(With Jerome Cruz on lens.)
Japanese cuisine is known for its elegance. The base ingredients used define the flavor, the taste, the dining experience itself. The taste is rarely complex. The sauces and all manners of preparation ideally accent the natural flavor of the meat or seafood served. Like Zen architecture, it is straightforward: The highest quality ingredients yield the best gustatory experience.
When In Manila and yearning to try Japanese cuisine that will leave an indelible impression in your palette, the second floor of Bonifacio High Street Central is home to Geisha, a high-end restaurant offering contemporary Japanese cuisine. The brain child of Red Kimono owner Michael Dargani, Geisha is raising the bar for Japanese dining with the expertise of executive chefs Tom Hines and Ramon Antonio. And honestly, the standard they’ve set is rather difficult to match!
The very hands-on owner of Geisha Modern Japanese Cuisine, Michael Dargani.
Sake and Sake Cocktails
It was Sake Pairing Night at Geisha, and we were treated to several of their signature dishes paired with the ideal sake personally recommended by Michael and the chefs. Sitting down in my plush chair, I was instantly drawn to the masu in front of me. It’s curious that with Japanese restaurants plopping up like wild mushrooms, they rarely offer sake to their customers.
Masu is a wooden, box-like cup used to serve sake. It gives the clean-tasting sake a distinct woody aroma which I personally prefer over serving sake in a chilled glass.
But Geisha isn’t shy about their sake selection. Aside from a wide range of premium to super premium sake, they also serve sake cocktails, each mixed with a tokkuri (ceramic flask) worth of Gekkeikan traditional sake.
Top-left: Sake Sour.
Bottom: My personal favorite, Sakejito.
Because of sake‘s lower alcohol content compared to the spirits traditionally used for cocktails, the fruit and mint flavors of these drinks are more pronounced, and they are not overcompensated with sugar syrup as some stronger cocktails tend to be.
Appetizers: Fresh seafood and more sake to boot!
The appetizers were paired with Gekkeikan traditional sake and sparkling Zipang.
A geisha pouring Gekkeikan traditional sake from a flask. Clean-tasting and smooth as it goes down, this sake goes well with all kinds of Japanese dishes.
Zipang is a naturally carbonated sparkling sake that is sweet and best served as an aperitif. (Think spiked Sprite. :D)
Geisha Carpaccio. Yellowfin tuna and Norwegian river salmon in olive oil. Love wrapping some of the fried wanton strips to add some crunch to the tender tuna and salmon!
Spiced tuna with fish roe and herbs on top of paper-thin wanton crisps.
Oven-baked oysters with butter, nori, and a hint of wasabi served on a bed of salt. And oyster connoiseurs say, “AYE!”
Salmon and Ebi Roll drizzled with honey teriyaki sauce.
Some folks like to dip their roll in the honey teriyaki sauce. I prefer mine straight, thank you.
Kurobuta is to pork as Wagyu is to beef. These Kurobuta Gyoza smell and taste so good! (You know what I mean if you avert to the fatty, offish smell of the usual Gyoza as I do.) The tomato sauce complements the Gyoza really well, too.
Geisha’s Prawn Tempura is really crisp and the batter is just right for my taste.
Their best-selling Spider Roll is made with soft shell crab (with the legs quite visibly sticking out), kani, and oborro (sweet, pinkish fish powder).
And the fatty Hamachi (Yellowtail) Sashimi capped the series of appetizers. Yes, it’s served on “shining” ice!
Other Signature Dishes: Salad, Mains, and Wagyu
After the hefty parade of appetizers, Rock Shrimp Tempura Salad was served with Nigori sake. Nigori is unfiltered sake, resulting in a distinctly hazy drink that is sweet and milky in taste. With an alcohol content of 10%, it is on top of my sake list. The salad has an absolutely inviting sesame dressing that balances the saltiness of the rock shrimp.
Our hosts also served two fish dishes: Miso Glazed Gindara and Grilled Chilean Seabass. The gindara is grilled to perfection: creamy, not burnt, and literally melts in your mouth. It is paired with edamame and asparagus risotto which counters the oiliness of the cod fish.
THEN CAME THE CHILEAN SEABASS. It was so flavorful, and the thin layer of fat between the skin and the flaky meat of the fish was just… just… UGH! The seaweed pesto gave that extra bit of umami to the sublime dish. For the two fish dishes, Michael recommends the Namachozo draft sake that can be felt as it goes down your throat.
Trust me: This photograph doesn’t do justice. If you ever drop by Geisha, be sure to order their grilled seabass!
A growing favorite in the restaurant is the Skewered Pork 72. Why the name? That’s because the pork is prepared 72 hours before it is ready to be served. The pork‘s meat is crispy while its fat is really soft. Served with ginger wasabi vinaigrette, the salty pork is best paired with the woody Taru cedar-barreled sake.
Bizan Gold shochu is a 25% distilled spirit that goes down really dry. It was served to complement Geisha‘s teppanyaki – US Angus Beef Teppanyaki, that is. The succulent rib-eye is paired to an eggplant shigiyaki with shitake mushrooms, tofu, asparagus, and cheese.
But nothing compares to the final course: Japanese A5 Wagyu Steak. Four slices of the highest grade of Japanese Wagyu seared into a perfect medium rare: exceedingly tender, fantastically marbled, and gone after a few seconds of who-cares-if-the-world-ends-now chewing!
“Oh, look, there’s still one more left on the plate. Anyone wants a second helping?” Sure, why not?
The night ended with Matcha Cheesecake, a very light cheesecake dusted with green tea powder on top.
When In Manila and planning for your next night out, make sure Geisha Modern Japanese Cuisine is in your itinerary! Opening just two weeks ago, be one of the first to try the ingenious Japanese creations of Chefs Tom Hines and Ramon Antonio. Kampai!
Geisha Modern Japanese Cuisine
Bonifacio High Street Central
For reservations, call:
(+632) 586 6316
(+63917) 569 2181
Thank you, Chef Ramon, for the superb evening! PJ Cana of Lifestyle Asia and myself with the captain on deck during sake night!
Reinterpreting the Art of Food: Geisha at Bonifacio High Street Central Raises the Bar for Modern Japanese Cuisine