A fragile-looking dish was brought out of the kitchen. The waiter, who must've went through the task of carrying the platter countless times already, still was heedful of his every step towards our table. How could one go hurriedly while carrying a plate of four golf ball sized croquettes with wafer-like swirls sticking out on top? The croquettes lying variably on what looked like a brittle grass of green shoestring potatoes sure made it even harder.
Upon its careful placement on our table, I asked the chef.
"What do you call this dish?"
After several seconds of what I thought as an introspective pause, he answered with a smirk.
"Balls... of glory..."
That's not what's written on the menu, obviously. But to the young and playful Chef Niño Laus, the Miso Lamb Hash Wasabi Croquettes (P290) deserves the label.
You must have heard of him, his then partner, their romantic affair and their already critically-acclaimed restaurant, In-Yo Fusion Cuisine. After being exposed as one of Manila's Best Kept Secrets, Niño's family house-turned-resto along the peaceful residential street of Esteban Abada in Loyola Heights has been welcoming countless of curious visitors on a daily basis. Some people claim In-Yo as one of their top restaurants. Some even testify to the goodness of the Wasabi Fried Oysters and U.S. Tender Hanging Steak, being their favorites of all time. For first time restaurateurs, that's a rare accomplishment.
What then started as a romantic affair now continues as a family project. With Chef Niño's family giving full support in the different aspects of running the resto, the restaurant rebrands and innovates into what's now known as Ninyo Fusion Cuisine.
Now if you're a patron and are quite alarmed of this recent re-branding, fret not. Chef Niño retained most of the favorites, and made them even better. "We're fusion cuisine, and fusion continually evolves," he stated simply.
If you are one of those who have gone over several misfortunes of eating messed-up dishes branded as "fusion," take Ninyo's creations differently. Their fusion of Japanese and French cuisines may be odd in thought but surprisingly not in taste.
For instance, Chef Niño could've opted to present the croquettes as they are -- potatoes balled, battered, then deep-fried. Who wouldn't love them that way, anyway? But because he knows better than tossing potato balls into the batter, he creatively thought of using stringy lamb hash as a filling.
Miso Lamb Hash Wasabi Croquettes
The melt-in-your-mouth, corned-beef like texture contrasts the crunch of its fried outer layer. It made the croquettes more interesting. When he decided to take the play of flavors into a differently level by spiking it with wasabi, the dish became a different story altogether. With the subtle flavor of the potato crust, the sapid one of the miso lamb hash and the hints of wasabi guarantee the Ninyo's Croquette story a happy ending.
Apart from the croquettes, an exposition of French cuisine would not be complete without the Duck Leg Confit (P580) in the picture. Chef Niño is a self-confessed fan of this old-time favorite. "It's good in itself," he remarked. But the dish de-constructor within him just had to make his own version. "I used balsamic teriyaki for the sauce, added a mango pilaf, and then some skewered fruits."
Duck Leg Confit
As to any other confits, his is incredibly full-flavored. Even a small bite from the tender leg would expel ripened goodness, sweet evidence of what may be a product of a long and tedious process of marination and curing. His addition of tropical fruit skewers is a wise choice as it diffuses the strong flavor of the duck.
I thought then that the Duck Confit is the strongest in the line. Apparently, the Pig Trotters Katsudon Style (P500) is even more seasoned.
Pig Trotters Katsudon Style
How can it not be overwhelming when you braise the pork in Katsudon sauce and set it on foie gras rice? The richness of the foie gras (even though they just appear as tiny cubes embedded in the rice roll) is quite expected, as good foie gras is anything but subtle. But for the pork trotters to be equally luscious? That's just crazy. This definitely is not for people with weak tastebuds.
But the biggest surprise of the day has yet to be unveiled. I thought that Fish and Chips (P350) was an appropriate choice, as I mellow down after three extremely flavorsome dishes. I was served the dish and was proved wrong.
Fish and Chips
True to his words when he mentioned, "We do not serve anything normal here... in a good way, ha?" Niño did one hell of a version of the Fish and Chips.
I was served with a platter with what I thought was an extremely burnt longganisa set on shoestring potatoes. Trust me, that was the mildest thing I imagined it to be. Fearful, I read the menu and was relieved when I read that his version includes nori crusted dory fish fillet with potato, sweet potato and taro strings spiced with togarashi.
I know Dory fish are known to be more savory that than the rest of co-species, but I've never tasted Dory this bold. Crusting it with an equally strong-flavored nori made it really hard for me to contain all the flavor. I wasn't able to finish the dish. I think I should have had it at the start of my lunch, before devouring the foie gras and duck. For those who will be ordering this dish, I suggest you to have someone to share it with.
After my tongue had gone through lamb, duck, pork, foie gras, and an insanely tasty dory, all it took was a humble Santol Juice (P120) to cap off the meal to end it on a lighter note.
Apart from the addition of the letter "N" on it's name and improvement on the food department, Ninyo Fusion Cuisine is also set to have a wine bar on its second floor. Chef Niño is currently developing tapas and bar chow menu that would go well with their promised extensive wine list.
Ninyo Fusion Cuisine will also be offering molecular gastronomy once the food testings are done. It won't surprise me any more if this new line of gastronomic delights will click with its patrons. Chef Niño's admirable talent in coming up with creative fusions will be further enhanced with the aid of some tummy friendly chemicals. Who knows what he comes up with next? Smoking Balls of Glory? Or perhaps, Balls of Glory on Fire? Let's wait and see...