Chaya in Venice is my constant love. Before my first visit, I was skeptical of the concept of French-Japanese fusion cuisine. But the experience was transcendental. I became a devoted convert. The seafood was not only fresh, but the chefs knew exactly what do with it. I have been to restaurants in which the unhappy instance occured: fresh seafood was procured from a market only to have it overcooked to a heap of unrecognizable rubbery, chewy substance (even burnt & charred), buried underneath overwhelming sauce.
Or, there were the numerous times when top-grade, quality seafood was procured only to be barely cooked (to alarmingly raw conditions) and paired with a heartbreakingly underwhelming sauce. I'm not one to judge: I've also replicated disappointed experiences in my repertoire of cooking before I actually got it right. My heart cried for what it could have been, the potential lost every time this unhappy instance occurred.
And then there was the unhappy instance in which the fate was doomed from the start: the seafood was not fresh or frozen and the cook did his best to dress up the proverbial pig. Chaya is exemplary: it procures top-fresh seafood, cooks it in such a way to optimize its quality by choice of sauce & just the right amount of temperature for just the right amount of time. Though I prefer the Venice location, I've never had a bad experience at Chaya. Each location has a slightly different menu that caters to my fondness for variety.
My last visit was nothing short of stellar. I arrived to the bustling, energetic hum of a restaurant come alive. On a Saturday night, I was clearly not the only fan of Chaya. I had a glass of Pinot Noir with my dinner companion while we waited for our table. Perhaps the diners before us were savoring each magical bite that fueled fabulous conversation? One can only imagine. The Pinot Noir was excellent & mellow, which in turn, mellowed me out after an action-packed week.
Our table was soon ready & I anticipated this experience (the menu I had since changed from my last visit). We ordered Yellowtail nigri & Spicy tuna roll as an appetizer. Though I was hesitant to order these because I thought I would be tired of sushi ( I had made sushi at a Nobu workshop & eaten the sushi for lunch that day), I had to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the sushi here at Chaya. The seafood was fresh, a must. The rice was al dente & semi-warm (which traditional Japanese sushi tradition calls for). Last but not least, the sushi was not annoyingly drowned in sauce as is the theme in many a Japanese fusion restaurant.
We both shared a plate of Soy glazed black Cod with Hijiki Garlic Brown Rice & Asparagus Tempura. The cod was fresh & subtly sweet. It didn't need my fork because it was so soft & moist. The cod melted in my mouth. I eagerly tried to scoop up every last bite with my fork and became frustrated when I couldn't do it fast enough. The Hijiki garlic brown rice was savory, exotic, and utterly delightful. This was rice with a personality, one with which I meshed perfectly with. The sweetness of the cod and savoriness of the rice complemented each other. I was not too much of a fan of the asparagus tempura. It wasn't bad but it paled in comparison to the other two elements on the plate. In this rare instance, I wish there was some sauce that the tempura came with, just a drizzle.
The Fusili Arrabiata with Sauteed Shrimp consisted of a slightly spicy, robust tomato sauce atop al dente corkscrew pasta. The Sauteed shrimp was fresh & obtained the happy medium of not too soft (indication that it's undercooked) and not too rubbery, chewy (indication that it's overcooked).
This mini world tour (with stops in Japan & the Mediterranean), proved to be just what I needed. It was all the better that it was all within one restaurant in one dinner with good company. Chaya does not disappoint & is consistently good. It is the perfect marriage of French haute cuisine & Japanese precision. Though an unlikely pair, it is one that defies all naysayers & skeptics. It culls from two traditions to transform into a pioneer of modern sensibility that is the future. Now that's something to root for!