Love is in the air, but so is Covid! Hence, Mike and I decided that we would avoid the crowds and celebrate AFTER February 14 instead. We went out THREE DAYS AFTER Valentine’s Day — on a WEEKDAY — and it turned out to be a smart (and safe!) move.
We had our post-Valentine’s lunch date at Nikkei, a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant at The Podium mall. We both love Japanese food, but Mike has never had Peruvian food before, so he was intrigued and I wanted him to try it. It wasn’t my first time to dine here but there were still so many items on their menu that I’ve been wanting to sample.
Pre-pandemic, this place was usually always packed, but when Mike and I went, it was practically empty. It was eerie but nice to have the place almost all to ourselves, with only 4 tables occupied. The restaurant’s wooden interiors, industrial chic vibe, and dim lighting make it a fitting place for a casual but extra nice date or lunch / dinner / drinks with friends and workmates. I’d say that it was a good choice for our ‘husband and wife time’ because it was posh enough for a special occasion but not too formal so we could just sit back and enjoy some good conversations.
Of course, it’s a little hard to just sit back and relax when you’re eating out these days. It’s no fun having to keep spraying alcohol on everything! We just tried our best to loosen up a little, and it helped that the restaurant observed safety protocols. The staff were wearing masks and face shields, we had to scan a QR code for the digital menu, and we had to sit diagonally across each other. Honestly, the diagonal seating didn’t make sense to me because: a) we’re married so it’s not like we practice social distancing at home, and b) we were still close enough to each other so we would probably still have exchanged droplets. Haha! Mike wasn’t too pleased that we couldn’t sit next to each other, hold hands, and be sweet, which was one of the reasons why we went out on a date in the first place. Oh well! Guess we’ll just have to be sweet at home! 😀
We started our meal off with Nikkei’s complimentary Chips with Cilantro Aioli Dip. The chips were light and crispy and the sauce was refreshing and creamy. Mike is not a huge fan of cilantro, but he thought this particular sauce was really good. We liked it so much that we weren’t even done eating it and we were already telling each other: “Let’s ask if we can have more!” When I first visited Nikkei with Andi a year ago, she was still a baby and she ate so much of these chips! (The staff was happy to give her more because she was being cute. Haha!) You’re allowed to have one refill of these chips and dip, but we ended up not finishing the second batch because we didn’t want to ruin our appetite.
I ordered the Nikkei Buta Buns (PHP 475 for 2 pieces), which were steamed buns with braised pork belly, wasabi mayo, and their special Nikkei sauce, served with a side of fried sweet potatoes. Unlike Mike, I love cilantro, so I enjoyed these buns because I could really taste the cilantro in them and it had a vibrant sharpness that I don’t usually taste in most pork bun dishes. It was also good that they complemented these pork buns with sweet potatoes to make this dish more filling. Honestly though, the ones from Ippudo are still the winner for me, taste-wise and texture-wise.
The Carilleras (PHP 475) was Mike’s choice. It was a nicely plated dish, with slices of Braised Iberico Pork Cheeks arranged looking like a fan on top of Truffle Potato Cream. The pork was soft and had the right level of saltiness, and the mashed potatoes were really creamy, though it could use a little more truffle. I love truffle on everything and I could barely taste the truffle flavor on this one. This was a delicious dish, but after a while, we both forgot what it tasted like. It was good, but if I were to go back, I would probably order something else next time.
The Seared Tuna with Sea Urchin Risotto (PHP 680) is one of Nikkei’s bestsellers. The name alone is enough to arouse curiosity. Sea Urchin in a risotto?! I’ve never heard of that one before! This is a gorgeous platter of tuna steak and uni with enoki and shiitake mushroom risotto, peppered with togarashi (a common Japanese spice) and topped with katsuobushi (more commonly known as ‘bonito flakes’). Out of all the dishes we ordered, this was definitely the best one for me. Maybe I’m biased because I love seared tuna, uni, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, and risotto, and this dish had all of the above! I really enjoyed the creaminess of the risotto, though I’m not sure if some uni was mixed INTO it, or just included on top of it. I would have wanted to taste more of the uni. The generous amount of mushrooms and the freshness of the seared tuna were really delightful though. There were two kinds of sauces and some strips of onion on the side that I mixed with the tuna and risotto, and those added some boldness to the whole dish. As for Mike, he said that he liked each element of this dish individually, but as a whole, he felt like they didn’t fuse too well. Overall though, it’s definitely an interesting dish.
I enjoyed our meals and the ambiance at Nikkei, and I can see why a lot of people are raving about this place. My only beef with them would be the TINY servings for the price we pay per item. They were delicious, sure, but I could get all of these items somewhere else for a cheaper price and with bigger servings. Expect to pay around PHP 1,000 per person. If you want to experience a Japanese-Peruvian feast though, this would be a good place to start. I would want to come back next time and try their other dishes, like the Uni Ikura Don, their Tiradito, and Maki Rolls.
After lunch, we were too full to have a big dessert so we decided to have yogurt drinks from Koomi, which is originally from Australia. This was actually the last shop I visited before the lockdown was enforced last year!
When you order their drinks, you can choose between Australian Blend or Filipino Blend. The Aussie blend has a little more sourness, while the Filipino blend is on the sweeter side. Does this imply that Filipinos are sweeter than Australians? Hmm…
Mike got the ‘Will Ube Mine?‘ (ube-flavored yogurt drink) and chose Aussie blend, while I got their limited edition Valentine’s Day strawberry-flavored yogurt drink called ‘Koomi Be Your Valentine?‘ in Filipino blend. I got that one because it had edible rose petals, and I thought, “It’s not everyday that I get to chew on flowers, so why not?” Strangely enough, my drink was SUPER SOUR!!! It was even more sour than Mike’s drink, which was nice and had just the right balance of sweetness and tartness.
There were no seats at Koomi so we ate at the extended dining space in Podium. Yes, there is such a thing now! It’s actually just a couple of couches with some tables in the middle of the mall at the 5th floor where you can eat the food you buy from the shops.
I’m thankful to Mike for taking me out even if he’s not really a big believer of Valentine’s Day. Hopefully, on Hearts Day next year, Covid will just be a thing of the past so that Mike and I can dine out in peace without having to keep spritzing alcohol, and we can finally sit right next to each other and be sweet! 🙂