Golden yellow uni, or sea urchin gonads, and delicate slices of kani, imitation crab, sit atop a roll of vinegared rice dripping with crab fat paste. For those not inclined to eat raw ika sushi, this squid is torched to a crisp, and flavored with a mildly spicy sriracha aioli.
“I don’t like a roll that has only rice,” says second-generation restaurateur Victor Sixto “VeeJay” Villavicencio. “It must have substance. In the new rolls, whatever is on the top is also inside.”
Keeping up with the changing taste preferences of the market, Ogetsu Hime, the high-end Japanese restaurant, has recently introduced a new menu focusing on innovative sushis.
“It highlights the aburi rolls that are torched,” he says. “They are created for customers who don’t like to eat raw.”
Since Ogetsu started five years ago, customers have been satisfied with the 100-item menu. But they may want to try something new, so Ogetsu is sweetening the deal. Customers may add P100 to the buffet order, and they are entitled to the free upgrade of 50 new dishes.
Although the star products are aburi or torched rolls, the new items also include chirashi (rice bowls topped with fish, vegetables and other delicacies), yakisoba or stir-fried noodles with pork and vegetables, ramen and curry. The P988 lunch buffet of traditional foods becomes P1,088 with the new items, while the P1,088 classic dinner will cost P1,188 with the upgrade.
“There isn’t a single-cuisine buffet in Metro Manila where you can have 150 items to choose from,” declares Villavicencio. “The smaller portions are just right for customers who want to experience different textures and tastes. We still have the classic cuisine, but we’re also being inventive with the sushi,” he says.
The salmon skin aburi roll, for instance, is stuffed with cream cheese. The experimental sushi infuse other influences such as the maguro or tuna maki flavored with gochujang sauce, a Korean red chilli paste with fermented soy beans for a melding of sweet and spicy flavors.
The atarashi, sushi made from fresh ingredients, is prepared chirashi style, like rice bowl with toppings. The salmon chirashi is plated like a rosette. The fine strips of seaweed that embellish the salmon complement the striped patterns on the dainty ceramic bowl.
Answering the clamor for ramen, Villavicencio works with a Japanese supplier whose expertise is making the egg noodles. The noodles are delivered daily to guarantee freshness. The ramen is also served in small bowls so that the customer can enjoy the sushi. One of its specialities is the char shu or marinated pork ramen.
Ogetsu Hime prides itself in its high standards of quality. Villavicencio often meets with Japanese consultants who update him on the best and the latest from their country.
“What’s important is that our food should be close to their counterparts in Japan,” maintains Villavencio. Discriminating clients can have one of the best matsuzaka and toro beef and amaebi (spot prawns) for half the price of those served in hotels.
The restaurant targets a clientele willing to pay for a good meal priced over P1,000. The classic menu offers the works—appetizers, gyoza (wrapped in wonton wrappers), sukiyaki (slow-cooked meat with vegetables and traditional flavorings), yosenabe soup, and teppanyaki items grilled in front of the customer. Tempura (food fried in batter) is one of the bestsellers.
Villavicencio attributes Ogetsu’s success to its uncompromising standards. “When a restaurant starts cutting corners just to meet the numbers, it will lose customers. I never cut corners. We serve Angus beef for teppanyaki. If you want to upgrade, the Angus rib eye is included,” he says.
The Japanese executive chef Isao Takada has worked for the Villavicencios since the opening of Saisaki restaurant more than three decades ago. He prepares all the sauces, including the soy sauce, which produce subtle, complex flavors.
Adds Villavicencio, “There is something for everyone at Ogetsu. You can enjoy the traditional cuisine or the modern twists. Our items can be tailor-made for the customer. All can be ordered by the piece or in single servings,”
To maximize the dining experience, he offers a tip. “Take your time to go over the menu, and get everything done on your order to make a faster dining experience.”
The restaurateur, by the way, is the managing director of the Triple V Corp., the restaurant chain. Triple V stands for the initials of the founder, CEO and president and father, the late Victor Vincent Villavicencio.
As the new head of the organization, he plans to adhere to the company’s core values of offering good value and efficient service.
Last year, the company reintroduced legacy recipes from the Filipino-themed Kamayan at Dad’s World Buffet. Launched in 1977, Kamayan invited guests to eat the food with their hands.
“We want to introduce our classic cuisine to a new customer base,” he says.
Sambo Kojin, a mid-priced chain specializing in Japanese grilled items, will open at SM North Edsa’s new building.
Negotiations are ongoing for more outlets for No. 1 Barbecues, the fast casual dining restaurant, and Ogetsu to widen their markets.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel—only improving it,” maintains Villavicencio.
On the buffet promotions which have become the chains signature, he says, “It’s nice to see a lot of food on your table. Otherwise, if there is no abundance, we wouldn’t be in business anymore.”
Ogetsu Hime: SM Aura Premiere, Sky Park, 5/L, tel. 85199840, 85199740, and SM Megamall, 3/F, Fashion Hall, tel. 86377510 , 84708241