There is perhaps no other seat more coveted in the local tasting menu scene these days than one at the 12-seater table of Mōdan, Jorge Mendez’s progressive Japanese dining spot in Cubao. So when we got the invite from the celebrated chef himself to dine there one Monday night—the memory of the flavors from his fantastic debut menu from 2022 still lingering in our heads—we dropped everything and made sure we were at 20th Avenue 7PM sharp.
Like in his first menu for Mōdan, the foundation for this sophomore effort (at P6,500 per head) is the chef’s genuine fondness for his personal past. His mother, who worked as a live band singer in Japan, used to bring home origami figures for young Jorge as pasalubong. So close to his heart are these mementos that Jorge built an entire menu based on a crane origami figure, one of the most ubiquitous of origami shapes. Called tsuru in Japanese, the crane is said to symbolize “honor, good fortune, loyalty, and longevity.”
Chef Jorge dedicates each of his nine courses to a part of a folded paper crane. There’s the Head, the Beak, the Tail, the Flesh and so on. His fantastic starter is a two-parter: the Beak and what is called Sustenance—which in the origami illustration on the table card falls just below the Beak.
The Beak turns out to be fish lips tempura coated in the color of beetroot. It’s like a plump rouged mouth, except it’s crunchy outside and chewy like cartilage on the inside. Its partner—Sustenance—is a heartwarming, invigorating, delicious bowl of mushroom sashimi broth sprinkled with furikake made in-house.
This duo is followed by a delicate trio of snacks which represents the section called Liver, Tongue, Egg. The first is a tongue-tingling cold foie gras Mille-feuille composed of sheets of candied nori and jelly-fied caviar. The Tongue is, well, beef tongue yakitori with cherry teriyaki glaze—this is served with a shiso salad and two kinds of fish roe, one Lump fish, the other Flying fish. The third part, Egg, is an ikura-chutoro-toast combo. The server suggests we consume the three in the sequence they appear on the menu—so you open with something dainty and refreshing, follow it with something sweet and tender, and complete the experience with something buttery, savory, and with a definitive crunch.
Next to arrive on our table is Flesh—three substantial slivers of aged buri half-submerged in a Japanese orange vinaigrette together with thin lime slices and dill sprigs. This is soon followed by Wings, a renamed remnant from the inaugural menu (btw, at Mōdan, unlike in some degustation venues, it doesn’t take a lifetime before your next course is served). This is stuffed chicken wing lying on a pillow of whole egg yolk cured with shoyu. The wing’s tip is used to poke and dismantle the yolk which will then act as rich sauce for the red golden chicken you’re expected to devour with your bare hand.
If there’s more yolk on the plate, no need to worry—a delectable house-made focaccia lands on the table next, perfect for wiping clean all that remaining gooey sauce. This awesome piece of bread, however, flavored with dry fish powder on the crust, also comes with its own partner: a sinful scoop of oxtail butter.
Having seen photos online from friends who’ve sampled the new menu, we were looking forward to the pot of fried rice served towards the end of our meal—which is, in our head, Chef Jorge’s “reward” to the big eaters not used to bite-size food servings. In the previous menu, the fried rice was topped with inviting cubes of wagyu. Now it’s still served on a pot but once the lid is removed, the glorious orange of a king crab’s top shell is what greets the diner. Remove that and the luscious “miso-roasted capsicum rice” appears. This is the Limbs section of the paper crane and it has everything: shredded King crab meat, uni, ikura, seared Hokkaido scallops basted in what the server calls the “house miso bonito XO sauce,” plus a sprinkling of edamame and spring onions on top.
After a few helpings of the dish, the server asks if we want to make this “experience” even better. We say yes and he proceeds to take the pot of rice back to the kitchen bar to scrape the bottom of the vessel—for that flavor-packed tutong irresistible to Pinoys.
But it is the Head that turns out to be the ultimate highlight of this dinner, a prelude to the aforementioned Limbs. The server describes it as ebi chawanmushi carpaccio and comes with a separate bowl of somen soaking in cold water. The base of the chawanmushi broth is made from the head of a Botan ebi. The soup has ebi meat and is finished with three oils: ebi, nira, and burnt leek. When this beautifully rich melange of flavors meets the watery cold noodles on our chopsticks, the next sound the table hears is a kind of meditative slurping followed by a deeply sincere “Mmmm.”
In the end, Chef Jorge brings it all back to nostalgia, with a dessert comprised of Hokkaido milk ice cream sitting on frozen berries and topped with fish sauce and rice crispies. The nostalgia, however, is in the filo pastry shell which houses the berries and ice cream; it is to be cracked open with the base of a spoon. The shell mimics the look of crushed paper—usually the result of Jorge’s son’s frustration over a failed attempt at creating a paper airplane. The chef and his son bond over origami, too, you see, which is likely Jorge’s way of passing on to his little one the parent-child tradition his mother started.
We leave the restaurant full—and while busog is not everyone’s idea of a degustation ending, we really don’t mind knowing the weight on our tummies is the result of being on the receiving end of Jorge Mendez’s latest wonderful gustatory propositions.
For more information and bookings, visit Mōdan on Instagram.