By Gene Gonzalez
I had gotten a tip about three classmates in culinary school who set up a board game place in the Greenfields area. The food reviews of those who have been there were surprisingly and repeatedly good (most of the board game places I’ve been to seemed to just have ‘on-the-average food’ that will not distract you from your play and strategies).
My first visit got me curious about food served downstairs in the dining area which is very bistro style in nature and also designed for those that want to have a few beers to chug.
Skeptical as it may seem, I started with a sisig which upon sight used grilled pig face or maskara for better texture, sprinkled with chicharon for crunch and texture, but seemed to have a touch of playfulness as I saw very light streaks of mayo and cracked fragments of clover chips. Unconventional as it may seem, it works and all the flavors from the vinegar, garlic, shallots are softened by the light mayo and clover chips while a play of texture is achieved.
Having had dinnertime to spare, their truffle soup arrived with touches of green extra virgin olive oil. Things seemed to be quite familiar on every spoonful of this rich but not overpowering soup flavored with truffle puree and tamed by the fruitiness of the extra virgin olive oil.
It turns out that three of the young chef partners Gel Marcial, Geoffrey Chua, and Paolo who popped up to check on the dinner service show their familiar flavors in a small circle of cuisiniers that know each other by past associations or by their signatures. The pasta al nero arrived and one true test was to check if the black squid sauce had any funk, and one could taste well chosen squid ink cooked in herbs and good olive oil topped with their ‘texture component’ which are freshly fried squid rings.
On my second visit I brought a group of chefs to unwind (choosing a game that everyone can play, like Monopoly), and I guess we concentrated on easy-to-eat food.
This did not stop the boys from ordering a rib eye (I don’t know if it was the low price below at P490 or the manly combination of beef and brew they were after). Inexpensive steak came out to our doneness, a nice pink and with modest marination was very tender. The truffle sauce and a housemade demiglace embellished the steak with some well textured mashed potatoes blended with real butter.
Next came a recommended pizza that again showed the playful creativity of the chefs, this pizza that was delicately thin and crisp. One could catch whiffs of nutty and pungent Gruyere amplifying the grilled eggplant, tomatoes, onions, fried dilis (dried anchovies), and bagoong in the molten cheese topped by tart semi-ripe mangoes. Last recommended stage is a play on pulutan where one dips the pizza occasionally in infused vinegar. The whole idea seems to make one cringe, but of my top three items in their menu, this umami bomb of a pizza (probably bestowed in a dream by aliens who landed in the Philippines to these three chefs) is one of them.
As the beers still flowed and many players were near their bankrupt demise, a last plate of what looked like an okonimiyaki covered with katsuoboshi flakes arrived. It was their signature fries drizzled with okonomiyaki sauce and covered with katsuoboshi shavings which was an obvious inspiration from the takoyaki and okonomiyaki craze.
When everyone went bankrupt or conceded, we had some rather good espressos downstairs and were given a preview on a homemade durian espresso ice cream that was served on a buttery corn flake streusel laced with polvoron. It was a darn good reward after this gruelling game, hard-to-beat experience with these young turks. Just take control of the St. James group. Of course, I won.
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