Why Nomama is one of Manila's best restaurants

By Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 27 2013 04:17 PM | Updated as of Feb 28 2013 01:01 AM

Nomama is located in the Scout area of Quezon City. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA, Philippines – Nomama, the acclaimed restaurant of Chef Him Uy de Baron, made its initial splash in the local food scene with its artisanal ramen – just right before the explosion of this Japanese noodle dish among the metro’s trendy diners.

But there is definitely more to Nomama, which was included in the list of the best new restaurants of 2013 by men’s magazine Esquire in its February issue, than ramen, judging from its new menu that was launched recently.

Chef Him Uy de Baron adds the finishing touches to a dish at Nomama. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

The French-trained chef is definitely capable of so much more such that Esquire urged its readers not to come to Nomama “expecting a traditional dinner with your favorites. Come in expecting absolutely nothing and let the chef guide you through his culinary vision.”

Nomama’s latest dishes also highlight its partnership with Kitayama, which supplies local Wagyu beef from its operations in Cagayan de Oro; and Marco Lobregat’s much talked about Ministry of Mushrooms.

“From the very start, we at Nomama have been committed in using the very best ingredients we can source, preferably local,” Uy de Baron said in a statement, telling a select group of food writers that 95% of the meats used in the restaurant are sourced locally.

“We also have been quite serious in our use of bold Japanese flavors, frequently borrowing influences from our Asian neighbors. We’d like to keep towing the line in this direction and pursue new areas for us to be creative and come out with downright simple but great food,” he added.

Simple may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one is faced with such gorgeous plating.

Beef tataki with uni and chips. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Take, for instance, the first course: beef tataki with uni and chips, whose vibrant colors from the golden yellow pile of the sweet potato chips and the balled micro-greens leap out from the plate. The blend of raw tenderloin tips and ribeye pieces, enriched with uni butter and mixed with roasted shiitake mushrooms, oozed with chunky goodness. Yet on the mouth, the flavors are clean-cut with the subtle interplay of textures -- a nice appetizer to get the diner excited for what’s ahead.

Thai-spiced tri-tip. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

The other starter could be a meal in itself. The seared tri-tip is a fine example of Uy de Baron’s culinary experimentations with other cuisines. As he told the diners: “We’re very friendly with our neighbors. We get from Thai, Chinese cuisine …everything all together.”

The tri-tip was prepared with Thai spices as the meat was crusted with cilantro and coriander seeds. But this is no re-interpretation of the traditional Thai beef salad. Instead of the spicy acidity that usually accompanies this Thai staple, Uy de Baron paired the thinly sliced rare meat with a wonderful rice salad with chunks of glazed pineapple, cashew bits, tomatoes and cucumber then dressed with a light spicy red curry vinaigrette. The rice actually can stand on its own and not just a mere siding for the meat.

Soy-prawn teppan. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Nomama’s penchant for mixing “bold Japanese flavors” with European technique can be clearly seen in the evening’s only seafood dish – prawns cooked teppan style with a mix of mirin, soy sake, fresh and roasted garlic and butter. The sauce, meanwhile, is a light but flavorful bisque of prawn and uni. This is such a tempting dish that even those with an aversion to seafood couldn’t help but give it a try.

Ribeye teppanyaki. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Uy de Baron’s mastery of sauces was also very evident in the evening’s main dish: ribeye teppenyaki with tendon. Here one can also appreciate the fatty goodness of Kitayama beef as it was simply grilled with soy, mirin and sake. To add added texture, the beef was topped with grilled oyster mushroom. But to complete the presentation, the chef created three sauces: Japanese mustard, roasted garlic miso paste (the best one, in my opinion) and Kikkoman caramel (should appeal to most palates).

Milky mushroom steak. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Then he surprised the diners with what he calls the “vegetarian version” of the dish using milky mushrooms, instead of the usual Portobello, which he cooked like a steak and served with the same three sauces. Obviously there is a difference in texture but Uy de Baron definitely transformed and elevated the mushrooms and it was certainly the most revealing dish of the evening.

But since artisanal ramen still remains prominent in the Nomama branding, we were also served three noodle dishes that, in Uy de Baron’s words, are “not your mama’s ramen.”

Spicy tongue dry noodle. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

The dry noodle was described as more Korean influenced, with the noodles topped with ox tongue in a spicy sauce plus black tofu and dressed in garlic oil.

Thai green curry ramen. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

Then there was the ramen done Thai style to approximate the classic green chicken curry, featuring a coconut broth but with a more relaxed spice level. This is certainly a unique twist to the usual tantanmen and those with an affinity for spicier noodles will certainly appreciate the playfulness.

Wagyu beef cheek ramen. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com

But it was the Wagyu beef cheek ramen that everyone was raving about. Clearly this is a more trendy execution, with the choice of beef cheeks in place of the traditional char-siu pork, whose tender texture was highlighted further with the use of milk broth and poached eggs.

Fresh fruit teppanyaki with gelato. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

Uy de Baron finished off the meal with another twist on the Japanese way of dining by serving fresh fruit teppanyaki. Noting that the Japanese normally have fresh fruit for dessert, he grilled slices of mango, strawberries and kiwi and drizzled them with kaffir lime syrup. This was paired with a homemade gelato made from yuzu and lemon and served with a sesame brittle for textural contrast. It was just the perfect light and refreshing ending to a rather rich meal.

Nomama has certainly distanced itself from the ramen pack with a menu that’s far more ambitious, clever and modern. No wonder Esquire bent their rules to accommodate it in this year’s best new restaurant list even if Nomama opened in late 2011.

With food like this, it’s definitely better late than never.

Nomama is located at the FSS Building II, Sct. Tuason cor Sct. Castor Sts., Quezon City.