Say yes to Nonoâs

The chef is in: Chef Baba Ibazeta-Benedicto opens Nono’s. The store is named after her father. Photos by ISABELLA OLIVARES

Say yes to Nono’s
Monica Araneta Tiosejo (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - Chef Baba Ibazeta-Benedicto, the woman behind Classic Confections, shows she can do more than cookies and cakes at her new restaurant, Nono’s. Named after her father, the mid-century modern space on the ground floor of UP Town Center feels like the house many of our parents grew up in. It even looks like one from the outside, especially with the Palm Springs-like landscaping, desert foliage you will see at bungalows in California.

Push through the Tiffany-blue front door and you’ll see the interior brings the outdoors in. The open space is divided into the kitchen, lounge and dining room. A lot of the design has a retro feel despite the contemporary setting. Pops of color are present, but natural materials like adobe stone, and light- and dark-wood elements are dominant. There are also geometric block patterns as well as more playful ebony and ivory tiles.

Settle in a cozy nook and you will be comforted by the smiles of friendly servers, and depending on what time you choose to dine, the sweet or savory smells wafting from the kitchen. The restaurant can either smell like a warm batch of cookies or fried chicken. Both are good. The menu reveals a penchant for comfort food, the elevated kind, and good vibes.

There’s something endearing about a staff that likes displaying and suggesting you order the Nono’s Chocolate Oblivion (a moist chocolate cake with whipped chocolate cream and walnut praline bits) and the Sylvia’s Strawberry Shortcake (a soft sponge cake filled with strawberries and cream and frosted with whipped strawberry cream) together, because they’re named after Baba’s father and mother. You will hear, “Her mom and dad are here.”

They will also tell you the story of the Lemon Torte or the Pope’s Cake, cashew nut meringue and rich lemon curd frosted with freshly whipped cream. Pope Francis was photographed holding it on the return flight to Rome.

One thing you can be sure of when dining in Nono’s is this slice of the day will never disappoint, thanks to Classic Confections. The Cookie Skillet a la Mode — either a hot gooey brownie or chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with salted caramel and fudge sauce — is something new that’s being offered. But what about the rest of the food?

When it’s hot out, first order a freshly squeezed lemonade. And then begin to savor Baba’s personal journey with comfort food. When dreaming up this restaurant, she was drawn to her favorite home-cooked meals. She is naturally shy, so she needed her business partners at The Table Group to give her that much-needed push to share her story on a plate.

“Comfort food is simple. It is heartwarming. It is nourishing. It is full of happy memories with loved ones. It is food we come back to again and again,” is how she says it all began.

I will come back for the garlicky spinach dip, which, to my surprise, wasn’t green, but white and creamy, served with crostini chips made in-house. All the bread here is baked from scratch. The mozzarella and cheddar cheese-stuffed wontons drizzled with honey and truffle, Baba’s version of cheese sticks, are indulgent and addicting, really giving away how partial she is to different textures and sweet flavors.

While studying at the Culinary Institute of America in San Francisco, she always ordered shrimp and walnuts at a local Chinese restaurant, and therefore came up with an Oriental Shrimp Salad with crunchy shrimp on a bed of julienned cabbage, romaine lettuce, and crispy noodles tossed in a honey-lemon dressing.

For something heavier, she is proud of the Mac n’ Cheese, one of the first dishes she learned how to make as a child. “Who didn’t grow up eating Kraft Mac & Cheese from the box? I didn’t want to use ‘fancy’ cheeses because they can be overpowering. I guess you could say I did have a happy childhood because I always go back to it. I wanted something that’s kid-friendly, but at the same time adults will like it, too. I could finish that whole thing,” she laughs, limiting the recipe to creamy Gruyere, sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheese.

She will also recommend the Pepito Steak Sliders, USDA top blade steak and garlic chips served in pandesal with fries on the side. This was what she ate whenever she would visit her grandfather at his office.

As Baba grew older, she found herself liking more slow-cooked dishes, which explains the Roasted Beef Belly, slow-roasted USDA beef belly with balsamic glaze, served with horseradish cream and mashed potatoes. “There’s nothing like something super-tender, that took a long time to cook. You just can’t wait to eat it. Our menu is pretty affordable and we want people to be able to eat anything off the menu. Instead of having steak, for example.”   

And then she served Nono’s Homestyle Fried Chicken, two pieces of crispy boneless chicken fillet with country-style gravy and honey, served with dinner rolls, corn on the cob, and fries or rice. I suggest the rice. Believe it or not, it took Baba and her team 25 tries to perfect this recipe.

What this restaurant does best is crystal-clear: At least one of the dishes will not only taste good, but it will make you feel good. And that one dish is enough reason for you to come back again and again. 

 

 

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Nono’s is located on the G/F of Phase 1B, U.P. Town Center, Quezon City.

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