Dinner – Thursday, February 3, 2022
When I posted about our end-of-2021 meal at Aubergine, I had already planned a visit to Bar Maze, where former Aubergine chef de cuisine Ki Chung has assumed the position of head chef. Given how Omicron reared its head, all I can say is… boy, was I glad I was able to make this trip. The small restaurant offers a self-described omakase experience that pairs Chung’s food and some rather delightful cocktails (created by Justin Park of Bar Leather Apron, who is a co-owner). Nods to Japan are obvious throughout, from the design of the space to the drinks themselves.
The amuse bouche set rotates frequently. Tonight, it featured four bites: (i) Kusshi oyster, tomato and white kimchi granita; (ii) bric cone filled with foie gras, yuzu mayo and ahi tartare; (iii) crispy layered potato, Maui onion cream, smoked trout roe; (iv) nori tuile, shiitake jam, butternut squash. The last of these was the strongest in my book – earthy and creamy, with lovely textural contrast.
Banana lumpia, caviar, creme fraiche
Kona abalone, crabs, Hokkaido uni
Tsuyahime rice, wakame, citrus foam
The first official course was a triumphant ode to shellfish, featuring two types of crab (King and Dungeness), as well as abalone and uni. The soupy Japanese-sourced rice (not quite a porridge or risotto) was infused with all that goodness. There was an interesting (and very overt) interplay between the dish and the paired cocktail here – both shared a citrusy foam of lilikoi, calamansi and yuzu. This foam really brought the necessary acidity to the course. My favourite dish of the evening.
Seared scallops, fiddlehead, shiro dashi butter
Swarnadipa, makrut, lemongrass, coconut oil, brioche
The second course was a reflection of his time spent at Aubergine, albeit with some notable departures – one would not really expect to see Southeast Asian notes in a version of this dish in Carmel.
A5 Miyazaki wagyu tartare, crispy potato
Triple-seared washugyu flatiron steak, local banchan, moringa crepes
A5 Miyazaki wagyu, wagyu fat rice, scallions, garlic
If the shiro dashi dish was a strong nod to his past, this course was about stepping forward. Riffing on Aubergine’s triple-searing method for the beef, the washugyu was plated with a black garlic jus and dusted with grains of paradise for a citrusy element – both allowed the minerality and inherent beefiness of the meat to shine. The banchan of various locally-sourced vegetables are an obvious nod to Chung’s Korean heritage. This setup provides endless flexibility to play with combinations, and I imagine the course will be continuously adjusted depending on season and interest – it will reflect his personal development as an executive chef and lead creator.
Shaved ice, bourbon-infused banana cream
Puffed wild rice, chestnut, cinnamon, spiced almond syrup
Hard to go wrong with shaved ice in the balmy Hawaiian weather. There was a lot going on here with a rather wintry theme to the components, but the added floral hints of orange and rose water nicely rounded off the dish nicely.
There is a level of maturity to both the food and beverages that belies the fact that the restaurant has only been open a few months – kudos to the kitchen and bar team for developing such a cohesive story. Although short, the tasting menu was well calibrated and I left satisfied and energized. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this concept will continue to develop with time.