji’s, dropped by occasionally to make sure everything was to our liking. Every time, no matter how hard we nodded, we couldn’t successfully express our satisfaction; our mouths were constantly full.
When Googling Suji’s, the first thing one reads in the listed search results is the restaurant’s mantra, “The next best thing to mom’s home cooking.” I actually don’t think that is 100 percent accurate; Mom, no offense if you’re reading this, but my meal at Suji’s was way better than anything you’ve ever made in my lifetime. As my meal progressed, it became clearly evident that the amount of warmth and attention to detail that my mom has boasted is on a completely different level compared to that of the Suji’s kitchen crew—they’ve turned it into a craft. Somewhere amidst the bubbles of our champagne, Lu mentioned something like she’s never felt so taken care of; my taste buds, appetite, and well-being agree wholeheartedly. We looked around the room and saw Kyu smiling and attending to every customer in the restaurant, some he knows by name, exchanging knowing nods and those words that everyone loves to hear, “Hey (enter name here), good to see you again. The usual?”
Address: 3-1-5, Azabudai, Minatoku, Tokyo
Open: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; hols 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (last order one hour before closing)
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Text by Yulia Mizushima.