What Is Itameshi?

Kimika's lasagna

It’s a question I get asked often. Outside New York, it’s a question few can answer — at least tangibly. Here, however, restaurants that offer itameshi (Japanese for “Italian food”) not only exist but are on the rise.

Itameshi is not fusion cooking, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. Rather, it is Italian food — and especially pasta — spoken with a distinct Japanese accent. At year-old Kimika, the city’s best-known purveyor of itameshi, for example, you will find braciole, but it is crafted with wagyu short rib and paired with uni. Risotto is finished with truffle cream but accented with bamboo shoots, shiitake, chestnuts, and ginkgo nuts, and the rice itself is the sticky variety. Lasagna arrives hot and bubbly in a casserole that also secretes chunks of sweet Italian sausage and scallions, but rice cake is used in place of lasagna noodles. Even grissini are flavored and speckled green with seaweed.

Yes, the tiramisu has ladyfingers and, yes, they are soaked in espresso. But, no, it does not have mascarpone. Instead the custard is made with genmaicha tea.

Fittingly, Kimika’s head chef, Christine Lau, is not from Japan. Or Italy, from that matter. She’s from Oakland, Calif.

Kimika, 40 Kenmare Street, 212-256-9280.

See also…

With the Pandemic Still Raging, Italian-Japanese Fusion Premieres in Nolita