Japanese-Scandinavian Food is Becoming a Thing, Thanks to This Sake Bar in Makati
Tadeo Chua's love for Japanese cuisine compelled him to open Hamaru in Quezon City, but a bad location caused it to close prematurely. Despite the heartbreak, the ambitious young restaurateur soldiered on, and with his love for Japan stretching to sake, he found himself working in a Japanese sake factory for a week. He returned with a new goal and he's used to new knowledge and experience to open Yoi.
Chua’s face brightens as he explains the different sakes he has on hand. He gives pour after generous pour of his best ones, all with their corresponding characteristics. Brisk and bright. Fragrant and citrusy. Refined and smooth. All very good adjectives when describing the Japanese rice wine. While good sake is easy to love, Chua makes casual drinkers of the stuff appreciate it more with his insight into each variant.
However, while the Japanese drink selection makes Yoi worth the side trip, the food itself offers a compelling story. The unique coupling of Japanese and Scandinavian might initially be deemed a millennial gimick, its successful execution removed any doubt we might have had. The menu is the product betweeen two chefs Chris Villasor and Miko Quimora. Villasor’s background in Japanese cooking spans 20 years, and his affiliation with modern Japanese restaurant Kai explains his strengths. The Scandinavian element comes from Quimora’s work experience in the kitchen at the renowned restaurant Noma in Denmark.
While both cuisines exhibit delicate flavors and nuanced aromas, combining the two could lead to disastrous results in the wrong hands. With Villasor and Quimora, their joint effort feels seamless and effortless. Villasor was the one on-hand to prepare the dishes, beautiful ones yet exuding familiarity and comfort such as the octopus dish with havarti cheese in a red paste. The shrimp and mushroom dish with nori, surprises with its delicate aromas and herbaceous notes. Both are simple and utilize a few key ingredients, but are presented with much refinement and maturity.
Main courses are hearty yet still with that signature restraint. A thick slab of salmon is given the medium-rare treatment by Villasor, basted patiently in a cast iron pan with herb-infused butter. It is cradled by a thick spinach uni rice which, in turn, luxuriates atop ikura yogurt and yogurt foam. Masterful and luxe, but again familiar and crave-worthy. The same thing goes with the U.S. beef short rib with a berries and seaweed glaze. On top of that sticky, risotto-like mushroom rice with accompanying mushroom croquettes, it delivers a punch of flavor that is sure to satisfy without fail.
Whatever bad decisions Chua made with his first Japanese restaurant, everything seems to have fallen into place this time around with his brand-new operation. While we were mostly lost in the highly technical sake lingo, one tidbit did stand out. “What’s most interesting about sake,” Chua explains, “is that it’s not distinguished based on its ingredients or where it is made. What you need to look at is the effort put into its production. That’s what sets the best ones apart from the rest.” A lot much like the painstaking thought and labor put into this tiny establishment. Wherein low-profile chefs are preparing amazing, note-worthy food and a mild-mannered sake enthusiast will be happy to walk you through his world.
Yoi Sake Bar and Restaurant is located at 5579 Alfonso corner Fermina Streets, Poblacion, Makati City.