IKOMAI

In Nagoya, it’s quite com­mon to hear peo­ple hap­pily shout­ing “Ikomai!”: street slang for “Let’s Eat!”. Words that are mu­sic to our ears, an in­vi­ta­tion that we can’t re­sist.

Let’s Eat - - WHAT'S INSIDE - WORDS BY SPANKY HIZON EN­RIQUEZ

Acou­ple of evenings ago, I was hav­ing drinks with a restau­ra­teur and we both mar­veled about Ikomai, and how it’s be­come one of the most pop­u­lar new restau­rants in the highly com­pet­i­tive Sal­cedo Vil­lage streetscape, de­spite launch­ing with very lit­tle so­cial me­dia fan­fare. There were hardly any an­nounce­ments on Facebook, and rel­a­tively few posts on In­sta­gram, the two chan­nels essen­tial to pro­mot­ing most new es­tab­lish­ments nowa­days. My friend men­tioned that per­haps, Ikomai is pros­per­ing be­cause it’s ex­actly where it needs to be for the pa­trons that need it. It’s a bril­liant in­sight.

First, park­ing is easy. There’s a mas­sive open lot di­rectly across the street. Sec­ond, it’s on a densely pop­u­lated, high-foot traf­fic lo­ca­tion on De La Costa street. Third, it has a cozy, al­most low-key, serene vibe, punc­tu­ated by a pleas­ant sur­prise: an al fresco gar­den area. Fourth, it lever­ages the good­will and builds on the menu from its hum­ble be­gin­nings as a Ja­panese street food stall in the vil­lage’s fa­mous Satur­day mar­ket. And fifth, but far from the least, Ikomai has the culi­nary equiv­a­lent of a killer tech app; the restau­rant also houses “Tochi”, which of­fers many of the finest desserts in Makati, in­clud­ing the “Espresso Wal­nut” cookie, which the cognoscenti value as the best damn choco­late cookie in the city.

It’s al­most an ex­cla­ma­tion point to the en­ter­tain­ing story of how Ikomai came to be: a tall young Ja­panese chef knocks on the door of the home of a re­spected Filipino chef; they have

com­mon friends who fa­cil­i­tated the in­tro­duc­tion. The Ja­panese chef walks in with a mas­sive suit­case, and to the Filipino chef ’s amaze­ment, opens it and re­veals, just like in Pulp Fic­tion, a trove of trea­sure. Long story short, James Antolin has one of the best Ja­panese meals of his life, in his own home, prepped from scratch, by Hide Saedeki. It was the be­gin­ning of a beau­ti­ful friend­ship; not too long af­ter, Taro Hori, a busi­ness­man based in the Philip­pines, and James’ brother Peter forge a part­ner­ship with the two chefs, and Ikomai is born.

I’m pos­i­tive that the four gen­tle­men are in awe at how their restau­rant’s ta­bles are al­ways full. I’m not. I had ex­tremely high ex­pec­ta­tions for Chef James, and he’s ful­filled all of them. The pro­gres­sive Ja­panese menu de­vel­oped by Chef Hide com­bines el­e­ments from var­i­ous cuisines, es­sen­tially two recipes in­ter­twined, two coun­tries rep­re­sented in every dish. The Tuna Poke, spiced up with Sriracha, is a stun­ner. The Shio Saba, mack­erel mas­ter­fully grilled, del­i­cately sprin­kled with salt, is a wor­thy best­seller. The pre­sen­ta­tion, the plat­ing? Sim­ply sub­lime. The strengths of both chefs, com­bined seam­lessly, in per­fect har­mony, the del­i­cate and the dra­matic, Ja­panese fi­nesse and Filipino pas­sion, united as one.

“THE STRENGTHS OF TWO SKILLED CHEFS, COM­BINED SEAM­LESSLY, IN PER­FECT HAR­MONY, THE DEL­I­CATE AND THE DRA­MATIC, JA­PANESE FI­NESSE AND FILIPINO PAS­SION, UNITED AS ONE.“

PHO­TOS BY GABBY CANTERO

01

02 1 Mo­ri­awase Kushikatsu 2 Tuna Poké

3 Ikomai In­te­ri­ors

4 Shio Saba

5 Tochi Espresso Wal­nut Cook­ies 6 Chef Hide Saedeki

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06

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