Soil Modern Dining Early Review: Complicated Plates Put Technique over FlavorMay 9, 2016
- Pamela CortezWords
The state of restaurants in Alabang are a complex thing. For a while, there was no formula that seemed to predict how a restaurant could survive in these parts, with complexes Molito, Commercenter, and Westgate home to more closures than survivals. Recently, however, the area has seen a revival of sorts, and now seems to be in a bit of a groove. Ariel Manuel’s Un Cuenca is busy even on supposedly slower weeknights, and the controversial Burger Geek has built up a steady following.
The new Soil Modern Dining, now a few months old, is attempting to take advantage of this revival. The often whispered about space is a beautifully appointed space which seems to take the best of the industrial trends still prevalent in 2016 Manila, sewing them together seamlessly. Bare walls, a countertop which reveals a kitchen with an on-trend mini herb garden, and a mural which depicts the chef’s grandfathers, all make for some visual eye candy.
The pleasure however, stops there. Soil Modern Dining is a curious case of all concept, and no bite, a disappointing delivery from a chef whose pedigree and technique say otherwise. Behind the kitchen is upstart Lorenzo Pimentel, fresh from stages around the world which include Singapore’s Pollen and Esquina. The mouthy description which leads the ideas behind Soil sounds as if the food should be a feast, really: “serving a seasonal menu made from farm-fresh local produce. Represented through creatively crafted dishes that pay homage to this source of our food.” The restaurant’s commitment to our produce sounds admirable, but Pimentel struggles to make any of these ingredients sing.
From start to finish, the problem is all the same: a show of incredible technique that sometimes goes unrestrained and unedited. Cheesy bacon tart finished with sea urchin and apples sounds like one has thrown together a basket of ingredients from Food Network’s Chopped. There is well-executed roasted pork belly with tinapa mash, crackling, and apples, but there is no fishy saltiness to be had in the potatoes. An extremely confusing confit chicken would have been fine served with its sticky coconut rice alone, but there is apparently a need to serve this with a side of soil that has no purpose. Said soil comes dressed with pipes of viscous jelly with no distinguishable feature aside from that it looks and eats suspiciously similar to cucumber shower gel.
A dish with prawn bisque fared slightly better as Pimentel’s deft hand at cooking shone through subtly juicy prawns that were the bowl’s crowning jewel. They were however, overshadowed by clouds which were more about aesthetics than flavor, and indiscernible crumbed balls that were puckeringly sour. Worst yet was an almost inedible sea urchin pasta; I had to have it several times hoping that the errors were a one-off. Unfortunately, the fresh pasta was too gluey, clumping together as if clinging on for dear life, swimming in way too much sauce that gave the whole thing a gluggy, sodden effect. There was alcohol that had not been cooked off properly, giving it an acrid, bitter taste when paired with sea urchin. Again, there was too much on the plate—dalandan pearls on top of the soupy pasta were closer to uncooked tapioca, and had none of the tartness the name promised. Desserts showed off Pimentel’s technique, with multi-faceted layers such as a plate with sesame cake and foam, but the accompanying coconut curry ice cream featured far too much of the spice to make its sweeter ingredients palatable.
Judging by the execution of certain components, Pimentel shows shades of promise. Chicken confit has tender meat flaking off the bone with ease. Prawns are cooked better here than most anywhere else, crossing the line between translucent and opaque. Duck is still pink in the middle, with hints of its gaminess shining through. But then he piles on foams, soils, gels, pearls, and other accoutrements that cloud taste and confuse the palate. Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from someone with such a background, whose menu shows sheer ambition. However, not all is lost; it isn’t about going back to the drawing boa