I never got to eat at Scott Carsberg’s Lampreia, so I absolutely jumped on a recent chance to try Bisato. I’d heard that the dishes are artistic masterpieces, and while that’s true, there’s a high price of admission for somewhat small works. And since eating involves more than the eyes, my taste buds can tell you that while some items (like the homemade folded pasta with octopus puttanesca) were hits, others (like the strawberry risotto) were complete misses.
(The spelling was also an occasional miss. At a restaurant of this caliber, I don’t expect to find two spelling mistakes on a short specials menu, one being liver “mouse.”)
One of the most intriguing items I tried was the Blini of Red Beet with Gravlax Salmon and Crème Fraiche. The elements of the dish didn’t work together as well as I would have liked, but colors were stunning–pink, green, and orange on a mound of pink.
So what does Bisato’s red beet blini dish teach us about sex?
It’s all about getting into the pink.
A blini is a small light pancake made with a leavening agent. (As compared to a blintze, which lacks leavening and is more crepe-like.) Red beet makes Bisato’s blini incredibly pink, a color at once cute and carnal. And it reminds me of Japan’s pink trade or what’s sometimes called “pink kink,” especially as shown in the book Pink Box: Inside Japan’s Sex Clubs by photojournalist Joan Sinclair.
While we have what we call red-light districts, “pink” is a euphemism for commercial sex industry in Japan. The borderline between cute and carnal can be razor thin. During my numerous trips to Tokyo, I’ve seen some of the sexuality to be based on cuteness, like the Hello Kitty theme rooms at love hotels. Cuteness can quickly cross over to kink when the theme turns to Hello Kitty S&M rooms, which are really just playful fun.
Maid cafes and AKB48-inspired hostess bars build their business on cuteness. But, beneath it all, they’re selling sex–fantasy and fetish. Take a close look, and you can find it simultaneously frightening and fascinating.
I continually heard about things like vending machines that sell girls’ used underwear and yakisoba joints with mirrored floors where the waitresses don’t wear any underwear. Some of these stories were from the past, but some endure in the present. Visitors to Tokyo take note of trains with specific cars that are women-only during rush hour to prevent groping, but don’t realize that men can actually find businesses selling simulated trains full of schoolgirls to grope by the hour.
Sinclair showcases some of these sex businesses in Pink Box. It’s an unforgettable look at the largely unseen, seedy side of Japan. And it’s enough to make some blush beet red.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on August 9, 2012.
The pasta with octopus puttanesca ($10.50)
Chicken schnitzel with garbanzo puree ($14)
A larger shot of the blini ($10)