There are two ways to get to Ginzadon Restaurant in Resorts World – you can either pass through the sleek and cosmopolitan lobby of the Maxim Hotel, or you can make your way past the fabulous lightshow of glittering one-armed bandits and bustling gaming tables of the casino. It’s fitting that dichotomy also represents many things about Ginzadon.
“We’re both a Japanese and a Korean restaurant,” elaborates Chef de Cuisine Antonio Ablay. “We make sure to be as true and as authentic to both cuisines as possible. I guess that’s why we get our fair share of both Korean and Japanese diners.”
The juxtaposition also occurs within the intent of the diners themselves. “Sure, I get a lot of high rollers or slot machine regulars,” he added, “but many people coming in are really here for us. We’re especially full on weekends as many families come over for Sunday lunch.”
As expected, the majority of Ablay’s clientele are Filipino, and a number of them always ask for the latest items on the menu, always interested in what’s new.
They needn’t worry, as Ablay has an extensive repertoire to draw from, having been a chef for almost 27 years and having spent nine of those years onboard luxury cruise ships that have travelled the world over. Whenever his ship docked, he went out and surveyed local restaurants to get ideas for new dishes to add to the menu.
“We’ve always been rotating menu items since we opened in 2009,” he said. It’s been a lot of trial and error for Ablay, fine-tuning his fare for Ginzadon. And what he has now is the culmination of all that research. The restaurant usually adds a new dish to the menu every month.
“We monitor it,” he adds. “If diners like it, we keep it on longer, perhaps adding it to the main menu. Meanwhile, we’re also removing items that don’t move as much. So our menu is always optimized – we make available all the favorites that customers always order.”
And what of differing diner palates? “We make adjustments,” he explains. “Ironically enough, my Filipino customers usually want me to tone down the flavors – they find some things too strong. We do this by adding less condiments and seasonings to the sauces of the dishes. The opposite is true for our Korean guests. They’re always asking us to turn up the heat with some of the spicier dishes.”
He certainly didn’t need to turn up the heat where I was concerned, as I prefer things as is – getting the unadulterated dish gives me an idea of what your average guest gets at Ginzadon. And what they get is bang for their buck.
For instance, the Special Assorted Sashimi Platter is a veritable cornucopia of pink salmon, crimson tuna, translucent squid and delicately pearlescent lobster flesh served sashimi style, together with roe-encrusted California maki and pudgy futomaki rolls, garnished by half-circle cucumber slices.
Another scrumptious favorite is the Gal Bi Jim, with hearty chunks of braised prime Angus beef short ribs in a stew of onions, capsicum and radish, topped with shredded egg and sesame seeds. The beef reminded me of tender osso buco and the two dishes certainly shared a lot in common – the Gal Bi Jim took a total of eight hours to cook: four for the braising and another four for boiling. No wonder I could tear into the meat with as little effort as it takes to peel a banana.
Some dishes had novel twists – the Rock Shrimp Tempura was served in a bowl made from a single deep-fried wanton wrapper reminiscent of a taco salad bowl. The crispy-on-the-outside-juicy-on-the-inside breaded shrimp were drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise and a sweet sauce that reminded me of creamy Chinese shrimp puffs with fruit salad, sans the salad.
In contrast, the Tofu Kim Chi is anything but subtly flavored. The eyebrow-searing spicy Korean-style pickled cabbage with chicken strips lay in a central mound, while slivers of silken tofu lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds radiated outward like a vermillion flower. My personal favorite, though, was the Stone Grilled Canadian Gindara, a humble slice of pan-seared black cod with meat so tantalizing you can inhale it and it’s gone. If noodles are more your style than fish, the Jap Chae can’t be beat. The sautéed crystal-clear sweet potato noodles with vegetables and beef strips are a house bestseller. After all that, I was relieved to have a Green Tea Ice Cream served on a bed of diced watermelon, pineapple and melon, topped with a cherry.
The wildly seesawing flavors of the different dishes gave my tastebuds a vigorous and welcome workout, but I was glad for the soothing effect the fruits and ice cream offered.
For Goodness’ Saké
The Japanese and Koreans take their drinking rather seriously. The most famous of Korean liquors is soju, a clear potable of fermented rice, barley or wheat, with enough kick to send your brain to next Thursday. For Japanophiles, however, the elixir of choice is saké, or nihonshu, as it is properly referred to. Saké is known as rice wine, but its manufacturing process is very similar to beer in that the rice is fermented and brewed in vats much like beer. Saké is served hot or cold, depending on the type. Nigori saké, for example, is a cloudy, unfiltered, milkylooking, but extremely tasty beverage that is best served cold or at room temperature (which is still nippy to most Filipinos as that refers to Japanese spring or autumn weather). Many of the varieties of saké from the Gekkeikan Breweries of Kyoto are ideally taken after being warmed to about 40-50 degrees. Ginzadon even possesses a saké warming machine – an upturned 1-iter bottle of saké is placed in the contraption which prevents any air from entering the bottle while allowing some of its contents to enter a warming reservoir. This heats the liquor to the appropriate temperature and has a spigot that dispenses the saké for consumption.