April 11, 2010

Quick(ie) bites

(Chef Alain Rayé in the kitchen preparing our lunch.)

I FINALLY HAD the chance to meet two-star Michelin chef Alain Rayé, chef patron and owner of La Régalade West Vancouver last Friday. He prepared lunch for a few friends and I at La Régalade in Makati, a restaurant co-owned by veteran hotelier, Perfecto "Bubut" Quicho, businessman Antonio "Tony Boy" Cojuangco, and a host of partners - mostly businessmen who revel in fine food and wines.

I'VE gone to La Régalade in Makati a few times since it first opened in late 2008, whenever I've had a hankering for Duck Leg Confit, Manila clams and Lemon Tart. I've always liked the laidback style of the place, and because it's basically quiet, even when there are lot of diners. (Quicho explained to us before that it's because the fabrics they used in their seating, and in their lampshades absorb stray sounds.) What's more, the dishes are moderately priced, easily affordable by even the white-collar working men and women of Makati. And no joke, I've seen them pack this place at lunch!

Chef Alain is pretty much what everyone's idea of a Frenchman is. He is passionate about his food, his wines, and of course, his women. All that translates into his country-cooked dishes which are all heart and soul. These are dishes which you don't have to dress up for in your ballgown and blings, although the restaurant surely won't turn away anyone who does turn up at the door this way. (Picture this, Manila clams cooked in white wine and pepper cream sauce, then use some of their marvelous crusty bread to sop up the sauce. It's fabulous when you have some chilled white wine to wash it all down. At the end of a meal like this, I can't help but lightly suck at my fingertips just to taste some more of the clams delightfully salty-sweet piquant sauce.)

Some people have described Chef Alain's dishes as comfort food - like that bowl of steaming bulalo on a lovely rainy day. I think his genius lies in making his simple rustic dishes evoke so much feelings of extreme pleasure and immense satisfaction. So to me, it's more like the afterglow after a round of quick rough sex. It's intensely gratifying but you are left wanting for more.

Here are the dishes we had for lunch, in smaller portions though from the usual, just so we could have a sampling of what's being served on his special menu.

(Parmesan cheese w/ tomatoes served w/ a side salad in tapenade dressing - your basic vinaigrette w/ black olives tapenade. The sour-sweet combination of the salad complements the salty grated cheese topped by the sweetness of the juicy ripe tomato slices.)

(Fried prawns w/ fresh thyme. Very light, w/ the prawns succulent - a perfect summer dish. Perhaps bec. fresh thyme was used, there were only some hints of the latter; and does not overpower the dish w/ its usually strong flavor.)

(Daube of veal cheeks, left, with creamy potato gratin on the side. Pinoys use pork cheeks basically for our sisig, along w/ other portions of the pig's mouth and snout. Who would've thought that on its own, especially from a young pig, the cheeks would be so fleshy? Cooked slowly in red wine, the dish is decidedly tender and just easy to slice into. The tomato confit and fried basil lends the dish some sweet punch, w/ the dark chocolate easing in some tartness.)

(Left, Tarte Tatin and Tarte Chocolat on the right, w/c my spoon sliced into. Known around our parts as molten lava chocolate cake, the Tarte Chocolat oozes w/ a lot of chocolatey goodness. Some may find these a little too sugary, but for those w/ a sweet tooth, these would be probably winners for them. The capuccino that was served w/ these creations was excellent, however. The restaurant only uses Illy coffee, and so Cheffy was genuinely surprised when we told him that we produce exceptional coffee beans here in the Phils. as well, some of w/c make their away abroad.)

The Makati restaurant is currently holding its 1st Food Festival, w/ Chef Alain whipping up French bistro fare for dinner. And I must tell you, those tables are going fast, so reservations are very much encouraged. Ricky Banaag, a partner in the restaurant (another foodie, but whose dayjob is overseeing Intel Phils.' operations) says they've had to make even some of the co-owners - I won't say who - wait for their tables, esp. when they stroll in unannounced w/ no reservations. (Just a note, the two Michelin stars the chef earned back home in Paris were for his luxury fine-dining fare, so don't expect any of that in here - remember, no ballgowns, tuxedos and blings. I forgot to ask Chef Alain though if he missed that kind of complicated cooking at all.)

(The menu for the food festival. Some have commented that some dishes on the menu are not exactly French, but as Chef Alain says, "you've got to have some balance." I would think as this is bistro fare, the restaurant needs to put in some easily recognizable dishes, esp. for those unintiated in French cuisine. But he stresses that, for instance, "gnocchi is not just Italian," as there are a lot of French recipes that use potatoes in a similar manner - dumplings style w/ a variety of sauces.)

Chef Alain says the dishes the diners respond to the most will probably end up in the restaurant's main dining menu. (I just hope they still keep my old favorites!) And bec. he is so impressed w/ the quality of our seafood here, he will also be creating more seafood dishes for the new menu. Of course the challenge for the restaurant's owners now is to maintain the same exceptional Rayé quality of the cuisine, even when Chef Alain has gone home to Canada. (Believe me, we tried to persuade him to stay here. But Manila is just too hot for the chef. And after seeing his iPhone's photos of the morning scenery from his bedroom window back home, we don't blame him for wanting stay there!)

Now, it's not everytime you get to have your dinner cooked by a two-star Michelin chef, so I suggest you not waste your time and reserve a table right now. La Regalade's 1st Food Festival lasts until April 18. For inquiries, call 750-2104 and 05, or check out their web site at www.laregalademanila.com.

No comments: