Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Okonomiyaki and Jazz

I finally got a chance to taste one of the most popular eats in New York right now: Okonomiyaki. Originating from Okinawa, Japan, it's a flour pancake with meat/seafood, scallions, veg and sometimes cheese, topped with shredded bonito fish that dances around on the hot plate when it is served. The pancake was bursting with flavor (the extra sauces were a bit much!) and I wished I'd had an ice-cold beer to wash it down. We sat at the bar at Izakaya Nomad and watched the chefs prepping tataki over a grill that they occasionally seasoned with a big slab of fat. Of special mention were the purple sweet potato fries that were in a lighter-than-tempura batter and came with a mentaiko aioli that had been blended with marinated cod roe, really unique.
Afterward, we rode our bikes a mile South to Small's Jazz Club in the Village where we arrived just in time for the 7:30 set. Fukushi Tanaika, one of the most well-known contemporary Japanese jazz artists, was on the skins with his quartet. Joining him were his countryman Hide Tanaka on bass, Texan Marc Devine on piano and Seattlelite Chris Johansen on tenor sax. Their set was an impromptu tribute  to Hank Mobley, a tenor sax composer well known for hard bop and soul jazz.
The venue is a basement with a small bar and a couple mirrors allowing you to see behind the musicians. The intimate setting was perfect for the quartet, who got everybody in the joint jumpin' to the beat. It was incredible to have Fukushi gush about how big of an influence Hank Mobley was for himself and Hide while they were growing up in Japan. The existence of the Fukushi Tanaika quartet had to certainly be influenced by some of the U.S. Jazz Diplomacy and VOA Radio that disseminated the uniquely American music around the world during the Cold War years.


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