(SPOT.ph) It’s impossible to miss Cebu’s newest megastructure—what else are we supposed to call the ginormous complex that includes a mall, a casino, and three soon-to-open hotels? If you didn’t already know, Nustar—yes, that construction project along SRP that’s been around for years now—is finally open to the public. Everyone and their mother, natch—who else would be free to hit the slots during the day?—have already made the trip, but not everyone has snagged a table at the new concept restaurants.
The trick? For Il Primo, it’s best to make a reservation, sometimes days in advance. For Xin Tian Di and Fina, the smartest move is to go early (read: way before meal times) as they only accept guests on a first come, first served basis. All restaurants are still on soft opening, so the menus are bound to change later in the year. Below you find everything you’ll need to know about them for now.
Everything you should know about the new dining spots in Nustar Cebu:
Named “primo” because it’s literally the first thing you see as you enter Nustar—”primo” meaning first in Italian—Il Primo is the kind of swanky restaurant you’d go to for an executive lunch or a big date. It’s helmed by Chef Luca Angioletti who comes from Perguia, Italy and has even brought over some of his family’s recipes. Take the Tiramisu (P500) for example, which is perhaps the most luxe take we've ever seen.
To start off, you can go for the Il Tagliere (P950), a selection of three cheeses and three kinds of cold cuts, if you prefer hard cheeses. There is also the Burrata (P500) if you prefer a fresh, creamy cheese. The latter comes with halved cherry tomatoes bathed in fragrant basil olive oil.
We’ll let you in on a secret. The Branzino (P2,600) is a dark horse. You’d think you’d go to an Italian steakhouse for steak and pasta, but trust us on this. If there’s only one thing you can order at this restaurant, you have to get this. The Chilean sea bass is a fatty fish, kind of like gindara. The skin isn’t seared to crisp so you can really enjoy the fat. It’s served with a sharp, and a chunky tomato sauce (which we could’ve done without because the fish alone had that much flavor) and mashed potatoes that have a hint of nutmeg. And it comes with edible gold leaf, like a proper fancy dish with its sparkly fascinator.
But if you’re looking for the headliner, how can you go wrong with A5-grade Japanese Wagyu (P10,000)? It comes with a selection of sauces: All of them made with beef stock and taste genuinely meaty but our choice has to be the Smoked Black Pepper one. This one is ever so slightly more acidic contrasting the fatty richness of the steak nicely. The restaurant prides itself on its use of a Josper Grill, which combines charcoal grilling with precision temperature control and limited moisture loss.
For reservations, call 0998-539-6735.
Xin Tian Di
Located within the casino gaming floor, Xin Tian Di is only accessible to guests who are 21 years old and above but the upside is it’s open 24/7. The Chinese restaurant offers Cantonese roasts and dim sum as well as other Peranakan favorites like the Singapore Laksa Lemak (P450) and Hainanese Chicken Rice (P410). That’s because the executive chef, Chen Hann Furn, is from that culture himself. He comes from Seremban, Malaysia and is of Chinese descent.
Visually, it evokes an old timey feel with its copper fixtures and lotus flower motifs, but without feeling stuffy. Deep hues of red and green, echoes of the lotus paintings that adorn the walls and ceilings, are placed alongside subway-tiled walls and marble tabletops. The easy analogy is that it's a Wong Kar Wai film that’s been filled in with bright, decidedly cool white light and a spacious interior design sensibility.
As for the food, the Cantonese Style Soy Sauce Chicken (P450) and Wok-Fried US Beef with Capsicum and Black Pepper Sauce (P630) are top-notch. The latter may not be a looker, but the quality of the beef and the chef’s technique really shine through. The former has a deeper flavor than the Hainanese Chicken, but they’re pretty similar. That flavorful rice is something you’ll miss though. And if you, like us, low-key judge Chinese restaurants by the chili sauce they leave on the table, you’ll be pleased by Chef Chen’s take. Despite how unassuming it looked, it surprised us by giving crunch. Needless to say, it delivered heat, sweetness, and fragrance—perfect for eating alone or with a steaming-hot bowl of rice.
Unlike typical Chinese restaurants that serve huge portions that are meant for sharing with the entire family, Xin Tian Di was designed with the casino player in mind. That means they come in reasonable sizes that can easily satisfy one very hungry person.
The first thing you’ll notice at Fina is its plush interiors. It combines old world charm (think Orient Express, art deco, retro-futuristic globular lighting fixtures) and contemporary Filipino design cues—none more evident through its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it use of solihiya and the live tropical plants echoed by the banana leaf-print wallpaper.
Fina has excellent takes on all kinds of Cebuano dishes. Think Chorizo de Cebu (P280/silog, P280/fried rice), Linarang (P480), Balbacua (P520), Ngohiong (P220), and Bellychon (P990/half, P1,980/whole). The manager spotted the latter on our table and quickly brought over sauce dishes with soy sauce and vinegar. He quipped, “Di jud makumpleto [ang lechon] basta wa’y suka. (Lechon is never complete without vinegar.)”
But Fina truly shines with something the typical Cebuano diner has never had before. Crispy Dinuguan (P380) might be a familiar dish for Ilocanos and Manileños, but it’s the first time we’ve seen it in Cebu. The deep-fried pork belly meat is cut into chunks and coated in dinuguan sauce that’s perfectly tangy, so it’s not bidli. You’ll want an extra cup of rice for this.
Another area of expertise: desserts. The Halo-Halo (P180) is much raved about because of its presentation. It comes in a woven cage! But if you want local flavor, go for the Puto Maya (P180). The familiar glutinous rice cake comes as a circle (as opposed to the usual triangle) with a cute little divot filled with latik (sweetened coconut milk reduction). It’s served with four slices of ripe mango and a thickened sikwate (tablea), which you can drizzle on it. We however found ourselves sipping it for an extra rich treat after all the puto was gone.
For more information, check out the Nustar Facebook page
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