Thursday, March 25, 2010
Lu and Wagyu
It was a great morning to begin with.
The summer sun was bashfully peering through our blinds in the bedroom, the slits allowing a peek at the majestic expanse of the golf course below, while the sheets and pillows were pleasantly cool from the air conditioning. Matt is sleeping soundly beside me, muttering incomprehensible phrases in German while he dreams. I enjoy these quiet moments in the morning when I get to move around at my own pace, going through my morning rituals as I slowly get energized for the day ahead.
I check my e-mails as I usually do, and there it was: an invitation to dinner from Luis de Terry at his restaurant, Lu. It was exciting enough to be summoned to a tasting dinner by one of Manila’s explosive new chefs, but when he said that it was a tie-up with the local distributors of Snake River Farms Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork, it was truly what some of my wildest gastronomic fantasies are made of. Without even asking if I could bring my husband or if our common friend Maggie was also going, I immediately say “yes”. All of a sudden, what was a pleasant morning just got ten times better, and I jump back into bed and snuggle up to my hubby (Yes, pervs, we just snuggled).
Fast forward to a week later and I was psyched. As I walked into Lu’s well-lit interior, the handsome chef/owner greeted me and introduced me to his sister and friends. We then chatted about the dishes and I asked him if there was going to be wine pairing. “Of course! “, he exclaims, “in fact, I better get started before I have too much Krug”. “Krug champagne?! Why didn’t you say so! Give me some of that!” I tell Luis, who quickly motioned to the bartender and then made a beeline for the kitchen. I get my bubbly from the bar and scan the room for a seat.
Luckily, I spot the familiar face of my Tito Randy and make my way towards him. A ferocious foodie and wine lover, he was also one of the lucky few whom Lu invited to the event. Always full of energy and armed with a quick wit and great sense of humor, I could not have asked for a better dinner companion. Plus, he’s a cardiologist, so in the worst-case scenario that my heart stops beating after five courses of wagyu beef, then at least I’m covered.
The other guys at our table were: Ramon del Gallego, brother of part-owner Christine; and Tito Locsin, Christine’s boyfriend. Without bias, I really think we had the craziest table. Conversations flowed naturally and topics transitioned with ease from food to travel to sex and back again, punctuated by raucous fits of laughter. I noticed we had a lot of visitors at our table (like Teddy Montelibano and Manoy Llige), and I kind of wished that we had more space to accommodate all the interesting characters I met that night.
Finally, the event opens with an introduction about Snake River Farms and their products. As we fidgeted in our seats, eager to get dinner going, they showed us a short documentary about the company, its history and their commitment to excellence. The clip was quite informative and made me appreciate the dinner that was about to be served even more.
In the short e-mails Chef Lu and I exchanged the week before the dinner, he described vaguely to me what he plans to do with the featured meats. Although he did not go into detail, he told me that he has informed Alternatives Food Corporation (the local distributor of SRF products) that the food will be prepared in his signature bold style. This means, of course, lush and exotic flavors from Latin America, Africa and the Mediterranean with a breath of sexy Asian influences. This is normally scary terrain for me, but I learn to trust Luis and his craziness and just brace myself for the culinary roller coaster ride I know I am about to go on.
First to tease our palate was an appetizer of Flat Iron Carpaccio & Curry Cream Nigiri/Top Blade and Artichoke Phyllo Pinwheel. I pick up the “sushi” with my fingers and scrape a bit of the cream with it. The cream was surprisingly light but firm, like it was vigorously whipped and then chilled. The curry was not overpowering and the musky flavor acts as an accent to the lean meat. The boys seem to favor the pinwheel, though, with its complex play on textures- the tenderness of the beef alongside the crisp asparagus, fresh scallions and fried phyllo. A shot of sake completes the plate and highlights the playful allusion to Asian flavors. We all agree that we were off to a good start.
The next course was a Pillowed Kurobuta Pork Belly Confit/Kurobuta Cochinita Pibil on Turmeric Puri. The pork belly was served kuapao-style in a thick but airy bun. I was hoping for more flavor and crunch from this one, so I preferred the Pibil which was perfectly juicy and aromatic, accented by the sweet-sour of the pickled onions. The dish was accompanied by a glass of Mays Chardonnay ’07. I liked how it was young and had a nice acidity to it that cut through the sweet and pungent flavors as well as the rich fattiness of the pork.
The “fish” course came in the form of a Moroccan Ox Tongue & Fresh Water Prawn Salad, accompanied by the same white wine. “They said it cannot be done”, Luis shared later on. But true to his rebellious style of cooking, he went ahead and grilled the ox tongue around batonettes of zucchini and mushrooms. It had a very mild smokiness to it and a surprisingly soft texture. This dish was a modest success, a chilled-out interlude to what has so far been a full-on attack on the senses.
My favorite dish for the night was the Harissa Glazed Tenderloin Brochettes/Peruvian Anticucho Hanger Steak. This is a great example of taking the highest-quality ingredients and using simple techniques executed to perfection. The brochettes were grilled medium-rare and alive with the flavors of exotic spices. The hanger steak was lean and butter-soft, the couscous pleasantly fragrant and fluffy. Amazing, amazing flavors, all around. I hope they put this on their regular menu. The accompanying glass of Chateau Pauillac ’04 had a nice full body that went well with this bombshell of a dish.
I go outside for a smoke and by this time people are in a party mood. I loitered outside a bit longer than usual and, when I came back inside, my table companions have started with their Wagyu Gold Rib-eye with Dalandan-Chipotle Butter, accompanied by a glass of Callejo Reserva ’05. My steak was a tad overcooked, which I think is partly my fault since it must have been sitting in the warmer while I was outside. I can only imagine how good the dalandan-chipotle butter would be on a medium-done steak- I loved how you just get a whiff of the local citrus and the butter is both garlicky and just a bit spicy. At this point, I barely finish half of my steak as I feel my stomach being stretched to its limit. I marveled, though, at the men’s appetites as Manoy took small slices from Tito’s steak while he was not looking.
When they set the dessert- Honeydew Melon & Ginger Ice Cream/Wasabi & Orange Tiramisu- down on the table, I can only sleepily stare at it for a moment as I imagine my stomach cursing me. I get extra motivation when I hear Tito Randy exclaim, “Wow! Who would have even dreamt of putting wasabi in Tiramisu? And it actually works!” I take a spoonful of the tiramisu and let it linger in my mouth, as I felt the familiar heat from the wasabi make its way up my nasal passages. Chocolate and orange is a classic combination so it’s not surprising that these two would come together. The ice cream was also a lovely combination of sweet fruitiness and heat, nicely tying up the theme of the dessert.
After dinner, we all applaud the organizers and Chef Lu for an excellent meal. Everyone was definitely on party mode after all the wine and a few of us decided to stay on for some cocktails. After Tito Randy bid us good night, Manoy, Ramon and I ordered more cocktails and (gasp!) shots of Patron (as a much sober Christine looked on in amusement). Luckily, I was sleeping at my parents’ place nearby and did not have to worry about driving home. I was having so much fun with my new friends that I did not want to leave. Eventually, my triple-vision gave me the signal that it was time to re-hydrate and call it a night.
That evening of pure indulgence was definitely one for the books. Lu’s bold and eclectic flavors is something Manila’s culinary landscape has never seen before- a living, breathing organism that is a combination of different tastes and cultures- and it’s exciting to watch how it will continue to evolve. Thank you so much, Luis, for inviting me. I am eagerly awaiting the next one.
G/F Joya Lofts and Towers
Joya Drive, Rockwell
Tel. no. (632)4033991
Alternatives Food Corporation
(Distributor of Snake River Farm products)
Unit 908 Richmonde Plaza
San Miguel Ave. cor. Lourdes St.
Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Tel. no. (632) 6317228-30