In a futuristic movie I once saw, a scene had the whole Los Angeles in ruins. Restaurants were closed, among them the town’s sushi or Japanese dining places. That movie was accurate enough to predict that, indeed, Japanese cuisine would become a common sight on the streets of many countries.
It’s amazing to see the growth Japanese restos have made over the years. There was a time when it was such a treat to dine in any Japanese restaurant and sample its fine cuisine. Now, most of these dishes have become so ordinary to us that it is no longer uncommon to see many of these dishes in Filipino tables—teriyaki, tempura, sukiyaki, to name a few.
I remember that my brother Bong and I would hire a Filipino sushi chef to prepare Japanese food during our parties in our Ecology apartments. Now, many chefs like the ones we used to hire man resto kitchens all over the metro, from fine-dining to fast-food.
What’s a sure way to get good-quality authentic Japanese cuisine? Find a place with a chef who speaks nothing else but Japanese. In fact, one of my silly ways of gauging how talented a chef is how thick his accent is.
I’ve just discovered another good place. Kotono is a brand-new restaurant that has found its place among the other Japanese dining places in Tokyo Town, along the Makati Cinema Square area in Pasong Tamo. The place is a free-standing resto with a kitchen manned by Chef Ozamu and a dining area overseen by his wife Lani.
Chef Ozamu honed his cooking skills as a young boy in Japan. His selection of dishes is quite unique. While he has the usual tempura, sashimi, teriyaki, there are also other dishes I’m sure many will enjoy.
I started with Ama Ebi, which are fresh raw shrimp. Almost sweet, you can taste the richness of the juice from the part between the body and the neck. It has a weird kind of appealing taste.
I love the tuna tataki—seared outside with a sauce; ikara sushi or cod egg; Hiyashi Somen or cold thin noodles with sweetish soy sauce; gindara teriyaki, Chicken Yakitori; futo maki; and Hiyayaku or cold tofu.
Other must-dishes include chicken wasabi; Hamachi—grilled salmon head; the to-die-for Wagyu beef cooked medium rare; and, of course, the best-tasting Japanese fried rice I have ever encountered, Cha Han.
The grilled Hamachi head was succulent and fresh-tasting, and I just loved the aroma of the slightly burnt flavor of the tender meat from the different corners of the head. The Wagyu steak was just simply out of this world. I was so tempted to have the fat cut out and toasted.
The fried rice, meanwhile, had a reddish topping of julienne-cut pickled veggies, plus it looked like Chef Ozamu put wet egg in the rice, which gave it a rich flavor.
Another attraction is the sake, of which there is a wide selection. For a certain amount, you get to taste three kinds of sake. Ask Chef Ozamu what his favorites are and what he would recommend. Apart from his chilled San Miguel, he recommends a few from the ones on display above his bar.
With Chef Ozamu manning the reins of the kitchen, I’m sure Kotono Japanese Restaurant will survive the ups and downs of the dining industry. Check it out.
Kotono Japanese Restaurant is at G/F Makati Cinema Square (at the back, beside Yellow Cab), Pasong Tamo; tel. 4079387, 0918-9456246. At the moment, the restaurant is open only in the evening, starting at 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays are the only days it is open for lunch.