I know this is over a month late, but as promised, this was to be the first post on my official website.
For my mother’s birthday present back in December, I bought us two seats at an exclusive Chef’s Table at one of my favorite restaurants in New York right now: Manila Social Club. My mother has always been a novelty foodie, and I like to think I take after her in that respect, so this seemed to be one of the best ideas yet.
Unfortunately in the time span of this event and now, I have also had my phone stolen, and with it a number of notes, photos, and audio files that could have helped make this post a little more colorful.
But in the spirit of perseverance, check out the photoset below (Thank God for DSLRs) to see what deliciousness we experienced on the 8-course journey (full descriptions also found below):
Lotus chips to appetize.
Bjorn, the chef preparing all of these beautiful meals and telling the stories behind each dish.
Toki, Bjorn’s sister and our wonderful hostess.
Course 3, top-down view.
Course 3, close-up.
Course 4, close-up.
Bjorn hand-grating the truffle for our Course 5.
Course 5, before mixing.
Course 5, after mixing.
Delicious Coconut cocktail to pair with the heavier courses.
Course 8, the final course and palate cleanser.
List of Courses (in order of appearance):
The Start – Foie Gras and Chicken Innards, Amba Gel, pickled onions
This is Lunch? – Tostada, Beets, Wasabi, Avocado
“Fishball” Cart – Dauphine of Jonah Crab, roasted sweet corn custard, Beluga Caviar, Salicornia sprig
Oyster Party – Fried Oyster, Pancit canton, Calamansi
Filipino Comfort – Arroz Caldo , Dark Ginger Stock, smoked butter, White Alba Truffles
Back Home Again – Lamb Kaldereta, Chop, Braised Belly, pea tendrils, confit onion
Gold Bar – Filipino Dark Chocolate Delice, Black Cherry Gel, Chocolate crumble, Chestnut Mousse
Coconut – coconut cream panna cotta, black berry, micro shiso
II. PERSONAL COMMENTARY (FOOD)
I’ve heard a small number of people say that MSC is “not authentic Filipino food.” Though I do understand what they mean by that, I disagree that unconventional Filipino food doesn’t constitute authenticity. Though many of these courses do not follow traditional recipes, it should be noted that Filipino food has always been centered around flavor, family, and warmth – all values of which each dish seemed to exude in their own ways. If you ask me, that’s pretty damn authentic.
Chef Bjorn also pointed out that at times, Filipino food can get heavy, muddled even. But in this eight-course adventure, Bjorn set our dishes in the order of lightest to heaviest, so that we could truly taste the flavors he was going for without getting too full too quickly. To be honest, it worked out pretty well because I really wasn’t that full until we got to the dessert portion.
I would say out of all the dishes, my favorite was the third (“Fishball Cart”). It just seemed to be the right amount of everything: fresh seafood, soft vs crispy textures, melt-in-your-mouth feeling, light enough for a snack and heavy enough to hold you over if you eat in multiples. It was very simple yet very detailed all at once: the caviar not overpowering but offering just the right amount of salt to offset the sweet corn custard; the choice of high-quality ingredients, accented by a homely vibe.
I also enjoyed that every dish was paired with alcohol. It wasn’t entirely necessary because the food was amazing by itself, but for the first portion we drank a beautiful red wine with extremely dark, fruit-forward notes that contrasted the salts and umami found in the first three dishes. The next two dishes, we drank with a white wine (I believe Chardonnay?) that made us a little happier and much more talkative. Towards the sixth course, the Kaldereta dish, my mom and I opted for the coconut cocktail, which was sweet and creamy, taking our tastebuds straight to a vacation on the Islands.
III. PERSONAL COMMENTARY (EXPERIENCE)
I personally loved this Chef’s Table, from start to finish. First of all, $100/seat was really not a bad deal at all. Even better, our group had only eight people in total, so it was intimate enough an environment to ask questions, converse about the dishes, while still feeling completely at home with total strangers.
In terms of aesthetic, MSC also has that down to a science. “Balance” is the word that comes to mind here, because that’s what MSC seems to do best.
First-timers may feel intimidated because the decor seems rather stately, with the venue’s dark woods and white walls, but if they waited a few seconds to hear the J. Dilla album playing in the background, I’m sure they would feel much groovier and relaxed. Purists, on the other hand, may argue that no “nice place to eat” should feel so laidback, but in the words of Toki, one member of the sibling trio behind the MSC mission, “Just because it’s casual doesn’t mean it can’t be fine dining.”
Personally, I’ve been in hospitality for three years. While my work experiences lean primarily toward the beverage industry, I can honestly say the day-to-day grind of this world has changed how I approach pretty much everything else in my life. I’ve learned that even if you make the same product everyday, it’s the quality that matters. The truth is, the quality of your product reflects the value of your service.
There are resources that we often take for granted here in America because of how abundant they are – but if we were to take a step back and think about the hands that picked those coffee beans, the faces that sweated for us to obtain the freshest vegetables, the backs broken carrying shipments to and fro, we would better appreciate the interactions that make hospitality what it is.
And that’s something I really enjoy about every experience I’ve had with Manila Social Club. From first seeing their beautiful and creative doughnuts on Instagram to actually throwing my friend’s birthday there, MSC’s service and the homage they pay to their humble origins of pop-up kitchens, has only amplified how great the overall food experience is. The MSC team makes every dish its own unique story, and every story accessible to every customer.