A SLEEK NEW RESTAURANT TO FULFILL EVERY KIND OF JAPANESE FOOD CRAVING.
Restaurateur Elbert Cuenca comes up with a new concept, Kazunori.
Tucked away in the midst of blaring car horns and muddled pedestrians along what is fast becoming the city’s most talked about food corridor is Kazunori, a new Japanese restaurant with three distinct dining concepts. It houses a casual cafe in the front, a highend nine-seat omakase bar in the middle, and a traditional dining room at the back that serves izakaya fare. Owned and managed by restaurateur Elbert Cuenca of Elbert’s Steak Room fame and his partners in the popular ramen joints Mendokoro and Yushoken, Kazunori brings authentic Japanese cuisine to the neighborhood once dominated by warehouses and car showrooms.
The casual atmosphere inside Kazunori makes for a delightful dining experience. A glass wall separates the restaurant from the adjacent Mazda showroom, and during the day, patrons of both establishments can cross over from space to space with ease. Its sleek industrialstyle interiors boast olive green and gray furnishings with pine wood accents. Servers are clad in chic Uniqlo uniforms and of-the-moment Wataru espadrilles. The cafe is brightened by natural light that fills the entryway, while the intimate omakase room, partitioned by wood panels, is pleasantly dimmer, a welcome characteristic that lends to its cozy atmosphere. The izakaya section’s open kitchen anchors the dining space.
It is the quality of its food and ingredients that sets Kazunori apart from the hundreds of other Japanese restaurants scattered around the city. To illustrate this point, co-proprietor Ryan Cruz shares that the market price of a single slice of otoro sashimi that makes the cut for the off-themenu sashimi platter is equivalent to the cost of making a single bowl of ramen at Mendokoro. Recently a soba master paid a visit to the establishment to assist the chefs in perfecting the soba and udon dishes by adjusting the thickness and texture of the noodles. Clearly, scrimping on quality is never an option here. Although the group has been making its own ramen noodles for a while, it recognized that a greater level of expertise was required to perfect the quality of the noodles, and in true Japanese fashion, an artisanal expert was called in. In addition, its specialty rice is sourced from Japan, and high-grade wasabi is never premade but prepared only before it is served. Each area of Kazunori is managed by a single Japanese chef, and the three work together to keep the quality to a very high standard. The separate café and the izakaya menus can be enjoyed interchangeably, and it is only in the omakase space that a single menu is strictly adhered to.
It’s often said that we eat with our eyes first. At Kazunori, the food looks just as good as it tastes—and all the dishes look spectacular. To start, try the crunchy vegetable and prawn kakiage that resembles a colorful bird’s nest, or indulge in the chawan mushi, a savory egg custard with shoyu-marinated ikura. Enjoy a burst of umami flavor in the spicy karai soba or savor every bite of the special seafood omurice, a mound of fried rice covered with a fluffy omelet served with curry and a flavorful squid ink sauce. Various sushi and sashimi platters can be ordered and offerings are based on availability of the freshest fish on hand. Unlike many local Japanese restaurants, soy sauce is not served alongside sushi at Kazunori. Instead, sushi and sashimi are offered on their own and it is recommended to eat as served in order to properly taste the freshness of the fish and appreciate the character of the rice. All dishes are best enjoyed with a refreshing cold matcha tea or a draft Sapporo beer.
“You can’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none,” says Cuenca as he explains the importance of refining a set of dishes before expanding the Kazunori menu. Still on soft opening during our visit, the restaurant’s menu was comprised only of 25 to 30 percent of the dishes they plan on serving long-term. Eventually, the cafe menu alone will include 20 different items including rice burgers, pastas, and Japanese pastries and desserts—something we can all definitely look forward to. 2301 Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati.
thE FuLL EXpErIENcE clockwise from top: Inside Kazunori; dishes from the omakase bar, izakaya, and cafe.