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Investigating Chawanmushi

Ono, You Know

September 30, 2018

Story By: Ellise Kakazu | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Dining Out editor Ellise Kakazu takes a close look at Chef Chai’s Chilled Foie Gras Chawanmushi ($18)

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important,” wrote Arthur Conan Doyle, author of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This notion rings true in many aspects of life, even when it comes to food. I often find that the minute ingredients and techniques used to create a dish can make all the difference in the world.

A prime example of little things having great importance can be found within a classic Japanese dish called chawanmushi, a savory egg custard that can be filled with a variety of vegetables, seafood and meats. The base recipe used to create the custard is pretty standard, but the selection of bite-sized ingredients found within chawanmushi directly impact the dish’s flavor and texture.

Taking a cue from Sherlock Holmes, I decided to draw upon my detective skills and uncover some of the most unique chawanmushi renditions around.

Get your magnifying glass ready. It’s time to take a good, hard look at what I found.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

Presenting a chawanmushi case I have never witnessed before is Chef Chai on Kapiolani Boulevard.

Chef Chai’s Chilled Foie Gras Chawanmushi

Chai’s version of the egg custard arrives to the table in bite-sized pieces featuring a dollop of berry compote and toasted brioche. And that’s not all, as the name suggests Chai’s Chilled Foie Gras Chawanmushi ($18) brings savory foie gras into the mix.

“It’s very unexpected,” notes owner and chef Chai Chaowasaree. “You don’t see this dish anywhere else.”

According to Chaowasaree, the sweet and acidic notes coming from the berry compote, which is made of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and honey, balance out the richness of the foie gras within the custard. He also explains the toasted brioche adds a crunchy texture to each bite, providing a nice contrast to the creamy custard.

“The combination is perfect, balanced together,” says Chaowasaree.

Chilled Foie Gras Chawanmushi first was introduced to Chef Chai’s menu about two years ago and has become very popular among customers. Chaowasaree notes guests who do not even care for foie gras enjoy and order this dish.

Drawing inspiration from his Thai background as well as many other places like China, Japan, Korea and Hawaii, Chaowasaree takes flavors and techniques from all over the world and puts the pieces of the puzzle together to create culinary masterpieces.

His love for producing intricate, unique dishes is showcased throughout the restaurant’s menu, which features items like Crispy Whole Fresh Fish with Sundried Tomato Citrus Beurre Blanc, Wok Seared Jumbo Black Tiger Prawns with Roasted Garlic Chili Sauce and Grilled Mongolian Style Lamb Chops with Brandy Demi.

“Our cuisine is island-fusion,” notes Chaowasaree. “(We) create our own version of whatever we try to do.”

With a long list of tasty dishes I still need to “investigate” aka eat at Chef Chai, I know I soon will return to this classy establishment.

PROOF IS IN THE CUSTARD

Stage Restaurant on Kapiolani Boulevard is this Dining Out detective’s dream come true, as there are many intriguing dishes to examine at the restaurant. A few items I found particularly guilty of sounding too good to be true are Graham Cracker Calamari, Duck ala ‘Lilikoi’ and Spiced Kurobuta Pork Chop.

Stage Restaurant’s Chawanmushi ($13) LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

But before we get distracted, let’s zero in on this week’s target — Chawanmushi ($13).

Stage’s Chawanmushi starts off as a simple, classic egg custard and quickly transforms into a ticking flavor bomb, as savory ingredients such as corn, shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, truffle oil, smoked trout roe, scallion coulis and katsuobushi (dried fish flakes) are placed on top of the dish.

Executive chef Ron de Guzman explains his rendition of chawanmushi is “elevated” by umami flavors streaming from the katsuobushi, truffle oil and shiitake mushrooms.

“To me, umami is the best flavor profile,” notes de Guzman, when speaking of the ingredients.

Umami basically means savory in Japanese, and that’s exactly what you will do when eating de Guzman’s chawanmushi — savor it. De Guzman recalls a few older Japanese customers exclaiming his chawanmushi rendition brings them back to the “old days.”

“When you eat it, you are supposed to get a comfort feel to it, but something different,” says de Guzman. “We have our own style of doing things.”

After diving into Stage’s delectable chawanmushi, I have all the evidence needed to prove the restaurant innocent of any culinary crimes.

I think it’s safe to conclude that Arthur Conan Doyle was right — the little things really do matter. Phew, I think my work here is done. Case closed!

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