February 22, 2018

No gold foil for me

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A few months after my less-than-complimentary comments on an invitational meal at HAKU, I am surprised to find myself once again seated at its L-shaped counter.  I was once again invited to a media tasting in advance of a collaboration, and this time the partner was Chele Gonzalez from Gallery VASK in Manila.

Given my last experience and the repercussions which ensued, I did ask both the PR and Agustin Balbi whether they really wanted me there today.  When the answer came back in the affirmative - and with Agustin's promise to give me even more gold foil - I accepted their kind invitation and crossed the harbor for lunch.

Once again we were served Duval-Leroy Fleur du Champagne Premier Cru to start our meal.  This being lunch on a weekday, I allowed myself just one glass.

Before the start of the meal, we were each asked about our dietary restrictions.  I decided not to say anything, because I figured that with The Great One sitting next to me, she could always take up any bluefin tuna or fish cum they might serve me...

Amuse bouche by HAKU:

Sausage / Polmard beef / dashi mayo - YAY!  Meat-on-a-stick!  And French beef, at that...  With a dab of dashi (出汁) mayo and some katsuobushi (鰹節) shavings on top.

Beetroot cone / ikura / dashi cream - YASS!  BEETROOT!  The Great One was worried that I wouldn't eat the beetroot, but honestly there was so little of it that it didn't really matter.  And the salmon roe would have overpowered the thin beetroot shell anyway.

Amuse bouche by Gallery VASK:

Ukoy : corn, shiso, uni - the shrimp cracker was colored with squid ink, and came with sea urchin tongues, corn mousse, yuzu (柚子) cream, celery, and perilla flowers.  The yuzu was substituted for the calamansi normally used in Manila.  I liked the crunch provided by the chopped celery.

Japanese barrelfish tartare : purple rice cracker, lardo, sancho - while the others got tuna tartare, Agustin had noted my preference of avoiding bluefin tuna and advised a substitute.  The medai (目鯛) was served with ginger, lemongrass, and sansho leaves (木の芽).  The citrusy flavors were really nice and fragrant.  The crackers were made with purple glutinous rice growing in the mountains.

We then moved on to the main dishes:

Oyster : kinilaw, iberico, cilantro, from Gallery VASK - kinilaw is a Filipino preparation not unlike ceviche, although some ingredients are cooked instead of being served raw - such as the oyster.  The thin slices of kamias were crunchy and pretty sour after pickling, and reminded me of unripe star fruit.  The sauce contained lime, smoked coconut milk, pili nuts, and cashew - which delivered something that wasn't heavy on coconut flavor but reasonably creamy with good acidity balance.  The pili nuts were certainly very fatty and reminiscent of macadamias.

Black cod / kabu / anchovy, from HAKU - the thick piece of black cod was very, very delish.  The skin was done crispy separately from the fish.  The sauce was absolutely delicious and full of umami, having been made with white wine, butter, salted kelp (塩昆布), turnip (蕪), sundried tomatoes, and chives.  A most satisfying dish.

On the side we had a tempura (天ぷら).  While the others had cod fish cum, Agustin served me the cheek of the cod, topped with some akegarashi (あけがらし) and a slice of sudachi (酢橘) on the side.  Pretty nice, too.

Heart : banana, peanuts, coconut, from Gallery VASK - the banana flower heart was served with Bicol Express sauce, with fermented shrimp paste, pork, ginger, lemongrass, and coconut milk.  Finally it was topped with some crushed peanuts and spices.  The whole dish was very creamy, with turmeric and Indian spices.

King crab / Koshihikari rice, from HAKU - a dish that drew inspiration from Agustin's grandma, who used to serve him traditional caldoso.  Here we got chunks of Alaskan king crab (鱈場蟹) legs cooked with togarashi (唐辛子) peppers to deliver some heat for the cooler season.

This was certainly hearty and delicious - with the spicy kick accentuating the sweetness coming from the crab.

Sour ribs : beef, soyamansi, garlic casein, from Gallery VASK - an extra course that we simply could not refuse.  Short ribs served with "soyamansi" - soy sauce with calamansi to deliver a sharp acidic note.  I have to be honest... I didn't care for my beef to be sour.  I understand that sometimes people use acidity to cut through fat and richness, but I just don't like my meat to be sour.  The dots of garlic casein on the side helped make things a little better.

The short rib itself, though, was incredibly tender and delicious.  If only it hadn't been ruined by calamansi...

Pandan eclair : sweet monggo, pandan mousse, rice crisp, latik ice cream, from Gallery VASK - we were meant to combine everything together, and the thingy on the left side - which looked like durian to me - was actually made with glutinous rice and Parmesan. I guess the combination of pandan and mung bean was nice and sweet, but surprisingly the pandan flavors did not stand out.

Tomato / Amaou ichigo / granita, from HAKU - inside the hollowed fruit tomato (Agustin would remind us that tomato is, in fact, a fruit) from Mochida Farms (持田農園) in Itoshima Peninsula (糸島半島) inside Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県) was a mixture of diced tomato, Amaou (あまおう) strawberries from Fukuoka, Hokkaido yogurt foam, and granita made with both strawberries and tomato water.  Very refreshing, as usual.  A nice way to finish our meal.

A post shared by Susan Jung (@susanjunghkfood) on
Just when I was wondering why I hadn't been given any gold foil during the entire meal, this arrived in front of me.  How special I felt right then and there... since I was the only one who got this!  Agustin got this from i CREMERiA a few doors down as this is one of their signature items.  While I posed for pictures holding this next to my face, I had to put it down as a business call came in.  After I returned to my seat, I was shocked to find that it had been taken away from me.  WHY, OH WHY?!  OH, CRUEL WORLD!

In spite of my disappointment at the end, this was a pretty delicious meal.  Most of the flavors were on point, and my only issue stemmed from personal preference and wasn't related to execution.   I was grateful to have gotten a taste of Chef Chele's cuisine at Gallery VASK, and thankful for the VIP treatment I received.  Consider me impressed.

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