A fantastical account of a six-course meal at Kitsho, the new Japanese restaurant and sake bar at Traders Hotel
In a rare feat of punctuality, this writer arrived at Traders Hotel 30 minutes prior to the invitation’s 6:30pm summons. Outside a dull sunset still illuminated Roxas Boulevard and the gray CCP. The occasion was the formal opening for Kitsho, a Japanese restaurant just left of the front desk.
The interiors are spare and symmetrical to convey total theatricality. At the far end past the secluded private rooms, a large rectangular pane of glass offered a view inside the kitch- en, specifically the stainless steel counter where meals are prepared. To its right was a sushi bar piled high with circular trays of meticulously sliced appetizers awaiting dispersal among empty tables. The legion of guests had yet to arrive.
The absence of warm bodies provided an opportune moment for intelligence gathering. Since the frenzy of serving a carefully curated meal to almost a hundred guests had not begun, those restaurant personnel not busy with preparing dishes were unseen. This also meant executive chef Masahiro Mizumoto could spare a few minutes of meaningful conversation. Prior to his extended sojourn re in the Philippines, chef Mizumoto spent more than two decades working in various restaurants across Japan. His involvement with Kitsho began earlier this year and the restaurant seems to be running smoothly under him. Or at least it was running smoothly on a night when it had to put its best foot forward for so many friends in the media.
As evening fell, a stream of new arrivals crowded the Kitsho entrance where tables and a red carpet were laid out for the expected cocktails. For close to half an hour waiters hovered about carrying trays of sake and hors d’oeuvres as the guests, now multiplied several dozen fold, populated the lobby. Flitting between groups was Gordon Aeria, the hotel’s general manager and a dead ringer for Swiss actor Christoph Waltz. The epitome of a congenial host whose previous stints involved prolonged gigs in mainland China, come dinner time Aeria would entertain a group of Japanese in a separate table.
Having consumed enough drinks and hors d’eouvres, the meal commenced with a short sake ritual, the wine taken fresh from a metal bowl encased in resin. The rice wine, a specialty of Kitsho, was served in quaint little square containers. To avoid the embarrassment of having the wine seep into the table, it was imperative for it to be consumed quickly on cue. The sake imbibed, two large trays of sushi and sashimi arrived laden with mouthwatering fish meat in various shades. The opening salvo became the longest part of the meal and the dishes that came next were smaller and smaller. The Hotate Karashi Sumiso Gake or seared scallop felt a little anticlimactic and compensated for the fact with its ingenious presentation. It was in keeping with its standards and adherence to fine dining principles. Kitsho is the kind of Japanese restaurant that amplifies the elegance factor. Indeed, the en- tire kitchen staff undoubtedly took pains to make sure the dishes never compromised artistry. The Tori Jibumi that followed was a welcome surprise. Or maybe this writer is just biased toward chicken. Prefer- ences aside, the soft clump of juicy chicken meat was a joy to savor and was the perfect companion for Chawanmushi. Served in a small glass, patrons unfamiliar with the dish could mistake it for a local variety of taho—unfortunately. Its delicious steamed egg with the consistency of yogurt and a smidgen of extra flavoring. At the very bottom of the glass are small slices of chicken and salmon, the latter given an encore within minutes after the Chawanmushi disappeared from tables. The grilled salmon and Wagyu steak were the last to be presented. Though the steak itself left a little to be desired (note: a little), the salmon was superb. Individual servings came in small hunks of pinkish meat that surrendered to the slightest prodding from a fork. Inside the meat was cooked white and dripping with the very juices it was cooked in.
An excellent last touch before the farewell gesture (dessert), the guest who had the fortitude to plow through their salmon were no doubt filled to bursting when the red bean cake was presented to them.
By design, Kitsho belongs to the higher rungs of Japanese restaurants. The food is meticulously prepared and the wine selection (that is, sake) is superior. Here’s a little secret: In the course of the meal, it was revealed to this writer that Traders Hotel is undergoing a facelift. Kitsho is just the first steps, everything from the menu to the rooms are being improved. This should serve as a positive indicator that Kitsho is an excellent place to try in the coming months.
Though Japanese cuisine has long been a fixture in most hotel menus, full fledged sake bars are a rarity. This is what ultimately set Kitsho aparts. For those occasions where the enjoyment of dining calls for a suit- able highbrow establishment, Kitsho is the way to go. The extensive selection of sake and shochu cock- tails is impressive, perfect for night caps and nocturnal socials.
Since most of the dishes are small, Kitsho is an ideal venue when entertaining for business; an occasion best carried out in one of its four private rooms. It also comes highly recommended for its atmosphere. From the attire of its staff to the furnishings, Kitsho reflects a serious investment in bringing Japanese aesthetics to an unfamiliar setting, which is a rather prominent hotel along Roxas Boulevard.
Print ed: 10/11