Romance on a plate

Posted at 02/10/11 1:17 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Oysters, chocolates, strawberries and saffron are only some of the world's known aphrodisiacs, or food items that increase sexual desire.

Eat all of these at the same time with your partner, and you may end up having a second date, or getting hitched.

Chef David Pardo de Ayala made this gentle warning as he gave us a culinary preview of his Valentine's Day menu, aptly called Passions, at the picturesque Restaurant Verbena in Discovery Country Suites Tagaytay.

There were 2 sets of dishes -- one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. Both menus include oysters, prawns and scallops, slow-roasted US beef and chocolate Marquise, but each had a distinct theme.

The Iberian-infused For Him menu, for one, had intense flavors, from the Catalan tomato bread and jamon Serrano on the oysters to blue cheese, shiitake, peppered potato mousselini and Madeira sauce on the beef.

On the other hand, dishes included in the Mediterranean-influenced For Her menu had milder, more subtle tastes, such as fennel-saffron cream and vegetable couscous on the oysters and Tagaytay tomatoes and fried basil on the prawns and scallops.

"The For Her menu was inspired by Italy, Greece, Northern America and Morocco, while the For Him menu has flavors from Spain and Portugal. These are 2 different cuisines but are not very far away from each other. Both are very fun and romantic," Chef Pardo de Ayala shared.

Pleasing to the eyes and palate

All of Chef Pardo de Ayala's creations were pleasing both to the eyes and the palate. Each dish was well thought out, from the taste to the plating to the amount served.

Food given to the ladies were particularly loaded with aphrodisiacs, for obvious reasons, the Colombian chef said in jest. But I, as a woman, personally prefer the bolder tastes showcased in the For Him menu.

The oysters with the melt-in-your-mouth taste and texture of the jamon Serrano certainly won me over, as well as the slow-roasted US beef with the sharp and robust flavor of blue cheese.

Also worth their praise are the demitasse of crema de calabaza with aromatic pepitas and the prawns and scallops with the added kick of crispy paella risotto and bell pepper saffron sauce.

The foie gras, however, was an exception. Eating the fatty duck liver with Moroccan spices, fig jam and pomegranate glaze of the For Her menu was every bit as indulgent as it was sensual, unlike the heavier flavors of grape, almond and Pedro Ximenez sherry glaze served to the men.

Fortunately, customers can choose to share or switch dishes with their partners, and even ask Chef Pardo de Ayala to prepare two sets of the same menu.

But even without doing this, men and women eventually get on the same page when they reach dessert. Both are served a slice of chocolate Marquise topped with pistachios and drizzled with Vanilla English cream.

The only difference lies in the flavor of the accompanying dish, the panna cotta -- saffron and orange for men, and limoncello and strawberry for women.

This dessert duo is a perfect way to end the meal -- it was luscious and decadent without being too sweet.

Chef Pardo de Ayala can add another excellent menu to his 5-year For Him/For Her concept at Restaurant Verbena, even as he said he'd rather not look back at his previous dishes.

"Chefs are like painters or fashion designers. We only like the last thing we do. If you show me the menu I did 5 years ago, I'd be like, 'I can't believe I did that,'" he exclaimed.

All in all, it's safe to say that the Colombian chef was able to successfully serve romance on a plate.

Chef Pardo De Ayala's Passions menu is available from February 11 to 14 at Restaurant Verbena, located at Discovery Country Suites Tagaytay at 300 Calamba Road, San Jose, Tagaytay City. Each set is priced at P1,800++ to P2,500++. For inquiries, call (632) 529-8172 or (6346) 413-4567, or send an e-mail to [email protected]

E-mail the author at karen_flores[@]abs-cbn.com. Visit her food blog at http://asliceofkeix.blogspot.com.