By Michael Karlo Lim
IT WOULD be easy to dismiss a celebrity-owned restaurant as one that banks on star power versus the ideal draw of damn good food. Ken Alfonso, of national TV fantaserye fame, departs from the investment-only usual with actual kitchen involvement backed up by a culinary degree at his Spanish restaurant, Bueno Tapas & Wine.
Croquetas are pretty much the gatekeeper items that make the first impressions. Croquetas de Queso came encased in a crunchy golden shell and exquisitely oozy, creamy, cheesy filling. Croquetas de Calamares had a generous dose of squid ink already apparent in the deliciously dark color giving it a genuine and intense seafood flavor. Garlicky aioli compliments the intensity with sweet pungency.
The Gambas Al Ajillo had deliciously plump, succulent shrimp in olive oil thick with the fragrance and flavor of garlic and owing a good, spicy kick to chili. I’d prefer my shrimp peeled, but the intact cooking did lend a lot more flavor to the entirety. The remaining oil-sauce even made for great mop-ups with random other items from our set.
It’s hard to go wrong with chicken. Even harder when it figures with garlic and cream. The Pollo En Crema De Ajo was simple and simply delicious. The rich and juicy blank canvas of chicken breast was smothered in spectacularly flavorful garlic and onion cream making it a pure delight.
Ken’s Arroz Melloso de Rabo De Buey is a creamy risotto with oxtail recipe which he learned when he was studying in Madrid. This exquisite rice borders on the sweet of the savory spectrum with a lot of meaty flavor and character coming in from the fall-apart meat.
As with the Croquetas de Calamares, their Arroz Negro owes its rich, seafood flavor to the generosity of the squid ink used. True to its name, the rice was heavily tinted and coated in ink. The aioli drizzle made an excellent flavor counterpoint and helped keep the rice moist.
Salmon Al Horno is a house specialty and a recipe inspired by rustic seafood dishes he encountered in his trips around Spain. The baked fillet only had a nuanced dash of salt and pepper to bring out its naturally incredible flavor. Lemon and garlic balance out in the butter sauce that retained its juicy and flaky quality.
This restaurant’s name is an understatement as this relative newcomer can definitely hold a candle to or even rival the older and bigger names in its genre. Es ristorante Bueno realmente bueno? No! Bueno es muy muy bueno!