'Mr. Smiley Japanese' as how I like calling him greeted us on our way in with a smile plastered across his face—the same smile I often see when I pass by this establishment in the Burgos Circle area. He was standing as usual atop a makeshift wooden platform outside the restaurant right beside a huge wooden board outside. The plastic covering of the board made flapping sounds as the wind blew against its side. A petite lady then ushered us to a spot right in front of the sushi bar.
It was almost 10 pm and Keizo, much like all the other restaurants in the area, was still filled to the brim with diners. Only here I felt the place thumping to the sounds of animated laughter and hurried Japanese conversation.
I grabbed the menu that looked more like giant ID cards, and flipped through the pieces as I tried to decipher every meal. The items looked unfamiliar, save for the quintessential sushi with the usual seafood variation.
After 5 minutes of flipping I decided to be conservative with the orders and went for the usual fares—Kani sushi (P40 per piece), California Maki (P180) , Ebi Sushi (P90 per piece), and Salmon Sashimi (P350). My pal on the other hand went for the more exquisite ones—Ebi tempura maki (P200) and Zaru Soba (P350) – names I kept mouthing silently in my seat. We sat there waiting for around 15 minutes before the food started rolling in.
We were offered appetizers first. Two little squiggly rings sat inside a small blue green plate that summoned me to dive in and be a tad bit more adventurous, but I just sat there staring at what then seemed to be little brown creatures to me.
“This is really good!,” my friend exclaimed as she chewed on the squishy appetizer. I could just imagine it growing tentacles while sliding down her esophagus. “Nah I’m good!,’ I quipped. “Try it!,” she encouraged. Our little conversation apparently got the attention of the people around us including the sushi chef. With all eyes on me I had absolutely no choice but to pop one inside my mouth and wait for it to inhabit my body like little alien creatures from Mars.
I chewed on it with my eyes closed trying to focus more on the texture and the taste. It wasn’t as slimy as I expected. Sweet and sour juices spurted out of the succulent rings as my teeth sliced through it. It’s not so bad afterall! I thought to myself. Only after finding out what it was that the taste and texture made sense to me. It was only Ika Zuke or marinated squid and it tasted just like that.
Ebi Sushi and Kani Sushi
My eyes grew wide in delight as I saw food that I could actually recognize. My kani sushi and maki sat appetizingly atop a tiny wooden plate which looked more like a nifty chopping board. I quickly popped the kani sushi inside my small albeit voracious mouth forcing that huge slab of crabstick in. The flavor was a scrumptious mix of sweet and salty neutralized by the small morsels of Japanese rice.
Next in line was our salmon sashimi served with wasabi and lemon. The seven slices of pink fish meat glistened with moisture which to me indicated the fish’s freshness. The taste and texture proved my theory as the saltwatery tenderness lingered in my mouth.
Ebi Tempura Maki
The ebi tempura maki on the other hand looked as interesting as its name. It was served on a white plate that made the crunchy yellow flakes stand out. The little rolls had shrimp as the central filling. The rice and sushi wrapper was laced with tempura breading and it had the usual sweet, salty flavor neutralized by the soft rice. What made it appealing though was the crunchiness thrown in by the pieces of tempura flakes. I splattered Japanese mayo all over the rolls and it made the fusion of flavors even more interesting.
My pal’s main meal at Keizo on the other hand was a pesto looking dish called—Zaru Soba. It was a plate of cold buckwheat noodles topped with nori and served with a special dip. The latter was a plate of raw quail egg with spring onion which for a diner untrained in traditional Japanese cuisine looked a tad bit peculiar. I forked a few strands just to try it for myself and realized that the meal was too authentic for my newbie taste buds.
Just as we were about to finish off our meal Mr. Smiley Japanese came over to ask us about the food. “It was great!” I told him as I struggled to explain how pleasantly surprised I was with their food. He then asked the petite lady to bring us yet another piece which I couldn’t remember ordering. It was apparently some extra they give out to diners. The two pieces of fruit jello wiggling on small plates were the perfect end to the meal. It’s subtle sweetness washed off our taste buds and topped off our Keizo experience.
After paying the bill and just before heading on out I managed to ask the lady about Mr. Smiley Japanese.
The amicable man seemingly in his 40s or 50s I was told is Chef Yasuda, Keizo’s head slash consulting chef who supervises the crafting of every meal. He makes sure that meals are cooked, rolled, steamed or fried the way it should be, just like how it’s traditionally prepared in Japan.
I looked back to see Chef Yasuda behind the sushi bar bidding us farewell with a smile. The same smile he’d often give to customers and passers by, only now I know it’s the smile of devotion to authentic Japanese cuisine and giving diners a taste of how it’s like to truly dine Nippon style.