Sunday, June 1, 2008

Boy-Watching & Tapas @ Tucusi

Whenever I and my two closest girlfriends in Osaka, J (American) and L (British), are in the mood to combine excellent food with a night out at a bar, we don’t head for a traditional izakaya. Instead, we go to Tucusi in Umeda. Besides having delectable tapas, Tucusi has some of the nicest (and cutest) staff we’ve met, and even though they’re all Japanese, they are very patient with non-Nihongo speakers. J and I even call it “too-cutsie,” which we think is a hilariously clever play on words, all the more witty because it spans two languages. (Really, this just distracts us from the fact that J struggles through life in Kansai speaking virtually no Japanese, her MO being to talk English more loudly; and I--as I mentioned in last month’s column--can be consistently counted on to fail my language classes, my Japanese husband notwithstanding. L, the lone, proper, and fluent Brit among us two Americans, usually either smiles pityingly at us when we repeat our witticism or pretends not to hear it.)

A few weeks ago, J had broken up with boyfriend number 3,982, who was still back in the US (and whom she actually blocked on Skype, meaning they were really broken up this time), and she needed some distraction. So the three of us headed for Tucusi. We sat at one of their high tables, sandwiched between wall-length windows on one side--perfect for surveying the scene--and on the other by the bar: sleek, long, and tended by one very handsome bartender. At the far end of the restaurant is another huge glass pane, displaying the kitchen behind it, which always delights J to no end, since she says she likes to watch men cook. I’m pretty neutral on the watching-men-cook thing (although seeing my husband make a reservation gets me every time), but since the chefs at Tucusi are, well, just too cute, I welcomed the open kitchen. In fact, peering in and seeing all the slicing, chopping, and pan-frying going on, got me pretty excited, too: to eat.

Tucusi opened in August 2006, and its menu features Italian and Spanish food with Australian and Asian accents. Owner Koichi Tamaki trained for six years in Japan at French and Italian restaurants, then headed to Australia for three more years of culinary practice. Tucusi is his first restaurant (although he’s recently opened the teppanyaki bistro Tegumi, also excellent and also in Umeda). Tucusi’s menu offers a long list of small plates and tapas, grilled meats, pizzas and pastas, paella, and arroz, a rice-based dish. There’s also a full bar, plus a list of well-chosen wines, many available by either bottle or glass.

We started our meal that night with one of our favorites: seared tuna with avocado and black-pepper-caramel sauce (¥950). Then we had Schezuan-pepper fried calamari with star anise and cinnamon (¥500), and similarly flavored friend potato wedges (¥500), both of which, like the tuna, were a perfect merging of salt, sweet, and spice. Next was a small order of Guinness-soy-mirin simmered spare ribs (¥650): rich, dark, and just the barest taste of bitter from the beer. When the garlic rice fried with Japanese shallots, mushrooms, and slivered beef came out (¥1300), we didn’t think it could get any better—until we started eating the lychee sorbet (¥750) with chocolate truffles (¥700).

By the end of the meal, my Uniglo jeans were feeling a little tight, but I was looking forward to going home to my lovely husband and telling him all about my dinner. L was similarly happy, texting with her new squeeze. And J? Well, we left her at the bar, hoping she’d learn a few more words of Japanese.


Tucusi Tapas & Charcoal Grille
Pont-Nouveau BLD Level 1 2-5-30 Sonezaki Kita-ku Osaka 530-0057 (on Shin Midosuji Street)

Menus in Japanese and English; Staff speaks some English.

M-F, 12 noon – 3am
Sat & Holidays: 5pm – 3am
Sun: 5pm – 1am