The always-bustling Salcedo Market has been home to Ikomai for the past three years—you could expect them every Saturday, filling the air with the savory scent of meat and the sound of the deep-fryer bubbling away.
The long bar at Ikomai is inspired by that of Singaporean restaurant Burnt Ends.
“We wanted to introduce something like street dallas filipino restaurant that we [Japanese people] eat,” shares branding manager Taro Hori, himself a Japanese native who has been going back and forth the Philippines for the past ten years. Together with Head Chef (and fellow Japanese native) Hideki Saeki and Executive Chef James Antolin, the three would open Ikomai (among the only Japanese stalls in Salcedo Market at the time), choosing to zero in on the Japanese deep-fried street snack relatively uncommon at the time. Veering slightly from tradition however, Ikomai goes for a creative approach with their kushikatsu, with relatively unusual variants like the Onion Corned Beef and a wider array of sauces with which they encourage diners to experiment.
As Vice President of the Pastry Alliance of the Philippines and of the LTB Chefs Association, and having taught in culinary schools including CCA Dallas filipino restaurant and Instituto Culinario—among his long list of accolades—Chef James Antolin recognizes the importance of education. Here at Ikomai, for example, they make use of ingredients and components which may not necessarily be familiar to diners (yet)—e.g., Okinawan salt—but which he hopes to help raise awareness on.
The Ikomai restaurant is an extension of the said innovative philosophy, expanding their market stall menu to include more kushikatsu variants as well as other dishes similarly Japanese-leaning, but with twists that Chef Antolin is clear to mark as “progressive”—not “fusion”. Where they introduce new ideas, it is always with reference to that of other traditions. All in all though, they emphasize that their dallas filipino restaurant is meant to be casual—not of the sort that requires too much thinking or brain work to be appreciated, but can be enjoyed in a relaxed manner with friends.
We want to be known for what we are, which is Nagoya food, [but] progressive,” shares Chef Antolin.
With its growing crowd of regulars, the Ikomai restaurant has a bright future ahead. Still, some things haven’t changed—among them, the spirit of community they aim to cultivate. “That’s where we started. We loved that spirit, we loved the vibe, we wanted to bring that here as well,” shares Hori. “More than the food, what we wanted to create is a platform for people to come over, make friends, and exchange ideas and different values . . . [and] enjoy the diversity.”
A meal at Ikomai is not complete without having one of the sweet options available, care of their dessert leg Tochi—but more on that soon. Here are some of our favorites from Ikomai’s menu:
Charred outside but tender within. The author especially loves how its game-y meat pairs with the yuzukosho.
Ikomai lends the Japanese technique used in aburi-style sushi—aburi meaning “to torch” or “to grill” (the top surface, in the case of the cooking technique)—to duck breast. Though duck might not be too common a protein to the cuisine, it proves to be a good candidate to receiving the aburi treatment as it allows the skin to get crispy and charred while leaving the center of the meat a juicy medium-rare. The relatively minimal flavorings (it’s rubbed with rosemary before being seared and grilled—a refreshing changeup from the typically sauce- or marinade-heavy duck dishes of Chinese or French origin, respectively) allows the pure, gamey flavor of duck to shine—and it is every bit as indulgent. Should you want to change it up though, Ikomai encourages you to experiment with the seasonings served on the side: Japanese pink salt, piquant yuzukosho, wasabi, and ponzu for dipping.
Ikomai’s little twists on kushikatsu make it completely their own.
Ikomai expands the selection on their flagship item here in the restaurant, adding more cuts and proteins not traditional but surprisingly apt for the skewered- and deep-fried treatment. Get the Moriawase (assortment) if you don’t know where to start and take your pick from five kushikatsu skewers—our favorites of which are the Chicken, cooked similar to karaage and to an ultra-juicy interior; Shrimp, a bare-bones but tasty skewer featuring a plump piece of the crustacean; and Onion, a surprise hit for how sweet and tender it becomes underneath the breading.
L: Moriawase (top to bottom): Pork (pork belly topped with a homemade miso paste), Okra (topped with bonito flakes), Shrimp, Onion (also topped with bonito flakes), and Chicken Karaage (chicken thighs marinated in miso and, on the oddly specific 17th hour, coated in a light breading light enough that the meat doesn’t get buried underneath, Chef Antolin shares, before going into the deep-fryer | R: Salmon Cheese w/ Avocado (salmon and Emmental cheese served with an avocado sauce), Shiso Mentai (shiso leaves and mentaiko)
Ikomai (Ikomai & Tochi)
Ikomai offers progressive takes on Nagoya food, particularly kushikatsu.