The Executive Chef at Swissotel recently asked Miguel Enriquez, “How do you explain 20 years here?” And Miguel tells me he answered with nonchalant shrug, “They just flew by”. I repeated the question and he elaborated: “with all the decoration, and the tasting and the mixing, and the cutting… and the learning, mostly the learning…” When Miguel Enriquez walked into Tanoshii back in 1992, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime (although he didn’t know it at the time, of course) of studying the art of Japanese cuisine with some of the best master chefs the country has hosted since sushi existed in Ecuador. When he says “mostly the learning”, it sounds utterly heartfelt. He managed to share the cutting table with purist Japanese cooks for twenty- odd years, and only a year ago was given the honor of taking over the kitchen “he got to know so well” at Tanoshii Restaurant.
“The masters don’t like to share their secrets, but there was a strange connection. I befriended them… I became the closest thing to a confidant”. This is why Miguel knows how to kneed upon with his heels, why he understands the concepts of umami, the perplexing ”fifth flavor”, and why Japanese cultural attachés and Mitsubishi directors in Ecuador come to greet this chef and stand in awe at his South American features. Miguel Enriquez may eat hornado on weekends, but he is also one of the most traditional masters of Japanese cuisine in the city.
When chef Ken Namba was brought in from Japan to create Tanoshii 20 years ago, sushi was literally non- existent in Ecuador. As time passed, and sushi houses proliferated, Tanoshii remained true to origin. In his menu, Miguel still includes dishes that only old-line Japanese food lovers could possibly know about, like Shabushabu, a kobe beef stew cooked in traditional bronze pots, or Sukiyaki, a vegetable soup accompanied by a special sweet-wine and soy sauce. And even if people expect more contemporary presentations found in newer restaurants these days, he continues to respect the less-rice-to-more-fish ratio, or the simple thimble-thick bulge of wasabi as opposed to the fl aunty decorated leaf some restaurants have made popular lately. Not everyone is used to tradition, of course, especially in a city that doesn’t hold a strong sushi culture.
But Tanoshii has chosen to cater to the Latin American palate by seeking inspiration from sensibilities found within the Japanese-Peruvian community in Perú, which blends South American ingredients like sweet potato or cilantro with classic Japanese fl avors. Miguel will be attending his routine culinary workshops in Perú in August, an adventure he always looks forward to, since it offers a learning space and place to share ideas and concepts. “Even if we pride ourselves in tradition, I like to keep things open. In Ecuador, we have the chance to try new things, since patrons are not always set in their traditional ways… at the same time, I can always fall back on the excellent education my masters have instilled in me…”, says Miguel, summing up the qualities that sets his restaurant apart.
Tanoshii thus offers the excellent Acevichado, a fish roll created to bring together the complex flavors of ceviche in a single bite; the Nabeyaki Udon, a traditional soup with fresh homemade noodles, a house specialty; the delectable Yakukudamono, or the warm fruits with wasabi dessert; the extravagant tempuras that stand up on the plate; or one of the restaurant’s long-time claim-to-fames, Benihana-style tepanyaki platters… Tanoshii is actually the only place in the city with hibachi grills, where the chef cooks a steamy main course at your table.
So, if you ask, why 20 years? I think the answer, in the end, comes down to the fact that Miguel has been enjoying himself the entire time. His smile and giving nature say it all. And the fun could last much longer, which is, surely, Tanoshii’s most comforting attribute…
Av. 12 de Octubre 1820 y Luis Cordero
(+593 3) 256 7600