My birthday, 4:20 am, and I’m on my hands and knees crouching over my Silpat mat kneading bread dough. Ever since I broke a table a few years ago slapping and hurling dough on it, I’ve resorted to kneading on a large non-stick mat on the floor. I don’t think I’m strong enough to break floor tiles, so the floor it is. It’s deathly still, as this hour usually is, the only sounds are my labored breaths at the exertion of kneading and my Bin’s snores from across the living room. He’s upset that I decide to bake after only three hours’ sleep, demanding that I get some rest on my first day off this year, but sleep remains elusive.
And so I bake.
I’ve been baking almost every day since the start of this year, kitchen testing and weighing and timing everything to painful precision. On my special day, I flip a middle finger to exactness and take out my measuring cups. I judge when the dough is sufficiently kneaded by the blisters that form on it, and know when the bread is done by mere smell and touch.
I bake Cinnamon Toast, a soft bread colored by a goodly dose of ground cinnamon, and a Classic White Bread, yeasty with a crunchy crumb. My Bin loves the latter: as he slices it, it crunches in protest as the knife zigzags its way down, and Boo exclaims in wonder as wafts of steam curl lazily upwards perfuming the air.
We eat and enjoy slices of bread, sliced thickly of course, as all breads baked at home should be. They’re slathered with an arsenal of spreads: salted butter for my Bin, strawberry jam for Boo, and Passion Fruit Curd for me from Antonio’s. “My god, this is bread,” my Bin proclaims. “And the house smells amazing!”
We eat lightly (for a birthday, that is) since we’re going to dinner tonight.
My Birthday Dinner
I haven’t seen Chef Marco Legasto since 2008 when he was at the helm of the landmark restaurant, Purple Feet, but we’ve kept in touch. He’s a master with meat and possesses an uncanny gift of “cooking on the fly,” also commonly known as freestyle cooking. His new restaurant, Prime 101, takes off from Purple Feet’s concept of choosing “raw materials” (ingredients) and having Chef Marco work his magic on them.
It’s difficult to find the restaurant as there’s practically no visible signage from the street and the stairs leading up to the restaurant can’t possibly prepare one for the elegance that waits. I’m astounded when the wood-paneled glass doors open to reveal a space that bespeaks class and careful thought given to a refined design aesthetic. The restaurant is lush with blacks, whites, and glass and I wish that I could show you what it looks like but there are notable entertainment personalities in attendance this evening and it would be rude of me to take photos. Besides, food is the focus here.
There’s a set menu that spans appetizers to desserts but look towards the tall blackboard occupying center stage in the middle of the room. I have to stand in front of it to study my options but it promises possibilities, all tantalizing, from Meats (steaks to tomahawk pork chops); Seafood (lapu-lapu, local seabass, lobster, etc.); to a curated Cheese Platter.
Prime 101 has an impressive wine list. I linger with my birthday bottle of a 2007 Torbreck “Woodcutter’s” Shiraz from South Australia’s Barossa Valley. An inky scarlet, it’s not as macho as some other Shirazes tend to be. This one’s quite clean with licorice notes.
How it works is that Chef Marco will approach each table asking what people feel like having tonight and decisions are arrived at through preferences expressed and recommendations given. An open mind and palate ensures a memorable meal. He retires to the kitchen and the servers take one’s choice of starches (rice, potatoes, pasta done any which way, etc.) and other dishes.
You already know that if there are wings on the menu, then that’s what my Bin will order. True to form, he zeroes in on the Fire-Glazed Wings (P350), and I must say that even I, a non-chicken wing eater, like them. Spicy and lacquered with a sweet glaze, they’re skillfully fried, crunchy coating revealing juicy meat. The Stilton Bleu (spelling theirs) cheese that accompanies it is curd-like and moist, providing a delicious dosing of fire that the wings possess.
The Baked Portabello Mushroom (P480) is one of those rare dishes that persist in memory long after the last lingering serving. Two medium portabellos carry a cargo of spinach, foie gras, and truffled cheese, their partnership is such that each tastes like the other, an exceptional harmony. The sauce that lavishes the mushrooms and that’s thoughtfully furnished in the small pouring vessel is awash in truffle and cream. It practically pulses with a feral complexity, echoing the truffle+mushroom = fungi concept, a voluptuous pairing. “I think I want to drink this sauce, Mom,” Boo mumbles. She’s transfixed by it and only looks up when her order of Osso Buco (P650) is served.
This is a representative dish of its kind made not with veal as is classical, but with beef shanks. They’re cooked with aromatics and tomatoes, satisfying and hearty, and a large bone with an equally large hole offers the promise of a succulent marrow. The dish is served with gremolata and if you order this, pair it with risotto as they do in Italy.
The Assorted Greens Salad with candied walnuts and grapes is a fitting prelude to the T-Bone that my Bin and I will be sharing. I brush some of the Stilton cheese sauce from the Wings on the leaves and feel my enjoyment escalate as I anticipate my steak salvo.
The US T-Bone (P1,700/500 grams) is one of the best steaks I eat in recent memory. Served medium and still very pink, it appears to be basted with a soy reduction, a salty-sweet-sticky synchronicity. The steak itself is grilled on charcoal and the inherent smokiness that seeps into the meat permeates it all, smoke oozing into meat and fat, glorious juices dribbling onto the plate, my meaty birthday desires realized. Chef Marco nails the cooking of this steak, and it’s transcendent. Like I say, he’s a master with meat.
Starches with steak: Roasted Potatoes, crunchy and starchy perfumed with needles of rosemary, and Risotto. All good, too good.
Prime 101 is a beautiful, special occasion place that’s also more than suitable for intimate lunches. The service is spot-on and when asked, servers are adequately trained to make suggestions. Because the space bears quiet sophistication and is one where high profile people choose to go, I highly discourage you from bringing your SLRs here. Bring your equally adept point-and-shoots and be discreet and effective when taking your photos, food and otherwise.
It’s a busy evening tonight and there’s a woman at the next table who’s also celebrating her birthday. Her friends surprise her with a cake, something I perhaps should’ve have had the foresight to bring too. But Chef Marco surprises me with something even better: the restaurant’s signature dessert, Fried Choco Mousse. Balls of mousse formed into submission by a blitz in breading and hot oil and submitted to the confines of a sugar cage. I bite into a ball, freeing this mousse and it releases its gratitude, a gooey trail on tongue.
I like the Deconstructed Tiramisu, or at least I believe that’s what it’s called. The crispest broas border in swathes of soft coffee ice cream with streaks of cinnamon alongside.
The Cheesecake on Graham-Almond Crust is an exploration of four types of cheese. Truly unique in texture, each forkful alternates between smooth and bumpy but its creaminess is a constant.
“Truffles for you, Ma’am,” the server says. All the dessert are gifts from Chef Marco and here’s the last, a trio of truffles – one each for me, my Bin, and Boo. Craggy with crushed nuts, it’s a sweet ending to a remarkable birthday meal.
2226 Chino Roces St. (beside Don Bosco), Makati
(02) 720 8674
Open Monday-Saturday, 12nn-2pm; 5-10pm.
On Facebook: Prime101