I find aburi sushi so gratifying. Every restaurant seems to have its own rendition of the lightly charred, buttery, creamy balls of sushi rice topped with thinly sliced sushi grade fish and drizzled with caramel-like sauce.
At Minami Saki restaurant, Japanese executive chef Kimito Katagiri elevates the aburi sushi experience to new heights. What is already a delectable dish in its simplest form becomes more complex and sophisticated, not just in taste but also in presentation.
Katagiri’s version is a work of art—the rainbow-colored tobiko, generously spooned over each piece of sushi, glistening beautifully alongside slivered fruits.
The five kinds of aburi sushi—tuna, salmon, eel, hamachi and lapu-lapu—blended harmoniously on the palate. Everything was done just right, neither too rich nor too sweet.
I relished the fruits that capped the aburis. The mango, grape and strawberry were more than garnish, adding a much needed burst of fruitiness. You’re like nibbling on gari (young pickled ginger served with aburi), and the fruits helped cleanse the buds.
Kaki papaya yaki
Kaki papaya yaki is another specialty of Chef Katagiri. It’s a ripe papaya wedge, topped with huge, plump Japanese oysters, slathered with mayonnaise and drizzled with a sweet miso sauce, torched before serving.
This dish is best eaten as a whole, a little of everything in one bite—fruity, sweet, savory, earthy, flavor-packed, with hints of the sea and a smokey finish. Like Katagiri’s interpretation of aburi sushi, the kaki papaya was balanced. Not one particular taste or flavor overpowered the other.
Of the Minami Saki offerings I sampled, the kami sukiyaki best represents the Kitagiri’s cooking style. The dish consists of thinly sliced US striploin, vegetables, shirataki noodles, grilled tofu, shiitake and enoki mushrooms cooked in sukiyaki sauce—playfully presented in a “kami” or paper pan.
The sukiyaki shows Katagiri as he describes himself—a traditionalist who takes pride in keeping his flavors clean and simple yet well-defined. He cooks light-handedly, and his genius rests on the painstaking task of balancing each and every dish that comes out of his kitchen. He sees to it that each ingredient shines and enhances the dish.
This particular sukiyaki had a pure, untainted character. It was so delicate that, apart from a light coating of the sukiyaki sauce, every ingredient tasted exactly as it should.
True to old school Japanese cooking principles, Katagiri bares his ingredients and allows his patrons to enjoy them in their freshest, most natural form.
Katigiri has made a lasting mark in the Philippine dining scene. We remember his stints at Ginza, Manila Hotel; Inagiku, Makati Shangri-La and Yanagi, Midas Hotel and Casino.
He would not have lasted this long if he simply played it safe. In his over 30-year experience, he has managed to stay true to his native flavors while satisfying the tastebuds of his loyal clientele.
He continues to evolve, venturing into new territory— where the flavors are bolder. He plays in his kitchen, fusing the old and the new. He finds joy in toying with presentation, modern techniques and, every so often, incorporating novelty ingredients in his dishes.
“I have no secrets,” he said. “Everything simply boils down to taste.”
When I asked him to share a recipe, he was quick to volunteer a good teriyaki sauce. He scribbled, and voila … here it is:
1.8 l Japanese sake
1.8 l mirin
1.8 l koikuchi soy sauce
500 g sugar
2 kg chicken bone
Grill chicken bones. Boil sake and mirin. Add soy sauce, sugar and grilled chicken bones.
Bring to a boil. Simmer to thicken. Strain the sauce. Leave to cool. Use the sauce on anything—beef, chicken, etc …
Visit Minami Saki at G/F
Astoria Plaza, 15 J. Escriva Drive, Pasig City. Call 6871111.
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