In my Great Photos of Great Dishes post, I included a dish from Astralis, their Parisian scrambled eggs with foie gras (P480). It’s part of a meal that I have there that still resonates in my memory even a month later.
One of the newest joints that line Rockwell’s Lopez Drive, Astralis aims to embody casual dining with a touch of luxury. It’s a satellite restaurant of Manila’s Diamond Hotel and is an effort “… to make Diamond’s offerings more accessible,” says its president, Cecile Ang. The menu is a collaboration of the hotel’s different chefs ”“ new dishes sparkle among selected bestsellers from Diamond’s fine dining outlets. “We want people to try the food of the Diamond,” Cecile tells me as we place our napkins on our lap. “Some people hear nice things [about it] but distance discourages them.”
I can’t say the same for other people but the first starter, a Baked Camembert in phyllo pastry (P340), is ravishing enough to make anyone go the distance. Hot and oozing from its delicate cocoon, it’s presented like a Pollock painting: dollops of red tomato jam, green pesto, and pink peppercorns dot the canvas; complements to the cheese’s rich nuttiness. More cheese is never enough I believe, as the Cheese & Cold Cuts “Premiere” (P690) arrives. It’s a platter of three cheeses — Manchego, Brie de Meux, and White Stilton matched with a corresponding number of cold cuts — Salchichon “Tres Reyes”, Chorizo Pamplona, and Jamon de Aragon. Alternating salty with creamy, I delight in the tart sweetness of the (three) fresh cranberries on the plate.
Then of course there’s that inimitable dish that I want to die eating, the Parisian scrambled eggs with foie gras and toast (P480). In our party of four, everyone politely scoops mere teaspoonfuls of the golden glory onto their (small) plates, though I wish I could be the exception. I’m in dire need of a ladle ”“ not a teaspoon! ”“ because I just can’t get enough of these eggs. But utter propriety and abject fear of being regarded as a glutton stops me from inhaling the darn dish. I want to cry, really, when the waiter swoops in and removes the still half-full bowl of scrambled eggs.
A salad doesn’t make a meal, but two probably could, especially if they’re the curiously named Our GM’s Favorite Salad (P290), and the Modern Chef’s Salad (P270). The former consists of sautéed portobello mushrooms and greens tossed into a crispy Parmesan basket. From the side, slices of Laguna buffalo cheese beckon beside cherry tomatoes dribbled with grape seed oil. The modern chef’s salad meanwhile, appeals to me almost immediately because of the presence of a soft boiled egg cradled in a bread cup. I’m told that the mound of beets, cucumbers, turnips and baby Romaine dressed in an anchovy-lime sauce is arresting, but I’m concentrating on the egg.
While I prefer to eat beets in chocolate cake (a secret ingredient for moistness and color), Astralis’ Red Beet Soup (P240 ”“ “… a bestseller at Valentine’s,” Cecile remarks,) intrigues me but not as much as the Lobster Bisque With Lemon Foam (P280) or the even more appealing Baked Double-Broiled Mushroom Soup (P220). As our little party exchanges tasting notes on the soups, I ask Cecile about the name of her new restaurant. “It took us a long time to come up with a name,” she recalls. “Our most premium wine here is called Astralis, so we decided to name it that.”
Cecile’s eyes light up when we talk about the restaurant’s wine selection. Aside from the fairly priced bottles, she eagerly tells me about the “progressive wine lists” characterized with helpful notes for newbie wine drinkers. Wines in this category can be enjoyed by the glass, half bottles, and bottles. There are also the “wine flights”: three glasses from a similar category i.e. same vineyard, three reds from three different continents, etc. It’s like going around the world (of wines), and no baggage allowance either. How innovative! And encouraging, too.
A silence descends upon the table when a waiter delivers the steak dish. It’s not so much the Grilled US Angus Prime Rib (Ladies’ cut 11 ounces P1,300; Gentlemen’s cut 16 ounces P2,800) itself but the presence of the lone marrow bone preening atop the meat. Ever effusive me when it comes to food, I blurt out, “Oh my god, it’s a marrow bone! And it’s so clean too!” My companions burst into laughter, and in response, I grab the marrow bone, effectively appropriating it for myself. Seeing what I do, Cecile says, “I’m glad you’re going to eat that. Most people just ignore it.” “NO!” I reply, my eyes wide. I slice a bit of the steak including some of its fatty trim and because wretched excess is never enough for me, I dot a piece of meat with marrow. Fat on fat. Mmm.
Cecile tells me that Sato-san’s Japanese Mentaiko spaghetti (cover photo; P460) boasts of several diehard fans. I’m not surprised. The combination of spicy cod roe and nori on cream sauce would make anyone forget their name. A little bit zesty and a little bit of that “what’s-that-flavor-I-taste?” makes this dish a tasty example of inspired creativity.
Our stomachs are slowing down but there’s just enough space for the Baked Lapu-Lapu Layered With Spinach (P520). At first I think it’s spinach lasagna and it might be ”“ the fish is painfully tender and set on broiled potatoes. Napped in a silky fish broth and paired with a mixed salad, it deserves far more attention than what we’re able to give. So goes also for the Slow Roasted Lamb Leg (P510).
Ah, so much food, so little stomach! Or so I’d like to believe ”“ that is, until dessert rolls around.
I’m astounded that out of all the desserts Cecile serves to us, it’s the Tofu Cheesecake (P260) that I favor above all. Deceptively light, it’s the complete antithesis of all the tofu cheesecakes I’ve tasted. Full bodied with a satisfying mouth feel, the accompanying warm coffee sabayon elevates this dessert into a space with all my other flavor memories.
I also like the chocolate truffle cake and a special dish that the pastry chef brings out for us, crepes ensconcing warm cream and chunks of apple.
Though plentiful, the trio that makes up the CrÃ¨me Brulee Madness (P320) is the lone disappointment of the meal. The custard itself is overbaked rendering the respective flavors of mango, green tea, and chocolate chili wasted.
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Lopez Drive, Powerplant Mall
Open Mondays-Sundays 11 am ”“ 10 pm
Wine and raclette buffet on Mondays and Thursdays.