We had an incredibly indulgent dinner featuring Mayura steak as presented by Chef Mark Tan of Allium.
Dinner started with appetizers of nigiri sushi.
First, GenSan Tuna sushi. We really must be proud of our tuna from Mindanao!
But the real treat was the third of the lot: Mayura rib cap nigiri sushi. It doesn’t get better than this. I’ll just let the picture speak for itself! Taken with just my iphone.
Next, Chef Mark treated us to some lobster. That small ball underneath is Brittany Lobster. Served with a touch of Hokkaido uni. Given another dimension with black figs. And to top it all off, homemade caviar by the chef. “When we have female lobsters with eggs, we salt cure the eggs,” explained Chef Mark. Instead of soup, we were served Chef Mark’s version of Chawan Mushi. This was umami central! But here is the chef’s genius: he made a relish using French summer truffles and – get this – fresh wasabi and Pedro Ximenez sherry. Who would ever think of mixing summer truffles with wasabi?! My thought bubble was, what a waste of summer truffles! But I am equally blown away by the chef’s commitment to creating art.
What I loved about this chawanmushi were the bits of crab. As if it wasn’t enough to just use Philippine crabs, Chef Mark indulged us with Hokkaido snow crab and Brittany ocean crabs. What a treat! Also from Hokkaido – fresh scallops! This was just perfection. The chef also added white fungus (stop snickering, Beavis) for texture and a yuzu sauce “for richness”.
The piece de resistance was the duo of Mayura wagyu (later) but this Mayura sirloin tartare held its own!
Chef Mark brilliantly mixed it with (hold your breath) oysters! So that the guest would not “get ‘umay'”, there is Pommery mustard. And for depth, that orange thing on top is not what guest of honor Scott de Bruin, owner of Mayura, thought was tomato … it is salt cured egg yolk!
And now for the piece de resistance: the duo of Mayura wagyu.
Mayura steak is really distinguished. It has a unique depth of flavor and richness.
The piece on the right was the picanha (aka rump cover aka rump cap aka coulotte), rated Gold while the piece on the left was the platinum rib fillet.
The rib was more tender but both were incredibly flavorful.
That puddle on the left is a chestnut puree but I didn’t even touch it! I was just obsessed with the meat. It is honestly, sincerely, truly excellent.
I learned last night that this meat is also used by Burnt Ends in Singapore and 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong. David Pynt and Umberto Bombana sure know good meat!
I had no more room for dessert. Just enjoyed the rest of the Brunello di Montalcino that our hosts Rey and Joy (and daughter Ella) Co served.
When Jason Go invites you to dinner, make sure you come hungry. Because the guy, although skinny as a matchstick, sure knows how to eat.
We had the pleasure of eating at the recently opened Ruby Jacks, a new restaurant at City of Dreams owned by Frederick Siy and where Jason is an partner, last Thursday … and indulged in a tremendous spread that progressed from healthy tomatoes to a heart-clogging Tomahawk steak!
I quickly noticed that at Ruby Jacks, the dishes served are far more sophisticated than they sound.
These tomatoes, for instance, were from Fukuoka, Japan. They were fresh, incredibly juicy and sweet. As if it wasn’t good enough on its own, the chef, Matthew Crabbe, serves them with a dollop of Gorgonzola cheese underneath. They were so good, though, I ate them sans cheese – incredible, considering my love for cheese!
Caesar salad is drowned in strings of Parmesan cheese. This is the most cheese-laden Caesar salad I have ever had!
This was served alongside these scallops from the US. Plump, juicy … what’s not to love? As if that wasn’t enough, we got to try the restaurant’s various takes on oysters. Our host joked that these oysters covered in roe are “virgin” oysters. Hmmm!
They also have oysters served with a jalapeño tartare and oysters baked with spinach and cheese.
But being a steakhouse, Ruby Jack’s is all about the steak.They have Platinum John Dee Wagyu with a marbling of 8 or 9. But what I love about Australian meats is that while they get the best Japanese cattle, they serve it the Western way so it’s still more meaty than melt-in-your-mouth fatty.
They offer imported steaks from Australia (John Dee), the US and Japan. From Australia, they are proud of their John Dee premium steaks. If you are a big group, highly recommended is the Tomahawk. Check it out (we had 2 kilos):
For dessert, don’t miss out on their siganture cheesecake; It is not heavily creamy but, made almost with a Jap touch – very light! The restaurant also makes their own ice creams.
This is the first Ruby Jacks outside of Tokyo. How lucky is Manila!
Ruby Jack’s Steakhouse
Upper Ground, City of Dreams
Reservations recommended.Tel. +632 801 8888.
Open daily from 10:00 am to 2:00 am.
Champagne brunch promos on weekends from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm.
Private dining room seats 14 pax. Major credit cards accepted.
Accessible by elevator via Hyatt or Nobu Hotels (quite a distance though).
Stumbled upon this new restaurant after church service at Union Church just today. Beside Wildflour on Rada St. in Legazpi Village is a new Peruvian-Japanese concept restaurant Nikkei.
We got a seat by the bar because the restaurant was full. It can only accommodate maybe 5 groups of 4 (thereabouts) and the bar seats around 8. We ended up sitting by the bar. Just as well, we got a good view of the chef.
His name is Juan Barcos. He is Argentinian, not Peruvian. But highly recommends a trip to Peru. He is also a chef at La Cabrera at 6750 beside Shang Makati.
Due to the Peruvian theme, ceviche was in order. They have several kinds: the classic ceviche, smoked chili, yellow pepper, green ceviche, salmon thai and tuna. I tried the classic, which was ok. But was more impressed by this one: the yellow pepper. So tasty! It goes well with their sake, which I also loved (light, smooth, slightly sweet – perfect even for lunch!).
The rolls below were given to us complimentary. I have no idea who sent it over. I’m wishing it was some cute single guy LOL but I think it was from one of the partners. As they are just on their 8th day of operations since opening, the partners were themselves bussing out orders. Which was necessary because the servers are very obviously just now getting the hang of serving. I’d estimate for maybe another month, expect around a 15-minute wait for your orders to get to your table.
I think this was the Panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) Sushi Roll: salmon, avocado, kampyo (shavings from a gourd) and truffled cream cheese. I loved the touch of creaminess and the fact that it did not feel oily in spite of the crusty cover.
I was also curious about and therefore tried the Causa Appetizers. Ordered the salmon, which comes with guacamole and salmon tartar; and the tako causa, which has octopus confit and guac as well. Be forewarned, though, that these are practically the size of an amuse bouche. They are puny! LOL. Although very tasty. That yellow tower is potato. Strongly suggest to order any of the sushi rolls while you wait as these are much bigger. Also thoroughly enjoyed the Ceviche Roll. This is a meal in itself and incredibly fresh, too.
If you have time, by all means, have a main dish. Their pork is Kurobuta – oh so soft and full of fat. And the beef is Kobe. You can ask for a separate bowl of rice.
Also worth a mention is the salmon belly, cooked tempura-style. It is fatty but the batter is not oily at all. It is just a beautiful dish. We had to get another order – it was just so good.
For dessert, we did see the waiters bus out a Tres Leches that looked incredible but we did not try this. Because Wildflour is just next door and within that proximity, you just HAVE to order their chocolate cake!
The dishes are a bit on the pricey side. You might feel short-changed esp with the Kobe beef which is P795 for a few small slices. But I think it’s because the ingredients are first rate and the each dish (the ones that we tried anyway) was delicious.
I would come here for lunch if I had time but I think it’s a better place to unwind with friends after a long day at work! Ceviche and Japanese whisky – what better way to relax after a long day?
Rada St., Legazpi Village, Makati
+63927 2730114 / 02 880 0231
Open for lunch and dinner daily (From 3-6 pm only dessert and drinks)
What to order: Yellow Pepper Ceviche, Panko sushi roll, Ceviche roll, Salmon Belly
Major credit cards accepted
You would think that you’d have to fly to Singapore, Hong Kong or New York for a lovely skyline. But 71 Gramercy has a solution for you: its fine dining area. Can you believe this view is from a restaurant just in the heart of Makati?
There is more than one star in the horizon, though, the other being Chef Carlo Miguel.
I am so happy that I finally found him again after all these years. Not that he’d gone missing since the days of Opus, when I last saw him (lightyears ago). At the time, he was one of the rare chefs in Manila successfully doing molecular gastronomy. Since then, he has taken over the kitchens of Draft (several branches), Beso, Epic in Boracay, and The Brewery at The Palace at the Fort. He is now running 14 kitchens!
The food at 71 Gramercy, where Chef Carlo is a partner, is more straightforward than what we were used to at Opus. Although the signature strong flavours are still there.
Because it is Carlo Miguel, we indulged in several starters. First, a 62-degree egg with prosciutto and arugula, a healthy yet savory start.
We alternated bites of the egg with this cured salmon. And as if this wasn’t enough, with steak tartare.
I was very curious to try the Gramercy Burger because I remember Cecile Chang (then Ysmael) telling me about how Louie Y, a partner at Gramercy, loved his burgers so much he would go to the Mandarin at 2am just for a fix. Well, this burger did not disappoint. Loved the beef but even more, loved the foie gras that looked like a tongue sticking out at you.
In fact the servings in Gramercy are generally larger than life – like its partners, I guess. Take this sea bass. Chilean, of course.
The Chef told us to make sure to leave room for dessert and I understand why. This chocolate cake first has a layer of hazelnut meringue as its base; followed by a chocolate mousse. Inside is a flour less chocolate cake that you do not see until you rip the cake apart. That hat is a crisp chocolate shell. And then the waiter pours a chocolate liquid ganache to complete the texture play. Now THAT is a chocolate cake!
This menu is a bit classic, not the usual molecular or French haute cuisine that Chef Carlo Miguel got us used to. But he has an excuse: “I don’t think the trend is molecular anymore. The trend is going local.”
And with that, he shares that he is developing a new menu that will use all local ingredients to support farmers from across the country. I can’t wait to try that!
I first tried Coriander Leaf ten years ago, in 2005, when it was still located in Clarke Quay. We even took a cooking lesson with its founder, Samia Ahad.
Which is why I was happy to find her again ten years later at the new location of Coriander Leaf at Chijmes.
I was quite surprised with the Chijmes location. I was a bit overdressed in a long dress. The attire here is skin, more skin and more skin! Ironically, even if the centrepiece of the compound is a beautiful church!
Beyond the church are several restaurants and on top of El Mero Mero is Coriander Leaf.
They stuck to the Bengal tiger theme. They also kept some items in the old menu such as the lamb cooked in their tandoor oven, brought in from the old restaurant. There were many new items but this one was the one that I gravitated to the most. The baby lamb (from Australia) was so tender. But it was the flavours, the earthiness that captured my heart … and tongue.
From India, you can hop to Nepal with these chicken dumplings. I thought they were just being creative. It turns out they had done their research. The chicken dumplings are a common Nepalese fare called chicken momo dumplings.
My lovely, posh and 90-pound seatmate loves this coconut salad. “It’s light but filling,” she observed. I did love the crunchy texture of the coconut.
Then there was this obscene display of sea urchin. The time that I had fresh sea urchin delivered to my house and I consumed half a box in one sitting, I thought I was going to get a stroke so I proceeded with caution on this one, although it is irresistible. Another irresistible dish is the soft shell crabs with a salted duck egg sauce. What’s not to love?! The Chef de Cuisine is Iskander Latiff. He is married to a Filipina!
So guess what. He makes a very sosyal sinigang! On the menu it just itemises the ingredients of clam, tamarind, coconut water and calamansi. But Filipinos will recognise that beautiful sourness of tamarind soup (sinampalukan) and undoubtedly recognise this as sinigang.
And for Filipinos in Singapore looking for Halo Halo, you MUST try the version of Chef Isk. He uses a White Rabbit ice cream in place of ice cream and evap (evaporated milk). It is just brilliant. No need for Milky Way halo halo!
He also makes the very popular almost classic molten chocolate cake. It is good … but I am biased in favour of the halo halo!
If you find yourself in Singapore, make your way to Coriander Leaf! The ambiance is casual but definitely chic. The food is for the well-traveled gourmet. The drinks are also excellent – their sake and whiskey collection is impressive. Wish they would open in Manila!
I love dinners where you learn so much. And I did, thanks to Prosecco winemaker Paolo Bisol of the brand Ruggeri.
Ruggeri is a relatively young brand as the family only started winemaking in the 1950s when Paolo’s father Giustino Bisol established the Ruggeri winery in the Valdobbiadene area.
I learned at this dinner why the Valdobbiadene area is important.
Prosecco is the grape now called Glera (the name was changed in 2009). This grape was named after the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste where some say the grape originated. Regardless of where it actually originated, the fact is that it grows on rolling hills that stretch from the town of Valdobbiadene past Treviso and Conegliano, as far as Vittorio Veneto. (Paolo says they are very near Venice.)
But here’s the tricky part: just as the French have Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC), the Italians have Denominizione di origine controllata (DOC; controlled designation of origin). It’s a quality assurance label. They also have Denominazione di Origine (DO), Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). The G is guaranteed quality in every bottle; indicative of a superior wine. So if you want Prosecco Superiore, you look for the DOCG. This can be found in the dark green patch area: Valdobbiadene.
The Bisol family boasts a deeply rooted, centuries-old tradition in viticulture in the Valdobbiadene area. Around 1920, oenologist Luigi Bisol, Paolo’s great grandfather, built a winery in Montebelluna. Then in 1950, Paolo’s father Giustino Bisol established the Ruggeri winery in Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene “to produce and promote the sparkling Prosecco Superiore and Cartizze wines”. Paolo is touring the world now, sharing the joys of their Prosecco.
The first bottle we tried was Argeo. This is a light and easy wine but, Paolo clarified, in no way simple. Professionals over at The Drink Shop describe it as having “perfect clarity with abundant, persistent, minute perlage”; as well as “(f)resh, delicate, balanced on the palate and light in alcohol with a long fruity finish.” It is recommended as an aperitif or with hors-d’oeuvres and light first courses.
And so we did. Bastiaan served a wild boar starter followed by these gorgeous langoustines (ulang) and scallops while sharing, upon our prodding, that he’d been cooking all his life, at least ten years, both in Europe and in Canada, before he fell in love with a Pampangeña and settled in the Philippines. The story is likewise, I surmise, for his brother Frank, executive chef of Caviar, although I may not have the love stories down as accurately as I have the wine and the food!
After devouring this gorgeous seafood platter, we had a taste of Paolo’s favorite Prosecco: the one named after his father, which Bastiaani paired with a most succulent duck dish.
After the Proseccos, Bastiaan impressed us with Caviar’s latest dishes: lamb, black chicken and quail. Paolo was the lucky one who tried the black chicken. Alex and I were fascinated at Bastiaan’s interpretation because we are more acquainted with Chinese black chicken soup (which has the most amazing broth, by the way!). I was the luckier one who had the quail … inside, surprise of foie gras!
Check out the foie gras …
But note that it was a mutual admiration society night. As Bastiaan admired the Prosecco, Paolo in return told the sommelier how impressed he was with Caviar’s wine collection. I’ll need to go back to explore more of that!
I made a new best friend last night. Her name is Tamarindo.
She was introduced to me at B&T Mexican Kitchen in McKinley Hill. Just awesome. That gentle sweet and sour of tamarind (sampaloc) mixed with tequila. It will make you say “Te Amo” in no time!
The drink was introduced to me by a lovely lady, Baby Tan. Met her on Mother’s Day when she watched the Dreamgirls show at the Venice Piazza on a date with her husband Dr. Ed Tan. They are so sweet, these two. ❤
The restaurant is their latest baby. They already have 6 children and a chow chow so this would be their Baby No. 8! The food is by their son Philip, who trained at (his own words on their Facebook page – love his sense of humor!) “school of hard knocks kitchen streets of Texas, San Diego, Orange County”. But there are also certain dishes by Lady Baby herself, such as these ribs that are oh so fall-off-the-bone tender. And huge!!! Good for six.
Philip, meanwhile, specializes in tweaked Mexican specialties. He got the best of Tex-Mex and tweaked it to cater to the voracious Filipino eater.
For example, instead of just a regular burrito, which the menu also offers, they have something called a Wet Burrito. This is huge (good for 2 hefty eaters or 4 persons with regular appetites). But Philip first makes a regular burrito, bakes it, then “wets” it with their ranchero sauce and a variety of cheese.
Philip also has a unique Mexican take on pizza where they use chicken and bell peppers – ingredients you’d see in a burrito – and interestingly, the burrito dough is what they use as crust. For the Pinoy palate, the crust is nice and thin and crispy a la Shakey’s. Perfect with an ice cold beer!
For chicken wings, Philip uses mango instead of honey. So there is the tart sweetness of mangoes as you bite into the cripsy skin of the wings.
There is one more person who has played a great role in setting up this restaurant and that is no less than Dr. Ed Tan himself.
Now that he is retired, he has time for other things … such as art! Would you believe he made these giants chili sculptures for the walls?
He also personally painted each bottle hanging on the walls!!! And he also created the cacti (cactus) on display …
There’s more to discover at B&T Mexican. I had always just driven by their Greenhills branch (although this one I visited is in McKinley Hills where Banapple and LES Bagels is located). Now I think I’ll actually pop in. I need more of that Tamarindo!!!
B&T Mexican Kitchen
101 Upper McKinley Rd
Tower 3 Tuscany, McKinley Town Center
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
+63 2 216 3453
+63 917 896 9939
Ground floor wheelchair accessible
Latin America is all the rage now with Peru being the darling of the international food press so I felt this pop up – though El Baqueano is in Buenos Aires and not the all-trendy Peru – was a must-attend. Plus, the Pope’s from there, so how can you not?! Hehe.
At first bite, it was easy to understand why El Baqueano is part of Latin America’s 50 Best.
First, the commitment to freshness. And you could really taste the freshness of what was served. Earlier today, PinoyEatsWorld posted this on Instagram:
The shopping spree resulted in this:
Tulingan Escabeche with mango, pickled okra and shallots. The tulingan was salty like anchovies but this was balanced by the okra. Chef Him Uy de Baron, who apparently loved this course, teased the Denny Antonino, “The okra was brilliant. I’m going to copy this!”
Langoustine al Pil Pil.Pil Pil is a method of cooking known in the Basque region where you cook fish, usually cod, in olive oil or the oil in which the fish has been cooked. For this pop up, instead of fish, the chefs used langoustine and it was brilliant. They made a sauce using langoustine roe. Then as Pil Pil goes, they also cooked the langoustine in garlic and chillies. It was very spicy at first bite but by the third bite, you’re used to the spiciness. This was my favorite course for the night because it was just different; there is no dish quite like it in Filipino cuisine.
Secondly, I loved the similarities of some of their dishes with Philippine cuisine.
This one (next photo) immediately reminded me of sinigang … and true enough, that broth there is from sampaloc albeit Thai tamarind is what they used.
Another interesting tidbit on this dish. My lovely seatmate at the bar Teng Jorolan and I tried to figure out what those little yellow things were. “Ano itong matamis?” Pineapples? No. Melon? No. Sayote? No. It was watermelon rind! Never heard of watermelon rind being used before. We usually just throw them away!
Then of course, the aspiring Philippine national dish: adobo. This was a cuapao filled with pulled pork adobo.
And finally, paella. Teng joked, “Laureat ito eh, last yung rice.” True enough, carbs were in the end. This dish used orzo, though, and not rice. Finally, I loved the use of ten million ingredients in just one dish. Why have just a piano when you can have an orchestra, right?
This starter was both a beef and a fish dish, with Kitayama tenderloin that was cooked sous vide and seared, and then a tuna and salmon tartare. For flavor, they marinaded the tenderloin in calamansi. Then to accent the dish, avocado mousse and kaffir lime vinaigrette. And, oh wait, what is that punch? Wasabi? It was sambal mayo.
Now I know why El Baqueano is considered one of the best.
Thank you to Chef Fernando Rivaroli and Chef Christina Sumae for gracing us with your presence. Congratulations to Chef Demmu Antonino and Chef Namee Jorolan on this most delicious dinner!
Had a great reunion Friday night with two ladies I admire – Micky Fenix and Myrna Segismundo – among others, thanks to a barbecue dinner put together by Pen’s host with the most Mariano Bicolano Garchitorena. I didn’t even know this area existed!
I was told they only open this area when the weather is cool – and it’s been wonderfully breezy and cool in the evenings lately (I wish it could be like this forever!). So Pen is opening this area for a barbecue buffet every Friday and Saturday of March from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m.
The buffet is complete with a starters section of hors d’oeuvres and cold salads before the main event.
After the starters, move on to the grill of prawns, lamb, scallops, etc. Actually, even without the buffet – I would love to just come here for a drink! There are not enough weekends in March for this!
PLUS look for Steffano. He’s as dreamy as the weather and the setting … I HAD to hug him!
Barbecue by the Pool
P 1,750 for adults and P 990 for children under 12.
Prices are subject to 10%service charge and prevailing government taxes
For inquiries or reservations, please call The Peninsula Manila at (63-2) 887 2888, e-mail email@example.com or visit peninsula.com.
There are many chefs the world over who now do “modern cuisine”.
A couple of years ago, I was blown away by the creations of Heston Blumenthal at Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Hyde Park in London. As an appetizer he served something that looked like an orange but was in fact foie gras. It was a bewildering yet delightful illusion!
Here in Southeast Asia, Iggy’s in Singapore has become renowned for his “modern European cuisine”. It was here, around eight years ago, that I first experienced the incorporation of Pop Rocks on an elegantly plated dessert. The waitress even made us guess what it was and it was Chef Rolando Laudico, the chef in our party of four, who correctly guessed that it was that favorite childhood candy that was crackling in our mouths. Back when Andre Chiang was still at Jaan at the Swissotel, I had the privilege of tasting his “modern French” creations. And recently, Ivan Brehm, who had worked with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, has been making waves at Bacchanalia.
But nothing quite prepares you for Arzak, a home that has been around since 1897 and where modern gastronomy had its beginnings – in the mid ’70s!
There is – oddly – no train that goes direct from Lyon (where we were for the World Pastry Cup and the Bocuse d’Or) to San Sebastian. Instead, the trains go via Paris and Barcelona, which are actually longer routes! So we chose to see Barcelona instead of going back to Paris and then got a car to drive to San Sebastian.
It was an easy but very long six hour drive (mas malapit pa ang Baguio-Manila!). On top of that, the winds were very strong – we had to drive slower because our car was being blown by the wind! We did not realize until our concierge verified it that there was in fact a storm. All we knew was that from the B10 to A2 to AP7 highway, it felt like a never ending road.
But Arzak was absolutely worth the long drive. You understand, after dining here, why it is considered one of the world’s greatest dining destinations.
You are greeted with a can of beer. Andy Warhol would have fallen in love with this. “This is black pudding and beer,” the server explained. “Did you crush this can yourself?” I teased her. “Yes, we play football every morning,” she joked back.
You don’t eat the can of Kellerbier, of course, but can pop the entire pudding on the chard leaf in your mouth. Then boom! Umami with a little dot of spiciness in the end. “How?!” you ask. This is a question that you keep asking all throughout the meal.
At this restaurant, there is no one tiny amuse bouche as is the custom in other fine dining places. Instead, they introduce you to Basque culture by loading you up with at least five of these introductory pintxos that tell you what the restaurant is all about.
Following the black pudding and beer, we were served: 1) Kabraroka pudding wrapped in kataifi. This is a pudding made of scorpion fish, an otherwise overlooked fish because it is described as “ugly” but made famous by Restaurant Arzak (check out this site). 2) Sweet chilly pepper and sardine sphere. The sphere felt like a round Filipino barquillo so it was interesting to note that this was made out of potatoes. And then inside, a burst of the flavors of sardines. These fish appetizers immediately tell you about the philosophy of Arzak of finding local produce and making these come alive in their restaurant through their incredible techniques.
It did not end there. We were also served: gyoza of prawns and moringa. This was an astonishing creation. It takes the concept of the Japanese gyoza but instead of the steamed dough, the cover on this one is crackling. But inside, the meat is sweet. And finally, a lentil cookie with ssam-jang, a spicy Korean paste. These creations show you that Arzak is committed to discovering the unique ingredients each country has to offer, allowing guests flavors that they may never have experienced before.
“It felt like a trip around the world,” I said to the legendary Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is, to this day, in spite of his lengthy list of accolades, still present every day in the Arzak kitchen. “Yes, we get ingredients from around the world,” he said (through a translator), “but the end product is from Kilometer 0. It is absolutely Basque.”
After eating all that, our tummies were good to go. But the menu said we were just getting started!!!
The official starter that we had was entitled “Cromlech” because it is made to look like a prehistoric megalithic structure. But in fact it was made of manioc (or what we call cassava!) and huitlacoche (which is disgustingly described on the internet as ‘corn smut’ but in Mexico is a prized kind of mushroom that is considered part of their culinary heritage, used in cooking since pre-Hispanic times). You are instructed to turn these cones upside down and eat it “like ice cream”. It looks odd but inside there are caramelized onions and my sister Goldee immediately detected foie gras. It is crazy good!
This was followed by three seafood dishes: lobster, scallops and red mullet. Remember that San Sebastian is a coastal city and therefore abundant in seafood.
The lobster was an example of gorgeous plating. For some reason it reminded me of impressionist art, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night coming to mind. Probably because of the green crispy crepe that looks like a starfish. But its purpose was to add not just color but dimension to not only to the texture but also to the flavors of the dish, as it had hints of turmeric. Meanwhile that lovely orange dash of color is a zucchini flower and they all lie on tomato water that totally compliments the juiciness of the lobster.
From impressionism they move on to realism with the scallops, which arrives on the table enclosed in two long bamboo leaves. Can you imagine that – we have so many bamboos in the Philippines yet we usually just use banana leaves in the presentation of our food. But the first thing that struck me here was the fragrant whiff of earthiness which I guess was from the leaves. “You don’t eat that,” the server said, laughing, as she opened the leaves to reveal the scallops.
And from realism they end the seafood series with pop art. This one was absolutely avante garde. I was startled when a kind of ipad/tablet was placed before me instead of a plate. It had a video of waves. And then the dish arrived on an elevated glass plate: the red mullet – so it appeared as if the mullet was still swimming in the sea! (Well, minus its head, haha!) Around it were “leaves” – they looked like leaves but they were actually not leaves but made with anis, pepper, beetroot and other spices. What was really fascinating was how the taste of the fish would change with each bite of a different “leaf”. It’s absolutely trippy! Yet in spite of all illusions, the dish was still centered on something very popular in Basque cuisine: the red mullet. It was also accented on the side with a Basque favorite, the “crispy tail” – piniritong buntot sa atin.
The chefs are kind enough to welcome guests into the kitchen after their meals. We saw several groups come in. While speaking to the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, he said that even in cooking, they strive for utopia – that imagined place where everything is perfect. Well, that’s what I felt when they brought out this truffle dish.
You see, truffles are a tricky thing. Unless you get the entire block, you hardly really smell that distinct truffle aroma. A chef once told me he cheated by adding the synthetic truffle oil to the real thing (que horror!). Chef William Mahi (who, by the way, is Basque) over at Tasting Room at the City of Dreams Manila, does an excellent job with shaved Perigord winter truffles with his 52-degree egg starter but the egg is the star of that show. Here, the truffles rightfully play the lead role, with the potatoes and the egg singing glorious back up. Like Destiny’s Child and the truffles here are Beyonce, hehe – and she will make you sing!
For the final dish, we had deer. This comes wrapped in lettuce leaves and the use of lemongrass brought me to Southeast Asia. It shows you how well-traveled their chefs are.
Finally, dessert. And they continued their A-game. “It’s a giant truffle,” the waitress joked as she presented a block of chocolate. But it’s not chocolate, explains Elena Arzak, who runs the restaurant in tandem with her father. “This is carob,” she explained. “It is like chocolate but it is not chocolate. During the war, it was used as a substitute for chocolate but now people are also exploring its health benefits.”
I had heard many times in the past about Restaurant Arzak. You can’t avoid hearing about it as it has consistently been at the top of the list of the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant awards and has been a three-starred Michelin restaurant since we were in diapers. You also hear about Arzak from chefs like Chele Gonzalez of Vask, who had worked at Arzak, and has brought the Arzak philosophy of modern Basque cuisine to the Philippines. So you feel like you have an idea of what Arzak is all about.
But you don’t. Not until you have dined there.
Arzak is like love. You may have an idea of it from what has been written but it is something you must experience to fully grasp and understand.
And it is, truly, a one-of-a-kind experience. Absolutely magical and definitely worth the trip. Even in the middle of a storm!
PS. GOOD NEWS:
Chef Elena Arzak is coming to Madrid Fusion Manila this April! Come back to the Madrid Fusion section of this blog for updates on Madrid Fusion Manila! I will keep you posted 🙂