Okay, so what’s the concept?By Clinton Palanca
I’m feeling a bit silly for having discovered this restaurant after everyone else. Everybody seems to have been to or knows about 2nds, or knows someone who’s been to 2nds, or, in the case of one of my friends, has been to 2nds but didn’t know he had been there.
I think that everyone who hasn’t been should go, if only because you’ll get to know your date, your spouse, or your friends a little better in the perfectly modulated lighting and velvety quiet of the second-floor dining room.
One of the constant raves about 2nds is how conducive to conversation it is, and I don’t want to spend too much time on that because it’s the main thing people rave about when talking about this restaurant—which is unfortunate for the food, which doesn’t get mentioned much. This is a pity.
It may be because the place doesn’t have a concept. If you say “Japanese-Brazilian fusion food served by robots,” then mall managers, restaurant rating websites and geolocation-based review apps would know where to categorize the establishment, and diners would pretty much know what to expect in the four weeks they trip over themselves to try it before relegating it to been-there-done-that status.
But the best openings of the last few years, and the ones I am most likely to go back to, have been those without a single defining concept—for instance, Stockton Place or Wildflour, restaurants which manage to be eclectic yet coherent without resorting to gimmickry.
The second best thing about 2nds after the wonderfully hushed interiors, which I realize I’m still talking about, are the drinks: a first-rate bar, with enough options for teetotalers to make us not feel like an unwanted species, and genuinely imaginative and well-thought-out cocktails.
There’s a selection of craft beers, about which I’m not qualified to comment other than that it’s an unfamiliar but intriguing list. But closer to home, there’s a short but well-rounded list
of single malts at reasonable prices.
This pushes food to third on the list of why one should go to 2nds, which sounds like bad news, but actually isn’t. It’s just that the first two are exceptional and impeccable, whereas the food falls into what statisticians would call a Gaussian, or normal distribution, with the top-of-the-bell curve hovering around the area of Pretty Damn Good, sloping on one side into Must Come Back For, and on the other, alas, into Hello! What Is The Chef On?
Into the second category go the bacon chicharon (though not one with buffalo sauce), the Brutus (actually Caesar) salad, the three-cheese truffled macaroni and cheese, and the baked biscuit with ice cream.
The most enticing item on the dessert menu, the tablea-chocolate profiteroles, must regrettably be relegated to the last category, with the tinapa salad Niçoise.
Into the Pretty Good category I would place the prime rib, the risotto and the beef adobo.
The general tenor of the food is classics-with-a-twist, which unfortunately is the pitch of every other homegrown restaurant these days: Take something everyone likes, then make one of the ingredients Filipino, or the converse, take a Filipino dish and make it with foreign ingredients.
What differentiates these restaurants from one another is how outré the twist is, and how well the legerdemain is pulled off; and here, for the most part, I feel that the creative team behind 2nds pulls it off with just the right amount of unorthodoxy to make fairly conventional dishes interesting.
One underwhelmed critic, writing about the elaborately set-designed musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” said that one came out humming the scenery.
2nds has an analogous problem: One tends to remember the place more than the food. Or if people remember the food, they remember one or two dishes they liked, rather than the full experience of a meal.
Which brings us back to concept and how I generally dislike reducing restaurants to concepts, because it too often means gimmick or hook. But an establishment should have a concept—a coherent idea behind it.
What 2nds has instead is lots of flavors and experiments that are individually good, but seem to have something of a mad scientist’s whimsy about them, while lacking a coalescent pivot-point behind the various creations.
They have the option of either uglifying the interiors or improving the food, and I would much rather the second, because it’s so close to being excellent. They need to trim the more bizarre attempts at creativity from the menu while keeping the favorites people come back for.
I also feel that the desserts are something of a letdown, but because the place has been open a while and the online guides haven’t updated their menus, they seem to be aware of the problem, to the extent that they seem to have revamped most of the desserts.
Now that I’ve finally been there, I know why everyone likes it here. What a wonderful 2nd incarnation it would be for it to evolve into the restaurant everyone loves.
2nds is at 2/F, Quadrant 3, Wumaco Bldg. 1, 9th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; tel. 8465293