Former Nobu chef Erik Idos brings a touch of Japan to his beloved Mexican tacos.
Text by Tiffany Chan, photos by Samantha Sin
*Featured in Crave’s March 2015 issue
“The camera eats first” is a saying we’ve heard a lot lately – usually followed by, “Wait, don’t touch it. Let me take a photo first.” This seems especially true at Chino, chef Erik Idos’ new Mexican-Japanese venture. Social media has been flooded with images of Chino’s photogenic dishes. A particular hit seems to be the chicken and egg tostadas, with its picture-perfect egg perched on shredded chicken and golden crispy tostada.
Since its official opening on Christmas Eve, Chino has been packed every night. Yet, to credit its popularity solely to the power of social media would be unfair. Los Angeles-raised Idos worked for famed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa for a decade, most recently for four years as executive chef at Nobu InterContinental Hong Kong.
At Chino, he combines his experience at Nobu with a love of Mexican food from his hometown.
“I’m from LA and one of the things I like to eat is tacos,” Idos says. “I wanted to use everything I’d learned from Nobu: the philosophy, the ingredients and everything he taught me over the last 10 years. I never want to lose that.”
But while his dishes have Japanese elements – a hint of shiso in the salsa, perhaps – Idos says Chino is Mexican in essence. The flavours are authentic, he asserts, and he imports many ingredients from Mexico, including dried chillies, tomatillo, tequila and beer.
“Hong Kong people don’t understand Mexican food, like what is a tostada and what is a taco, or why a ceviche is so sour. Mexican food is about flavour: spicy, sour, bold and comes with a punch from chilli, lime and citrus,” he says.
“I was never trained to be a Mexican chef. Mexican food goes so deep into history that it’s something I am still learning about. These are the flavours I know in my head and I’ve tasted before and I’m trying to replicate the best I can. I want to teach [local people] what Mexican food is about. I’m not going to change it if it’s too spicy, too sour, or if people here don’t like it. If I compromise, then I lose the integrity.”
Market Fish Ceviche
Fish is tossed in freshly squeezed yuzu, lemon juice, lime juice and orange juice for a few minutes for a sashimi-like texture. When we visited, Idos used hirame from the local market. Idos explains the hirame is not too soft, but has bite and a crunchy texture able to withstand the acidity. For us, the fish was overly chewy, but we liked the marinade, which was bold and flavourful in its acidity.
Chipotle Kewpie Corn
Corn is grilled with oil and salt, tossed in chipotle kewpie sauce, and topped with crumbly cojita cheese. We were excited for this and dug in immediately using our hands. The chipotle kewpie sauce was smoky and very spicy, as it should be, but we found it overwhelmed the natural sweetness of the corn, rendering the dish a bit one-note in terms of flavour. This is an appealing idea, but could do with a tweak.
Chicken and Egg Tostada; Scallop and Uni Tostada
The chicken and egg tostada features a chicken leg and thigh stewed in tomato chipotle sauce, then shredded and topped with a flawless fried egg. While there was plenty of flavour, the runny egg yolk was rather messy. We learned to slurp up the yolk after the first bite. We were more successful with the scallop and uni version. Hokkaido scallop and sea urchin is topped with spicy arbol salsa and yuzu kosho for a fresh and delicate dish.
Crispy Fish Taco
Easily our favourite dish of the evening, sea bass is coated in tempura beer batter and deep-fried for a wonderfully light, crispy skin. The taco is topped with the same chipotle kewpie sauce as the grilled corn, but here the sauce balances well with the salsa fresca. The white corn tortilla is made exclusively for Chino in LA and is slightly thicker to withstand the sauce. Altogether, this is a fantastic taco.
Marinated Fried Quail
A last-minute choice, but we were glad we went for the quail. The bird is marinated in ginger and soy sauce, coated in potato starch, cornstarch and rice our then deep-fried. It was perfectly cooked, pink in the middle and tender. The batter isn’t heavy or chunky, but light and crispy with a fresh citrus kick, which we liked.
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