Contemporary Japanese cuisine is best at Chaya for that Christmas treat.
The variety of dishes from the kitchen of Sonoko San are always refreshing and savory. The gang decided to have Christmas dinner at this cozy homey restaurant along Legarda Road, Baguio City.
There are unique appetizers in this converted old home restaurant that are typically Japanese. The pickled okra stars (as I describe the horizontally sliced vegetable) in the sweet – sour salty solution makes you hungrier. There are also the cold tuna chunks that are stewed in a salty sauce to balance the sour notes of the okra.
Chaya salad has the best of Baguio’s market in it. The mix of greens have the varieties of lettuce available in the market and sliced bananas, chunks of oranges and quarters of strawberries. But the most memorable part of salads is the dressing. The fresh passion fruit dressing adds the zest to this unique dish here.
Mixed tempura is served like a bouquet with the vegetables cut at almost the same lengths. This is delightful with the crisp batter and tender texture of vegetables under the crispiness. The sweet potato leaves are my favorites because they crumble like nori flakes in the mouth. This plate comes with shrimps, squid rings, squash flowers, squash slices, sweet potato slices, eggplant, okra, and a slice of white onion sliced horizontally. The dashi sauce is a sweet dip made with soy sauce, ginger, and mirin, if my taste buds are right.
Tuna sashimi is a must. This dish has the sweetest fresh tuna slices on a bed of strands of daikon radish and lettuce for color. The squeeze of lemon chases the fishy scent away as it also tempers the meat. This dipped in wasabi and soy sauce is always a delight to the palate.
Kaki fry is highly recommended. This is breaded thumb-sized Hiroshima oysters accompanied by shredded cabbage. This is expensive and must be eaten gracefully to enjoy the tasty and delicious oysters flown in from Hiroshima. There is some magical flavor from these fresh water shells that shouldn’t be chomped but taken in more bites. The cole slaw that blends cabbage and tartar sauce is balance to this rich seafood.
Sukiyaki beef and vegetables in a hotpot served with a fresh Japanese egg is a sweet soup. The marbled beef is the special ingredient in this dish. The soft tofu makes this soup dish almost creamy. The onions give this dish a different kind of flavor.
Chicken karaage is one meal in itself for a carnivore. The chicken pieces are wrapped in a light crispy egg – potato batter with a spice that must still be figured out by this foodie. This comes with a single serving of the Chaya salad with the passion fruit dressing and mayo on the side. Promise, this isn’t a fast-food version and the chicken is tastier because it was marinated with a tinge of saki.
Crispy yakisoba is akin to the Chinese crispy noodles dish too. This has deep fried noodles topped with stir-fried pork and vegetables. The difference is that this could have a different soy ingredient used to spice the sauce.
Since we were having dinner with some beer, we decided to add the gyouza or Japanese dumpling in the fare and compare it with other dumplings. What made this dumpling different was that this steamed minced pork and green onions dumpling was fried on one side to give it a crispiness when dipped in its own soy based sweet sauce.
Not to forget the edadame that was sweet and soft. This is boiled soy beans in their shell or pods. In other countries, this is a starter while you wait. But these ones served at Chaya are slightly bigger. I guess, this isn’t for everyone because this tends to trigger gout and arthritis when taken in bigger amounts. Oops! Not to forget, don’t eat the shell.
That was Christmas dinner for us. There are more dishes that make this contemporary Japanese restaurant worth the trips back. Sonoko says every day is Christmas at Chaya.