In Chinese philosophy, all aspects of life and culture have two balancing forces. Think yin and yang, hot and cold, or feminine and masculine. The phoenix and dragon are two such symbols in Chinese mythology. These forces are about to represent the harmonious balance of flavors in the newest Jackson eating establishment: the Phoenix and the Dragon, opening Feb. 16 at Jackson Whole Grocer.
The culinary couple behind the new restaurant is Eric and Zarina Sakai. You may be familiar with their flavors from one of the Streetfood Around the World dinners, held monthly at Streetfood at the Stagecoach. It was at one of these dinners that the Sakai’s cooking caught the attention of Jeff Rice, owner of the Jackson Whole Grocer. From there, a Chinese noodle concept was born.
The Phoenix and the Dragon’s menu boasts a selection of affordable items inspired by authentic Chinese flavors. The Sakais are quick to explain that what is “authentic” depends greatly on the context in which you were raised. For example, cuisine in southern China utilizes a lot of fish sauce. So, the aim of the Sakais is to showcase regional differences in Chinese cuisine in an elevated manner that educates consumers on these flavors.
On opening day, which happens to coincide with the Chinese New Year, the menu will feature six entrees between $10-$15. All of these dishes are dairy free, two are gluten free, and two more are vegan. For an additional charge, a soft cooked egg, seasonal veggies, stir-fried shrimp, poached chicken, or stir-fried beef can be added. These items feature numerous noodle varieties and are cooked to order. However, what goes into this quick service format is actually two days of prep, techniques, and processes.
Eric and Zarina met while attending the Culinary Institute of America. Since graduating, the two have worked in esteemed restaurants all around the country. Most recently, they were running the kitchen at Restaurant Marron, an upscale restaurant in Seattle. It was there that Eric won the title for People’s Best New Chef for the Pacific and Northwest region in Food and Wine’s Best New Chef of 2015 competition.
During the judging process, Sakai was told his quintessential dish was a duck with caramelized maple sherry fish sauce. It was an unassuming plate of roasted duck with a sauce that was an Asian twist on a traditionally French sauce. “As things evolve, you change,” Sakai says, “In Seattle, we were wondering how to incorporate Chinese flavors without it being ‘fusion.'”
When putting together the menu for their new establishment, the Sakais were anxious for the opinion of Eric’s mother, who is originally from Hong Kong. They passed the test when she told them, “It reminds me of home. I haven’t had these flavors in so long.” When it comes to food, where you come from is the most natural, but it was a long time in Sakai’s culinary career before he returned to the flavors of home in his food. Now, he says, “when you’re authentic to who you are, it comes out in the food.”
This statement is extremely evident in every carefully composed and selected dish on the menu at the Phoenix and the Dragon. The Shanghai style stir fried thick noodles are Eric’s favorite. Their beef noodle soup features a dark, earthy broth; while the other noodle soup features a light colored broth of unexpected richness. This same soup features two “Lion’s Head” meatballs made of ground chicken and shrimp. Experience all of these dishes, and their showcase of at the Phoenix and the Dragon, located at the Jackson Whole Grocer, open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. starting Feb. 16.