There is a little restaurant tucked away on the second floor of Rustan’s Makati. Convenientlylocated behind the women’s lingerie department (ha!), it’s the place I go to when I want a surefire good Asian meal. It’s called East Cafe, (formerly East Creative Asian Cafe, and a few weeks ago, their new menu was launched.
“After a while, we got tired of cooking the same things over and over again,” explains Him Uy de Baron on the new menu. (Yes, Him is his name, and it’s for real). As the restaurant’s chef-consultant, Him decided to adjust the menu – diversify as it were, and include other dishes from the Philippines’ Asian neighbors. “It was primarily Chinese and Japanese food before, but now it’s more spread out, straight Asian,” Him adds. Well, change is good and at East Cafe, change is delectable.
To the relief of those less adventurous, all the new dishes are those that Filipinos are already familiar with, plus Him has retained the old favorites that customers won’t let him take away (the breath-taking pork belly in aromatic spices comes to mind. One bite and you’ll swoon off your chair, I promise you). Springing from the success of its Tofu Festivals, Chef Him has permanently incorporated the more popular dishes into the menu such as the tofu burger with teriyaki glaze as well as the salmon and tofu steamed in banana leaf with chili sauce. These are options for the more health-conscious, and organic teas are also being served.
During the launch of the new menu, we started off with the Tom Yam Gung served in a beautiful black ceramic bowl with matching spoon. This tableware highlighted the translucence of the soup, highlighting the stark colors of the tomato chunks and leafy greens.
An Indonesian favorite quickly followed, the tuna-sate in coconut-peanut sauce. These tuna skewers were made all the more appealing presented in a glass bowl and sprinkled with tom yao shoots.
Diners are not wont to eat with their fingers in a restaurant as fancy as East Cafe. That inhibition flies out the window however, when faced with the Thai sweet and sour chicken wings. Flaming orange and thick with sauce, it’s an imaginative, fiery food slightly sharpened with the incorporation of pineapple juice. It’ss so piquant in fact, that I used my hands to eat. This is one dish that’s really lick-your-fingers good.
Pineapple juice made another appearance on our table, this time in the Thai crab cake and mixed green salad. Composed of carrots, lettuce, and shredded green mangoes, it’s the cilantro that really makes this dish. It adds a certain complexity to the whole. Eat the salad first or the crab cakes or combine them all together. It’s refreshing, really.
We were served two main courses. The lamb rending is a hearty Indo-Malay stew, characteristic of what’s called “slow food.” It’s simmered for four to five hours, with coconut milk added midway to keep its consistency. So thick and spoonable was the sauce that some of us asked for rice to sop it up. Our other main course was a steamed fish with Chinese ham. The fish used here is called a dory fish — “Nemo’s friend,” chuckled Chef Him. The tender meat is steamed with smoked ham, which brings out a smoky flavor and emphasizes the fresh taste of the fish. It’s a unique departure from the Chinese-style steamed fish served in viscous sauces.
Desserts at East Cafe are now being handled by Chef Naomi Pedrosa. She wasn’t there for the launch, but she did leave behind for us a chocolate Ganache on a cookie . This was one example of a whimsical sweet: a barquillo was stuck into the Ganache and then playfully plated with cherry compote and a strawberry-chocolate sauce. Three silver dragees were then carefully decorated on top of the Ganache. Almost too pretty to eat. We were also served a fruit plate, a creative collection of fruits in season but I felt this would’ve been enjoyed more if it had been served before the chocolate.
As if we could muster any more stomach room, our last accolade was an original East Cafe concoction. Called Bagoya for banana-mango-soya, this mousse-custard is a weak brown in color and has the texture of Cerelac, (!) as someone at the table said. With only the sugar coming from the fruits themselves, it removes the cloy associated with a heavy meal.
2/F Rustan’s Makati
Open during mall hours
Call 812-0233 for inquiries and reservations