Narú: A Magical Mystery Tour of Trans-Pacific Fusion Delights
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Great international fusion chefs have long known that certain Mexican ingredients assimilate extremely well into Japanese cookery.
Take the case of avocado and chilies, both now favorite add-ons to contemporary haute Japanese cuisine in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza and Omotesando eateries. And while some Nipponese purists may still be loath to incorporate the likes of Philadelphia cream cheese into their sushi rolls and kaiseki-ryōri imperial recipes, thoroughly modern itamaes (Japanese master chefs) are now discovering the delectable magic of cross-continental culinary fusions.
Which brings us to Narú, a new transcultural restaurant located in Mexico City’s tony Bosques de las Lomas neighborhood, which elevates Mexican-Japanese fusion to new epicurean heights. Opened just last January on the top floor of the Parque Duraznos shopping mall and showcasing the gastronomic creations of chef Santos Cuahuizo, Narú is all about surprising comestible contrasts and unexpected esculent amalgamations.
The airy, greenery-infused décor of Narú is warm and inviting, with a requisite Japanese lacquer mural on the main wall to let you know that it has Asian roots, and tasteful understated place settings of elegant ceramic dishes on clean, varnished tables. But these are no prelude to what to expect on Narú’s menu.
Perhaps it is the restaurant’s name that is the real clue of Narú’s extraordinary bill of fare. The word Narú literally means “conversion” in Japanese, and chef Cuahuizo — who himself is a multiethnic culinary nomad who has traveled the world in search of gastronomic revelations — has developed some very unexpected mergers in his quest for gastronomic medleys. And what a wonderous combination of East-meets-West delights he has created.
At first glance, some of the items on the menu may be jolting: shrimp tempura with a Spanish-style aioli garlic mayonnaise, fried oysters in a panko and jalapeno tartar sauce and — I have to say this one really shocked me — fresh tuna sashimi in a Middle Eastern baba-ghanoush eggplant cream.
But for those who are willing to move past their unfounded culinary preconceptions and viand biases, the food at Narú is a sublime adventure into previously uncharted gourmet territories.
At the recommendation of the maitre d’, my daughter and I began our epicurean trek with a blue tuna sashimi in a saki and soy yuan-yaki, mustard leaf, jalapeno and coriander marinade, garnished with sweet pickled ginger.
This dish, like all the dishes at Narú, was impeccably presented with an artistic symmetry of color, textures and patterns that was so visually pleasing that we were almost tempted not to eat it — almost, but not quite. The taste was a perfectly orchestrated symphony of flavors that burst one into another in the mouth, with a crescendo of piquant Mexican wallop. Absolutely magnificent!
We also had an order of steamed edamame with togarashi (Japanese seven-flavor chili sauce) and Mexican chile de árbol.
Cuahuizo definitely doesn’t skimp on the capsaicin, but his piquant zests are always tempered against equally intense secondary flavors that forge a balance of tastes. The refined marriage of Japanese and Mexican flavors in the edamame produced a wonder of elemental magic.
For the main course, our maitre d’ recommended we split an order of spider rolls (a lusciously fresh sushi of soft-shelled crab, romaine lettuce, cucumber strips, sake-ed jasmine rice and green algae seaweed, all wrapped up in slices of avocado and topped with jalapeño slices that was as exquisite as it sounds) and the house special, Peking duck.
Yes, Peking duck is a Chinese specialty, and not something I would have normally ordered at a Japanese restaurant, but since the carte at Narú is — quite literally — all over the map, and since the previous pan-Pacific dishes had been so palate captivating, I opted to follow the maitre d’s advice.
And I was very glad I did.
Here is where chef Cuahuizo proved himself to be a true master of the kitchen, knowing when you start off with a perfect dish (and Peking duck has been curated by Chinese shifu cuisiniers to a gourmand tour de force since the early 13th century), the best thing you can do is to stick to the original recipe and try not to embellish it.
Indeed, Peking duck is one of the world’s great dishes, and Cuahuizo’s faithful rendition of this glorious lacquered-skin fowl is a tribute to Asian cookery at its finest.
The fragrant, slow-roasted meat (simmered up to eight hours over a sweet fruitwood fire) of Cuahuizo’s duck was as good as any we had eaten in Beijing itself, and was served in classic Zhongguo style, sliced into tiny strips, layered onto rice pancakes with shards of leek and cucumber, and crowned with a sweet tianmian plum sauce.
As an added bonus, Narú offers a second course of finely chopped duck hash (the trimmings from the roasted duck bones) mixed with leeks, cucumbers and tianmian sauce, served on crisp leaves of iceberg lettuce, with every Peking duck order, which means that you can keep savoring the juicy flavors of this house specialty for another round of culinary indulgence.
Surprisingly, the desserts on the Narú menu are pretty standard Mexican fare: tres-leche cakes, chocolate meringues and apple tarts.
But there is a sumptuously creamy green tea ice cream that is an ideal confectionary finalé to your meal.
Narú also has an array of quality sakes and wines, plus an intriguing selection of innovative cocktails to accompany the dishes.
The house special is a refreshing blend of sake, litchi and citrus juices with a dash of habanero chilies and strawberry jam.
Narú is located inside the Parque Duraznos shopping mall, located at Bosques de Duraznos 39 in Mexico City’s Bosques de la Lomas (phone: 55-5245-0980).
It is open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Reservations are advised, but not necessary. Parking is available in the shopping mall.