Ma. T. 888 China Bistro already had been in business for 12 years, providing the community with a wide variety of Chinese dishes, but the Ma family was torn. While many of them liked traditional Chinese cuisine, other family members preferred Japanese foods like sushi and ramen.
Instead of living in a house divided, they decided to start a sushi bar and ramen house in unoccupied space inside China Bistro and, in October 2018, opened Domo Sushi Bar and Ramen House with Marvin Abadicio as executive chef.
“Three, four, five years we already had the plan,” says manager Ling Ma. “But finally about six months ago, we were ready and also Marvin. It was perfect timing.”
Abadicio had a long journey to Domo. Originally from the Philippines, he began cooking in a family friend’s Japanese restaurant in high school. After graduating from college, he worked with a couple of companies in the Philippines but soon grew bored and returned to the more fast-paced restaurant industry.
He then was offered a position working for a Japanese restaurant in a Marriott hotel in Bermuda where he met the owner of a Benihana franchise in Louisville, Kentucky. Abadicio worked in Louisville for five years before moving to Evansville to join Nagasaki Inn, where he stayed for another five years.
“I started to like this place — the city of Evansville — so I decided to stay here and get settled here,” says Abadicio.
When he started at Nagasaki, many Evansville natives weren’t too comfortable with the idea of sushi, especially raw sushi, so Abadicio created Westernized sushi and special rolls of cooked sushi.
“I wanted to try to let them know that sushi is not all raw,” he says. “They can have cooked sushi; they can create their own sushi actually. It’s like creating your own pizza.”
Another challenge for the chef in Evansville was the lack of direct access for fresh seafood. In the Philippines and Bermuda, fresh seafood was available daily. In Evansville, however, Abadicio has to work with multiple suppliers and place orders as often as every other day to ensure he has fresh ingredients.
After 18 years in the community, Abadicio has seen the area’s palate for Japanese cuisine grow and expand. At Domo, the sushi menu is more than just basic westernized rolls like a California roll, and includes options like nigiri, a type of sushi made with pressed rice topped with slices of raw fish, and sashimi, fresh raw fish sliced into thin pieces.
“I tried to introduce those kinds of rolls to locals, and I was surprised they started to like it,” says Abadicio. “Now the people I know who started on the cooked sushi, they’re eating raw.”
Along with the diverse menu of sushi, another unique item is ramen. Abadicio developed three different types of ramen for Domo, the largest offering of ramen he has ever served in Evansville. Customers can choose from shoyu (soy), miso, or tonkotsu (creamy pork) ramen, which all are made from scratch and in house.
The ramen process is long and intensive. The broth base for all the ramen is made from pork bone marrow that is boiled for 10 hours. The pork belly and ribs also are slow cooked for about three to five hours before joining the broth, ramen egg noodles, soft-boiled egg, and vegetables.
“I put in the ribs just as an addition because what I found out here is that locals love barbecue ribs, so I decided to include it on the ingredients of the ramen,” says Abadicio.
While the ramen is one of the most ordered menu items, other popular dishes include the katsudon, rice topped with crispy fried pork, an egg, and vegetables, and the maguro no zuke-don, rice topped with marinated tuna. The tuna dish is something unique to the community, but Abadicio says he was inspired by customers’ curiosity to try new foods.
“I think about the quality of the seafood and the flavor, then if you combine it with the sauce that’s how I create something new,” he says. “I always try different things almost every day. Especially if you work in a sushi restaurant, you always need to think of the quality of the seafood you’re serving and after that the flavor.”
For the Ma family, they now can have their favorite foods all in one place and offer the same benefit to the community they have served for more than a decade.
“When they come over here and see Marvin, it’s more exciting,” says Ma. “They have Chinese and Japanese — their favorites in the same place.”
The community has embraced Domo’s unique flavors and dishes, and Abadicio is impressed by how much the area’s tastes have grown during his 18 years as a sushi chef in the region. As a pioneer of Japanese cuisine in the community, he hopes to see this development continue.
“This is my passion,” says Abadicio. “I love cooking and I love creating stuff. I create a dish almost every day. I don’t really stop because, as a chef, every day is a learning process.”