Private dinner: Mōdan de Cubao offers a winning menu

Tasting menus have sprouted left and right in the city in recent months that the jaded among us won’t suspect people are just enjoying a trend. If you bear this suspicion upon entering Mōdan in Cubao, Quezon City, however, you will be rid of it as soon as you meet the unassuming guy behind the intimate 12-seat tasting venue, and as soon as you start experiencing what he arrived in store.

His name is Jorge Mendez, a 30-year-old creative soul who has trained and cooked alongside stellar chefs here and abroad, including Margarita Fores, Spaniard Chele Gonzales, Taiwanese Andre Chiang and Japanese master of Kito Nakawara ramen. He has also worked in the kitchens of L’Incontro, the country’s oldest known Italian restaurant, and Ninyo, a favorite Quebec hangout that specializes in fusion cuisine.

No gastronomic clichés in this private restaurant. Photo by @modan.mnl Instagram.

He also runs multi-branch ramen and maki bar Ohayo, as well as cloud kitchens Byrd Tubs and Eats Chow Chew. He first made sure to have this stable of, finally, stable incomes before allowing himself to build a dream, that is to say Mōdan, a playground where he can be totally inventive with food. So yes, this company is not “jumping on the bandwagon” at all and more “an idea whose time has come”. As Mendez’s business partner and champion Angelo Comsti puts it, “Jorge is now mature and ready to show his ability.”

Mendez’s stage is a modest space in a quiet Cubao neighborhood; just below the condo unit where his family resides and a short walk from a Ministop outlet. And just like those details, everything else inside Mōdan is devoid of pretension or artifice – it’s a room fit for a kitchen, a table for a dozen people, and a bit of space between of them. A stack of books in a dark corner seems too insignificant to arouse suspicion, it’s there to make any kind of statement.

The glorious Nabe—rice, wagyu and unagi short ribs.
The glorious Nabe—rice, wagyu and unagi short ribs. Photo by Jerome Gomez

For this very personal restaurant, Mendez has chosen to focus on Japanese cuisine because it is what is most close to his heart. It’s the food his mother, who worked as a band singer in Japan, cooked for him when he was young. She loved to cook and that’s why her son dreamed of becoming a chef, and why at 7 years old he knew how to make chop suey. It’s no surprise that he begins his inaugural menu at Mōdan with a tribute to her, in the form of tendon tempura on a stick accompanied by frothy onion tea. Tempura is the very first Japanese dish his mother made him, except that it was a shrimp kakiage, a little borderline okoy.

Each course on Mendez’s 10-course menu is an offering of gratitude to those who came before him and those who continue to inspire him, including his mother, wife and children, influential people in his career and outlook. .

There is the tribute to Forés, which would have opened many doors for Mendez. For the hard-working chef behind Lusso, Cibo and Grace Park, he made the Amaebi which literally translates to sweet shrimp (it was also Forés who introduced him to this particular shrimp) – but in the hands of Mendez, the shrimp are layered with Tosaka, a thin layer of jicama, and topped with a delicious delicately peppery orange sauce.

Then there is the tribute to Josh Boutwood. And everything he taught Mendez must have blown the young chef away, because the dish in his honor is a gindara, aged and very lightly seared, with a transporting miso bisque that will make you think of ryokans and cherry blossoms without need to close his eyes.

For a group of former kitchen mates, Mendez creates one of the highlights of the mōdan repertoire. Relying on tebasaki, which is basically Japanese sweet and savory chicken wings, the chef surprises with a plump, nicely roasted wing with a lumpfish caviar rice filling. The shoyu-treated egg yolk next to it, which becomes a rich and deeply satisfying sauce when stuffed, adds another layer of deliciousness.

The ikura for dessert.
The ikura for dessert. Photo by @modan.mnl Instagram.

Mendez identifies his food in Mōdan as neo- or progressive Japanese, which translates to building on familiar Japanese traditions and flavors by adding modern techniques (ICYMI, the restaurant’s name is a play on the word “modern”), a continuous pursuit to perfect a dish or arrive at a certain taste.

Renowned Japanese fine-dining restaurant Den, for example, taught the chef how to prepare his clay pot rice dish – already perfect on its own according to Mendez, but he adds a few extra tricks to make his Nabe both his own and his own. a tribute to the restaurant where he learned it. What arrives at our table is a large bowl of shiny soy-colored rice topped with short wagyu ribs and slices of unagi. The promise of a rice dish filled with these scrumptious meatballs was enough to inspire a collective gasp around our table as soon as the lid of the bowl was lifted and the smell of savory goodness filled the air. Being able to put spoonfuls of the dish in our mouths only sealed the deal for what was already delighting our eyes.

Mōdan has received a lot of great feedback from foodies in town since it opened. “Japanese food like I’ve never tasted,” says influencer Leslie Cheng, @shootfirsteatlater on Instagram. “Every bite was a surprise and a delight.” No wonder the bookings keep pouring in.

Mendez could have easily opened his own private restaurant years ago. He has undergone training. Had some experience. Had this innate talent that could only be a source of so many good things. “Instead, he took his time, honed his talent, and drew inspiration from multiple trips to Japan before finally opening Mōdan,” his friend Comsti wrote in the Inquirer. The guy knows exactly where to steer his ship and when; when to push back and when to accelerate full throttle. When we ask about the tattoos that cover his arms, he points to one with a mushroom design. He remembers saying to his staff when he worked in a hotel: “Pag may champignon na ‘ko his wrist, it means aalis na ako dito. That means I have to level up. Chef Jorge Mendez is a man with a plan.

[The 10-course menu is priced at P4500 per person. Modan is open Fridays to Sundays at 6PM. Unit 3, Level 1, Escalades East Tower, 20th Avenue, Cubao, Quezon City. For reservations, text or call +639164861443]

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