The hitherto quiet end of Jupiter Street between Makati Avenue and Edsa appears to have discovered its potential, and sleepy furniture shops and art galleries have given way to a buzzing restaurant scene.
The red brick building which formerly housed The Spa is now anything but an oasis of calm, with offices on the upper floors and a new restaurant by Chris Locher on the ground floor.
I’ve been a fan of Locher’s “panizza,” his much-copied invention of very thin-crust pizza rolled up around fresh greens, which first made its appearance in Pampanga, then moved a little closer to home in his restaurant called My Kitchen in the depths of Paco, which I quite liked.
But, unfortunately, it’s difficult to round people up around dinnertime, when traffic leaving Makati City snarls up Quirino and Osmeña Highway.
So I’ve been excitedly following the progress of Recess, his latest creation, as Locher posted photographs of his dishes and discoveries on social media. And my wife and I, both fans of Locher’s cooking, were excited to get a dose of good Italian food much closer to home.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the magic that he had going in his Paco restaurant was lost in the transition to the Makati setting.
The “panizza” was all wrong, though the change came from him: for this kitchen he decided to use rye flour instead of wheat flour, so the flaky, crunchy goodness of the base is instead a somewhat gummy and elastic sheet, drenched in oil from the topping.
We sent it back to the kitchen. To their credit they produced a much better one the second time around, but it seems that the problem is in the recipe rather than the execution.
Kudos is due the chef for innovating on a best-selling classic, but the results don’t quite deliver the same goodness as the original. It’s still flavorful but less addictively light and airy, though some may prefer this variation.
On the greasy side
The roast lamb was also on the greasy side: fatty bits of meat that one had to gnaw off little bones, with oil-drenched potato wedges and pork and beans to go with it. It would have been a good trio of tastes and textures if the lamb had been tender and lean and the potatoes fried right.
We were planning to start with this and then move on to other interesting items on the menu, but it was already far too heavy as it was.
The “Blondie” brownie we had for dessert was a good flavor combination, but plagued by annoying little hard bits of semi-crystallized peel.
Chris Locher cooks from the heart, and from the descriptions of the dishes you can see where he’s going. The problem is that the staff, in his absence, or perhaps still in training, doesn’t quite get there.
Yet the inventiveness and creativity are there in the menu, which is so different from the repetitive obsession with the same few dishes that other restaurants seem to be doing.
I still believe that this is a restaurant to watch, and that in time it’ll eventually serve the kind of warm, hearty, sustaining food we’ve come to expect from his Paco restaurant, even if it takes a little while to get there.
On the other side of Makati City, meanwhile, something completely different. I think that most people who like Japanese food have their favorite hole-in-the-wall joint where one can get good sushi and sashimi at prices that aren’t inflated by fancy décor and elaborate kimonos. It’s places like these where one should order that one celebratory piece of toro sashimi that breaks the wallet but heralds the coming of cold seas and fatty fish.
Worth the trip
These places tend to rise and fall in quality as chefs come and go, but I can safely say that, for the moment, Azami on Pasay Road is worth the trip and a good alternative to Seryna, which can get very crowded on weekends and holidays.
We were looking for shirako, or fish sperm, which is in season now; they didn’t have it but they did have some very interesting crablets, which were running around a little glass bowl like giant ticks, crawling over each other and snapping with their pincers at others’ eyes when presented to us.
When we saw them again they were just-fried, warm and perfectly crunchy. There was whelk, scallops and fat sweet amaebi shrimp. All the sushi was impeccable and decently priced, and everything else we ordered off the menu well-executed.
There isn’t much more to say about it other than that it’s another good Japanese restaurant to add to the many good Japanese restaurants in Manila, and that you can phone in to request any special types of seafood that you might be craving.
Recess is at 50 Jupiter St., Makati City. Call tel. no. 8991818. Azami is at 808 Pasay Road, Makati City. Call tel. no. 8120306.