At Jorge Mendez’s restaurant, private dining becomes refreshingly communal
Thanks to Filipino diners and our newfound appreciation for high-quality food as well as innovative chefs coming to the fore, the private dining sector has been considerably growing in the Philippines over the past couple of years.
While many establishments were forced to shut down due to various lockdowns and restrictions brought by the ongoing pandemic, there were an exceptional few that emerged and even thrived despite the tough times. Among them is progressive Japanese dining Mōdan, the brainchild of chef Jorge Mendez with his business partner, bestselling cookbook author and entrepreneur Angelo Comsti.
The name Mōdan, derived from the Japanese term for modern, conveys the concept, food, and aesthetic of the place. From the physical menu with traditional tategaki (vertical writing) to the industrial design concept of its interior, which reflects Jorge’s straightforward and unassuming personality, everything in the 12-seater restaurant is well thought out. This is especially true with the inaugural 11-course degustation, dedicated to the people, workplaces, and communities that have enriched Jorge in his culinary métier.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the humble but immensely talented chef, Jorge learned and cooked alongside some of the world’s top cuisiniers, the likes of Chele Gonzales, Andre Chiang, Kito Nakawara, and Margarita Forés. His impressive portfolio includes working with famous restaurants L’Incontro and Ninyo. Now, he runs several dining concepts such as Ohayo ramen and maki bar as well as cloud kitchens Eats Chow Chew and Byrd Tubs.
Back at Mōdan, the 30-year-old chef’s debut degustation is a road map of his personal journey with food and cooking, showcasing his meaningful relationships with the leaders of the culinary scene. Jorge manages to tick all the boxes of an unforgettable tasting menu, drawing out the flavors and textures, the stories and memories, of each dish to its fullest.
The first course is a broth as comforting as a mother’s lullaby. Jorge’s mother, a singer in Japan, was his main influence in pursuing a culinary career. “My first encounter with Japanese food is the miso soup and tempura that my mother would serve the family,” says Jorge on his inspiration for his entry dish, a teacup of taro foam with nira (garlic chives) oil and a cream made of white onion and katsuobushi (dried bonito) flakes. Served on the side is tendon tempura on a stick sprinkled with house furitake. The soup alone is a soothing treat but biting into the tendon increases its heartiness a notch.
An ode to his wife who loves takoyaki, Jorge created a less cakey variant of the Osaka staple for the second plate, a takoyaki crepe shell filled with sweet corn mousse and topped with ikura (red caviar).
Next is a tribute to Jorge’s first job, where he acquired the skill to deal with tuna—chutoro sandwiched between brioche bread toast, rolled in negi (Welsh onion).
Last of the snacks is the Gyu Kakuni Korokke, a salute to the Hapag chefs Thirdy Dolatre and Kevin Navoa, who became close friends of Jorge amid the health crisis, pushing him to further the boundaries of his cooking. Wagyu simmered in a special sauce is made into a croquette served with wasabi-infused beets and pickled fuji apple for sweetness.
With the Amaebi, Jorge expresses his gratitude toward his previous mentor, Margarita Forés, who helped him find opportunities abroad and introduced to him the sweet shrimp ingredient. Similar to the kinilaw, prawns swim in a tosaka (red seaweed) sauce with nira oil, pickled jicama (Mexican turnip), gotu kola, lemon zest, doused with red pepper sauce in this tangy dish. This is Jorge’s favorite on the menu. “It’s complete. It has a distinct Filipino and Japanese taste, texture, and temperature.”
A product of his relentless effort to improve his craft, Jorge transforms his failed dish into a showstopper. An Izakaya staple, juicy Japanese chicken wings are hung dry like roast duck, then stuffed with lumpfish caviar and rice. On the side is a dipping sauce of rich shoyu-cured egg yolk. Biting into the wing unleashes full-bodied and refined savory and sweet flavors that land on the tongue with a thump clashing and conflagrating in the mouth. “This is a revenge dish, dedicated to my colleagues who I feel I let down during the event where I served the tebasaki.”
Artisan baker Richie Manapat, another dear friend of Jorge’s, taught him the endless possibilities of yeasted carbs. The result is a house made foccacia sprinkled with furikake with butter on the side. “He never gave me any recipes, but he taught me the function of each ingredient to bake bread.”
Luscious seared Hokkaido scallops over housemade matcha noodles tossed in yuzu vinaigrette, with paitan broth is devoted to Jorge’s mentor in Japan, Kito Nakawara, who coached him in ramen making. Enjoy the dish much like how you would a cold soba.
Josh Boutwood is also acknowledged with an aged and slightly seared gindara (sablefish) with miso bisque. The renowned chef of Helm taught Jorge to keep his cooking simple.
‘I believe, I am a man with a plan. So, I don’t rush things. I make sure that I am equipped and honed. I always wait for the right time.’
The palate cleanser is a melon kakigori (shaved ice) with a little bit of mentaiko (pollock roe) for a bitter contrast, and grapes to transition into the main course.
The main dish is rice cooked in a nabe (hot pot) vessel, treated with nabe seasoning to complement its toppings of 48-hour wagyu short ribs, unagi (eel), renkon (braised lotus root), edamame, and edible flowers from Japan. With this are two tsukemono (pickled things) to cut through the savoriness.
For dessert, castella (sponge cake) is topped with kuromitsu (Japanese sugar syrup) contrasted by pops of salty ikura, finished with a paper-thin yuba (dried tofu skin) of Hokkaido milk. Jorge baked the dulce de leche-like confectionary for his cheese-loving daughter.
The surprise course is a pair of petit fours, ricotta cheesecake mochi, and madeleine for Angelo. “I thought of this after Angelo and I enjoyed a mascarpone mochi in Hong Kong,” says Jorge. “Angelo is a strict food critic. It was the only time I saw him fulfilled with a dessert he ate.”
When asked about his timing for opening Mōdan, Jorge explains, “I believe I am a man with a plan. So, I don’t rush things. I make sure that I am equipped and honed. I always wait for the right time. But it was my good friend Angelo who told me, ‘I think you’re good to go.’ That’s when I knew I was ready.”
What sets Mōdan apart from other private dining restaurants is its lone communal table, which speaks a lot about Jorge’s faith in human connections and how those deep bonds, such as those he honors in his debut menu, can shape us. How often does one get to share a dining table with a stranger, and at a fine dining restaurant at that?
From an anthropological perspective, eating is not only a need but a profound social urge. Food is shared almost all the time. A 2017 study from the University of Oxford tells us that the more people eat with others, the happier and more satisfied we feel with life.
Jorge plans to do an origami-themed degustation for his next menu.
Mōdan is at unit 3, level 1 Escalades East Tower, 20th Avenue, Cubao, Quezon City, open from Friday to Saturday, 6 p.m. onward. | +639164861443