With a lack of authentic Japanese restaurants in Buenos Aires, I am happy to add another place to the list. Thanks to a tip-off from my favorite Treatsy and Lost Asian Buenos Aires food bloggers, I found out about the relatively unknown traditional Japanese spot: a hidden gem on the Belgrano-Nuñez border, where a Japanese mother and daughter duo run an intimate restaurant that is by reservation only. It’s always a good sign walking into a Japanese restaurant where the majority of the dining clientele are Japanese. This place is legit.
Located inside a house that has been converted into a restaurant, Niji is much more than just any old sushi place. If you know someone who speaks Japanese (shout out to my best JAP^2 pal), or knows about Japanese cuisine, make sure they come along. Since most of the menu is in Japanese with some Spanish translations, it’s important to choose your dinner guests wisely for optimal dish ordering. The whole menu is a bit overwhelming as it is printed on massive laminated cards, each card displaying a different course (appetizers, sushi, teppan, bento boxes, etc.). Luckily, for those who are a bit rusty in Kanji, in good ole Denny’s menu fashion there are photos shown of each dish listed.
Like many of my favorite restaurants, it’s ideal to go with a larger group and order many small plates to share. Bad food sharers aren’t invited: since it is tapas style, it wouldn’t make much sense just to order one thing for yourself. So another reason to choose your eating partners wisely, no picky eaters or “I’ll just get my own dish” types are allowed to come. One of my favorite dishes of the night (shown left), a take on octopus-esque salad. Look at those adorable fresh little critters! Nicely dressed with just the right amount of acidity, the octopus also had a pleasant texture, and it didn’t feel like I was chewing on a condom (because I love to do that from time to time).
I wanted to break my sharing rule when this sizzling hot pan fried plate of gyoza were dropped off at the table – those little doughy morsels are the absolute shit. Fried in a cast-iron pan and served as the Japanese do, all in one glorious clump from the heavens, these bad boys aimed to please.
Other highlights of the evening included a Japanese salad – a fresh starter with greens and topped with sashimi in a light dressing.
The family jewel of the night: the sushi platter. Make sure to be clear that you are ALLERGIC to queso crema (cream cheese) or they might bust a big white load on your rolls. While I wish they had a bit more variety of fish on the platter, other than salmon and whitefish, the freshness was quite apparent – it went down like butter, no fishy smell here. It seems a bit silly to comment on sushi rice, as it’s something that is quite standard in making good sushi, but there are so many places in BA that can’t cook rice, so it was a nice surprise to actually eat it when cooked and seasoned perfectly.
For the MEHH dishes – a tofu and green onion sort of soup that came with a nice light soy based sauce, while it wasn’t bad, it didn’t have anything memorable about it. Next, a small grilled fish plate that was a bit of an afterthought and a low note after the sushi. Perhaps as a starter it would have been better. Anything will be a hard act to follow after that sushi platter.
Being the only ones in the restaurant, I felt a bit rushed to get out of there. Ready to eat more, due to lack of customers and a torrential downpour, the kitchen closed early, making the majority of the things on the menu unavailable. So when food isn’t available, drinking comes next. Yes, that is Sake in a cool futuristic sake pitcher.
Even though the atmosphere was reminiscent of a Northern Wisconsin wooden cabin circa 1989 (No Disneyworld for me, my family used to take jet-setting summer vacations to hotspots like Door County & Eagle River in Wisconsin, the Indiana Dunes and New Mexico’s Anasazi ruins), the service was quite good and staff was attentive and helpful with the extremely large flash card menu. Prices are standard for sushi / Japanese in BA – not cheap, but not ridiculously expensive either. It’s a place to go with a group who are looking to satisfy that Japanese craving and in the need of something for a bit more than a California roll and cream cheese with salmon.
Iberá 2424 (near the Congreso de Tucuman subway stop)
Tel. 4544-1850, by reservation only