Mixing things up

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ALTEREGO’s chicken pandan on paella — JOSEPH L. GARCIA

FUSION CUISINE can be a messy business because in trying to appease one palate, a chef runs the risk in betraying another.

A new restaurant called AlterEgo in New Manila tries to give its dishes two faces, but what comes out, surprisingly, is good food.

The meal, during a tasting late in January, started off simply enough with a salad, made with plump garlic shrimp, gorgonzola cheese, candied walnuts, and dressed with a mango vinaigrette. The strong flavor of the gorgonzola cheese concealed within the mixed greens gave the sweet dressing a sharp edge, coming out as almost tropical in its freshness. But salad isn’t too far off the mark from its Italian-Asian influences, as salad can be found in many corners of the world.

The restaurant was started by three friends, chefs Joy Tan, Ronald Lim, and Benedict Bernardo, who met in culinary school. It took 14 years for them to open the restaurant, for the simple reason that life happened. In any case, a fond memory of the trio back in school was cooking a goat shoulder and melding it with a chocolate sauce, giving them the message that sometimes, what shouldn’t work does.

For example, the chefs served up a French Onion Soup Gyoza, and let me tell you, from now on, I want all my soup served in this manner. What usually goes inside a bowl of French onion soup (caramelized onion, cheese, and in some cases, strips of beef) were stuffed inside dumplings, while the broth from the soup was served beside it becoming a dipping sauce, and the course became less a repast but more of a game.

A salted egg pasta, made with ramen noodles, tasted a bit, frankly, like a local pancit, but even in its weight and familiarity, a spark of novelty came out of the plate and urged the diner to finish the rest.

The restaurant’s interiors also follow cohesively with the theme of the dishes: old volumes from Europe are bookended by exotic souvenirs from Asia. Perhaps it was fatigue of the palate on the part of this reporter, but the next courses, a Chicken Pandan on Paella, a 10-hour Beef Bourgignon (served over creamy, almost cloying mashed potatoes), a Chicken Curry Cassoulet, and a Twice-Cooked sous-vide pork belly were nothing to write home about, though perhaps a diner not bombarded with so many tastes will appreciate the pork belly with a nice glass of merlot, or during this tasting, a nice rioja.

The Chicken Curry Cassoulet might win a dining heavyweight over with its mashed potato crust and the careful stewing of the beans, chicken, and sausage in the curry sauce. This might go well with a mellow white wine (to offset the curry’s heat), a detail to impress a date in the restaurant’s miraculously quiet 41 1st St. corner Hemady St. address.

On that note, while this reporter did not hold his breath for the next course, a Lemongrass Pork Salpicao with lemongrass, kaffir and red curry paste, it managed to surprise and endear like a good, well-placed story during a bad rendezvous. The pork was tender, and had within its slices several layers of flavor.

We still have some reservations about fusion cuisine, but first impressions are often wrong, and we’d give the restaurant two or three more tries. — Joseph L. Garcia

AlterEgo is located at 41 1st St. corner Hemady St., New Manila, Quezon City.