Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of a food memory: sometimes a picture perfect flashback, other times just a vaguely familiar feeling induced by a particular taste or smell. For me, once I smell paella, I’m suddenly six years old, impatiently waiting for Christmas dinner at my great grandmother’s house as my priest uncle finishes saying mass in the den. For Casa Buenas’ executive chef Godfrey Laforteza, the dishes he and his team developed are all inspired in one way or another by visceral memories of his childhood spent visiting his lola’s house on Sundays, where she would prepare his favorite dishes and lay out the nice kubyertos for all the guests.
Casa Buenas’ menu is comprised of “Filipino cuisine with Spanish influences.” But while you’ll find familiar flavors, Laforteza’s concoctions go far beyond your lola’s lutong bahay. The Sinulog roasted chicken packs a lot of heat, and it is counterbalanced with the tanginess of the tanglad in the zesty Cebu lechon stuffing. The crunchy chicken skin that tops each piece is something you’ll want to serve as pulutan as well. Meanwhile, the grilled Angus beef tenderloin is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, as is the spicy fennel rub served with it.
“Some of the menu [items] are, as I've said, familiar flavors,” says Laforteza. “I don't want to over-invent. I just want to [give you the feeling of], ‘Uy, I know that taste.’ You know the movie 'Ratatouille'? That is one of my pegs. Everybody's so busy doing something, but when that person tried that ratatouille, it brings back childhood memories.”
Indeed, the Callos de Montserrat, with its rich and hearty tomato stew, reminded me of my mother’s fabada asturiana — a dish my father would request on weekends when the whole family could sit down for a late lunch. Evidently, the callos is the chef’s mother-in-law’s famous recipe, and is one of two menu items directly inspired by his loved ones’ cooking.
The other dish is garlic noodles with crabmeat — a recipe created by Laforteza’s wife. “It's a tribute because my wife taught me how to cook,” he says. “I just elevated it a bit and added more flavor.” I enjoyed the garlic noodles the most, as every bite comes with a hint of cilantro which really brightens up the dish. But these are just a few of our favorite things.
As for the three dessert options, it seems that there is something for everyone. Chocolate lovers will enjoy the tablea chocolate fondant, while those who have a bit more room to spare in their bellies will enjoy the Emperador strudel — a flaky pastry filled with mango and drizzled with a vanilla and Emperador Brandy sauce. Of course, as ube enjoys its cultural moment, it gets a spot on the menu too in the form of a melt-in-your-mouth souffle with a warm cheese filling.
And just like the food, the interiors take you back in time as well. The 135-seating restaurant is designed like a big, breezy traditional Bahay Na Bato. It’s divided into a cozy “sala” area where you can lounge in comfy sofas and booths, a classy “aguador” or bar to enjoy a cocktail or two, a “la cupula” or a private gazebo with a stunning stained glass dome, a “comedor” for small groups of diners, and a “pamilya” room that holds a massive communal table to fit your entire extended family. Look closely and you’ll discover decor inspired by designs from around the country, such as the Machuca tiles, baked capiz fixtures, hardwood floors, open kitchen concept, and beautiful solihiya furniture.
With a menu filled with familiar flavors and interiors that mirror the intricacies of ancestral homes, Resorts World Manila’s newest signature restaurant is a celebration of our rich, mixed heritage. But Casa Buenas is more than just a nostalgia trip. It’s a reminder of all the good that comes out of sitting down with your loved ones over spreads of food; a love letter to family, friends, and laid-back days.
When I asked Laforteza why people might want to keep coming back to Casa Buenas, he says, “As one of my friends, former number one chef in the world, always says, ‘We might not give the best food to all the clients, but just make sure as soon as they step in your restaurant, it's an experience that they will never forget.’ Ours might not be the best paella, but as soon as you step in Resorts World Manila's Casa Beunas, it's memories. You will create memories that you will never forget. We want to touch your heart.”
Casa Buenas is located at G/F, Newport Grand Wing, Portwood St., Newport City. For more information visit this website.