East Meets East
Two Asian newcomers give Independence Mall a taste of Japan and Malaysia. Let the sushi wars begin.
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Looks can be deceiving. Though Independence Mall is fashioned after a historic landmark, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the shopping center’s restaurants are more global than Colonial. The Melting Pot takes its cue from Swiss-based fondue. Nirvana is an Indian place. Celebrity Kitchens, which features hands-on cooking classes and demonstrations, often hosts experts in Spanish, French and Italian cuisines.
During the last two years, the center lost three longtime delegates to this culinary United Nations when Asian Palace, Flavour of Britain and Utage left. But the opening of two newcomers soothes the sting. Takumi, a Japanese restaurant that occupies Utage’s old space, is owned by a former Utage chef, Hideyuki Okubo, and his wife, Jessie. Rasa Sayang, which specializes in Malaysian cuisine, last September moved into digs a few doors down from Takumi.
Okubo’s plans include installing a cocktail bar and lounge in an adjoining space. For now, Takumi has the same down-home feel of Utage, but with some fresh appointments, such as fabric accents. (Unfortunately, it has the same bathrooms.)
Takumi’s lacquered bento box, available at lunch, is among the largest I’ve seen, giving diners a satisfying meal for a good price. My box contained airy pieces of zucchini and shrimp tempura and lustrous nuggets of teriyaki chicken and mushrooms darkened with soy sauce. Fresh-tasting sashimi fanned across the bottom. The fish’s texture was buttery yet firm, giving me something to sink my teeth into. That quality was also evident in the rolls.
Takumi, like Utage, does sushi well. I relished the refreshing zing of the salmon-avocado kyrui (cucumber) maki, served with a vinegary ponzu sauce. It was rivaled only by the cool summer roll, gossamer-like rice paper packed with tuna, salmon, cucumber, white radish and sprouts.
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