A Perfect Balance

21 Jul 2019

New Restaurant Reflects Sakais' Global Backgrounds

Summer 2019

Written By: Monica Fedrigo | Images: Lindley Rust

A warm greeting from Zarina Sakai, flavorful Asian dishes crafted by Eric Sakai, and whimsical wallpaper featuring birds and baboons all contribute to a fresh, inviting ambiance when entering The Phoenix and the Dragon.

Since the husband and wife team opened the restaurant in January, customers have flocked to enjoy an Asian menu of flavorful, wholesome options. “We’re thrilled with how it’s been going,” Zarina says. “We’re grateful for the community support.”

The couple’s backgrounds create a culinary perspective that is rooted in both family tradition and professional creativity. Zarina was born in the Philippines, later moving to San Francisco with her gastronomically adventurous mom. Eric was raised in Hawaii, with Chinese and Japanese roots, and began his career in a French bistro. “A classic French kitchen, very rigorous and standardized—I really liked it,” Eric says.

Eric and Zarina met in 2004 at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, before marrying two years later and heading for Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco, followed by time in Hawaii, then a move to Jackson Hole in 2010. The Sakais left the valley for a few years to open a restaurant in Seattle, but yearned for Jackson. “It was a rewarding experience, but we missed it here,” Eric says. “We love the mountains and the community.”

Zarina refers to their new restaurant as a healthy, Asian eatery. “There are many influences because of our backgrounds, but it’s also authentic,” she says. Eric adds, with a smile, “It’s authentically us.”

The menu incorporates rice and noodle dishes, fresh produce, warming spices, and recipes guided by the couple’s preferred ingredients. “We want people to feel good as well as enjoy the flavor,” Zarina says. Alongside house-made cocktails, Zarina curates a specialty tea program with rare teas sourced from a small, family-owned company based in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

When asked about favorite menu items, Zarina chooses the Inasal Na Manok, inspired by her father’s province in the Philippines, and a dish she and Eric enjoyed with family on their last visit. “It’s a garlicky, lemongrassy chicken,” she says. “The flavor really takes me back. It’s great to see Eric using flavors that I grew up with.”

Eric’s favorite menu item also reminds him of his family’s history. “It’s the Spam Musubi,” he says. “It catches people off guard. I grew up eating this. It’s a classic snack of Hawaii.”

The restaurant’s name symbolizes their balance. “We wanted something with significance,” Eric says. “In Chinese mythology, the phoenix and the dragon are representative of the yin and the yang. I started to look at Zarina and I. We’re very similar but at the same time very different, and it creates a perfect balance.”

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