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.