1.07.2010

Table for Seven Moms at Chef's Table

"Private dining on the rooftop with awesome view of the sunset and the busy city life at night.  Awe-inspiring food presentation with the promise of satiating the palette.  An opportunity to actually be in the popular Tablescapes kitchen that is slowly etching Filipino food and culture into the world map.  Friendly service team led by the country's most celebrated celebrity chef who will personally take charge in preparing the food."

Still with a holiday hangover and major back-log in my to-do list, I decided on this overdue post just to give you a head-start for your (very early) Valentine and Chinese New Year dinner planning (",)

An annual pre-Christmas dinner with the girlfriends is always the highlight of our year-end get-together. We always try to make it extra special, taking at least a month to plan and schedule, and complete attendance is a must. So last November, as we discussed our holiday dinner plans, I suggested we try the exclusive Chef's Table. At P1,500 per head, they offer a 5- to 6-course menu with personalized service, and boasts of 'the private dining concept', as described in their profile (quoted above). Everyone gave it a 'go' and I immediately made reservations for seven busy moms.

Chef's Table Private Dining requires at least a 24-hour advance reservation, but I suggest you book weeks prior to your planned date.  The show kitchen-cum-restaurant is run by Chef Bruce Lim, who hosts Tablescapes and Chef's Table (cooking shows) on Studio 23. My inquiry was entertained by his wife, who happens to be my namesake. She responded immediately with complete details of the resto including a sample menu, rates and exact location via email and text message. Menu reviewed, date confirmed, and we're all set.

The place is like a gem in the city, hidden atop a commercial building near the bustling Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City. After almost an hour drive and missing a turn, we finally reached our destination. You would not think there's a fine dining restaurant in that area until you enter the building and climbed two flights of stairs. We were then greeted by a lush and serene outdoor garden and grotto, and was led to the quaint dining area within the homey kitchen hall that can seat 16. A fab show kitchen complete with large overhead lights, and we were instantly transported to front-row seats (okay, maybe second and third rows, side view) like in the popular cooking show. Chef Bruce and his team warmly greeted us as we entered. There were three other groups dining (and waiting for us) that evening.

I  am a self-confessed foodie and trying-hard kitchen diva. The novelty of having a notable chef personally preparing and cooking the dishes "live" in front of my very eyes is a check off my bucket list, so this was something I really looked forward to. Now on to the food! Let me remind you this is not intended as a food review, as I have stressed in my second dining post before. I simply want to share my unique, pleasant dining experiences in this blog.

I will now present the dishes in the order that they were served. Then maybe, after reading this and scrolling down to the last photo, you would also want to book a table pronto!

Roasted Tomato Halaan Soup (Clam soup)
I say, don't judge the soup by it's surface. You would think this is a simple looking broth as I did, but once I sank my spoon into this saffron-colored soup, a load of fresh chewy clams surprised me with the warm intense flavors infused in the broth. Though some may find the flavor a bit strong or salty, I liked it just the way it is. An instant winner as my ladies cleaned their bowls too!  If you don't like clams, maybe this can change your mind. Chef shared that he personally went to the market for the fresh catch that morning. Indeed the best dishes are made with the freshest ingredients.

Chicken Pandan Salad
Simply refreshing. The well-seasoned chicken, juicy pomelo wedges, diced apples and cashew complemented each other perfectly with the crisp greens. I failed to ask about the dressing but I am guessing a light oriental vinaigrette. A great follow-up to the clam soup.

Fried Calamari with Mango Salsa
Thankfully, I like squid. Crispy fried, grilled, adobo, kilawin(pickled), you name it, I can eat them all. With calamari, I was used to having a tangy dip or spiced vinegar on the side, so I was expecting a dipping sauce. The chef intended this to be paired with the mango salsa which I almost completely ignored as I focused on the fried squid. Another light dish considering the plate is quite full and can easily serve two. The squid was cooked just right as it was soft to the bite and not chewy-rubbery, but I missed the crunch tough.

Pan-Seared Lapu Lapu with Mongo Sauce
We all liked this delectable dish of palm-sized fillet of lapu lapu (grouper) on mongo bean puree, with a side of greens sauteed in bagoong balayan (anchovy sauce, originated from Balayan, Batangas province). It was a completely unique combination, and again, thumbs up for this one. I'm still trying to recall if the veggies used were kang kong (water spinach) and/or alugbati (vine spinach) leaves. A few weeks ago, I got myself a bottle of balayan sauce and immediately had a quick and appetizing sautee of kang kong with the sauce and lots of garlic!

Braised Liempo with Chicken Rice (Pork belly)
By this time, we were challenged by the chef as he announced that he had not encountered a lady diner who finished all dishes in the menu. Though our table were of hearty eaters, we were already so full by dish #4 as the servings were quite generous. I even finished the rice that came with the fish! Wrong move. I realized that when the meat course was placed in front of me. I was up for the challenge but by the time I finished one of two savory slices of pork belly with half a cup of the fragrant chicken rice, I gave up. Burp...burp... We all grew up eating this familiar braised dish so this Chinese-style adobo did not stand out. What we liked about this though was the oh-so-tender meat and the Singapore-style rice.

Mango Strudel
As I was preening my neck looking around the hall mid-course, these phyllo pastries caught my eye and so I already had an idea what we will be having for dessert. Another first for me, this warm puff pastry of cinnamon-spiced ripe mangoes had me thinking twice about what fruit I was nibbling on since I usually associate apples with cinnamon. Think apple pie. Now it's mangoes and cinnamon.  I finished mine and still craving for more sweets. Maybe a drizzle of mango puree or a critrus-y syrup would have added a little more kick to this lovely dessert. I also prefer a cold sweet ending.

Compliments to Chef Bruce, everyone truly enjoyed the great food and warm ambiance of Chef's Table. My friends and I were so engrossed in our own conversations that we missed interacting with the chef as the food was being served. My only regret was not asking more questions about how each dish was prepared and get inside scoop at what's happening behind the scenes of his popular cooking show. Chef Bruce was very engaging and really welcomed our thoughts and feedback.  He even posed gamely with all the diners for a souvenir shot with him and the show kitchen as the perfect backdrop.

Very full and happy ladies with Chef Bruce Lim

If you are a group of 15 or 16, you can have the place exclusively for the night and they are open to customizing the menu to fit the occasion and your preferences. It would be a great opportunity for the curious minds to "ambush" the chef with questions and openly converse and interact as a group. Now that would double the fun!

P.S.
Chef Table opened it's doors to the public on Valentine's Day of 2009. So let me know if you get the chance to dine on their first anniversary on Feb. 14 :-) Who knows, you might get a special treat!


Chef's Table Private Dining 
Guadalupe Nuevo, Makati City
Tel.: 409-6425
Mobile:  +63918-8871277

New resto location. Update as of October 2010:

Chef's Table with Chef Bruce Lim
Unit 106 The Infinity Tower 
25th St. Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Metro Manila
Tel. (632) 3991888
Mon - Sun:
11:00 am - 2:00 pm
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm