While the Philippines is into the typhoon season, Japan is enjoying the height of summer.
At the newly refurbished Inagiku of Makati Shangri-La, it is the season for a summer “kaiseki,” that multi-course Japanese high cuisine in which chef Wataru Hikawa did traditional cooking while still flexing his culinary muscle by innovation using ingredients in season.
Inagiku now looks streamlined, functional. There’s a lot of vertical wood that gives the place a warmer feel. And part of that warmth is being welcomed and served by assistant manager Mimi Sato who knows how to speak Filipino.
The appetizer came on lotus leaves, small pieces for the initial bites—a cut of steamed squash, rice and tamago (omelet) in layers, a mixture trying to imitate cherries in its rounded pink shape with red twin stems.
Next was a surprising dish.
It could have been sufficient to present a flying fish sashimi (tobiuo tataki) but the chef wanted drama. While its meat was laid at the side, the head of fish looked about to take off on gossamer wings. It reminded me of dibang, the flying fish as it is called in Batanes.
Fresh octopus sashimi (namatako ponzu) followed, flown in from Japan like many of the ingredients used in this special menu. It was cut paper thin and served with a ponzu sauce, a combination of soy sauce, citrus, vinegar and mirin.
Another seafood but cooked teppanyaki style in garlic butter was placed on the table, (shirabirame teppan). This was the most Western-style dish, and the corn kernels and peas on the side were not exactly easy pickings with a chopstick. It was a good time to have the shokuji set of rice, miso soup and pickles that completed the main dishes including the meat course.
A stylish black griller was brought to the table with two skewered cubes of Wagyu wrapped in a thin bark. Slipping out the beef from the stick was as effortless as eating it because the pieces were so soft they melted in the mouth.
It was a meditative moment because one tended to close the eyes while eating, hoping to make the moment last.
We were told the Wagyu kyofu kushiyaki was done in the cooking style of Kyoto, the old capital of Japan.
But the full realization of the season occurred when the sliced fruit in ice was brought in, the momo, or Japanese peach, in full blush. It was a taste, indeed, of summer, perfectly ripe with a distinct aroma.
Then macha, or green tea, especially frothed for us by Inagiku’s long-time manager, Yoshio Ishikawa, made us sit back and reflect on this kaiseki to remember.
Usually, cocktails are served just before dinner but at The Tasting Room of City of Dreams Manila, it went on from appetizer to dessert, an unusual pairing and quite lethal if you aren’t used to it.
The collaboration was between the Tasting Room’s chef William Mahi and master bartender and mixologist Sam Jeveons whose cocktail concoctions have graced major bars around the world.
Jeveons is also no stranger to City of Dreams since he had done the cocktail menus of the hotel’s major outlets—The Tasting Room, Crystal Lounge, CenterPlay and Red Ginger.
But for two special evenings in July, he made clear that the cocktails he made were based on classic mixes, a good education for this writer who once dreamed to be a bartender.
He introduced, however, current flavors to the mix and, as expected, used quality liquors.
The first course was Heirloom Tomate, several kinds of tomato cooked different ways and accompanied by a Krug Rose Champagne, which required no enhancements—dry with a tinge of fruitiness.
The next dish looked like a transparent sheet and turned out to be a John Dory ceviche. Here, Jeveons chose a 1902 recipe called Bamboo because it is said to have originated in Japan. It has the vital ingredients of gin, sherry, bitters but the mixologist infused nori to the vermouth through the sous-vide method, then served it with Himalayan salt powder and an oyster leaf, a plant whose leaves taste of oysters when you eat it, a touch of the sea that the concoction warranted.
The seared blue-fin tuna was paired with Rosita, a 1929 cocktail composed of reposado or aged tequila, an Italian aperitif called Aperol bitters, dry and sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters, to which Jeveons added lemon oil, micro flowers and star anise.
Quite unusual was the hot cocktail that accompanied the glazed pork breast. It was based on the hot buttered rum.
Jeveons’ version used unsalted almond butter to the Ron Zacapa rum, Grand Marnier, then blended honey, hot water and bitters together with Chardonnay. Garnish included chamomile and cinnamon. It was quite stomach-settling but had a kick to it.
And for the dessert of baba au rhum, it was Golden Flip, a classic that seemed an eggnog at first sight but had much more than that. There was whisky, vanilla, fruits like pineapple and apple, a garnish of grated Tonka beans (a vanilla bean substitute) and a whole egg.
After dinner and all those cocktails, it was easy to smile but hard to keep our eyes open all the way home.