Last week, Azul at Mandarin Oriental made Thursdays nights a lot more interesting. February 4 marked the launch of the five-star restaurant’s Izakaya Nights, a new weekly Thursday night dinner series celebrating Chef Benjamin Murray’s Japanese roots. Guests can opt for a $55 prix-fix menu of shareable plates reminiscent of those found in traditional Izakaya restaurants in Japan.
After trying out the first week’s menu for ourselves, we suggest you do just that.
This was our first time checking out Azul since Chef Murray took over the reins from former Executive Chef Will Crandall left. First impressions mean a lot, and this was one hell of a first impression from the young chef, who masterfully elevated casual Izakaya fare into something fit for a fine-dining establishment. From the bread service to the desserts, Izakaya Nights did not disappoint.
Speaking of the bread service: Zak the Baker bread with aerated foie gras foam and quince paste. Yup. This ruined all other bread services for us; after seeing this land on our table, we knew we were in for a great evening.
And that we were. Our first course was the Okinawa sweet potato croquettes. The soft exterior gave way to a smooth, creamy and savory interior. The accompany bulldog sauce — a must try — gets its name from a sauce the Chef’s mom used that had a bull dog on it. We could smell the next course, the Chirashi Don, the second it was placed in front of us. It’s super fragrant, and its scent got us drooling pretty quickly. Our favorite part of this yellowfin tuna dish? The sushi rice croquettes. There was something about the taste and texture that made us want to eat bowls upon bowls of this thing; it paired perfectly with the umami flavor from the ponzu foam.
We love gyozas, and we loved Chef Murray’s shrimp and short rib gyozas. They’re simply seasoned but pack some great flavor; there’s a touch of lemongrass in there that we liked. The best way to describe these things: plump and delicious. The final savory course was our favorite, though: branzino with eggplant katsu, kabocha squash and a few other elements we have trouble pronouncing. It’s not only beautifully plated — LOOK AT IT — but it has the flavor to match. It’s exquisite and similar to a dish on the regular menu.
There’s a reason we mention that second part. The selections rotate weekly, so what we mention here may or may not be on the menu when you arrive. What is most likely to remain constant is the dessert sampler, which is the definition of amazing. Dessert isn’t really a big thing in Japanese culture, but Pastry Chef Frederic Monnet flexed his baking muscles to craft some creatively decadent fare that incorporates Japanese ingredients like goji berries and mochi. Save room for the Japanese cotton cheesecake — trust us. There’s also a $30 cocktail pairing available that worth checking out for the edible cocktail alone (yes, you read that right).
So yeah, you should run over to Azul (or drive — that bridge is pretty long) on Thursday nights and take advantage of this new menu. If you haven’t been to the restaurant already, it’s a great way to check it out without breaking the bank. And if you’ve already visited, this new promotion offers all-new selections that are sure to impress. We’re already planning our next visit.