Today I had another big and equally enjoyable Italian lunch (my last Italian lunch had been yesterday at L'Opera with the ambassador of Singapore -- read about it in my previous blog entry) at a place suggested by my friend J, who knows his food and who regularly travels all over the world to dine in fantastic restaurants. Being both busy travelers, meeting up for a nice meal is something we do in between airplane rides rather than the other way around. Yes, a meal in-between trips instead of a trip in-between meals. But for once, I was actually not going anywhere major save for a couple of local destinations in the next two weeks; but J was on his way somewhere exotic once again to take a cruise down one of the world's most famous canals. Of course, along the way, he was planning to eat in some of the best places in that part of our globe.
Today's venue for lunch
Today's venue was chosen by J. He'd actually asked me for my suggestions, but I'd texted back that I was a creature of habit and that I usually only went to three current favorite places (readers of this blog will already know one of them, often mentioned here recently) -- so when it comes to restaurant choices, I'm really useless.
Fortunately he didn't take me up on my three choices this time -- although he was kind enough to agree the last two times, which means we're down to one more out of my usual three options -- and instead he decided to choose one entirely out of my little galaxy. Then, he even went as far as getting the menu sussed out in advance with the chef, so that when I arrived, a few minutes late, all I had to do was sit down and be hungry -- because we had a six-course meal before us! This completely eliminated the pesky decision-making about whether to have two courses instead of three and what to have as a main course.
New management at L'Incontro
The restaurant is L'Incontro along Reposo St. in Makati. It's always been an Italian restaurant, but I heard that it had formerly been owned by an Italian and that in its former incarnation, the place had been rather dark and gloomy. A young chef named Tina Pamintuan took it over and she brightened the place up and changed the menu -- and if I have to go by the food I had at lunch today, it's certainly excellent. So good, in fact, that I told J I now had a fourth choice in my little restaurant galaxy.
The Chef's Tasting Lunch
Our Chef's Tasting Lunch began with a ravioli-like dish with a mushroom filling, called Crespella ala Funghi en Tartufo. It was so good, in fact, that I broke up the conversation we were having on Makati local elections to say that I really liked what I was eating. I also forgot to snap the dish with my mobile phone, which to me is further proof of how good it was.
Wagyu tenderloin carpaccio
The next dish was equally worth writing home about -- or at least, writing a blog entry about. We had a wagyu tenderloin carpaccio with arugula greens and truffle balsamico. Again, I'm not really a carpaccio person and I almost never eat raw meat; in fact my aversion to raw meat is so strong that I always ask for my steaks well-done -- forever risking the criticism of foodie companions who are always telling me that to cook a steak well-done is to murder a perfectly good piece of meat twice. This time around, however, I loved this wagyu carpaccio and left not even a tiny shred on my plate.
A risotto flambee followed, with homemade oven-dried tomatoes and sage. It was finished off with a romp in a large wheel of parmigiano cheese that had been aged 24 months before serving. We'd been shown the large wheel of cheese earlier by Tina and so I had visions in my mind of a really juicy risotto dripping with cheese flavor, and almost couldn't wait for this particular dish to be served. It arrived completely different from what I expected, however; and although it was delicious and incredibly tasty, I still couldn't help wishing that it had had more cheese flavor and been less dry.
Risotto flambee with oven-dried tomatoes and sage
The limone sorbet and the main dish more than made up for any disappointments, however. We had a beautiful and light dish consisting of a duo of halibut and U.S. black cod, on a bed of crab remoulade and bacon linguini. This was truly tasty, and for the second time, I was sorely tempted to stop conversation and just concentrate on the food; but I thought it would shock my companions, who were actually expecting back-and-forth banter, so I decided not to. In my mind, however, I went over and over the way the cod, tender to the touch, went so well with the bacon linguini without the bacon overpowering the cod in any way.
Duo of halibut and black cod with bacon linguini
Dessert was served very picturesquely, as an arrangement of hastily cut Belgian white chocolate cheesecakes on a beautiful platform. I probably ate a lot of these little bites of goodness because after a while, J said to me: "I love your appetite." We'd been talking about organizing a luxury Travelife trip to Syria and I'd been so engrossed in this discussion that I hadn't been counting my cheesecakes. But it looked like J'd been counting -- or perhaps he'd just been noticing how his share of the pie was literally just getting smaller and smaller?
That was when I realized it was time to stop eating and get back to work. Travelife's Feb-March issue (a simply beautiful issue with a cover on India) had been put to bed and we were now working on the April-May issue; so work for the next magazine plus planning for Travelife's India Night was waiting back at the office. But not before I took a photo of the remains of the cheesecake for this blog!
Belgian white chocolate cheesecake --
or what remained of it!