Giving in yields to a pleasant discovery.
My friend Franco’s wife is pregnant and he’s shown astonishing deference to his wife’s current eating habits. One day, we’re tossing around restaurant names to visit for lunch.
“I want something spicy. Let’s do Peri-Peri or Hossein’s,” I say. “Or what about Rehman’s Persian Grill?”
“__ can’t stand spicy food.” Franco replies. “The smells make her nauseous.”
“Okay, well what about Chinese?”
“She can’t stand Chinese either, and in respect for her current condition, I should stay away from foods she doesn’t like.”
“Are you both pregnant, Franco?” I say, my voice revealing my exasperation/amusement. “Then you choose because you’re so picky.”
So that’s how we end up in Hatsu Hana Tei. Despite his “pseudo-expectant” stage, Franco still hankers for sushi, something someone who’s truly pregnant can’t partake of. I’ve never heard of this restaurant which is a stone’s throw from Little Tokyo. Apparently it’s an open secret among the Japanese and few Filipinos in the know. Indeed, Franco and I are the only Pinoys here aside from the servers and some chefs.
Franco loves sushi. I’ll say that again: Franco loves sushi. He introduces me to something called Battera Hako Sushi (P260+), or what he explains to me as “Osaka-style” sushi, (also oshi-zushi in Japanese). A type of sushi engineered in reverse, the seafood and rice are pressed into a rectangular wooden mold (hako, notice those defined edges) that has first been soaked in water. The mold is then brushed with tezu, a weak solution of water, rice vinegar and salt; think sushi vinegar but less potent. The fish is placed at the bottom of the hako, then the rice.
This sushi sports a sliver of ginger (I think) that lends a glimmer which bounces off the mackerel’s silvery skin. Franco is googly-eyed in delight as he attempts to bite into the sushi which promptly breaks apart, leaving him looking like the proverbial “early bird that catches the worm.” As I burst out laughing, he remarks, “… there’s really no neat way to eat this.” We end up eating the rest with our fingers although I only manage two pieces. The mackerel is a bit too fishy-tasting for me, though its freshness is impeccable.
Going further in our “raw food” lunch, I choose the hana kazari (P370). Eye-catching in the photo and absolutely compelling close up, this type of sashimi dish consists of various strips of fish (fillet) wrapped or crowned with several edible jewels. Salmon coils sensuously around a dollop of glittering fish roe, cuttlefish and deep red tuna embrace tongues of sea urchin, and so on the permutations go. Given to such pleasures, this is sashimi at a level that’s unique and sexy.
To cap our lunch, Franco orders a side of uni sashimi. Being devout lovers of this delicacy, he and I retreat into our own individual ecstasies probing, chewing, swallowing portions of this sea creature.
I think I’ll let Franco choose our lunch venues from now on.
Hatsu Hana Tei
2168 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati
(632) 759.6270 / 81