by Tiffany Maleshefski
Michael Hung’s transformation of Japantown’s venerable fusion restaurant bushi-tei is for the most part, complete. After about eight months in the kitchen, the 33-year old chef is clearly putting heavy emphasis on the restaurant’s Japanese notes. Not to say he’s abandoning the French and Californian influences that earned the restaurant and its opening chef, Seiji Wakabayashi, so many accolades. There’s still foie gras, brioche, bacon and serrano chiles on the menu. It’s just clear that Hung is doing what it takes to distinguish himself from his amazingly talented and esteemed predecessor.
It’s a smart move since he’s only the second chef to run the restaurant’s kitchen since it opened in 2005. Who wants to just live in Wakabayashi’s shadow, especially when this is your first-ever executive chef role? That leaves too much risk for side-by-side comparisons.
So Hung has taken the skills he’s accrued at San Francisco’s Jardiniere, bacar, and Lark Creek Inn, as well as New York’s Daniel and Aquavit, and has assembled a rich menu of eclectic dishes that simultaneously soothe, surprise and delight all in one bite.
Take for instance his simple tataki of Hawaiian albacore, served on a simple salad of Blue Lake green beans and a sesame aioli. For all of its simplicity, Hung manages to
bring a spectrum of bold flavors with very few ingredients. The fish has been tenderized to the point that its texture is almost what’s most memorable.
In the comfort food category is his take on ramen. It’s more of a messy mash of handmade egg noodles, cauliflower sautéed in brown butter, and Swiss chard. The killer
ingredient is his hatcho miso, a juicy, silky miso aged for “three winters” in Okazaki, Japan. The miso is used sparingly, meaning the dish sticks together in the way mac ‘n’ cheese does. It’s absolutely delectable, comforting, filling and soul-soothing.
But Hung knows how to prepare elegant dishes as well, and he shows this skill set off with roasted kurobuta pork that he prepares in a very traditional nabemono, or Japanese stew, studded with daikon, hon shimeji (mushrooms), and Pinot Noir dashi. The dish is really quite simple. What gives it distinction is how it is at once hearty and refined. It’s pretty to look at, but it is also filling and never strays from what it is meant to be: a warm, wintery soup.
In addition to Hung, another change in the guard is the addition of dessert chef Yuko Fujii, most recently from Fifth Floor. She’s off to a very good start. Her dish of kabocha squash and matcha mocha, served in a sweet, warm coconut and tapioca broth (which tastes like a melted milkshake), is hands down one of the best desserts in the city.
You can click on each photo to enlarge.