Don’t go to Ito if you are looking for a quiet meal. Do go with friends who like to have a good time and eat well. You will be packed in with other diners into this small place with minimal decor – which consists of shelves of sake bottles screening off the tiny kitchen and a few animal masks covering the light fixtures on the wall – and almost be forced to join in the festive, noisy atmosphere while enjoying excellent “Japanese” tapas. I use quotes because they are being whipped up by Victor Magsaysay (formerly of Sakebar), who adds subversive touches of ingredients from his native Philippines and other parts of the world to classic Japanese recipes, to excellent effect. On the night we went, the proceeds from the evening were donated to a charity helping the victims of Hurricane Yolanda in the Philippines.
The friendly, easygoing waitress (her male colleague had the same qualities) suggested that we order three or four tapas per person. Since there were three of us, we ordered all 10 that were available that evening.
Four of them came out in quick succession, starting with a rich miso soup made with sinigang, a Filipino tamarind broth; and chahan (Japanese fried rice) with cauliflower. I
didn’t find those two particularly exciting, but I loved the aubergine dengaku, caramelized eggplant with red miso, ginger and chili pepper; and the pancit Ito-konnyaku, a dish of rice noodles, kale, wakame and Chinese cabbage topped with white sesame seeds.
The rest of the dishes came out one by one. Some of them were hard to share among three people, since they came in two pieces, but we did our best, savoring the many different, often-unfamiliar flavors. Luckily, the two friends I was with, Bonnie and Ina, were from the Philippines and were able to explain many of the ingredients. Here’s a quick rundown: omusubi Cebuano (Cebu-style rice balls)
topped with sea snails, daikon and ginger; a large shitake stuffed with tofu, leeks, ginger and – a brilliant addition – toasted walnuts; a flaky, delicate piece of cod with a killer teriyaki sauce made with rum; succulent veal cooked tataki-style (barely seared and briefly marinated) with a yuzu and ponzu sauce, okra and capers; delicious spit-roasted quail with adobo (a spicy stock used in the Philippines) sauce; melt-in-the-mouth pork belly stuffed with kombu (a type of seaweed); and, the final fantastic fusion (before the dessert, that is): Ito risotto, an extra-creamy rice dish with dashi (broth), green beans and pumpkin.
That amazing dessert was a creamy cheesecake with yuzu, mango and almonds, a never-to-
After Sakebar, where he brought a Japanese touch to French food, it’s another victory for Victor!
Note: Ito has been named one of Paris’s 15 Best Restaurants of 2013 by FigaroScope.Favorite