As soon as I drove up, a valet efficiently took care of my car for me. I stepped up to the bronze door entrance, which automatically slid open. I was immediately enveloped in the warm, yellow light that bathed the ambience of the restaurant. I took note of the modern Japanese accents such as the teak furnishings, the stools or booth seats (if you prefer), they heavy wooden tables, and the Japanese script on the walls spelling out “harmony” in Japanese characters. A must-see here are the large black and white photographs by Menchit Ongpin that were conceptualized for the bistro. A state-of-the-art kitchen is also visible, situated in one corner, where the chefs work smoothly and systematically under the guidance of Japanese executive chef, Kevin Ozeki.
The contemporary surroundings prepare one for a sumptuous eating experience. The plating and presentation of the food plays a stellar role in the uncommon fusing of traditional Japanese dishes and Western influences. This was evident in our appetizers consisting of golden fried baby octopus and fish, garnished with lemon halves, piquant teriyaki cod, as well as sushi balls (yes, balls) accompanied with pickled ginger and tiny mounds of wasabi.
A second course was followed by a huge plate of assorted sashimi like salmon, tuna, hamachi, and cuttlefish interspersed with various greens such as parsley, mustard leaves, and chrysanthemum leaves. Chrysanthemum leaves or shungiku in Japanese, look and smell almost like mint leaves, except that it has a fuzzy texture, similar to the outside of a fresh peach. It added a different flavor dimension when eaten with a piece of sashimi and dipped generously in wasabi and soy sauce.
The third and final course was grilled butterfish on miniature skewers, lightly smoked and blackened. Butterfish is a small, fatty fish with a tender texture and a rich, sweet flavor. Ambrosial. Our last dish was something that most of us would describe as hakaw – delicately steamed dumpling wrappers encasing cuttlefish, generously ladled with a light, white sauce and sprinkled with tobiko (fish roe).
Other tempting offerings at Wasabi are their California Rolls that consist of avocado and crabmeat chunks encased in a rice roll and rolled in sesame seeds. Or you can also try the No. 1 Special (I’m not telling you what it is, but it is divine!), and the Rainbow maki, one of owner Kumi’s creations. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila, who was part of our group, had ordered grilled butterfish with a side of wasabi mashed potatoes, that looked equally tantalizing as well.
Wasabi also has a sake bar positioned in the center of the dining area. Grab a stool and chill a little, while enjoying hot and cold sakes, served in authentic ceramic decanters. I particularly enjoyed their sake-rita, a Japanese take on the usual margarita ”“ slushy, and with just the right kick, served with a lemon wedge.
The restaurant has lowered its prices to encourage more people to share in this divine dining experience. I was told that the foods’ superb quality was not sacrificed, and has maintained the high level its clientele expects. As one of the stockholders put it, “Our portions used to be too much, but now we give you just enough so that you’ll want to come back and eat some more.”
Wasabi is conducive for dates and intimate gatherings, as well as for people who want to revel in a pleasurable dining experience. Rediscover Wasabi and celebrate the ambience and the food. Oh, and while you’re there, linger after dinner with a cup of sake in hand.
Wasabi Bistro and Sake Bar is located at the Olympia Building on Makati Ave. Call 840-4223 and 892-3707 for reservations.