One of the better meals I’ve had in some time begins with a discrepancy in pronunciation. “So are we eating at ‘Reese’s’ tonight?” my Bin asks.
“Hon, it’s RE-cess, not ‘Reese’s’ like the peanut butter cups.” I reply, amused.
“Oh?” He states quizzically. “We always pronounced it as re-CESS.” (So I check and discover that both pronunciations are acceptable).
Semantics aside, it’s with some trepidation that we’re in Recess tonight, the latest of what I’m convinced is a string of restaurant fails, one bad place after another. Thankfully and with much gratitude, we’re proven wrong.
I’d been to Recess last year when it first opened but haven’t been back. The dish line-up seems to change so regularly that what I have on my last visit is now nowhere to be seen. While in Recess, I get myself in Detention, so to speak: a cocktail heavy on citrus and vodka. It’s the first drink I’ve had in Manila that contains the much vaunted ice or whiskey balls, slow-melting spheres that don’t dilute the drink. Classy.
As we peruse the menu, we inhale the thick, warmed slices of complimentary rye bread, slathering them with the accompanying garlic butter. It’s testament to the ferocity of our collective hunger that I don’t have a photo to show you. Still, this has got to be the best restaurant bread basket after the one at The Black Pig.
Having a panizza is de rigeur here, since this is the restaurant of its founder, Swiss-born chef Chris Locher. There are new variations called Pinoy Original that play on local ingredients – i.e., PoTo (pork tocino + salted egg + red onions), and TiTo (smoked tinapa bits + salted egg +tomatoes), etc. But tonight my Bin and Boo want Italian so we have the ambiguously named Tin SN 50 (P400/P750), a meat smorgasbord of chorizo, salami, bacon, and ham scattered alongside mushrooms and peppers.
Chef Chris’ creation has been copied countless times but there’s something to be said about having it at Recess. The dough is supple, with no cracks or crusty bits, and the flavors bloom under a cover of alfalfa and arugula. Drizzle or douse on some chili oil – damn, this stuff’s addictive.
Boo adores risotto and anything that vaguely resembles it. The Risotto Orbs are a fine representation of Italy’s arancini, rice balls dredged and fried. Bite into an orb just so and a duo of melted cheeses ooze out. The pomodoro sauce the balls sit in is commendable, it’s obvious the chef stirred it to maturity for hours, as opposed to opening a can. The sauce is tinged with sour and just enough sweet and a lullaby of herbs.
While his eponymous My Kitchen in Paco, Manila possesses a more romantic theme, Recess is set up to be more relaxed. Espy the lockers banked up against one wall, the playful placemats, and now look up at the honeycomb diagram displaying elements of the Periodic Table. It’s whimsy and wonder, science in a restaurant setting.
Recess is a roster, if you will, of Chef Chris’ favorite dishes from various cuisines. The Spaghetti 50:50 (P490), sub-titled Fra Diavolo, is indeed spicy-sauced with tomatoes, herbs, and cheese. The ratio refers to the meatballs consisting of “50% beef, 50% bacon, 100% delicious.” It’s truly beefy with robust bacon flavor, a very classic spaghetti and meatballs dish and everything that that promises.
I’m not as happy with the Recess Canneloni (P590), where some of the shells are overbaked and unpleasantly crunchy, contrasting too starkly to the Parmesan-mozzarella cream. But Boo is very happy with this dish and rootles around for the softer parts.
The Lamb Korma (P590) is as good as the lamb shoulder curries I eat at my favorite Indian restaurants, and oh, what I would give right now for a bottle of tamarind chutney! Redolent with a cabinet’s worth of spice and a lengthy cooking time, it’s attention that doesn’t go unnoticed in flavor. Even the Indian flat bread is soft and doughy, as is the basmati rice.
The far and away most-ordered dessert on Recess’ menu is the Pavlova. It’s also the first dessert – ever – that I’ve shared with my Bin which he appropriates for himself after allowing me just mere forkfuls. My husband is manic for meringue, and he’s about to expire in ecstasy over this pavlova. Nut-speckled meringue discs alternate with layers of Crème chantilly, and an inspired contrast of kiwis and strawberries play tag in between scatterings of sliced almonds. The first forkful is spectacular and worth witnessing. The meringue discs smoosh together causing the cream to gush in one synchronized spurt: a fat man collapsing in a chair, his enormous paunch spilling over his too-tight jeans.
Because my Bin won’t share any more of the Pavlova, Boo and I turn our attention to the Turon. A specimen demonstrating the exquisite nature of a dual-temperature dessert, hot bananas are lavished in ube jam and cradled in a crispy wrapper. A common pairing but ever new and desired every time it’s tasted – crisp, hot-sweet, caramel, cold-cream. PS: Order extra ice cream. We do, and it’s just P50 more.
When I was a student, a classmate joked once that his highest grades were for Lunch and Recess. I’ll say. This Recess certainly makes the grade.
Recess by Chef Chris Locher
50 Jupiter St., Bel Air, Makati
02 804 0997, 899 1818
Open daily from 7am To 10pm.