Located along the new strip of restaurants in Eastwood Mall, Buenisimo by Café Ysabel may seem new to unsuspecting foodies, but it's actually already a force to reckon with from the beginning. True blue food enthusiasts know that Buenisimo is owned by siblings Giannina Gonzalez and Chef Gino Gonzalez, children of culinary master Chef Gene Gonzalez—the guy behind gustatory destination Café Ysabel.
While the decades-old restaurant emits an old school charm derived from its Spanish ancestral house origin, Buenisimo adjusts a bit to attract a bigger spectrum of people. The place still exudes comfortable elegance, but the interiors are more modern and the outdoor dining area is pet-friendly. The menu features what I would describe as comfort food—food for the soul, the kind grandmas make, and in the Gonzalez siblings’ case, the food they used to eat during their Sunday family lunches.
To serve good comfort food isn’t really saying much—after all, these kinds of dishes are usually easy to like. Buenisimo takes it up a notch, though, by mixing heart with creativity. And they say when you mix the two, you create art that is truly beautiful. In this case, ¡Buenisimo!
This unique expression of beauty starts from the very basic—the bread they serve before the meal. Like Café Ysabel, Buenisimo gives every table its own generous amount of flatbread with za’atar dip, which is a kind of herb with olive oil. The bread’s crisp crust envelopes a soft, chewy middle, and when smothered with the dip, it upgrades to a meal in itself.
Complimentary flatbread with za’atar
Beacause Buenisimo has a menu that is a collaboration of Cafe Ysabel’s favorites, traditional fare that the Gonzalezes love to eat and new experimental dishes with unique taste concepts and pairings, there is definitely something for both the picky eater and the food adventurer.
One example of such is the Dip Sampler (P238) , which is a trio of different bread dips with a serving of toasted Ciabatta slices. Cheesy Spinach, Smoked Fish (tinapa with turmeric) and Sobresada (chorizo, cream cheese, roasted pepper and paprika) compose the dip sampler. Everything tastes great with the bread, but my favorite is the cheesy spinach because of its light creaminess. The sobresada is new to my palate, which means I can’t directly compare it with any other meat dip. It’s really flavorful though, and emitted a very pungent smell of cured meat. The tinapa with turmeric is a deep yellow paste, with flakes of the smoked fish offering texture and variation.
Dip Sampler with toasted Ciabatta slices
When in Buenisimo, don’t skip the beverages. I recommend the Buenisimo! Shake (P168), which is a lovely blend of passion fruit, mango and mint. This sweet-sour drink can refresh any tired soul and calm the nerves. If you want something to satisfy your sweet tooth, though, try the Coffee Butterscotch Slush (P105), whose name can melt away any girl’s diet plans. The tall coffee drink has caramel, cream and little butterscotch pieces that will make you wish you had the metabolism of a kid, and not just the appetite.
Coffee Butterscotch Slush
Speaking of huge appetite, the Crackling Pork Ribs with Cilantro Rice (P391) is a must for the really hungry carnivore. This particular dish is a hefty serving of crispy, tender pork browned to perfection and set on a bed of fluffy, cilantro rice. I cringe at the thought of eating fried pork, but I can’t seem to resist the salty, crunchy skin of these ribs and the delicate lining of fat alternating with its tasty meat.
Crackling Pork Ribs with Cilantro Rice
The dish is upgraded to three levels of awesome with its three different kinds of dips—the classic peppercorn gravy, sweetened berry jam, and browned garlic chips. I marvel at the wonderful pairing of jam and crispy, salty pork—the result is just amazing to the palate as two sides of the taste spectrum complement each other. It’s hard not to love gravy too, especially if you can drizzle it on top of perfectly fried meat. The burst of peppercorn is intense with flavor, but perfect for the cilantro rice. As for the garlic: well, you can never have too much of it. It’s a good idea to sprinkle it on top of the rice or mix it with the peppercorn gravy for more varied flavors. It’s probably not a good idea to always succumb to the Crispy Pork Ribs, but do your self a favor and put this satisfying dish in your Buenisimo must-eats.
Another treat for meat lovers is the Filleto ala Gino (P558), which is a chunk of dark brown beef, with roasted bone marrow, wild mushrooms, truffle demi and a scoop of mashed potato. It is melt-in-your-mouth goodness and the truffle demi glace just delicately permeates through the ridges of the tender beef.
Filleto ala Gino
I believe the real highlight, though, is the bone marrow sitting prettily beside it. I’m not a fan, but I had to try it to be the professional eater that I am. All I can say is—I still want to live long enough to see my grandchildren. Although very tasty and bad-ass, scraping off the marrow from the bone and lathering it on the meat is just too much for me. I know true blue meat lovers will beg to disagree. And some might even opt to add a slice of foie gras for P450.
Salmon Confit Salad
To sober up the decadence, the Salmon Confit Salad (P298) is a must to appease your guilt. Nevertheless, it’s far from being a boring bunch of leaves. The mixed greens are paired with cured salmon, its meat pink and firm. Capers and diced ripe mangoes are added, then passion fruit-tarragon vinaigrette is used to tie in all the flavors. The result is a refreshing melee of salty and sweet flavors, kind of like tasting summer.
Pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass
Aside from the Salmon Confit Salad, pescetarians may opt for the Pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass (P988), a chunk of the controversial fish (said to be nearing extinction in five years) with saffron lemon tapioca sauce and sauce crustace served with herbed mashed potato and a sprig of steamed vegetables. If you can ignore the hullabaloo behind it, this dish is fresh and tasty—devoid of the pungent, fishy flavor. The herbed mashed potato is lightly salted, quite buttery but not oily at all. The small balls of tapioca look like roe, adding to the allure of the dish, while its gumminess give texture.
Puttanesca alla Buenisimo
The Puttanesca alla Buenisimo (P258) is my favorite pasta dish. I highly recommend it to those who like their pasta with varied but complementing flavors and textures. The al dente spaghetti noodles (you may choose from penne, fettucine, spaghetti or high fiber pasta) are tossed with slices of longganisa Lucban, flakes of gourmet tuyo (dried fish), diced green mango, olives, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, basil and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. It sounds like a wild culinary experiment—albeit, a truly successful one.
For dessert, like their entrees, Buenisimo does not shy away from experimenting. Where else can you get Dried Mango ice cream?
Dried Mango Artisanal Ice Cream (P98/scoop)
And it does taste like real strips of dried mango. Chef Gino revealed that they use real dried mango and fresh mango juice to create this unique dessert. Do not leave Buenisimo without tasting it; it’s simply one for the books.
Crème Brulee Sampler: dulce de leche, mango, vanilla
Delight in three kinds of crème brulee with the Crème Brulee Sampler (P188)—composed of dulce de leche, mango and vanilla. All good, but my heart belongs to the mango kind. Savor the Banana Tatin (P188) too, or the “banana cue elite,” as I like to call it. This dessert is made of torched bananas, banana ricotta, caramel, chocolate sauce and a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream. I like the crunch it produces when I slice the bananas, like breaking into a glassy film of sugar. When eaten with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, warm and cold infuse inside the mouth to create a lovely dessert experience.
There’s much to discover in Buenisimo, thanks to Giannina and Gino Gonzalez’ love for experimentation and exploration. It’s never a boring dining experience when restaurant owners have utter love and respect for their undertaking, making it a mission with a vision. I think that’s what makes the world interesting—a dedication to create, influence and share—it’s what makes you stop and appreciate how life is truly ¡Buenisimo!
Visit Buenisimo’s official website at http://www.ilovebuenisimo.com/