A new izakaya restaurant named Pabu just opened last week in the city’s Financial District (FiDi). It’s being commanded by experienced chefs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga. Utilizing Tominaga’s knowledge in Japanese style cuisine and Mina’s experience in a multitude of successful restaurants, both chefs sought to fuse their culinary philosophies and create a modern approach to izakaya cuisine. Based on the unique menu offerings and considerable amount of media buzz leading up to the restaurant’s opening, we visited the establishment on its second day of operations. Below is a summary of our dining experience.
Interior And Exterior
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-interior-exterior”]Pabu, occupying the ground floor of 101 California’s podium building, sits in the heart of the FiDi. Inside, the 250 seat restaurant interior is expansive and houses a large cocktail bar, dining area, sushi bar and several private rooms. The hip trendy ambiance and sharply dressed staff should be familiar to any big city transplant. The decor was smart, richly appointed, and upscale. Japanese style artwork and other decor elements paid homage to the restaurant’s izakaya themed roots.
Tomoe Gozen hakushu 12 yr whisky, coriander liqueur, fernet branca, lavender piercing – 13
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-cocktail”]The Tomoe Gozen arrived in a large stemmed wine glass quarter filled with gold champagne colored liquor. The cocktail’s smooth complex taste represented a synergistic exercise in flavor balance as each individual ingredient contributed a complementary and unique quality that was neither intense or overwhelming. Each sip brought out a different taste with spice, licorice, and pear being the most dominant flavors. A unique oblate ice sphere helped chill the cocktail and contributed to its smooth mouthfeel.
Chicken Wing Tebasaki,Sansho Shio Tare Glaze, Lemon – 7
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-chicken-skewers”]The small chicken wing dish comprised of two skewers of grilled chicken meat with each skewer accommodating two flowered drumettes. With a rich flavor, natural savoriness, and moist succulent flesh, the wings reflected an expertise in meat preparation and demonstrated the advantages of robata style of grilling. Flameless white oak embers used in the grilling imparted a favorable barbecue flavor without the chariness and carbonization seen in traditional American grilling. Overall, the chicken wings were exceptionally seasoned, prepared, and cooked.
Shrimp And Scallop Dumpling Soup Hon Shimeji – 9
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-dumpling-soup”]The dumpling soup arrived as small bowl of mushroom broth containing Shimeji mushrooms, fresh spinach leaves, and two imperfectly round dumplings. Both dumplings, which distantly reminded us of a matza ball, had a buttery soft texture and delicate shellfish flavors. The broth tasted fresh, light, and the added mushrooms imparted a nutty earthy undertone.
Ken’s Roll Shrimp Tempura, Avocado, Spicy Tuna, Furikake – 7 Sea Urchin Uni – 14
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-sushi”]Two raw plates were ordered from the restaurant’s sushi bar: Ken’s Roll and the Sea Urchin. Ken’s Roll came as eight roll pieces topped with a spicy tuna mixture and filled with shrimp and avocado. The spicy tuna was exceedingly soft, fresh, and properly spiced while the cooked plumped shrimp tasted equally fresh. Unfortunately, the seaweed wrap (nori) was chewier than expected but did not detract significantly from the experience.
The Sea Urchin arrived as two small pieces of Uni, seaweed wrap, and rice. The uni tasted fresh and contained its distinct ocean brininess. However, for the cost we were expecting either a greater amount effort in the dish or greater quantity of Uni.
Miso Black Cod Mustard Seeds, Summer Beans – 32
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-cod”]The black cod entree comprised of a marinated cod fillet surrounded by a yellow mustard sauce and julienne sliced string beans. The cod’s white flesh had a firm yet silky texture and a delicate savoriness enhanced by the miso marinade and caramelization. A drizzled mustard sweet sauce complemented the fish’s flavor without dominating the palate.
Saké Roll Cake Sake Roll Cake Yuzu Curd, Strawberry, Coconut – 8 Cherry Sorbet Sparkling Sake, Almond, Shiso – 6
[maxgallery name=”pabu-restaurant-review-dessert”]The saké roll consisted of a white sponge cake rolled around a whipped creamy filling dotted with sliced blueberries and strawberries. Additional fruit, strawberry puree, coconut ice cream, and a toasted crunchy coconut streusel encircled the swirled cake slice. Even though the cake’s texture was somewhat chewy, it was overall light, airy and of balanced sweetness. A curd filling, which tasted more like a whipped buttercream, combined harmoniously with the sponge cake and had a balanced citrus flavor and mild sweetness. Moisture and additional flavor were provided by a dollop of soft homemade coconut ice cream and drizzled strawberry sauce.
The cherry sorbet dessert arrived as a small bowl of nectarine wedges, cherry bits, and scoop of cherry flavored sorbet. As the server poured saké over the bowl’s ingredients, it bubbled over the sorbet and gave the liquid an effervescent mouthfeel. The cherry sorbet and saké concoction contributed a rich fresh cherry flavor to the overall dessert and paired well with the fruit pieces.
There was a noticeable amount of enthusiasm and energy seen in the hostesses, wait staff, cooks and chefs. Michael Mina seemed focused directing kitchen staff and coordinating with other employees. Food was delivered quickly and our waitress was friendly, prompt, and seemed to have a confident knowledge of the menu.
Our food’s high quality marinated meats, flawless robata grilling style, and significant balance of flavors reflected a high level of knowledge, effort, and attention to detail. Surprisingly, in only the second day of opening, Mina and Tominaga’s restaurant seemed refined and razor focused in creating a modern izakaya experience with an added urban hip vibe. With a bill of $125 (excluding tip), all this effort doesn’t come cheap but we think it’s worth the experience. Pabu’s intelligent food options, promising bar selections, and ultra modern ambiance should send a minor shockwave throughout FiDi’s somewhat lackluster restaurant scene.