Los Angeles holds special meaning for Calvin Goh and Eva Lee – it’s where the couple met, and the place they called home for a decade.
“I was studying in the United States, and stayed on to work – and since I’m from the Klang Valley and Eva is from Sabah, odds are we wouldn’t have met otherwise,” said Goh, 34.
When it came time to start a family, they decided to return to Malaysia to be near family – but they brought home with them fond memories of the food scene in LA, and a burgeoning desire to chase dreams outside of the corporate world they had been living in.
“I’ve always loved food, since I was a kid,” said Goh. Whenever he travelled, his memories were built around recollections of this amazing little restaurant, that particular dish. His passion transformed into a dream, and a clear path for the future.
Goh’s first foray into the F&B industry was with KGB (Killer Gourmet Burgers), which was co-founded by his brother. He helped to manage the finances for the burger haven.
In late 2016, Goh and Lee opened their own restaurant, Eatomo in Taman Desa (the name is a play on “Eat More!”, since that’s what Goh and Lee want to encourage – not eating oneself into obesity, but trying new dishes, cuisines and produce).
The small first floor outlet soon gained itself a reputation in its neighbourhood, as the place to go for its Japan-by-way-of-California cuisine, and fresh, high quality seafood that wouldn’t cost the earth.
That’s where the couple’s background in finance comes in – value for money is one of the restaurant’s main pillars.
“We looked at the prices many people were selling oysters at, for instance, and the mark-up was just too high,” said Goh. “We’re able to keep our prices down by ordering carefully, in small batches, and we have lots of promotions to make sure that we sell fast.”
In August of this year, Goh and Lee opened their second Eatomo outlet, in Publika. The menus for both their restaurants are the same; only the promotions differ.
Fresh oysters are one of the menu mainstays, with Fine de Claires – Fine de Claire No. 4 (one for RM8.90, six for RM49.90) and Fine de Claire No. 1 (one for RM13.90, six for RM77.90) – flown in from France. “In the cooler months, we also have other oysters in season,” said Goh.
Live oysters often carry the sea in their shells, a slurp of the cold, luscious mollusc teleporting you instantly to the French coast, cold ocean breeze in your face.
The succulent Fine de Claire oysters had a pronounced sweetness, fresh, briny flavour and mineral notes, and finished with round, nutty nuances. The No. 4 is smaller than the No. 1 – and smaller oysters can have more intense flavour, says Goh.
It’s the No. 4 Fine de Claires that appear perched on the rim of shotglasses, for the Bloody Mary oyster shots (RM13.90 per shot, six for RM69.90). The classic cocktail, made with tomato juice, Absolut vodka, spiked with black pepper and paprika, is a great accompaniment for the oysters – although I still prefer mine pure and unadorned, without even the accompanying squeeze of lemon.
And if a mixed bag of seafood is in your eating plans, cut a swathe through the sashimi menu which includes yellowtail (hamachi), octopus, salmon and seasonally available live sea urchin (uni), with prices ranging from RM15 to RM78.
Other notables: the Shiit-Ake Bombs (RM18) – one of Lee’s kitchen creations – is an unexpected and delicious combination of cream cheese and mentaiko, stuffed into slit fresh shiitakes before they are battered and deep-fried; softshell crab with thick-cut chips (RM35) and a subtly complex house-made tartar sauce; chewy lemon butter clams, in a sweet, bright gravy with sake and garlic.
They know how to treat seafood right at Eatomo – regardless of the dish, the results indicate a focus on freshness and, where cooked, precision of technique. And attention to detail – such as creating different batters for fish or enoki mushrooms – means that each dish has its own distinct identity.
If value for money is one of Eatomo’s key foundations, fond memories make up another. You’ll find a plethora of poke bowls on the menu, the number and variety of which have grown from the three that first debuted on Eatomo Taman Desa’s menu.
“I tasted my first poke bowl in 2013, and immediately fell in love with its freshness, complexity and layers of flavour, “ says Goh. “We actually created Eatomo with poke bowls as the main stars, but then I couldn’t resist adding more and more of my favourite dishes to the menu.”
The classic California Poke Bowl (RM19.90) is a cornucopia of thick chunks of salmon, yellowfin tuna and butterfish, lightly marinated with soy sauce and halal mirin, and served over sushi rice with guacamole, crabstick salad, masago and spicy mayo.
Local flavours get a look in with the Pokelantan Bowl (RM21.90), which has the same fish marinated with lime juice and bird’s eye chilli, with a dollop of candied fish floss spiked with budu on top. This lies on the sweeter end of the spectrum.
There are also chirashi bowls, topped with sashimi, mentaiko bowls seared to smoky perfection, and a variety of dons, if you’d like your rice toppings to be cooked.
“Basically, we created a menu of things we missed from our favourite eateries in LA, as well as things we ate on our travels, which really inspired us,” said Goh.
These include a dish of Belgian curry mussels (RM36.90), inspired by a long-ago trip to France that a much-younger Goh took with his family. The large, meaty mussels come in a thin, buttery sauce fragranced with curry spices, which also has a tinge of sweetness.
“In Las Vegas, there’s this dingy little casino off the Strip, which has a 24-hour oyster bar with 12 seats,” said Goh. “And no matter what time you go, there is always a line to get one of those seats.”
They joined that line, and from the meal came the Oyster Seafood Pan Roast (RM45.90), a larger-than-life cast-iron pot of oysters, scallops, crab, mussels and prawns in a thick, intense gravy combining tomatoes, Cajun spices, garlic, lemon, many bay leaves and lots of butter.
All the cast-iron nabe dishes have the option of adding white wine and Pernod for RM10 (otherwise there’s no alcohol involved), and come with rice, spaghetti or bread – I’d opt for the last, to soak up all the gravy.
A small selection of beer, wine and sake is on offer, but if you’re in the mood for something light, fruity and altogether too easy to drink, there’s the K-Town Yoghurt Soju (RM33 a bottle). It’s smooth and refreshing, and just lightly bubbly, with a faint taste of alcohol – but there’s about half a bottle of soju at least in every bottle of this cocktail, and it’s stronger than it tastes.
Eatomo has garnered a large number of regulars, because it provides both value and variety – and no wonder, since it’s backed by a dynamic young couple so enthusiastic about good produce and value, and so driven by fond foodie memories they want to share.
Eatomo Food Company
A2-G2-06 Solaris Dutamas, 1 Jalan Dutamas 1
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: 03-6412 2280
Open Tuesdays to Thursdays, 12pm to 3pm, 6pm to 10.30pm, and Fridays to Sundays, 12pm to 10.30pm. Closed on Mondays.