By Michael Karlo Lim
AUTHENTICITY was quite the buzzword for that ride to Crimson Resort & Spa that night. If, at all, their new Spanish restaurant Enye by the famed Chef Chele Gonzalez was as authentic as touted, would the terribly traffic-choked route extend further into the Spanish custom of having dinner at 9 p.m.?
Assortments of wines and cocktails served upon our arrival drowned the question with the music of a live guitar quartet. I dove first into a Sangria so deceptively delicious we found ourselves flushed on our seconds. Rum-Infused Raisin, Cinnamon, Strawberry, Anise Shrub, Calamansi and Apple Juices were apparently the ingredients for a good time in the rather stimulating Buenos Tiempos. Fruity but potent, nonetheless, their Mantegalo Seco mixes Cachaça, Lime, Brown Sugar, Pineapple Fruit, and Chardonnay.
Between sips were assorted pintxos: Jamón and parmesan mousse, roast beef and crab tartar. Gambas crujientes — fat, crispy, fried prawns drizzled with Honey Jerez Vinegar — were both seafoody sweet-savory and seemed to come in endless supply. Croquetas in jamón y pollo and chorizo were if love came in deep-fried form. These béchamel fritters ooze so much flavor under its delicate breading shell. All these and we have not even sat down at our tables yet.
Already quite buzzed, I was glad there were mocktail options. Cucumber, Ginger Ale, and Fresh Lime Juice was very refreshing in the Cucumber Mule, also served in the standard mule service of a copper cup. Little Mojito skipped the white rum in favor of soda with mint leaves and lime for another veritable palate cleanser.
I am partial to both carpaccio and Wagyu, and two rights make one ever-so-right in the Carpaccio de Wagyu. In this appetizer course, the film-like layer of Wagyu promised so much with its very visible marbling. The slightly saltine sweetness from the Parmesan Ice Cream echoes that of the beef, all coming together on the tongue smooth, sharp and cool at the same time. Pine Nuts punctuated with both crunch and nuttiness.
Their tacos came with an innovative jalapeno frijoles as a mouse plus sour cream. Mango salsa and pieces of Lechon Cebu figured in as an ode to two icons of this island’s fame.
Traditionally done with spider crab, Txangurro here uses the locally-available alimasag. Coming across as a very refined crab relleno; smooth, roasted crab mousse explodes with briny and buttery flavor from underneath the crumble topping. A side of aioli balances that intensity alongside plain toasted bread chips in this first entrée.
Local gambas preparations have become quite pedestrian. Here, they couldn’t have made a mistake with the main ingredient of their Gambas al Ajillo — sizeable shrimp that the table joked these were quite possibly prawns. Just sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chili would do no justice for a description so let me add: to perfection.
Arroz con Bogavante is literally Rice with Lobster. This stewed lobster arroz was only two shakes of the crustacean’s tail and a gentle, lapping wave short of eating the sea.
The meatiness of tenderloin done to a very tender medium rare is pushed forward by the rioja wine jus in the Solomillo a la Espanola. The piquancy of Manchego is increased by a good grilling and hearty mushroom mashed potatoes give it a more rustic appeal.
The lowly kalabasa is elevated beyond the Hispanicization in spelling with its incorporation and caramelization in the Crema Catalana de Calabaza. Breaking into a thin layer of torched caramel, one would dig into the rich custard base blended with the velvety toothsome and natural sweetness of the local squash.
Texturas de Calamansi is Calamondin, locally Calamansi, four ways. Subtly tangy calamansi cake is pulled apart in pieces to top the custard slightly stepped-up in the calamansi flavor. Calamansi ice cream is quenelled on the side and all sit on a bright green streak of calamansi foam to a build-up of intensities of flavor.
Torrija is virtually a Spanish version of the French Toast. The milk renders the Brioche smooth and almost creamy with a softly crisp, fried pastry-like exterior. Star anise ice cream on the side gives it a licorice fragrance, a creamy compliment and temperature contrast.
Our melting pot, once heavily seasoned and stirred by the Spanish hand, allows us that familiarity of the menu items. It is in the subtle extras, intentional local substitutions, and treatments where the tilde above the N — for normal —clearly indicates both the literal and figurative palatal nasal. Ñ, as it has been retained in the modern Filipino alphabet, is followed by Ng — alluding to phonemes of pleasure from the gustatory experience — and then by the surprised and decidedly conclusive, “Oh!”
Enye by Chele Gonzalez is located at the lobby level of Crimson Resort & Spa Mactan and open daily for dinner from 6 p.m. to 10:30 pm.