Sunday, January 10, 2010

If It Lu-ks Good, Eat It

Yes, I really took it easy during the holidays. Despite all the eating out, cooking and partying, I decided that I just wanted t o soak everything in and not worry about taking food pictures and writing articles. I had a wonderful time just being with my family, catching up with old friends, making new ones, and just having a grand time celebrating the season.

After the revelry, I knew I had to get back to writing, and fast. In the past couple of months there were at least five new restaurants that opened just in time for the holidays and I have yet to try them all.

During the Christmas season I was able to dine a couple of times at the newly-opened Lu in Rockwell, Makati City. Luis de Terry’s new resto is truly a welcome addition to the area's classic and mundane (as to which restaurant is which, you be the judge of that) line-up of eateries. Since I always find myself in Rockwell for various reasons, I longed for it to have a restaurant with an exciting and sophisticated menu matched by a descent wine and bar list. Luckily, someone up there was listening to my prayers.

As is the case with most restaurants, the first few months are quite wobbly. My first visit to Lu was pretty successful- the food was good, the service quick, and zero foul-ups. I was so impressed that within the very same week I took my parents and sister (who all live in the area) there for dinner. Unfortunately, this time around, there were some hits and misses. My parents look at me like I’m crazy, and I find myself explaining that the food REALLY was good the first time I ate there.

Recently, I was given another opportunity to have dinner at Lu, this time for our friend GP’s birthday dinner. This was with the same group I ate with the first time around, so they only had good memories of the place. I, of course, being already aware of the resto’s “birthing pains”, was slightly apprehensive. But, trusting the chef/owner’s capabilities and with the lingering reminiscence of my successful first visit, I decided to keep an open mind and just enjoy.

Dinner was on a Thursday night and the place was packed with Manila’s beautiful people. That is one thing I noticed about Lu- the clientele is truly Manila’s hippest and well-heeled. We had to wait a bit outside while we waited for our table to be available. We- me, GP, Cookie Goddess, Mrs. G-Ro and Maggie (another friend- Paulie- just followed after dinner for drinks)- took one of the tables outside and had a round of their delicious DiabLu- a mojito-like cocktail, only this time using gin instead of rum.

Finally, after half an hour, we were ushered into the chic dining room (which was designed by our friend and dining companion- the gorgeous and amazing Maggie Silayan Go), with its high ceilings and plush furnishings. I love the contrasting white and dark wood accented by the warm brick reds and sage of the chairs. Polished, yet welcoming and cozy.

We are first served Lu’s Favorite Dips- Hummus, Eggplant Caviar and Pico de Gallo. It comes with a side of crisp round pita chips which are used to scoop up the hummus and eggplant caviar. The hummus, a friend swears, is as authentic as they come. Honestly, I would not know for sure, but Lu’s hummus is surely one of my favorites now, with its rich, velvety consistency and intense chickpea flavor. The Eggplant Caviar is also a hit with me, simply because I love roasted eggplant and this one was done perfectly. The Pico de Gallo was cradled by a crisp papadum cup and was also quite good, but got soggy later on.

Next to arrive are more appetizers- the Argentinian Hand-chopped Beef Empanadas and the Istanbul Lamb Kebabs. If there is one appetizer that everyone must try, it has got to be the Beef Empanadas. These little pockets of meat are simply oozing with flavor and goes perfectly with the accompanying chimichurri sauce. They’re so good I wished they were bigger, even by just a bit.

Maggie loves the Tunisian Salad so we ordered one for everyone to try. I liked the mildness of the dressing, which allowed the smokiness of the roasted vegetables to come through.

Mrs. G-Ro and I shared the Mexican Steak Frites and which we asked to be cooked to medium-doneness, and Truffle Macaroni and Cheese. The meat was tender and densely flavored with aromatic herbs and spices. The onion rings and flavored fries were a nice southwestern touch. The Mac and Cheese was a hit with everyone the minute it reached our table. “Something smells good,” Mrs. G-RO observed, looking towards the source of the pungently appetizing truffle scent. We forget the carbs and calories for the moment, and we all indulged in its thick, creamy and aromatic cheesiness. Heaven!

Cookie Goddess ordered the Unhurriedly-steamed Lamb Shank with Minted Yogurt and a side of Vermicelli Rice. This was the dish that I ordered the second time I ate here, and although the lamb was cooked perfectly, the sauce I found to be a tad watery. This time, though, the sauce looked lusciously thick and creamy. I had a taste and discovered that the lamb shank was a winner. The meat, as usual, was fall-off-the-bone tender, the tendon so gelatinous it melts the minute it touches your tongue. The mixture of short, thin noodles and rice effectively soak up the rich goodness of the sauce.

Body-conscious GP ordered fish for himself- the Poached Flounder and Lemon Risotto. I did not expect much from this dish, but was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The fish was moist and flaky and the risotto was perfectly al dente.

Since Cookie Goddess wanted to try Lu’s Ultimate Pork Chop, Maggie ordered it as her main dish. The thick generous chop was bathed in a tangy orange-achuete sauced accompanied by a sweet potato mash and pickled onions. Now, I just have to say that Maggie is probably one of the sweetest, kindest people I know. Yet, when I asked to try a piece of her pork chop, I sensed a hint of reluctance on her part. She cuts off a tiny piece and places it on my plate. I take a bite, and then I understand. The pork chop was butter-soft, the sauce pleasantly sweet-sour and savory. If it was my dish, I would not have wanted to share it either.

Too stuffed for dessert, we hang around for more drinks (red wine for me, more DiabLu for my companions) and conversation. The handsome Luis chatted with Maggie about the food and I suppose she mentioned my not-so-good second visit. Like any serious chef/restauranteur, he turned towards me with concern and sincerely asked for a blow-by-blow account of that particular event. His easy manner and earnestness had me comfortably retelling what I did not like about my last dinner there as he listened on with genuine concern. Naturally, the explanation was just as I expected. Basically, it is a new restaurant and, as all new restaurants go, they are going through a series of adjustments and improvements as they go along. This- to just about anyone, I suppose- is perfectly understandable.

And, honestly, if you look around Lu’s well-lit dining room, you do not see even traces of displeasure from any of Lu’s genteel guests. The kitchen was backed-up a bit because of the full house that night, and yet the vibe in the room remains pleasant, even jovial. I believe it’s simply because people like the place and what it’s about- good, beautifully plated food, served in fine-looking surroundings, from a man that clearly has a passion for what he is doing. (Note: The word is that Lu will be changing up its menu every four to six months. That, to me, is dedication.) People get it, and in turn, appreciate it. Like them, I’m sitting and waiting to see the wonders that I believe this restaurant is capable of.

G/F Joya Lofts and Towers
Joya Drive, Rockwell
Makati City
Tel. no. (632)4033991


MrsLavendula said...

that mexican steak dish looks good! must try this place out when we go to rockwell =) thanks for the heads up!

Chinkee said...

Hi Mrs. Lavendula! Yup, the Mexican Steak Frites is really good. Just have them cook it to medium-medium rare since its hanger steak and not very fatty, so anything more cooked than that could dry it up. i also like the one smothered in cheese better, so the other one you can just give to the hubby. Hehe:-)

Luis said...

Chinkee... your comments are so incredibly in the line of what I wanted people to taste when putting them out. I am really thrilled you enjoyed the 1st and 3rd time around and pledge my commitment to keeping the quality where I want it to be. Mil Gracias, LU

Miguel said...

Finally you are blogging again!! :)

Chinkee said...

Denada, Luis! I am only giving an honest review, and the truth is, it was a very good dinner. I know for sure that once everything settles down, the restaurant will be a hit. I expect nothing less:-) See you soon!

Chinkee said...

Hi Mig! I know! Yipee!:-) Looking forward to your blog entries from Spain. I'm sure nakakainis na naman. Hahaha!

Miguel said...

I'll only be there 2 days so won't have much time to eat ;)...but I'll be in London also so let's see what i find there!

Jin said...

wow, this is now number one on my must try list. everything looks so good i have to take many, many friends with me so i can try all!

Chinkee said...

Mig- London? Perfect! I can hook you up with my foodie friends there- my buddy from Ateneo, Sam Sotto-Jennings, and her husband, James. Really major food lovers like us:-) Will hit you up in FB.

Chinkee said...

Hi Jin! Yes, that's the way to go... Bring tons of friends with you so you can order everything. The spring rolls are also very good... you must try it:-)