Thursday, January 29, 2009

Molecular Gastronomy In Makati

January 28, 2009
Zenses Neo-Shanghai Cusine
A. Venue, Makati City

I hate forwarded emails. In my opinion they are even lower than spam. Consciously sent but without purpose. This time though, the subject of the forwarded message excited me. With "Molecular Gastronomy in Makati" as its subject, who wouldn't? Looking to be inspired to blog again, we decided to give it a try. Thank you Sherleen for that forwarded email.

Zenses Neo-Shanghai Cusine is located at the A. Venue in Makati Avenue. Not that populated during a Wednesday but that was not entirely a bad thing. At least the chef would concentrate on us and do the restaurant proud. Chef OJ didn't fail to deliver.

As I ordered, I only thought to sample their innovative dishes. I definitely wouldn't be paying for the usual Chinese cuisine I can find anywhere. I wanted something different. Something creative. All Zenses remixes:

The complimentary yam chips were something really surprising. It was a very good sign to start off with such. The yam chips were very crisp. Not oily. And sprinkled with a generous amount of five spice powder. The spice blended really well with the appetizer. I was thinking to myself: rarely do you see something free as good as this. Thank you Zenses.

Our next appetizer was the Asian Shrimp Cocktail. The amazing part of this dish was the dips. Two dips were served together with the cocktail shrimp. The first one was the usual coriander cocktail dip that simply was a mix of ketchup and Tabasco sauce. This was nice but was pretty normal for me. Like I said, I wanted something different. The second dip did the trick. Our server said it was their very own mango-seafood dip. It was very good. It worked perfectly with the shrimp. I think any seafood would blend perfectly with this dip. My sister Steph and I looked at each other and both thought at the same time that it reminded us of something from our childhood. The taste was very homey. Very comforting. It was sort of a mix between mangoes and tartar sauce. It had a little bit of heat to it which was very nice. It absolutely woke up my palette. I never tasted a dipping sauce this good. I will really try to duplicate this somehow at home or get the recipe from Chef OJ.

The best dimsum/appetizer on the menu was the Lychee Tempura Stuffed with Curried Crab. Yes, you read it right. Lychee Tempura. We were excited about this. We had high expectations. And we were floored by how good it was. Imagine biting into a crisp tempura shell. Inside, a soft and succulent lychee fruit. And as you bite into the first two layers, you are met with a sudden spurt of intense flavors from the curry and the crab meat stuffed inside. All the ingredients that are not meant to be written under a recipe magically blended together. I recon all the flavors of the world can be found in that one bite of the Tempura Lychee. Diverse flavors. Different textures. There are also two dips for the dish: infused vinegar (we're thinking with lemongrass) and the mango-seafood dip. It was crazy. Crazy amazing! Be sure to order this when you swing by Zenses.

Onto the main entrée of Strawberry Baby Back Ribs. I didn't like the ribs itself. The meat was a bit tough. The meat of good Baby Back Ribs usually fall off the bone but that was not the case with this dish. The meat was also under marinated. The redeeming factor, however, was the sauce. The strawberry-ginger sauce was heavenly. It complemented the pork very well. It kind of reminded me of apple sauce on porkchops but way better. There was also another spicy-citrus sauce involved which blended with the sweetness of the strawberry-ginger. If only the ribs were cooked perfectly, this would have been an amazing dish.

The last entrée we ordered was the Pineapple and Blue Cheese Grouper. On paper, this would look like a weird dish. Frankly, I was hesitant to order this one also. Our server told us that we shouldn't worry because weird as it may seem, the blue cheese will blend perfectly with the pineapple. It did. The sweet-tangy pineapple merged with the strong cheese to create a very unusually different flavor. The intense flavors complemented the crisp grouper really well. Pineapple + Blue Cheese + Cilantro + Squeeze of Lemon + Grouper = WOW! Chef could have used a fatter fish though cause ours was malnourished.

For dessert, we decided on the talked-about Nitrogen Ice Cream. Chef said that this was the most ordered dish in their menu. Sometimes they would have 15 orders a night and they would use up a single tank of liquid nitrogen. That was how much people wanted to try their homemade nitrogen ice cream. As you can derive from the name of the dessert, the ice cream is crystallized and frozen by pouring liquid nitrogen over it. As the nitrogen is poured, the once liquid mixture of cream is whisked until it reaches its freezing point. The difference with normal ice cream is that it is frozen by pouring the cooling agent into the mixture itself. The liquid nitrogen freezes the cream so fast that there is no time for air to go into the mixture. Large water crystals are prevented from forming inside the cream resulting into an absurdly smooth, creamy texture. Probably one of the creamiest I've ever tasted. There are 3 flavors for the ice cream: osmanthus, rose, and lavender. Usually the infusions are blended into the cream while whisking it but Chef OJ told us to use it for toppings instead so that we may taste the untouched ice cream base separately before tasting it with the two ordered flavors. A good idea indeed since we got to taste many different preparations of the ice cream. I loved both the osmanthus and rose. The osmanthus reminded me of tea while the rose reminded me of potpourri. Both are pretty good over the ice cream. I should try the lavender next time. If it puts me to sleep or relaxes me as it should, it's legit. :)

Watching Homaro Cantu on Ellen and Ferran Adrià on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations instantly made me a fan of Molecular Gastronomy. The fact that by incorporating science into the culinary arts could create innovative dishes is simply mind blowing. The flavors and textures created are definitely different from the results of classical cooking. In Molecular Gastronomy, you get your money's worth not only with aesthethics and experience but with intensified flavors resulting from the different scientific processes. All your senses activated. I guess that's why they decided to name the restaurant Zenses.

Thank you to Chef OJ for accommodating us and to Zenses for the amazing experience.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Planet Dive

January 24, 2009
Planet Dive
Anilao, Batangas

Went with Belo and Arby to check out Planet Dive. Satisfied our dive addiction by doing a day trip dive. Dove at Cathedral and Mainit but the visibility was very bad. Saw a school of the biggest barracudas I've ever seen. No photos of them though.

Went to chill at Acacia afterwards.

Other underwater photos are at my Multiply site.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blogger's Block

Each blogger has his/her dry spells. This is mine. Haven't really been inspired to blog these days. I don't know why. I have one or two more restaurants ready for review and I can't seem to get myself to compose a single entry. It's not that I feel so lazy because, obviously, I posted this one but maybe my mind is just pumped full of medication that it's taking a long time to conjure up words and descriptions. A long time for the things I want to say to travel from my brain towards my typing fingers. Maybe I'm just lost. Honestly, sometimes I think of retiring from blogging. Or maybe I need to step away from it for a while. As they say: "Absence makes the heart go fonder" right? I hope this holds true though with blogging cause if it were any other case, this quote would be crap!

Hmm, what to do?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Je Suis Gourmand

January 16, 2009
Je Suis Gourmand
Fort Bonifacio Global City

This had been one of the restaurants people have been raving about and I could not wait to try it out. The place was really nice and there was an ambiance that tells you that good food was going to be involved. The initial service was very good too.

Looking at the menu, first thing I saw was, of course, the French Onion Soup. As you can remember from my previous posts, I made it a mission to try out every offering of this soup whenever it was a part of the menu. In doing so, I think I've tasted a lot of versions. Je Suis' version was really really authentic. The flavor of the soup was really intense and the consommé involved was perfectly seasoned. The beefy flavor was evident but not too sharp to the tongue. I say sharp since some soups offer too intense, MSG-laden flavor that it's like prickly needles over the surface of your tongue. Gourmand's version is pretty good. Certainly one of the best I've tasted.

The next course was a deconstruction of the basic cheese, tomato, basil salad. I opted to try it since I wanted to see how different they could make it and how their take on a classic would result to. The veggies were really fresh. The greens were amazing especially the arugula. I just love arugula and how it offers a smoky-bitter flavor to salads. It acts almost like a transition of flavor from flavorless greens to the dressing. I think it was put into salads to jolt the palette in preparation for more extreme flavors. The restaurant's version was different because instead of topping the salad with cheese, they wrapped the goat's cheese and basil together and deep fried it. This added some texture to the salad and offered a difference in the presentation. The dish as a whole was very good but if you really don't like how goat's cheese taste, you won't enjoy this. Goat's meat is very gamy and so is it's milk, and as a result, so is it's cheese. Hence some people may not enjoy the gamy variation of an otherwise very simple tasting dish. I, on the other hand, enjoyed it. The medley of flavors did wonders for me. I liked it but I did not love it.

As for the main course, we tried the Duck Confit and the Seared U.S. Angus Rib Eye. The duck meat was really tender and it almost melted in my mouth. Problem with some Duck Confit preparation is that sometimes they get overcooked. This was simply perfectly cooked. The red wine reduction which acted as the sauce was really intense and complemented the duck very well. The serving size was also quite big and it filled me up real good. This was a superb dish and I wouldn't mind ordering it over and over again on my succeeding visits.

The Seared U.S. Angus Rib Eye steak was just ok. It was really nothing special. I mean it was perfectly seasoned and prefectly cooked but it seems that my standards for steak have really increased because of Elbert's. I don't think I've found a steak yet to match that. I commend Je Suis for really trying but it was just alright and did not floor me like what Elbert did. On a good note, the fries were cooked amazingly and I was brought back to my childhood when I was sampling them. It reminded me of perfectly cooked french fries.

We asked our server what was good for dessert. He graciously told us that this was one of the favorite desserts in Je Suis: Cassis With Crème de Cassis de Dijon. The sorbet was packed (and I mean PACKED!) with real cassis. Cassis is like black currant with it's taste and texture like raspberries. It was really sour which was a good way to cleanse the palette after a good meal. The serving size was good and consistent. As you can see in the photograph, the sorbet is all blood red with cassis and only minute amounts of crystallization were visible. The dessert was absolutely lovely and well worth every spoonful. I was craving for some sorbet and this immediately satisfied my craving.

Je Suis Gourmand is the best place to be served good food in the best way possible. The servers were very gracious and treated you with the best service imaginable. The food was also amazing. I will definitely go back to try out their other dishes. I hope they have the Sea Bass available next time though since we missed it the last time we were there.
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