The Japanese owner is rice-paper thin and spry as a fresh bamboo shoot.
Mr N. Yamauchi does not speak much. He lets the food do the talking as he sits behind the counter of Dahlia. His longtime associate, Revathi Nagaswami, bustles in and out of the tiny kitchen, bringing in the rolled wet towels, the free-flowing iced barley tea and the trays that bear some of the most succulent morsels of Japanese food that you can try in Chennai.
It’s tiny. It’s cramped. The walls are painted blue to match the paper place mats. When pressed, Revathi will shyly confess, “I am vegetarian!”, as she places banks of raw fish in sushi and sashimi platters (Rs 650) and rice-batter fried prawns (Rs 700) in front of you.
The decor has changed, there is now a magnificent peacock-embroidered ‘wedding kimono’ framed against a wall. There is also a picture of Yamauchi’s son, a chef who created the Dahlia menu. He does not tell you that he found the picture on the same night that his son was swept away in the Fukushima tsunami. “Being in India has made him accept the tragedy,” explains Revathi.
It’s an illustrated menu. You can choose between a set menu that comes with tiny bowls of Miso Soup, (bland but delicious), teriyaki of chicken or fish (Rs 700), pickled veggies and crunchy salads with dollops of Japanese mayo and bamboo containers of sticky rice. Or try the bowls of Soba noodles and sliced meats or vegetables.
Dahlia is the spirit of Japan in a tea-cup.