That I should find myself falling in love with matcha tiramisu is one of the greatest surprises of this or any year. For me, matcha is too often an exercise in bitterness, tiramisu a textural mess.
But there is a pot of matcha tiramisu on offer at the end of certain meals in East Hampton — namely those at the new O by Kissaki — that minimizes the excesses of its headliners, allowing something sublime to emerge. No small achievement, that, and all praise to chef Chris Jaeckle for bringing it to my attention, and further, for introducing me to itameshi, a blend of Japanese and Italian cooking on Kissaki’s current menu.
Anyone skeptical of such bicontinental marriages will discover that the proof is in the aforementioned pudding, and in several other dishes besides. There is a reason that Tokyo has been in love with itameshi — literally “Italian food” in Japanese — for years, and that restaurants stateside have begun to discover its charms too, however belatedly.
“They happen to be my two favorite cuisines, and the more research I did, the more connections I continued to see,” Jaeckle told me during a brief break in the action on a recent Saturday evening. Kissaki owner Gary Kanfer coaxed Jaeckle to the Hamptons earlier this summer, and it would be hard to imagine anyone better suited to broaden itameshi’s appeal than a guy who worked with Mike Morimoto in Tribeca and later chef Michael White, with whom he opened Midtown’s Michelin-starred Ai Fiori as the chef de cuisine in 2010.
“People call both these cuisines simple, although there’s nothing about them that’s simple,” said Jaeckle. “They’re simple to cook, but are rooted in things that take two years, three years to establish the flavors.” Both are seafood-loving as well, a predilection that Jaeckle marvelously exploits in his squid pasta, or “pasta,” as the Kissaki menu properly puts it, the sea creature having cleverly disguised itself as cavatelli.
“It’s actually sepia” — cuttlefish — “which is a little more tender than squid. You take it, you score it and you freeze it, which causes the scoring to tenderize the fish. It also causes it to curl up, so it gets that sort of cavatelli curl to it.”
Jaeckle throws in pieces of asparagus and mushrooms with the morsels, but exercises restraint otherwise, tossing them all with a bit of butter enhanced by capers and soy sauce, thereby ensuring that the subtle fishiness of the squid, and the dish as a whole, aren’t lost. Even simpler is Jaeckle’s lovely take on spaghetti dusted with sesame-flecked breadcrumbs, its umami flavor amped up by a hit of creamy dashi.
Lardo & Uni, meanwhile, is a first-rate appetizer in which a sea urchin’s orange, custardy innards kibitz with a thin layer of creamy fatback atop a sturdy nigiri-type foundation of crispy rice.
I should have listened when my server recommended the king crab with Calabrian chilies, which left a couple at the next table rhapsodic. And I need to see what fishy tosazu sauce can do for an heirloom tomato and burrata salad, ditto bonito flakes and lobster zeppole. I’ve no idea what any of these will taste like, but given Jaeckle’s knack for unusual pairings, I really can’t wait to find out.
O by Kissaki is at 47 Montauk Hwy. in East Hampton, 631-604-5585, exploreobykissaki.com. Opening hours are Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.