The Wunderkinds of Made Nice Are Finding Better Footing in Rockwell
Loved it or hated it, when Made Nice opened on Esteban Street in 2016, you sat up and paid notice. It was exciting to watch a group of pedigreed, 20-something, New York-trained chefs try to carve their own way.
Three years later, the group of still 20-somethings has moved to the former Kafe Batwan/Sarsa location just outside Power Plant Mall, packed with bolder ambitions and even bolder flavors. A few months after its rebirth, the driven chefs turned more of their endless ideas into actual dishes.
There is karaage, large chunks of impressively crispy Japanese fried chicken shining with a snappy citrus glaze that puts your favorite orange chicken to shame—the gochujang sauce on the side seems excessive but rice feels mandatory after the second piece. There is tonkatsu, slices of meat complete with a skirt of melty fat that will satisfy the most discerning pork lovers.
These Japanese-inspired offerings mingle with established favorites like scotch eggs and tres leches because there are no borders in Made Nice, even back then. The menu reflects the dishes they love and want to share with the rest of Manila. These are personal narratives on a plate and then, there are the accidents.
Their fried chicken, two pieces of boneless thighs so big they look like they came from small turkeys are breaded and fried to perfection. You’d expect a more western approach, like cornbread or biscuits, in a place like Made Nice, but chef Jack Flores decided to pair it with the Filipino-preferred white rice because “the gravy just turned out to be so good with rice.” His wife, Gabbi, is a whiz at baking and desserts, so biscuits may eventually make it on the menu.
The octopus pasta happened the way all great things happen—by circumstance. Post-service, Oye Fores, the father of Chef Raulito Fores, asked them to make him a bite to eat. They had nothing left in the kitchen except pasta, pulpo, and steak fat. The flavors are so clearly defined and evenly put together that the final creation looked as though it was created by design. Not bad for leftovers. It would appear that Made Nice is developing a knack for powerhouse pasta. Even the usual carbonara takes a much bolder stance with local etag instead of the usual Italian guanciale.
The pasta has improved by leaps and bounds. As much as there are punchy flavors, there is restraint, too. There is agnolotti, a filled flattened pasta with unadulterated corn filling. There is cavatelli with light cream, edamame, and pasta. Simple but effective, and illustrative of the kitchen's range.
The only way to finish is with a pure chocolate tart that uses 68-percent cacao and no sugar. You can have just that and leave satisfied.
It is New York but... it is Asian but... it is Filipino, but... it’s good. No buts.
Made Nice wears many hats, but that's what you're supposed to do when you have the world at your feet. As with all young things, Made Nice continues to try to make sense of where they fit in this landscape. With the resolve, enthusiasm, and energy of youth, there's no better time to do so than now.
Made Nice is at Joya Lofts & Towers, Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Drive, Makati.