Think Chinatown and the words “fine dining” are among the last words to conjure up in anyone’s mind. Off the mawkish walkway, far from the hawking menus luring in tourists and rubes, there’s a new tune being sung right under their noses: the 1912 Japanese Fusion Jazz Bar. Walking down the stairs felt like stumbling upon a secret society obsessed with Mad Men decadence muted by Japanese reservedness as I was greeted with a live jazz band. It is sophisticated, swanky and downright sexy.
Having acquainted myself with the ambience, I was taken to a private room for yet another birthday party. Without a degustation menu for the unruly and rambunctious lot, ordering was a random chaotic affair that I wouldn’t have any other way. The waitress diligently took our orders and the Tuna Ceviche made its way soon thereafter. Thinly sliced, the ruby-like tuna felt supple becoming a sensuous base for the salty fried shallots and bitter-sour yuzu dressing while the radish sprouts freshened up my tastebuds for another bite.
Next were the plump Miso Scallops with its white as ivory flesh, soft and sweet while bound by the smoky prosciutto before being topped with a sumptuous miso paste evoking hints of cheddar. Gilded by blackened finely minced shiso leaves, I was left with an unforgettable charred caress on my tastebuds, driving me to yearn for it again and again.
But I resisted and moved onto the Salmon Carpaccio, an oasis made up of marbled salmon slices, white miso sauce and some radish sprouts aligned like palm trees on some tropical islands sitting by the golden sea that surrounds it. Interspersed with fatty layers throughout, the salmon felt tender and buttery hinting of yuzu as it soaked up the dressing while the creamy miso sauce allowed me to drift to unknown pleasures before the summery sprouts brought me back to where I started – again, ready for more.
*Gasp* Somewhere along this culinary mingling, I’ve discovered that there’s one thing I don’t appreciate, it’s Deep Fried Oysters. No matter how well it’s done, deep frying an oyster to me is like having your steak well done: why bother? At best, it’s bearable mostly in thanks to the Japanese tartar sauce; at worst, the oyster is robbed of its moisture becoming more like a briny sludge with oily breadcrumbs than a voluptuous sensation to be reckoned with. For some this works, for me it just doesn’t.
Just as I was lamenting, the Fresh Oysters swung by restoring sensibility to our dinner (and diners). Tucked beneath a slice of lime resembling an oriental fan, the juicy rock oyster oozed its oceanic opulence onto my tastebuds melding with the tangy ponzu sauce, becoming a melange of sheer indulgence and tart frugality. Now we’re talking!
Reminding me of a Chateaubriand was the Wagyu Beef grilled to medium rare and sliced to expose its glistening flesh. Gushing with jus, it felt gentle and tasted rich of umami as the soy-based onion sauce seeped in while the sautéed broccoli and beans were still crisp, alluding of gingery spice.
Upping the ante was the Duck Breast with its shimmering skin taking hold of my gaze with its flamboyant entourage of gherkin, beetroot, sprouts and shredded yuzu, all on a bed of crushed walnuts. Decadent on its own without being gamey, the duck had a charred aftertaste before having the sweet and sour sides cut through it all, paying homage to foie gras and the cornichons that comes with it.
Finally I reached the Pork Belly, drenched in a viscous dashi purée exuding a citrine sheen that tasted like a mild hollandaise sauce. Usually the fat is a solid chunk of unwanted appendix to the rind and meat, yet here it was a sultry and unctuous affair melding into the flesh becoming one with it. There’s no crispy skin here, no allusion, it simply transcends the need for it by melting in your mouth. Put simply, this is the Chateaubriand of pork, the god of porkbellies. Complementing this Supreme Being was the fruity pear, subtly sweet and acidic like a benign plum while the cordial red onions lived pleasantly in the pork’s shadow along with the refreshing sprouts.
Though the desserts were in my reach, I was overruled as the birthday cake proved more than enough, keeping me wondering what would have been had I tried the Spicy Ice Cream. As I pondered over a few glasses of Aritano Kyopho-Shu, a demure and genial grape-based sake; and the Yuzu Shu, a zesty bittersweet lemonade-like sake, I figured the drinks are doing just fine as digestifs (and apéritifs).
By now, if you’re hoping I’d be able to shed some light on the cultural significance of the year 1912, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Perhaps it was a seminal moment in jazz, the birth of a blues legend, or maybe even some esoteric historical event that only those in the know would observe. Who knows? That’s part of its allure, its mystique, its charm. Just embrace it.
~ Jambon Cochon