your feast awaits you
It’s deliciously daunting to think that I could face a feast of a thousand pleasures. Even I, with the seemingly bottomless pit that is my stomach, would have to concede defeat. But face it I did, though not quite in the way that you think.
a setting for you at Senju
Senju is Japanese for “a feast of a thousand pleasures,” or “ a thousand happiness.” The two are quite synonymous, wouldn’t you agree? A former life as Nishiki, EDSA Shangri-la’s premier Japanese restaurant, Senju is an updated take both in look and cuisine.
Inspired by the Japanese performing art called NOH, Senju’s interiors feature a panoply of textures ”“ from twine screens gently filtering in the light, brightened timber posts, a bamboo air well, backlit origami walls, and other interior accents in straw, stone, and ceramic. Choose to dine at the regular tables or in one of the private rooms named after Japan’s seasons: Natsu (Summer), Aki (Fall), Haru (Spring), and Huyu (Winter). A unique attraction is the tatami room where diners remove their shoes and sit on the floor while food is served on low tables.
While Nishiki remained true to the traditions of Japanese cuisine, Senju flies fast and free with its menu that includes foie gras (yes, in Japanese cuisine!) and even baked apples. Leading this culinary renaissance of sorts is Senju’s Executive Chef Kiyoshi Ogawa, himself a jovial and exuberant personality. Bending the rules in terms of presentation and ingredients used, Chef Kiyoshi’s menu takes off with kaiseki, a succession of small dishes served in a formal style, the ingredients of which depend on the seasons. Another attraction is the teppanyaki bar where food is cooked in front of the diners on a hot griddle. At lunch, partake of the small but satisfying buffet that includes a teppanyaki selection and sushi bar.
Vibrant fusion cuisine is Chef Kiyoshi’s chosen cooking style. Here’s one of his creations, the seemingly benign assorted fusion rolls. I can already tell that this is no ordinary sushi ”“ look at those squiggly lines! The sushi at the front of the plate is especially delightful for me ”“ wrapped in avocado, the unctuousness of the fruit adds a seductive dimension to the vinegared rice and raw fish. This is something to feed your lover, I think as I chew thoughtfully.
Chef Kiyoshi calls these layers of five kinds of raw seafood his “napoleon of seafood ceviche” (also seviche). Similar in concept to the Filipino kinilaw, this is served with a traditional Japanese vinegar sauce which Chef Kiyoshi couldn’t resist adding mint to, again an uncommon ingredient in Japanese cuisine. I eat it by peeling off each layer with my chopsticks and dipping the portion into the sauce. At once its piquancy plays off the smoothness of the seafood.
The Japanese have nailed the art of breathtakingly beautiful plating. Gaze upon this dish of scallop and sweet prawn quenelles in dashi soup. Note the etched design on the mushroom and the braided carrot strips. I want to bow in reverence. Dashi is a fish stock made from dried seaweed known as kelp or kombu. Its pleasantly subtle fish-taste is a foil to the otherwise bland seafood.
While this millefeuille of salmon and eel may not be a “thousand” sheets thick, it’s a combination that works. The distinctive taste of the salmon flirts with the saltiness of the eel (unagi) as both wade in a light sauce made from seaweed and fish stock. It’s one of those dishes where the word “genteel” comes to mind.
I receive a frown from Junior Sous Chef Elmer Abundo when I casually mention that the Chilean sea bass has a slightly “cured” taste similar to tocino. While the others in my party agree with me silently, it’s just me who says it out loud; I might have phrased it more … er, “sophisticatedly” yes, but I want to know more about this dish. Blame my Pinoy palate, but mind you, I’m not at all disrespectful when I tell Chef what the dish reminds me of. Chef Elmer patiently explains that the fish is marinated in sweet miso, the complexities of which may have resulted in that oh-so-familiar taste of tocino. I am intrigued by the lotus root, that hole-y tuber which tastes like a spongy kind of taro; and the ginger pickle, a common ingredient in Japanese cooking that looks like a fluorescent pink leek.
Perhaps the most “fusioned” dish that I see in Senju today is the foie gras and seafood baked in apple. A regular red apple roasted and hollowed out makes a surprisingly good receptacle for a combination of pan-fried foie gras and large scallops. It’s a bit tricky eating this because it’s essential to get a spoonful consisting of all the elements. Getting just the foie gras or just the scallop gives a one-sided taste to what is meant to be a multi-layered tour de force. It’s served at the table and its little salt mountain is promptly set ablaze. Talk about presentation!
The dishes I’ve described above are not on Senju’s menu take note, so no prices this time. But ask for them and Chefs Elmer or Kiyoshi will prepare them for you.
2/F EDSA Shangri-La
1 Garden Way, Ortigas Center
My thanks and gratitude go to Neil Rumbaoa, the hotel’s Director of Communications and Gabbie Bagasao, Asst. Communications Manager for their help.