Ichika Japanese Grill
Pioneer Center, 8006 Pioneer Street, Pasig City
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
(SPOT.ph) After eating at a great restaurant, you have two options: One is to shout to the rest of the world how good it is in hopes that it gains a following that keeps it open for years to come. Another is to keep it to yourself—a closely guarded secret of wonderful food that’s for you and a few select individuals alone. Both branches of neighborhood Japanese joint Takashi keep a low profile, making us think that the regulars are of the latter kind. But they do come in droves, filling up the tiny dining space fairly often, and making Chef Takashi Kawasaki successful enough to open a new yakiniku joint just a few steps away from his original restaurant: Ichika Japanese Grill at Pioneer Center.
Even when you order the most affordable cut on the menu—either the Beef Galbi (P198) or the Pork Galbi (P198)—you get incredibly tender meat, as long as you cook it properly on the built-in grill at every table. (Though if you don’t trust your grilling skills that much, you can ask the staff to cook your order for you). The real fun starts with the sauces. Anyone who’s eaten at Takashi knows that the chef loves to be creative with his food. Here, that trait finds expression through his sauces, which cover a full spectrum of flavor. There’s the classic Yakitori sauce, which is lightly savory, and the Shoyu with a subtle sweetness to its salty-soy flavor. The Spicy Yakitori is like the original but with just the right amount of heat to tickle the taste buds, while the Spicy Miso has a sour tang that feels a little thicker on the palate. Citrus fans will love the zest of the Ponzu while K-BBQ fans will be familiar with the Herb Salt and Sesame Oil combo. Each sauce can stand on its own but don’t be afraid to do a little mix-and-match.
Of course, once you climb up the price ladder, the cuts do get better. The premium cut is the Jo Kalbi (P498) or the U.S. special rib—make sure not to leave this on the grill for too long to prevent the precious marbling from drying up. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, the Gyu Tan (P328) should be up your alley—this slightly chewy but not-at-all gamey beef-tongue cut shines even with just a pinch of the Herb Salt.
While Ichika is a yakiniku restaurant, they’ve got other stuff you shouldn’t ignore. If you want sushi or tempura, you may want to head to neighboring Takashi instead—though there are plans to allow cross-ordering between the sister restaurants. In the meantime, this is your chance to try lesser known Japanese dishes, like the Kama Meshi, which Ichika highlights alongside their yakiniku.
Kamameshi literally translates to “kettle rice,” referring to the pot where the rice is cooked with other toppings. Part-owner John Chung shares that they cook Ichika’s Kama Meshi in pots, too, but that's done in advance as it can take more than 30 minutes to cook a small serving—and the ones at Ichika are pretty hefty, able to satisfy two or three. For punchy flavors, you won’t go wrong with the sweet-savory Beef Kama-Meshi (P268), with tender beef strips, fluffy scrambled egg, and warm rice. Equally comforting is the Yakitori Don (P228), the juicy chicken on the milder but no less tasty side, with the egg yolk blanketing everything in extra richness.
Right now, Ichika keeps a low profile on their block at Pioneer Center, but just like Takashi, they may not have to loudly declare their presence, not when they’ve got food that can speak for itself. Whether you tell everyone about Ichika or keep this spot a secret, one thing’s for sure: You’ll keep coming back.
Photos by Hans Fausto