Chef J Luis Gonzalez at work in the kitchen of Vask.Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA -- Hidden in the fringes of Bonifacio Global City, Vask has been hailed as the metro's top gourmet destination with Esquire magazine naming it as the best new restaurant last year.
At a recent dinner for select food writers and bloggers, chef J Luis Gonzalez, showcasing Spanish food that's both adventurous and comforting, was out to prove why Vask is deserving of such acclaim.
"We aim for traditional flavors with a touch of molecular. It's more fun, but still comfort food, " Gonzalez explained.
Hailing from San Sebastian, which has become the world's culinary capital with the most number of Michelin stars per square foot, Gonzalez was honed in the kitchens of the now defunct El Bulli, and other top restaurants like El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz and Arzak.
Pintxos. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The meal started with Pintxos, which are breads typical of Basque pub food, usually topped with various meats. An impressive array was served, including Pintxos topped with Wagyu beef and caramelized onions, tuna, and a mixture of creamy and luxurious crab topped with slivers of salmon.
Croquetas. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Next was a creamy trio of tapas, starting with Croquetas de Jamon y Pollo made from ham and chicken jamon and chicken that offered a perfect salty bite; and Croquettas de Gambas, with concentrated shrimp essence in a mouthful -- both of which were perfect with a glass of white wine.
Rounding out this creamy trio was the Mejillones Tigre, spicy thickened bechamel with chopped mussels, topped with a crispy layer of breadcrumbs.
Rabas. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Up next was the Rabas, Spanish calamares with ala minute basil mayonnaise. The squid was perfectly cooked but the highlight of the dish was the green-tinted basil mayonnaise which had the right herbal kick.
Crispy shrimp. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The Crispy Shrimp gets a Spanish kick as its wrapped with Jamon Iberico and a lumpia-like wrapper and drizzled with a Jerez reduction.
The tapas ended with Carnitas, meat-filled crispy tacos, topped with sour cream, pig's ear chicharones, and an orange cilantro sauce, the perfect balance of salty, sour and sweet with the right amount of crunch from the chicharones.
Wagyu Carpaccio. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The eyes eat first, and in Vask, diners definitely get to gawk at gorgeously plated dishes like the Wagyu Carpaccio, thinly sliced fresh raw beef complemented with savory Parmesan ice cream, while crispy Parmesan and pine nuts added texture and upped the nuttiness of the cheese.
Huevos con Txistorra. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Huevos con Txistorra features a bit of the molecular gastronomy with a 62-degree sous vide egg. It offered a delightful bite with the soft egg mixing with crunchy breadcrumbs, silky mushrooms accentuated with the barest hint of truffle to finish.
At about a third of the usual serving, the tasting portion of the Scallop and Squid Ink Risotto with a Parmesan crisp and sous vide asparagus for crunch, was filling with the squid ink adding a lightly acidic note to accentuate the tender scallop.
Risotto. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Another risotto was the Porcini Mushroom Risotto also with a Parmesan crisp, which was robust and almost meaty, and was a table favorite.
Atun Crujiente. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The Atun Crujiente had fidelio noodles wrapped around some tuna and baked to a crisp, then enjoyed with a slice of foie gras, caramelized onion and black sesame for a pleasing mouthfeel.
Bakalao Confitade. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Another seafood dish, Bakalao Confitade, featured the Spanish fish in with a pepper slaw called pipermaela, with garlic aoli giving a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the fish and Iberico ham giving it another salty flavor.
Grilled US Tenderloin. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Beets made the next dish sing as beet root and beet chips accompanied bacon mashed potato and grilled US tenderloin with a post wine demiglace.
Cochinillo. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The last main dish was the Cochinillo, a quarter of lechon de leche or baby pig. Soft and tender pork meat, showing the hours that it was boiled, was served with mouthwatering crispy pork skin and nicely balanced with a side of green salad and stewed potatoes. This was the piece de résistance of the savory part of the meal.
Pre-dessert at Gallery
The fifth floor does not only hold the tapas bar but also holds two other food concepts from Vask, one of which is the Gallery.
Most people assume that Vask is a fine dining concept, but while it serves gourmet feasts, the ambiance to the tapas bar is casual and relaxed. On the other hand, The Gallery is all about fine-dining. The square space features an open kitchen and a seating of about 20 and offers another menu and is usually the venue for Vask’s famous degustacion dinners.
Gonzalez talked a bit about his history and how he trained in Spain and lived in the Philippines for two years and fell in love with our ingredients and flavors. "I can take the same ingredients of a sinigang, and not make sinigang, but make something else," he said.
Taho. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
Which seems to be his inspiration for our pre-desserts, which include his version of the taho, using sheep's milk tofu with caramel tapioca, and finished with a ginger syrup, the last ingredient giving this dish a unique and spicy liveliness.
Another molecular gastronomy creation, the Palm Crisp, is a coconut mouse piped and "cooked" in liquid nitrogen. This dessert starts with a crunchy bite and ends with a smooth almost sorbet taste inside.
Dessert at Curve
We continued on to Curve, Vask's indoor lounge, which features art from a holographic artist from Korea, and different chairs designed by Filipino artists. Curve also features live music and for that night, we were privileged to hear the musical stylings of Toni Brilliantes, an upcoming blues and jazz singer.
Rounding up our desserts was the Torrija, a soft and rich brioche bun with a caramelized sugar topping, with milk and anise ice cream. It was not too sweet, and the brioche sopped up the anise ice cream nicely.
Deconstructed Lemon Cake. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra for ABS-CBNnews.com
The last two were great palate cleansers with sour-sweet notes: the Calamansi Tart had meringue chips and calamansi curd, with sweet calamansi citrus going well with a cream cheese ice cream; while the Deconstructed Lemon Cake featured a pistachio sponge, golden biscuits for crunch, a creamy yogurt mousse and a tangy lemon custard.
Cocktails and wine were also enjoyed throughout the night like the Las Islas, a mango mojito, and Vask, a drink with a peppery kick.