By Bonson Lam
Orae is the place to go out for dinner at the resort town of Shirahama Beach at Tazawako Lake. Actually, it is the only place to go, as the other restaurants open for dinner are associated with their ryokan, hotel or hostel, and so only serve their in-house guests. Luckily, it has a menu that covers all parts of the dining spectrum, from sausages and craft beer to Japanese style ginger pork and wild green salads foraged from the beautiful Alpine like countryside.
With floor to ceiling windows, this restaurant makes the most of its waterfront location. On a sunny day the lake has a beautiful aquamarine hue, and it is particularly special in summer when you can have dinner with a glass of wine or beer and with the soft lingering sunlight outside.
The large two storey building may be shaped like an empty hall, but the blonde wooden decor makes it look more like a Swiss or Swedish log cottage than an austere place for school assemblies. Outside summer the views get dark pretty quickly during dinner time, and so the window seats can feel a little cold. Thankfully the heaters ensure a comfortable experience, and the large wood tables for four makes it easy to spread out, with many diners being couples or small families.
German, Italian and Japanese yoshoku cuisine dominate the menu, with family favorites like croquettes , hamburg patties and ginger pork cutlets with soy infused sauce as well as coleslaw. This is wholesome and unpretentious eating, even though its most popular items are sausages, fried croquettes and craft beer. For dessert the chef takes the artistic route with tofu ice cream, which is nearly overwhelmed by the fig like jam sauce, very flavorsome with hints of raisins, honey, toffee and chutney.
People searching far and wide for local cuisine should take note of the wild greens or sansai featured in their menu. In spring, while plum and cherry flowers are in full bloom, they forage for Butterbur sprouts, a sign of spring in the mountains.
Orae has the movie market cornered as well. Iris, a Korean television drama, has a scene set here. Lee Byung Hun and Kim Tae Hae makes most of the scenic view by the window with some local craft beer. While there wasn’t anyone working on the beer vats while I was there one spring evening, you can try a number of craft beers inspired by German techniques and local ingredients, such as Kohan no Mori, or Komachi Lager, named after the famous Akita rice grain that is exported all around the world. Fortunately, they have a gift shop next to the entrance, allowing you to buy any of the craft beer or sauces home.
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