Mrs. MM and The Kid apparently wracked their brains to come up with a birthday present for Marketman and when they drew a blank, they apparently decided to bring in professional assistanceâ€¦ So imagine my surprise when I found out that the dinner was going to be catered by Margarita Fores of Cibo and Pepato fame. Mrs. MM had met her at a dinner a few weeks ago and later decided she should ask Ms. Fores to craft a surprise dinner for just 9 guests for my birthday!!! So here is the special meal that evening; hold onto your belts, it is really rather amazingâ€¦ But before I continue with this post, and before anyone rapidly shoots off a comment about misplaced extravagance, let me just say we donâ€™t do this oftenâ€¦in fact, in our 10 years back home, we have only had 2 meals in our home catered, and that includes this one. We typically cook most of our own meals, so this was a special treat indeedâ€¦ If you have read this blog over the years, you would know that a special meal a la Marketman sometimes starts with foie gras and that is exactly where we beginâ€¦ up top, superb foie gras (duck or goose liver) â€œlollipopsâ€ with chestnut honey, szechuan peppercorns, pili and pistachios. These were a dream come true, cool, soft silky foie gras with a spicy, textured and sweet counterpoint. Excellent, but EXCELLENT.
While guests were arriving and having a drink or two, a couple of other appetizers besides the foie lollipops made their rounds. First, some kalabasa (squash flowers) and oyster mushroom fritters with dinalian creamed bagna sauce. This was also superb. This is an interesting take on a classic Italian dish of vegetables with an anchovy spiked creamy sauce. Here, dinalian or a shrimp paste of sorts is used instead and the salty, briny tanginess of the sauce worked very well with the deep fried squash flowers. The key to this dish? Serving it just seconds after the fritters came out of the hot fat. Platters of barquillos with chive mousse topped with either salmon roe or parma ham crisps were another clever appetizer. Sweet, savory, creamy, salty and crisp all in one little mouthful. Yum. No photo of this third appetizer, and increasingly no or poor photos of the rest of the meal as I concentrated on the food instead of the photographyâ€¦
After the three appetizers, we moved to the dining table and decided to start the meal with these incredibly spectacular Cross crabs or humongous alimasag-like crabs that must have been nearly a foot across! Flown up alive and kicking from Bacolod, earlier in the day, these were just steamed and chilled. The meat was succulent, sweet and less firm than alimango (mud crab) meat. Because the crabs were so humongous, the pieces of meat were fantastic and perfect for dipping in one of three saucesâ€¦ a saffron and mayonnaise sauce, a granita which was a wonderful cold pairing with the cold crab meat, and a classic vinegar and garlic dip. How incredibly confident is that? Steamed chilled crabs with sukaâ€¦ a situation only serious foodies from all walks of life would totally appreciate in the midst of an incredible dinner menu!
We then moved onto two different pastas and a clever green salad. The first pasta was hand-made garganelli (the pasta shape) with salted red egg, asparagus spears, truffle paste and truffle oil. If I had read this dish description in a restaurant menu, I would probably steer clear of it, but the pasta was excellent. The saltiness and unique flavor of red egg paired with the distinct flavor of truffle was a palate shocker, but in a nice way. I enjoyed this dish a lot. I also had a large serving of mixed greens with ubad (young banana trunk, not banana heart nor ubod, the young coconut trunk), sagada oranges and an acacia honey vinaigrette. It is rare that one gets ubad in Manila and this cooked version was subtle and delicious. Next up, a spectacularly good red sauced linguine with cross-crab meat, huge farm-raised ulang (fresh water shrimp) and bottarga di muggine. Bottarga is dried salted and pressed fish roe, typically served thinly shaved or grated on pastaâ€¦it was sublime. This red pasta dish had all of the comfort of a plain tomato pasta that we all eat frequently, but with the sophistication of added crabmeat, freshwater shrimp, chilli flakes and the bottarga. Sorry Margarita, but I am going to attempt re-doing this at home sometime soon, it was just THAT good. Two large servings of that dish, please. And no, this was not a formal dinner at allâ€¦ guests attacked their crabs with their hands and sucked giant ulang heads with abandonâ€¦
It would seem difficult to press on with everything we had already consumed, but the next course was a whole 8 kilo â€œRoast baby abbacchio (lamb) with rosemary, guava jelly and black peppercorns.â€ This was delicious as well. Not gamey at all with the characteristic flavor that only good young lamb possesses. This was served with several sauces including an English mint-style sauce, a santol and other local fruit compote and a western dried fruit compote. The meat was served with a side dish of cambozola potato torte with fried sage. This potato dish was a total home run, I liked it almost more than the lamb! And a second side dish was sautÃ©ed sigarilyas/sigadillas (winged beans) with a â€œginger perfume,â€ a clever green with the lamb and potatoes.
For dessert, Margarita brought three ice creams to be enjoyed with the desserts I had made that morning. She had originally planned to bring a deconstructed mascarpone foam millefogue and poached plums and mangoes but cancelled the sweets when Mrs. MM texted to say the house was overflowing with sweetsâ€¦ First there was an olive oil flavored ice cream, a black pepper flavored ice cream and finally, the cerveza negra flavor that was my favorite of them all. The cerveza negra flavor with the chocolate tart, and the olive oil ice cream with the lemon tart were inspired pairings indeed. Guests obviously knew more about this dinner than I did because they arrived armed with fantastic wine as well. My roommate from college entered our home brandishing a bottle of red wine with the comment â€œHey, it isnâ€™t often I buy a bottle of wine for more than $5!!!â€ â€“ a particularly amusing comment when you realize we used to flip hamburgers together for $3 an hour in the college cafeteria. We also used to enjoy chicken wings and other cheaper cuts of meat when our food budgets were stretched; so it is nice to enjoy an extravagant dinner with folks who go back to times when we were surviving on more modest budgets! My roommateâ€™s bottle of Chateau Haut-Montil 2000 was a powerful wine that we had with our appetizers. From a small 7 hectare vineyard in St. Emilion that produces just 30,000+ of bottles of wine each year, I was thrilled to be the recipient of his â€œgreater than $5â€ selection. With the crabs and other pastas we had several bottles of incredibly light Pouilly Fuisse that is perfect with seafood. And with the main course and red pasta a double bottle of brilliant Chateau Siran was poured and enjoyed. I could wax poetic about the Chateau Siran, but I did an earlier post on it here. Eight adults, of which only 6 were having wine, consumed the equivalent of 5 bottles of wine. Yes, it was a nice meal indeed.
And to end it all, besides the desserts and ice creams, this absolutely stunning cake made an appearance. Mrs. MM had conspired with Marta Matute to replicate the Marketmanila logo on a 3D cake! It was amazing, but even more impressive than the visuals was the moistness of the underlying chocolate cakeâ€¦it was very, very good! This was one of the best meals we have had in the past five years that wasn’t home cooked. The staff that Cibo sent were fantastic and for this dinner they arrived with a cook who made all of the critical dishes just seconds before we ate them. She had an assistant and there were two waiters as well. I have to say that Margarita really outdid herself with this dinner and along with the several other dinners I have had the opportunity to attend where she and her crew have catered, I will say without a doubt that they are the best caterers in Manila, bar none. Such inspired menu choices, fantastic staff, beautiful serving and buffet set-ups and a genuine passion for food that shines through. It amazes me no end that Margarita is not a chef and doesn’t want to be called one. She has just had a near life long affair with spectacular food. Brava! And the 9th and surprise guest that evening, was…
You got it. It doesn’t get much better than this. Life is good. Thank you Mrs. MM and The Kid for arranging this spectacular dinner. Thank you to friends who showed up for the surprise. And thanks again to Margarita Fores for agreeing to cater such a small but utterly spectacular dinner!
cibo di M