There are some nights when you want great lashings of comfort food, and some when you don’t. On most nights I don’t.
It’s the time of year when publications have started to release their Best and Worst of 2013 lists and ruminate on the trends. I think the year has some surprises in store for us yet, but the trends seem to be fairly well-defined at this point. One that has emerged and irks me to no end is the infantilization of restaurant food: burgers at outrageous prices, gourmet bowls of ramen, fish and chips, sausages, bacon and more bacon, and breakfast food.
It’s as though topnotch kitchens and fully trained chefs have been put at the service of a whimsical child.
Rambla is the latest restaurant to occupy the street-front side of Joya Tower in Rockwell, which has seen many establishments come and go. It’s what would seem like an ideal place for an upscale restaurant, so the voraciousness with which it has chewed up and spat out previous occupants is puzzling.
Rambla, by virtue of the menu alone, earns a point in its favor by serving food for grownups. It’s food that you would go out for, and spend your wages on. For this kind of cash you want food that’s sparkling and adventurous and interesting; you want the cut and thrust of new flavors and unexpected combinations.
This restaurant does provide the unexpected in spades, though the unexpectedly good was mitigated by appearances not so much of unexpectedly bad, so much as unexpectedly plain.
Let’s get something out of the way first. Rambla is not the sort of place you go to if you really want to eat. It’s for people who like the idea of eating more than eating itself. The menu is an inspired work of poetry, full of exotic names and those Catalan unpronounceables, expensive and dreamy ingredients, ingenious and playful little concepts.
The food is like air: You can eat through the entire menu and then go out for a sandwich. But there seems to be a market for that, because lots of restaurants thrive on selling the idea of food rather than filling the belly. It’s edible sophistication on a plate.
Sous vide eggs are like the hip tune that every DJ has to incorporate into the set these days. The organic eggs at 65 degrees with “Chistorra” had everything going for it: a mysterious
Basque sausage, the wonders of sous vide sorcery, and the virtuousness of organic. And it actually lived up to all that: It’s the one dish that I would recommend most highly.
A close runner-up would be the “Esqueixada” salad of shredded salted cod, tomato jam and tapenade. It came as a strange round of gloop that had been prettied up as much as possible, but was gloop nonetheless. Not the most photogenic of dishes, but very well-executed.
A foie gras mousse with caramelized apple and Baileys cream acquitted itself very nicely, though the clue is in the name: As a mousse it occupies no bulk.
And now for the bad news. The suckling pig, which had been the first thing to catch my eye, was actually the least edible dish we tried. The three tiny squares had the taste and texture of felt; it was like chewing on a blanket.
It would have gone well with the lettuce with Iberian ham and tawilis a few courses earlier, which was a lot of salt for four small and rather weary leaves of lettuce. The foie gras empanadas with pineapple jam were not bad so much as very strange, rather like a McDonald’s apple pie with liver inside.
The “inside-out” cannelloni that was supposed to have wagyu and aubergine sat, defeated and deflated of texture or flavor, under a blanket of semi-translucent gloop.
Somewhere in between were the ricotta gnudis which are ricotta cheese and flour made into something like a very light gnocchi. It’s a bit like historical trivia—interesting to know but you don’t feel your life is enriched a great deal by knowing it. Still, some may like it; it’s a subtle flavor married to a spongy texture.
The other spheroid of the evening, the cod croquettes, were more substantial; but not by much, because that would be too much like actually eating.
If you’re prepared to take the pretentiousness in stride and accept the fact that you should have dinner at this restaurant only if you’ve had dinner first, then it’s a warm, bustling place with reasonably anechoic interiors in which you can hear yourself talk.
The drinks are good, as you might expect from the Las Flores team. They seem to be open to suggestions, since they put a card down at the table, so I do hope they trim the stuff that doesn’t work from the menu while improving on the ones that do.
But full marks for trying to do something new, though I noticed even they couldn’t resist putting the cliché of the year, a foie gras wagyu burger, on the menu as well.
Rambla is at G/F, Joya Bldg., Rockwell, Makati City; tel. 8236468