I Ate My Words.
Two years ago, after a couple of visits, I dismissed Ruby Jack's Steakhouse at City of Dreams Manila as just another premium steakhouse. Don't get me wrong. The steaks were excellent--the choices ranging from Premium A5 Saga Wagyu to Australian John Dee Grain Fed Black Angus, USDA Prime Ribeye, and premium beef that had been dry-aged in-house-- and always cooked exactly as I asked. The sides, starters, and desserts were also executed well. But no matter how luxurious, creamed spinach is still just creamed spinach; and no matter how delicious, Japanese Boutique Sugar Tomatoes are still just tomatoes with shaved onions. So I got bored.
Ruby Jack's recently launched a new menu, and introduced a new head chef, Edwin Sta. Ana, at an exclusive media preview. After dinner, I realized that I should have left space in my stomach to eat my words. And with that confession, I give Ruby Jack's co-owners, chefMatthew Crabbe, Edward Baffoe, and Nathan Smith full permission to smack me on the side of the head and say, "You should have known better." In the time since my last visit, Ruby Jack's has transitioned from a steakhouse to a fine dining restaurant worth a repeat visit. It always had the potential-- the service, interiors, and premium ingredients made sure of that--but the new menu seals the deal.
Some of this is due in part to chef Edwin Sta. Ana, who is navigating his first head chef position with aplomb; no mean feat considering his previous background lies in Japanese cuisine, and a smattering of Peruvian and Latin American cuisine from his years of working with the Nobu group in various countries. Sta. Ana's last posting was as a senior sous chef with the opening team of the first Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch, East of London. Ruby Jack's, with its branding as a premium steakhouse with Japanese influences, is a good fit for him as he has been able to use his experience to elevate the starters and desserts into dishes that are interesting and compelling.
Sta. Ana's palate leans toward elegant and subtle. The flavors don't clash, nothing screams "notice me," and everything comes together so well that I finished everything on my plate without growing tired of the flavors (the perfect Filipino word for this is "umay").
Among my favorites was a simply named Grilled Shrimp Salad, the dressing a combination of calamansi juice, truffle oil, kombu, and parmesan cheese that was surprisingly refreshing. I think it was because the calamansi's tartness balanced the strong umami component of the truffle oil, kombu, and cheese. Another was the roasted beetroot salad. Roasting the beetroot concentrated its sweet, earthy flavors, and brought out a faint nuttiness that was heightened by a sprinkling of dukka (an Egyptian spice blend made out of nuts, coriander, and cumin, among others). An ingenious tofu cream, spiced orange compote, and a handful of bitter arugula rounded everything out into a salad that was not your run-of-the-mill steakhouse offering.
Chef Matthew Crabbe, on the other hand, urged us all to sample his favorite Teppan grilled foiegras and premium beef tenderloin tataki. Instead of the traditional sweet or fruity components to match with the foiegras' richness, Sta. Ana went with a Japanese aesthetic. He chose to use daikon, lightly braised until it achieved a creamy consistency similar to foie, a spoonful of the light, savory braising liquid, and a drizzle of balsamic teriyaki glaze for contrast. The beef tenderloin tataki, with its ponzu jelly, wasabi leaf, and onion relish called to mind the Nobu-style of flavors and presentation, which wasn't surprising given Sta. Ana's influences. A dish that focuses on raw, barely seared beef demands premium ingredients and Ruby Jack certainly delivers.
During the tasting, we were served Saga A3 Ribeye and A5 Sirloin, richly marbled with fine veins of fat. The steaks are served with charred shishito peppers, roasted garlic, and a tangy steak sauce that tastes more Japanese than American. All three components act as a counterpoint to that over-the-top, buttery, rich quality that is the characteristic of great wagyu steak.
But while the Saga beef is truly excellent, I still lean toward the Australian John Dee Super Gold 160 day Grain Fed Black Angus. It has enough fat and an abundance of marbling to keep it rich but retains a robust beef flavor and a bit of a chew.
This is the steak that I would eat with Ruby Jack's silky mashed potatoes and kale sauteed with black butter. I still think that the Saga goes best with a bowl of steamed rice to soak up all the fattiness!
The restaurant's desserts are also more interesting now. There is a Sakura teardrop cake served with vanilla ice cream that is almost too pretty to eat. A crisp and cream pavlova celebrates the Filipino flavors of pandan and coconut, and is just one of the dishes on the new menu that focuses on local ingredients. My favorite dessert, though, was the one that was a grown-up take on my childhood favorite jello and fresh fruits. Cranberry and pomegranate jelly made with agar agar is a firmer version of the jiggly jello. Rimmed with fresh fruits and topped with peach sorbet, it was light, refreshing, and a great end to a rich meal.
With new dishes added, Ruby Jack's menu is one I would happily recommend to people who want great steaks in a fine dining setting, and are looking for a little more complexity in the accompanying dishes. Steakhouse classics are still on the menu, including freshly shucked oysters served elegantly on ice or in a variety of styles, but give the new starters a chance and you won't regret it. Ruby Jack's menu isn't boring anymore.
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Upper Ground Floor, City of Dreams, DiosdadoMacapagal Boulevard, Paranaque. | + 63 2 801 8888 / + 63 2 886 9646 | www.rubyjacks.ph
Ruby Jack's co-owner Chef Matthew Crabbe and new Head Chef Edwin Sta. Ana
A4 Wagyu Ribeye
Premium Beef Tenderloin Tataki is like a beef carpaccio
Roasted Beetroot Salad
The Grilled Shrimp Salad dressing of fresh calamansi and truffle oil is refreshing and earthy
A palate teasing dessert of sorbet, jelly, and fresh fruits
Teppan Grilled Foie Gras