Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A deconstructed empanada and dreams of England


Last night I spent a very enjoyable evening at the Dusit Thani as a guest of general manager Prateek Kumar at a gourmet dinner cooked by Stephanie Zubiri and paired with very good Chilean wines from Casillero del Diablo, interesting art provided by Jonathan Sy of Gallery Big, and saxophone music by Michael Young.

Scallops and beans in an appetizer

Dinner began with a very stimulating combination of a very fresh and lightly seared -- almost raw actually -- scallop ceviche drizzled with a bean and corn salad in a lemon chili dressing. It sounds terribly complicated, I know, but it worked. Who would have thought that scallops and beans with a hint of chili would go together? This was served with a Chardonnay 2008.

Then came a ravioli dish stuffed with parmesan and portobello mushrooms, swimming in a demiglace sauce and topped with bitter chocolate shavings. Everyone in my table loved this dish, with someone -- who it was, haha, my lips are sealed -- even proposing to mop up the sauce with bread. The chocolate shavings on top were certainly an interesting touch.

Deconstructing an empanada

When it came to the main course, we all looked with great curiosity at our menu cards which read Deconstructed gourmet empanada, and wondered what exactly that meant? "In fashion, deconstructed would mean without the structures that hold up the dress," someone said, while I opined, "Or it could mean starting from the end and working your way to the beginning. If I had to imagine this, it would come out as ground beef splattered on a plate."

The end-result came out looking like a flying saucer made out of dough. And underneath this flying saucer, when I finally broke the mold, there was a delicious beef stew that was slightly sweet because of the raisins added to it. This was served with the Carmenere 2008.

Stephanie Zubiri later explained: "This meal is in honor of the Chilean ambassador, who is with us tonight. Chileans love empanadas so I thought I would make a main course inspired by this favorite food of theirs." Vicky Zubiri was beaming with pride all evening at the wonderful dinner her daughter had made.

The very interesting Mr. X

Equally enjoyable was the company, as I sat at a very lively table next to someone I met for the first time, who I shall call Mr. X. From the outset, Mr. X seemed a keen connoisseur of good food and wine with very definite views on everything, including life and politics. "I believe that if someone knows he isn't capable of a job, he shouldn't run for elections -- no matter what anyone says," he said.

Frankly speaking, when I met him, I thought it was going to be just another typical conversation about who-said-this and who-did-what. But then, Johnny Litton across the table from us suddenly asked him: "Tell me, where did you go to school?"

"I went to Sorbonne for college," Mr. X replied, and that was it. My interest was piqued as I tried to think what kind of guy would go to Sorbonne for college (especially as I had always dreamt of going to Sorbonne as a child. Sorbonne had always figured in the basic French language books that I had had to repeat and memorize as a child -- as in "Sophie rentre a la Sorbonne a midi" (Sophie will return from Sorbonne at noon) -- and since then it had always been my dream to go and study at the Sorbonne.) and what life as a guy studying in one of the most beautiful cities in the world was like.

"Did you like living in Paris?" I asked. He answered, "I was there for six years. It was wonderful. And eventually I came to understand the French."

Sorbonne in lieu of Oxbridge

It turned out that Mr. X had wanted to get into Oxbridge but didn't get in, so he went to Sorbonne instead, managing to survive the first few semesters of schooling in French on childhood French lessons from his aunt and a summer of intensive language schooling -- something like nine hours a day -- just prior to university. I'd just met him, but he seemed pretty fabulously wealthy; but as a student in Paris, he said he'd lived on a very modest budget in small hotels all over Paris, including in a little hotel along the quay just behind the Notre Dame, about two blocks from La Tour D'Argent (see a previous entry in this blog on La Tour D'Argent.) "What about you? Do you speak French?" He asked.

"Just enough to order properly in restaurants and shop in the weekend markets," I answered. Then I couldn't help adding: "And enough to buy bags at Hermes." I was still curious about him, though, so I started interviewing him again. "Why didn't you stay in Paris after college?"

He shrugged. "Something happened. But the next time I visit Paris, I'll live there. I'll sell everything I own and move there." Then he added, leaning over as if to share a really delicious secret, "But if you really must know -- the one place I would really love to live in is England. When I first arrived there, I had this feeling I'd come home. I can't explain it but I really love it in London."

That was another point in common. I love London as well, and mainly because of the theater and the bookshops. In fact, I'll go to the theater everyday in London, whether I have companions or not. And on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I'll even go twice if possible, if there are good shows on the matinee schedule.

One for the road

So I had a very enjoyable time discussing life in Europe all evening with Mr. X -- apart from a fondness for France, we both loved London and going to the theater there -- and when I looked at my watch it was past 10 pm and some people had already quietly said goodbye. I'd better go home and catch up on emails, I thought to myself. And just as I was going to say goodbye to Dusit's GM, Prateek, and his wife, Prateek spoke up before I could say a word and said: "A couple of us are having a nightcap back at my apartment. Come join us."

I couldn't resist another hour or so of good company. So off I went, up to the very top of the Dusit, to a beautiful apartment with a big balcony and a fantastic view of the city, to join the Kumars and their friends from Singapore and India. The guys smoked in the balcony while the ladies -- all of them very cosmopolitan Singaporeans except for myself -- sat in the living room discussing life in Manila, great holiday destinations and, of course, traveling. Most of them had lived in Manila over a year and they were really enjoying their lives in our city.

Before I knew it, it was way past midnight and I was definitely ready to finally go home and get some shut-eye.

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