A Not-So Hidden Japanese Gem: Kazunori
There’s something exciting about discovering a restaurant hidden or situated next to an ordinary shop such as a convenience store, or in the case of Kazunori, a car dealership. Found along busy Chino Roces Avenue Extension chock-a-block with office buildings, warehouses and the aforementioned car dealerships don’t let this Japanese restaurant’s location fool you into thinking it’s just another fast food concept eatery.
Adding to the appeal of specialty restaurants opening in the neighborhood is Kazunori, considered a three-in-one dining concept. This Japanese gem features three sections for three different diners: a café, a traditional Japanese restaurant, and an omakase room for those whose palates want to be surprised with the freshest of the day. “The Cafe portion mirrors any cafe in Tokyo—a menu that is a fusion between Japanese and Italian, French and American cuisines,” says Ryan K. Cruz, co-proprietor of Kazunori and the famed ramen restaurant in the south, Yushoken together with restaurateur Elbert Cuenca. “The restaurant offers traditional fare and our omakase room is where they prepare the food flown in from different regions of Japan that specialize them.” With most items imported from Japan, you can expect not only quality food from all three concepts but also the balanced, artistic plating that the Japanese take pride in.
Café interiors of Kazunori
As someone looking for a quick meal before going back to the office, I opted to dine at the café. The interiors were bathed in lots of natural light and warm wood while the wait-staff were smartly dressed in simple black and beige uniforms while donning fashion designer Luis Espiritu’s Wataru woven shoes.
Without knowing anything about the restaurant except for a post of a friend on Facebook, I went ahead and ordered a sushi maki roll, three kinds of sashimi, a seafood omurice, gyoza, and chawan mushi.
3 kinds of sashimi moriawase (P2,200)
The sashimi of the day arrived beautifully presented and was served with fresh grated wasabi. Each bite of fish was high quality: soft and flavorful, as if this dish had come from the omakase. “We don’t serve local sushi and sashimi items and it is not just the act of importing it alone but carefully curating and selecting which suppliers we feel have the same vision as we do in giving respect to each ingredient,” says Ryan. He reveals they work with fish suppliers who catch fish in calm waters and keep them in tanks from 72 hours to a full week to lessen their stress and breakdown in tissue.
Ebi tempura roll (P340)
Though this was the café, each dish I ordered arrived on its own unique ceramic plate ware and none of it felt overly seasoned or greasy, proving that even with its more affordable café prices, quality ingredients and preparation are still carefully put into consideration. Furthermore, I felt I got value for money for the amount of food offered for their price points.
Yushoken Gyoza (P220)
But why put up a three in one concept in Makati when their ramen restaurant in the south is doing so well? “The story of Kazunori goes way back to when we started our Ramen restaurants. Yushoken translates to “house of champions” where ramen god Kazuo Yamagishi, son of the ramen god Kouji Tashiro, and multiple-ramen champion Hideaki Aoyama, work,” explains Ryan. Aoyama-san has been very instrumental and particularly helpful during the last five years in conceptualizing and developing the Yushoken menu into what it is today. We have tried other Japanese restaurants in Manila and seeing what others are offering, he wanted to do his own effort along with the help of some chefs that he’s worked with in the past.”
A chawan mushi so beautiful you won’t want to eat it
With the prevalence of so many Japanese restaurants in the city, Little Toyko just down the street along Chino Roces Avenue, and the spending power of the dining customers in the neighborhood, it’s not easy to open a new Japanese restaurant and be successful—let alone in a mixed-use neighborhood like Chino Roces Avenue Extension. But Kazunori offers price points and dining experiences for three different diners.
Seafood omurice – hearty enough for sharing
The café prices (except for the sashimi moriawase) are pocket-friendly for the casual diner and those looking for an excellent Japanese meal will be willing to pay for the experience and quality of the omakase.
Chefs in action at Kazunori
“The food service industry has always and will continue to be one of the most difficult and riskiest industries you can get into; you will always see more failures than successes. In fact the failure rate is more than 70%. The difference now is that people are more educated and have more informed choices, so there is greater appreciation as well, but that also means that you have to step up your game as people will no longer settle for something they know they can make and acquire themselves,” says Ryan. “You really do need to have the passion for it, because if you don’t then most people will give up long before you reach a level that is needed for you to succeed and excel.”