For a True Izakaya Experience, Visit This Mindanao Avenue GemOctober 27, 2015
This side of the city has its share of great eateries, many of them unique and (relatively) easy on the wallet. Oddly lacking from the scene however is straightforward, traditional Japanese fare – unless you count commercialized joints in the malls, anyway. Enter this real gem of a place, located where you least expect it: along the dreary, long-winding road that is Mindanao Avenue.
Shonantei is essentially an izakaya – a place to get a drink (or two) after work and grab some chow while you’re at it. Dim and cramped, as is the nature of the Japanese tavern, the place comes alive with chatter from nearby tables alternating with sizzle from the kitchen. They’ve been open for about a year now, gaining popularity the old-fashioned way: through word-of-mouth. After a week-long kitchen renovation, they reopened on the 20th of October, serving up Japanese favorites to both local and foreign patrons.
The drinks selection is impressive, with options that range from beer, shochu, sake, whisky, and even ramune soda. The food menu on the other hand is relatively small compared to similar joints, say, in Little Tokyo. Still, they manage to hit the prerequisite ‘bar chow’ that range from fried bites, raw and grilled fish, skewered meats, and heavier options such as ochazuke, noodles and rice bowls. This is true-blue izakaya fare, the more casual end of the Japanese food spectrum that’s anything but pretentious. But you can expect nothing less than the real deal, with Japanese chef Takeshi leading the kitchen and owner Janet Zapanta more than happy to chat with the customers. They pride themselves for cooking the dishes fresh upon order – which means they might take some time to arrive, but it’s worth the wait anyway. Noteworthy, too, is their use of whole katsuobushi, a block of which is kept in a wooden chest, for their dashi and toppings.
Highly recommended to us was the Yaki-Gyoza (150), which arrives with hane, or ‘wings’ (a crisp top that sticks the pieces together), as well as the Okonomiyaki (180). Ubiquitous as they may be at Japanese restaurants, Shonantei’s versions stand out simply for being very well-executed, with a generous amount of filling and freshly-shaved katsuobushi on the latter. Perhaps the highlight of the appetizers is the Wagyu Saikoro Steak. At 280 bucks for six meager pieces, it’s not exactly dirt-cheap – but it’s a steal considering this is wagyu, in its buttery-soft, flavorful glory.
As for noodles, Shonantei has both hot and cold options, of we try the Niku-Tamagotoji Udon (220). This is comfort food at its best: thin slices of beef simmered with eggs, ‘al dente’ noodles, and the star of the show: the broth. The use of real katsuobushi is evident in how umami each slurp proves to be – deep and savory in ways the more readily available pre-shaved stuff just doesn’t achieve. You may want to come early for the dish though; they only serve a limited number of bowls per night, Janet explains, as the base takes 3-4 hours to make.
And while the selection is modest compared to bigger sushi places, Shonantei also offers some very fresh, succulent seafood – a relatively uncommon feat outside commercialized restaurants here in the North – available as sashimi, nigiri sushi, and maki. Among their signature takes on the raw stuff is the Maguro Wasabi (180), with clean-tasting tuna balancing out a fiery wasabi-laced marinade. We also take their salmon in the form of a donburi (280), that is, atop steaming hot Japanese rice – as minimal as the combination is, less proves to be more when you’ve got fish this silky and fatty, and rice this sticky and satisfying.
Whereas others rely on novelty to make their mark, Shonantei is revolutionary in staying true to its roots, never compromising on quality. These are classics executed very, very well, and sometimes, that’s all you need for an excellent meal.
Have you tried Shonantei? Which of the dishes above are you most excited to try? Tell us with a comment below!
Address: 863 Mindanao Avenue, Bahay Toro, Quezon City
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