When we think of Japanese food, we think of simple, elegant dishes that focus on the chef’s ability to execute age-old cooking techniques using the best ingredients available. While Ooma borrows a lot from these traditions, it also tries to be more unique and inventive.
The food here may seem like the Japanese food we’ve grown accustomed to, but at the same time, it’s bold, assertive, and unapologetic in its approach. Sushi rolls are drizzled with new kinds of sauces; temaki wraps are reimagined in terms of presentation. If places like Kikufuji or Seryna can be compared to Chopin, then Ooma would be Maxim Mrvica.
Oooma’s dishes are also nothing like the ones at Chef Bruce Ricketts’ more upscale restaurant, Mecha Uma. Ooma’s food is more approachable, hip, and fitting for the laid-back yuppie crowd. In fact, Chef Bruce Ricketts is always seen describing the food at Ooma as “the stuff he would eat on his days off.”
Ooma’s original branch at SM Mega Fashion Hall may appear cramped and small, but it can actually accommodate 90 guests at a time. It is best to avoid peak hours, so that you won’t have to literally rub elbows with other guests.
Any meal at Ooma should begin with their open-faced temaki wraps, such as the Soft Shell Crab Taco Maki, which contains an entire piece of crispy soft shell crab, generously drizzled with aligue mayo, then topped with a small dollop of ebiko. We were blown away by the intense flavors and textures, with the aligue mayo providing that extra punch. It’s quite messy to eat, though, so make sure to be careful with every bite.
Ooma offers typical sushi rolls as well as aburi (torched) ones. Before trying any of the aburi rolls, we tried the Spicy Tuna Maki first. With small, freshly cut tuna cubes, as well as ebiko and tempura crumbs, this sushi roll is a real crowd-pleaser. The highlight is the gochujang aioli, although we think that it could have been a bit spicier.
Next up was the Scallop and Tuna Aburi Maki (P295), which is filled with tuna and cucumber slices, sesame seeds, nori crumbs, then topped with torched scallop, teriyaki sauce, spicy mayo, and kimchi aioli. The abundance of ingredients may initially confuse the senses, but it actually works. We particularly liked the tartness from the kimchi aioli.
While the first two sushi rolls exhibited both inventiveness and restraint, we didn’t feel the same with the Salmon Tartare Aburi Maki. Although you can still taste the salmon with every bite, you might find the sweet teriyaki sauce overwhelming. The sweet soy reduction didn’t help, either.
More than just a typical steak dish, Ooma’s Hanger Steak offers a highly complex mix of flavors and aroma. The thinly cut hanger steak, cooked using the sous-vide method, sits on a bed of truffled sweet potato mash. Ponzu butter was also added to cut through all the richness, allowing the flavors to harmonize.
While eating this, I felt like the steak itself wasn’t the only star of the show; it became a vehicle on which the other ingredients individually presented themselves. For instance, if the steak starts to taste too one-dimensional, mix it in with the sweet potato mash to add more layers of flavor. If you find the truffle oil too overwhelming, you can snack on the crispy baby potato chips first to allow your palate to recover.
Balance is a mark of a chef’s excellence, and thankfully, Chef Bruce Ricketts achieved just that as he was conceptualizing this dish.
If you’re looking for something that will fill up your hungry belly, order any of Ooma’s rice bowls. During our visit, we tried the Buta Kakuni Katsudon, which is a large rice bowl topped with soft and tender pork belly. The flavor may be a bit strong, but with the generous serving of rice, you will be able to finish the dish without trouble. The serving is also large enough to feed two people.
Overall Verdict: While Ooma’s food is undeniably pleasant, there was still a part of us that craved the simplicity of traditional Japanese food and its subtle flavors. We suppose it really depends on what your palate is ready for when you’re deciding on where to eat.
We will probably come back in a few months, armed with the knowledge of what we should and shouldn’t expect from Ooma. Like a child prodigy only starting to make its mark, Ooma is hugely promising, but has a vibrant, youthful character we’re still learning to adjust to.
OOMA Japanese Rice Bar is at 3/F, Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City