I had to ask about the chocolate cake. At this point in her career, Baba Ibazeta Benedicto could be either numbed by the effect of her legendary chocolate creation or incredibly sensitive to it. The latter seemed especially likely. When a pastry chef opens a full-service restaurant complete with a range of savory fare, it’s usually to mix things up. But, even though it’s available in Classic Confections and most Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branches: Is the Nono’s Chocolate Oblivion available? Her new restaurant in U.P. Town Center, after all, is named Nono’s.
Baba gave me an amused confirmation. The Chocolate Oblivion is a dark chocolate cake that’s arguably one of the best chocolate cakes in Manila. Two layers of round cake coated with creamy frosting—its appeal rustic, as if to emphasize the simple but satisfying comfort of such cakes; the only visible detail of complexity in the crust walnut praline covering the sides.
Nono's Homestyle Fried Chicken
It’s easy to get carried away by this cake, which is probably why Baba quickly steered us back to why we’re all gathered in Nono’s a few days before its public opening. The chef trained in the Culinary Institute of America, but she is refreshingly bare bones with her menu: The food she grew up eating and cooking for her family inspires most of the dishes. Nono, for example, is her father and apart from the cake and the restaurant, there’s also a new fried chicken dedicated to him. They’re boneless, deafeningly crispy, and flavorful right to the last bite—which is impressive especially when you learn that she doesn’t brine them.
Nono’s, the restaurant, serves bistro-style meals in a modern, cabin-like setting designed by Space Encounters. Mashed potatoes, side salads, and bread are served on the side and nothing on the menu is completely unfamiliar. You get favorites like Roasted Pork Belly, Roast Beef, Spaghetti Bolognese. She points at the macaroni and cheese: "I use shells because the shape helps cup the cheese and give more flavor." Experience, what did we tell you.
Mac n' Cheese
Fried Truffle Cheese Wantons
Oriental Shrimp Salad
But even offbeat options make sense—if not in Baba’s history, but just in terms of flavor. Wanton triangles stuffed with mozzarella are her revised throwbacks to cheese sticks (“I don’t use anything strong, like blue cheese, because I find it overwhelming) while the Oriental Shrimp Salad is a conversion of a shrimp-walnut snack she enjoyed while still in San Francisco.
There are little revisions that make Baba's dishes a tad different from anything you could ever find at home: balsamic is used instead of regular vinegar for the adobo and the breads, though made by her brother-in-law Richie Manapat, are impeccable, setting a delicious and crispy stage for things like the spinach dip and fried Macalauan cheese. Richie is one of the most sought-after bread bakers in Metro Manila and very quickly around the world.
Pork Belly Balsamic Adobo
Roasted Beef Belly With Balsamic Glaze
Pepito Steak Sliders
There are other cakes on the menu too, mostly from Classic Confections. A strawberry shortcake named after her mother Sylvia, a delightfully tangy lemon torte, and even another chocolate cake that's praline-free, but just as sinful as the Chocolate Oblivion. It's obviously a tough habit to forget, but the Pepito Steak Sliders might just help us get over it.
Nono's opens today, April 16, at G/F U.P. Town Center, Quezon City.