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Culture news
Eurasia loses Japan in translation
07.06.2004 12:57

sushi The Eurasia sushi bar on Vladimirsky Prospekt (part of a chain of restaurants and bars around the city), certainly presents a knowing echo of Japan, keeping its 10 wood and glass-top tables in the main dining hall separated by bamboo beams, minimalist but stylish wall decorations; with a set of private dining booths at the back, some authentically carpeted with tatami straw mat and accompanying furniture. The restaurant's neighborhood, however, is less than Asian, from the flanking truly-Russian Apteka and the yellow neo-Classic building of the Lensoviet Theatre, to the plethora of shoe boutiques, a flea market, and the Vladimirskaya Church. And, whether to appease the neighbors or the clients, the taste of the restaurant's cuisine is far less distant from the locale than Nippon itself.

When the initial allergic, yet voguish emergence of Japanese restaurants and bars spotted St. Petersburg's cityscape a few years ago, the image such places created was of costly sparsity. Indeed, even now they remain a kind of exotica if not in totality then in some of the choices they offer, such as Eurasia's sweet prawn sushi (70), tempura keks (100 rubles), tobiko rolls (199 rubles), bitter yet sweet green tea ice-cream (70 rubles). A slightly bewildered Balzac-aged customer eyes the menu as she would an exam paper she feels she's about to fail. "Are you looking for something unusual?" prompts the waitress' welcoming tone. The lady waves away the invisible insects over the menu, sighs, then turns with a defeated "Just stick to those for now."

For a less daunting, experimentation-wise and price-wise experience Eurasia offers a great Monday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. happy hour, and a wonderful Special: all sushi for 35 rubles before 1 p.m. and after 10 p.m..Monday to Friday, and during the day at the weekend. Buy one item, receive another one free.

Individual sushi (two during the magic happy hour) range from 35 rubles for tofu, omelette, avocado topped rice-balls, through to the popular smoked salmon (60 rubles), eel (70 rubles), and yellowtail (80) options. With over two pages of color-photo, Russian and English text, and that's just for sushi, the menu impresses by its extensiveness. Then come sashimi (shrimp - 160 rubles; mackerel - 180 rubles; octopus - 290 rubles), maki-rolls (around 120 rubles), miso soups (69 rubles for a standard, up to 160 rubles for spicy seaweed flavored miso), salads (peaking at the 360 rubles mark with Eurasia's special), and hot dishes: tempura shrimp (350 rubles) or fried rice and shrimps (150 rubles).

For the "I hate sushi and all that fishy crap" companion in your group, appeasement may come in the shape of chicken with rice (210 rubles), pork in ginger sauce (235 rubles), baked mussels even (150 rubles). Indeed, looking across the bar-restaurant there stands a plate of pasta and sauce, vapors announcing its European defiance.

While waiting for the two, three chefs who are positioned partly on display behind a bar area to slice and wrap your delicacy, the sound system keeps the atmosphere relaxed, never permitting chill-out, mild mixtures of jazz, techno, and soul to disturb a conversation or confuse an order. The staff's tone and advice for the uninitiated ease where there is unfamiliarity.

Ordering for a large appetite (of a group) suits the assorted sushi boards, preplanned with a sushi, rolls, and miso for 215 to 425 rubles, and "The Glutton" (850 rubles). Eurasia's speciality rolls recommend with an endearing creativity, wrapping and stuffing the usual aqua-marine and vegetable ingredients to form, for example the Yin-Yang circles (290 rubles). Of good value and taste are the Alaska rolls of salmon and avocado centered rice, covered with red caviar tobiko balls (280 rubles). For those seeking luxury, there is Eurasia 3, which for a mere 680 rubles will contain eel, salmon, cucumber and avocado with red and black caviar sprinkled rice.

With all the options and the service, it is the details that disappoint. A Japanese restaurant would never bring umeshu (plum wine) in a wineglass, or any sake, since the term "wine", though applied, is a loose and jarring cross-cultural borrowing. In the sushi rolls, between the rice and the fish there was no wasabi, the green horseradish, which apart from being mixed with soya sauce, in Japan is also applied directly on top of the rice when sushi is made; it left certain sushi quite dry. And the pride of any Japanese restaurant - the sashimi, was barely average. Usually lost in stacks of daikon radish and placed on a lullaby of nori (nettle-like) leaves, Eurasia's yellowtail sashimi (240 rubles) arrived on a puddle of daikon and not in neat slices, but ragged as if torturously sawed by some unhappy Pinocchio. The appearance proved important since the sashimi flesh retained an icy taste of just-defrosted product at first, and then completely flopped into a beaten mass when the ice excused itself. For a sushi restaurant, where prices add up with each mouthful, these details can leave some doubt over the bill's worth. Especially since the freshest tuna sushi at the best fish market in Japan, Tsujiki Market, can be purchased at the nearby sushi bar for a reasonable Yen400 (110 rubles).

To counter the details, Eurasia's own title saves its graces. It does not seek to be the Japanese food chain, but a European adaptation. Does my waitress, looking like a Yuko, sounding like the Olga that her name tag reads, need to persuade of an authenticity? "For speaking Japanese, well, we got a list of some words back there," and she points behind the bar.

"Like, konnichiwa?"

"Erm yeah - that's a, erm - hello, isn't it?"

Eurasia, Vladimirovsky Prospekt 14, open daily from 11am till 5am. Tel: 310-38-79. Reservations not required, but recommended at the weekend and for groups. Menu in Russian and English with all items depicted on photos. Credit cards accepted. Dinner for two with a drink around 1,500 rubles, or much cheaper during a Special or a Happy Hour time period.

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