It has yet to celebrate its first year anniversary, but Mecha Uma's superstardom with Chef Bruce Ricketts at its helm is undeniable — the young chef's exceptional interpretation of Japanese fare has kept people talking and often attempting to reserve a coveted seat for an omakase dinner (It took me nearly two months just to get a table). Hot on the heels of opening more branches of 8 Cuts Burger Blends and setting up international brands Linguini Fini and Bistro du Vin in Manila, The Moment Group is now unveiling its latest original homegrown concept— a Japanese Rice Bar in collaboration again with Mecha Uma's head kitchen samurai.
Ooma in Mega Fashion Hall, Megamall, marks the second delicious team up of The Moment Group and Chef Bruce Ricketts. Beginning last evening July 8, 2015, the restaurant officially opens to the public to test their palates on the wunderkind chef's showcase of bold new Japanese cuisine. If the first collaboration Mecha Uma is a play on a Japanese expression that means "absurdly good," Ooma gets its name from the Japanese word umai which means "good" (and in the context of food mean "delicious")–this the credo of the new restaurant, to serve deliciously good food seriously, by way of contemporary interpretations of Japanese food.
Ooma’s menu is the perfect fit for the voracious rice eater wanting something contemporary with their Japanese fare — they have a lot of donburi, maki, chahan, and savory mains to chase with bowls of rice. For appetizers, there's the classic Edamame (P115) with a little spicy spin, as the bowl of Japanese soy beans comes with kimchi sauce. Three kinds of tataki are available for your seafood starters, like the thinly sliced Salmon Tataki (P195) crusted with sesame, and garnished with roasted pineapple bits, pickled red radish, and ginger garlic for added crunch, crisp, and tart for every spearing of your chopsticks.
Deep-fried golden treats to eat as is or partnered with a trusty bowl of white sticky rice (this is a Japanese rice bar after all, so carb away!) are available, such as the addicting Corn & Oyster Kaki-Age (P155) which reinvents the crispy Asian corn fritters by including fresh oyster for that juiciness in every bite. Seasoned with nori salt and dipped on kimchi mayo dressing, it's really just a fun pop-in-your-mouth tempura treat.
The Tori Kara-Age (P245) is another playful and clever take on Japanese food, presenting the popular Japanese fried chicken with new textures for a different kind of crunch. Instead of typically deep-frying the chicken thighs in flour or potato starch, here come the sweet potato strips embracing the juicy meat, giving it a unique crispness and slight sweetness. Seasoned with scallion, sesame seeds, and a drizzle of soy dashi vinegar glaze, this is your perfect beer or sake match, or your main course partnered with rice. Two kinds of chahan (Japanese fried rice) to choose from at Ooma: the House Chahan (P99) with mixed vegetables and egg and the Beef Chahan (P145) that includes sous-vide beef in the mix.
At this new Japanese rice bar, rice is put on the spotlight with a lot of of Maki to choose from — there are currently five kinds of Maki at 6 pieces per order, while Ooma's Aburi-Maki brings some heat into maki. Aburi in Japanese means "to burn," so the maki is flame-seared , the torching technique bringing out different depths in flavor and aroma. Five Aburi-Maki (6 pieces per order) to choose from at this new restaurant, and recommended are the Salmon Skin Aburi Maki (P265) and the Scallop and Tuna Aburi Maki (P295).
Chef Bruce Ricketts stamps a bold new Japanese spin on the classic temaki by creating his own Ooma Taco-Maki. Instead of the cone-shaped, seaweed-wrapped sushi eaten handheld, we are presented with a playful Mexican "street taco" interpretation, where makis are artfully formed like tiny tacos (an open-faced temaki wrap with rice as base). Before using your hands to grab and bite, you can paint on your taco-maki by brushing some soy sauce to your liking with a paintbrush. It was fun to indulge in sushi in a different way, biting into the California Taco-Maki (P135), a rendition of California maki with kani stick, aligue mayo, herb aioli, and mango pico.
What has personally impressed me with Chef Bruce Ricketts' dishes is his creative restraint, a certain finesse on how he manages to let food be rich with flavor, yet pull back enough for it not to be too in-your-face. His Uni Udon (P495) at Ooma is a fine example of that beautiful balance: a bowl of thick noodles firm and chewy is made slithery with just enough creamy uni sauce and fresh uni. Tangled within are shrimp, onion, fresh mushrooms, and scallion; a dusting of nori crumbs adds color and texture. Simple yet succulent, this is one bowl of noodles I can have again and again. Those craving for meatier options for mains will be in good hands with the Hanger Steak (P495), a plate of sous-vide hanging tender resting on a bed of sweet potato mash and topped with sautéed mushrooms and crispy baby potato. Adding a mix of richness and zest are white truffle oil, pickle dressing, and ponzu butter. Don't forget your bowl of rice to partner with this one.
For desserts, usually sweet-toothed are left hanging in typical Japanese restaurants, with either too few options, or too common items. At Ooma, you can introduce your tastebuds with new flavors and end on a sweeter note, with desserts such as Lime Coconut Panna Cotta (P220) with Okinawa syrup and puffed rice, Matcha Green Tea-ramisu (P195) with Mascarpone cheese, coffee, and rhum; and for chocoholics, the Half Baked Chocolate Lava Cake (P185) with ginger crumbs and topped with vanilla ice cream.
Ooma is open daily from 10am to 10pm. Visit Ooma at the third foor of Mega Fashion Hall, Megamall. Like Ooma in Facebook ("Ooma"), and follow on Instagram and Twitter (@ooma_ph).
Additional images courtesy of The Moment Group.