Let there be light.
That seems to be the order of the day as we enter the cavernous confines of Wafu. Light streams from the enormous windows facing the Greenhills Shopping Center, and a soft glow from the indoor lamps illuminate the surroundings in a flattering manner.
It is not just the light, however, that illuminates things for us. As soon as we see the menu, we realize that Wafu is not your ordinary Japanese restaurant. Sure, the price reflects that, but in true Japanese tradition, the price reflects the quality of the ingredients.
The first dish that we try is a good indication of that. The Cured Salmon Salad shows us how much care and attention has gone to a course that most restaurants take for granted. I mean, how hard is it to make a salad? Toss a few greens with whatever’s in the pantry, and that’s it. Not so at Wafu. The salad that we have today features salmon that was carefully sourced and cured by Chef Chris Oronce and his staff. You know what else they did before assembling that salad on the plate? They made fresh mozzarella for it. The result is a savory symphony of umami from the fish, the delightful salmon roe, and the mild mozzarella, complemented by the slight bitterness of the lettuce.
This is quickly followed by a duo of signature rolls. The Hajime Roll quickly catches our eye with its vibrant green color. Slivers of avocado sit on pillows of rice stuffed with cucumbers, egg, and unagi. It is slightly sweet and full of texture, from the fluffy egg, to the tender and slippery eel, to the crunchy cucumber. The Hokkaido Roll has a more robust flavor. The shrimp tempura, the deep fried flour batter that the Japanese call tenkasu, and the avocado in the rice make this a hearty dish. The spring onions and ponzu really kick up the flavor a few notches, too.
For the first entree, we go back to the salmon. This time, it is served with a sweet miso glaze and roasted vegetables. The salmon is barely cooked, but seared enough to create a nice crust. It goes well with the sweetness of the tomato jam and the roasted onions.
Wafu’s version of meat and potatoes is a piece of steak on a bed of tomato confit and asparagus, topped with homemade potato crisps. The steak was a bit on the well done side, but it still retained some of its juiciness. The potatoes and asparagus would surely convince any mother that enough vegetables have been eaten to merit something decadent for dessert.
Before that, though, our favorite dish of the day arrives. The Braised Pork Belly is presented like a scene from a fairy tale. A cube of perfectly cooked pork is surrounded by foliage made of shredded spring onions and a piece of baby bok choy. On its side is a soft boiled egg balanced on top of a slice of roasted daikon. At the merest touch of a fork, the egg spread its yolky goodness all over the dish, and the pork fell apart. The richness of the pork and the yolk combining with the reduced sauce was perfectly paired with the sharpness of the spring onions and the bok choy, with the radish balancing out everything.
Right after we consume every atom of the pork belly dish, two desserts arrive. The first is the Baba au Rum, a brioche-like cake drenched in rum syrup, and served with vanilla ice cream and fruits. The dry baba absorbs the syrup to create a moist cake with a potent shot of alcohol that is tempered by the ice cream and complemented by the tropical mango and kiwi slices. It is quite a nice treat for a sunny day, but the chocolate lover in us prefers the second dessert: The Wafu Kit-Kat. This is Chef Oronce’s take on Alain Ducasse’s famous chocolate praline at Louis XV. A foundation made of shortbread is topped with layers of chocolate and hazelnut mousse and ganache, with a silky coating of dark chocolate. Unlike Ducasse’s version, which uses gold leaf, the Wafu version has salt crystals on top, which not only provide a satisfying crunch, but a saltiness that adds another dimension to an otherwise simply sweet dessert.
Yes, Wafu means “Japanese style”, but after seeing the unique dishes and the amount of innovation done here, its distinction from the usual Japanese restaurant could not have been clearer.
Wafu is located at the Greenhills Shopping Center, San Juan. Call 570 3242 or 570 3364 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries.