By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

OF COURSE we went to Ogetsu Hime, one of SM Aura’s Japanese restaurants, right when the Department of Health issued a statement discouraging the public from consuming raw food in light of the spread of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Still, we’re a sucker for seafood, and we trust Ogetsu Hime — they get their catch fresh from Japan. Furthermore, I’m not about to pass judgment on this restaurant (the SM Aura branch opened in 2014, and a second branch opened in SM Megamall in 2017), which shares an umbrella with the classic Japanese buffet Saisaki. Both Japanese restaurants are sisters under the Triple-V group, by Victor Vincent “Vicvic” Villavicencio, who passed away last year. Other restaurants under the group include Kamayan, Dad’s, Sambokojin, and Number 1 Barbecues.

As a concept from the late and missed Buffet King of the Philippines, there’s an expectation of our stomachs stretching. As a higher-end concept from the group, food isn’t laid out under heat lamps as in a buffet. Everything is prepared to-order, under the Order-All-You-Can Promo (priced from P988 for lunch and P1,088 for dinner and weekends), so you’re guaranteed freshness.

There was no rhyme or reason for our orders. We didn’t follow the rules governing the kaiseki, the traditional Japanese formal meal of seven to 14 courses. We just pointed at the menu and read the names aloud. We started with the Tenzaru Chasoba, a meal of green tea noodles immersed in ice accompanied by shrimp tempura. The cold, firm noodles proved a great contrast to the steaming, crisp shrimp, and was a delightful sensory experience. I could have stopped and filled myself on multiple bowls of that (I tried), but the call of the sashimi was hard to ignore.

I have to say though, that any restaurant willing to place “Best of Japan” near their name will have to prove themselves with a great slice of raw fish. Sashimi is sometimes a testament to the perfection of nature as aided by man when a chef slices then serves a piece of raw fish. The salmon was velvety, and the tuna was fatty — but it didn’t have the touch of perfection I was looking for, where there’s an initial firmness that yields to buttery softness. If you’re not too picky (and you really shouldn’t be), the sashimi is good enough.

Another observation on the sashimi: we asked for a bowl of chirashi (sashimi on top of sushi rice). We received a bowl of rice with a wonderfully creamy raw hamachi (yellowtail), slices of salmon, tuna, and octopus tentacles, and cucumber cups of salmon roe and uni (sea urchin). The textures in this bowl far surpassed the previous order of plain slices. What gives?

We ended the sushi and sashimi course(s) with two pieces of mackerel sushi, which retained the power of the sea in its flavor. It was also arguably the worst-looking of all our seafood choices that night, so it just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge based on appearance.

We then asked for a few pieces of enoki bacon skewers, which had a nice springy texture. We also asked for US Angus Beef teppanyaki, which has a great texture with just the right amount of resistance from the beef. Our other favorite was a Chawan Uni (egg custard topped with slices of sea urchin). Served in a celadon bowl, it was delicate in both taste and texture, and came with a broth that only had a faint whisper of saltiness. Don’t eat it too quickly, though; it might scald your tongue and might preclude you from enjoying anything else.

We kind of stopped counting after about eight servings, because we liked some items so much that we ordered them again. We’ll tell you that it’s a great place to bring family and friends for a treat, or else to show a date how much your stomach can take.

Call for reservations at 0917-809-6585 (for the SM Aura branch) and 0917-576-2377 (for the Megamall branch).