Opulence at Opus

“It looks like Vegas,” I enthuse.

Margaux looks over at me. “Really? I wouldn’t know, never been to Vegas.”
“Neither have I,” I shrug offhandedly. “But this looks like what I see on C.S.I: Las Vegas.”
“Kaloka ka, Lor!” Margaux hoots.

Most people are surprised to know that Sunday Inquirer Magazine (SIM) columnist Margaux Salcedo and I know each other. In fact, we we used to debate against each other in college – she for La Salle, I for Ateneo. Despite the infamous animosity between our schools, we got along well and she even invited me to dance in her cotillion for her 18th birthday, an invitation I declined because I knew even then that my talents lay elsewhere. If you read Margaux’s MENU column in SIM, it gives a good idea of what she’s like in person: painfully funny and possessing wicked wit. We laugh a lot when we’re together and tonight we’re dining at Opus, a restaurant that Margaux is considering writing about.

Opus is indubitably opulent. Like everything about Resorts World, it’s magnificent and impressive. It begins with the bar, bottles of libation backlit and lined up for service to those who are here to dine or drink. The restaurant is laid out in a corridor, conveniently mirrored to stoke egos and assuage sartorial worries. Every table is its own section with gilded tapestries and walls composed of mixed mediums illustrating various corporeal states. See this for a better idea.

As is typical of a restaurant of this caliber, the menu mesmerizes with the lyrical names of its dishes, each conjuring edible fantasies built upon imagination. A starter of Chicken and Chorizo, almost like miniature paupiettes arrive, the amuse-bouche of the evening. They are small and sufficient – just one for each of us – and like the basket of bread that follows, entirely gratuitous. The bread is dreadful, cold and hard, and what a pity that it is so. A choice of either focaccia squares or baguette slices is proffered to be spread with butter and/or its more ravishing relative, truffle butter. But one thing about us food writers is that we can be quite jaded, fancy ingredients don’t cause our hearts to always go aflutter, and if the ingredient in question is used without restraint, it’s a sad situation indeed. “Tapang!” Margaux says of the truffle butter after swiping some on her baguette slice. I have to agree.

Thankfully, her first course makes her forget the flawed starters. The Pumpkin Sage Soup (P280; also see cover photo) comes with a good show: the waiter ceremoniously pours from the ceramic teapot the hot liquid, its curry-yellow color is striking as it flows languidly over a bacon “cigarette” and a gently formed scoop of the Parmesan ice cream. A spoonful is like drinking fluid silk, its strong squash flavor caressing the mouth, a bite of bacon, and throughout it all, a cool cream careens through, though its intended Parmesan accent is but a suggestion. “Happiness ‘to,” Margaux pronounces, sipping happily, and as I begin taking photos of our food, she looks at me gratefully. “Oh Lori, your pictures are going to be 700 times better than mine.” I look up from my camera’s LCD. “Then you can use my photos if you’d like,” I reply with a smile.

My well-chronicled love for eggs finds something new to love in the 62°C Egg (P320), the temperature at which an egg white begins to coagulate. Its texture is almost translucent; the yolk, its center, surrenders its golden treasure which spills over a crispy nest of finely shredded potatoes and onions; it reminds me of eating fried vermicelli noodles (sotanghon). The nest now well-lubricated, the tangles of prosciutto and scatterings of Parmesan announce themselves and sliced leeks reprise the initial theme of onion.

The Quail and Bacon Ravioli (P380) starter might have been memorable had the ravioli been thinner and more tender. Margaux, who is as straightforward as I am, states that the filling tastes like that in a siomai. It seems too simple, yes, for the deeply flavored meat bathed in a Marsala demi-glace, taking refuge under the ravioli.

As we sit and sup, we exchange notes on restaurants that are hot on our radars and gleefully update each other on gossip in the food industry. We plan our next dinner together (even though we’ve barely begun this one) and we deliberate on which bottle of wine to binge on. Tonight, Margaux decides on a Fat Bastard Pinot Noir. It’s quite light and not as complex as Pinots generally are.

For her main course, Margaux has ordered the Red wine risotto (P220) as a side dish. Upon conferring with the kitchen, the waiter asks if she’s amenable to having a saffron risotto instead; they’ve run out of the red wine used specifically for this dish. Astounded, we remind the waiter that there’s an entire bar (!) to select a red wine from. No can do, is the reply. I cheekily comment that perhaps the kitchen’s run out of Carlo Rossi wine. Margaux looks at me. “What do you think, Lor?” I tell her that a red wine risotto is quite uncommon in Manila. “It would’ve been interesting to see how they execute it. “ I muse. “Saffron is expensive but assertive, and can mask a number of flavors.” “Man, that must be some special wine they use,” Margaux avers.

The waiter scrambles for a menu and we gaze at the possibilities. “What’s a prawn colcannon?” Margaux asks. “Um, an Irish dish made up of potatoes ‘stewed’ with cabbage and bacon,” I reply somewhat absentmindedly, still perusing the menu. Then I see it. “But ooh, they added prawns! Let’s try that, Margs.”

The Prawn Colcannon turns out to be an excellent choice, a masterfully executed take on this unfamiliar but traditional Irish dish. Instead of cabbage, halved Brussels sprouts are steamed and then tumbled into a delectation of mashed potatoes, their texture is silken with butter and streaked with salty flashes from the bacon. Nuggets of prawn pop up unexpectedly, pieces of pleasure cosseted in the richness of its companions. I want to gobble it up. It’s a unique and well-matched partner to Margaux’s dish of Sous-vide Aged U.S. Beef Short Rib (P980), devoid of bone and soft enough to eat with just a fork. Its horseradish-potato puree accompaniment is blended so fine but with just enough “grit” from the horseradish.

As we debate the merits of sous-vide and argue over who eats more (I do), Margaux and I contemplate my order of Crispy Skin Duck Leg Confit (P780). My knife’s initial entry yields – indeed – a crispy skin crackle and as she attests from where she sits across from me, a gush of fat and oil. Properly cooked, the duck is supple, having been lubricated and luxuriating in its own oil. Its crispy skin is truly irresistible, an edible emblem of attention to technique and timing. The portion of wild mushrooms soaks in a familiar sauce – it’s the same demi-glace as that used in our Quail and Bacon Ravioli.

I’m about to try our other side dish, Truffled Mac and Cheese (P280) when I notice Margaux picking up her phone after tasting every plate. “Texting or tweeting?” I murmur, my mouth now half-full with macaroni. Our side dishes are outstanding. While truffled mac and cheese makes quite the regular appearance on Manila’s menus, Opus’ rendition is sufficiently moist and exhibits restraint with the truffle oil, allowing the cheese to sing and the bacon to shine. Margaux looks up and grins impishly. “Oh, I’m writing…” “So you won’t forget,” I finish her sentence, nodding my head. We food writers need to get our meals down on paper as soon as possible to avoid forgetting any nuance of the meal. No matter how memorable, flavors are easily forgotten.

At tail’s end of the main course, Margaux slows down while I, in sight of dessert, speed up. “God, I’m so full!” Margaux wails, clutching her stomach. “Look at my salbabida!” Then she points at our wine bottle. “I am the Fat Bastard now.” I roll my eyes at her theatrics. “Margaux, don’t fail me now. This is the best course!” I cajole her by cracking open the menu so we can look at it together. She takes one look and dismisses it with a wave. “Take your pick, Dessert Queen,” she exclaims.

At Opus, the desserts are named after famous painters. The Matisse (P280) is the most popular. Described (rather inaccurately) as a chocolate fondant, this is the house version of the ever-ubiquitous molten lava cake. A hits-all-the-bases, gets-‘em-every-time dessert, Opus’ adaptation couples it with a scantly salty caramel ice cream, and a pseudo malt foam, which I suspect might be slightly sweetened cream sans any malt. This is a dessert that’s hard to hate. Really now, what’s to dislike about liquid chocolate and ice cream? Unless of course, it’s liquid chocolate in an overbaked, rubbery cake. Darn.

The Gauguin (P320) fares better. Mimicking the flavors of an amaretti, this white chocolate cheesecake is plated so that it practically looks like a post-Impressionist work. Sliced almonds give the miniature cake a rakish look, echoing its flavor’s almond essence and is topped up with rolled shards of white chocolate. Finally, a deft brush stroke of macerated raspberries provides counterpoint to cloy in this fine dessert.

Having split the bill, we leave the restaurant armed with an array of take-home bags. We shared every dish and didn’t finish most, although I plowed through the desserts. As we part ways, Margaux teases me about my post on Opus. “Don’t reveal too much about me to your readers, girl!”

2/F Newport Mall
Resorts World Manila, Pasay City
02 856.0128, 02 856.0914

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