After hours: Café Campagne in Iwakuni, Japan
August 25, 2010
Don’t blame American chefs if they go a little heavy-handed with Japanese dishes.
After all, a little cream cheese in a sushi roll can be a good thing.
It probably wouldn’t fly in a traditional Japanese kitchen, but it suits our dairy-loving American palates just fine.
When food migrates across borders, it bends to local tastes in good ways and bad ways — depending on your point of view.
That’s why I don’t hold a grudge against Café Campagne, an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Iwakuni that is popular with residents of the local Marine Corps air station.
Its menu is packed with delicious-sounding foreign dishes — carpaccio, minestrone, homemade meat sauce, herb sausage, homemade gelato.
The restaurant also makes an effort to feel authentic with red tablecloths, oversized plates and jars of olives. I ate dinner under a framed poster of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.”
Unfortunately, delicious-sounding ingredients and pleasant decor are sometimes just not enough.
The meal, starting with a five-course appetizer, fell disappointingly short. Cold cuts of turkey with mayo and mustard reminded me of a late-night snack picked directly from the meat drawer of my refrigerator — if I was too lazy to add bread. Sashimi-style slices of raw fish were covered with what I can only guess was store-bought Italian dressing.
The only inspired appetizer was a sweet, nutty mixture of lotus root and tuna, which I suspect did not have much of an Italian lineage.
A capriccioso pizza — salami, mushrooms and onion — was light and crispy with bright pink meat.
I don’t usually order pasta in restaurants, but I was eager to try the house homemade meat sauce with eggplant as a main course.
Despite the poor showing on appetizers and the unremarkable pizza, my hopes were still high. How could a homemade meat sauce with eggplant not be good?
The pasta dish can be described in a single word: sweet.
My palate was searching for all the tangy and spicy flavors I’ve come to appreciate from Italian food and was coming up empty.
It seems Campagne imported all the right ideas for dishes and ingredients from abroad but was missing the most crucial of all ingredients — the subtle nuances of flavor that make truly great, memorable Italian food.
To be fair, the restaurant had a nice atmosphere, wonderful service and the food came quickly.
But I might wait until my next trip to the United States or Europe before I try the meat sauce again.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Prices: Dinner for 2,000 to 3,000 yen
Specialties: Italian cuisine
English menu: Yes
Clientele: All types
Location: Out of the base front gate, turn left on Route 188 at the four corners intersection. Cross the river and make an immediate right. Follow the river until it merges with Route 15. Continue straight on Route 15 for several miles. Pass under the railroad overpass and veer left on 15 at the intersection with Route 112. The restaurant is on the right immediately after the intersection.