MANILA, December 23, 2004 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes  -  Is there a place for fusion Chinese cooking in the metro dining landscape? Good Earth executive chef Henry Chung thinks so. With his fine arts background and his natural flair for cooking, a talent he perfected from being immersed in his family’s restaurant business, chef Henry provides not only filling meals but also eye-catching ones.

Ten years ago, chef Henry’s first Good Earth restaurant at the old Magallanes Commercial Center attracted quite a following for its innovative Chinese cooking that patrons from all over Metro Manila trooped to this far-off branch for. Precy Florentino, president of the Music Museum Group of Companies and who with Republic of Malate’s Kuh Ledesma and chef Henry co-owns the new Good Earth Oriental Cuisine and Bar at the Republic of Malate, says she drove all the way to Magallanes just to enjoy the food at the old Good Earth.

"You must realize, people will drive for good food, and that’s what we expect people to do at the new Good Earth at Republic of Malate," says Florentino.

Ledesma herself confesses to being a big fan of chef Henry. When the Magallanes Commercial Center was being redeveloped, it meant an end to the old Good Earth. Chef Henry did not hesitate to approach the Pop Diva to help him open a new Good Earth branch. So from Magallanes, Good Earth found a new home at the old Republic of Malate.

"Mr. Chung is the center of everything at Good Earth. He’s a genius. He’s the best chef in town," Ledesma declares.

When fire struck the Republic a couple of years ago, chef Henry tied up with Florentino, who manages the successful Music Museum in Greenhills, to open the Good Earth restaurant anew. This time around, they settled on The Fort as venue.

Since then, chef Henry has masterminded a number of Good Earth establishments around Metro Manila, all serving his brand of fusion Chinese cooking. There are two Good Earth Tea Rooms, which offer short order service, two Good Earth Roasters, which specialize in roasting, and now, two Good Earth Oriental Cuisine and Bar outlets.

For the ultimate dining experience, chef Henry’s Good Earth Oriental Cuisine and Bar offers fine dining service in a cozy fusion Asian-Western ambience. The new branch at the Republic of Malate is the latest in chef Henry’s experiments at combining art and fine dining.

Florentino stresses that the new Good Earth was built from the ground. Those who know the old Good Earth at the Republic will be amazed at the change.

The restaurant has bay windows that look out at the busy traffic on A. Mabini St. There is a giant resin warrior molded from a real terracotta warrior that stand guard at the center of the restaurant. Although the restaurant seats as many as 150 diners, you wouldn’t know it by the way the restaurant has been laid out by designer Ched Berenguer. Seats are cozy, and there is an ambience of space throughout the restaurant.

There is a lounge area where casual diners may enjoy drinks and pica-pica. There is a raised bar area at the center of the restaurant surrounded by a couple of table settings. A dining area at a depressed section of the restaurant seats more, while a second floor dining area serves as a function room. There is a grand red room, the most exclusive function room in the restaurant, with a giant circular table that is good for 12 diners. An imposing wall treatment sets the mood for the interior. Everything in this room is red, from the lighting to the air-conditioning unit.

The proof of any restaurant is in the food it serves. That afternoon, we got a taste of chef Henry’s fusion Chinese cooking. After a tour of the premises, Florentino sat down with us for a tasting of some of Good Earth’s more popular items.

After a sip or two of Good Earth iced tea, we were presented with a platter of bite-sized morsels of fried tofu. It was merely a prelude to the late afternoon’s repast.

What followed was a platter of prawns with scallop sauce. Good Earth old-timers would know this dish under the name King of the Sea. Steamed prawns are sliced into juicy morsels and topped with a rich creamy sauce with scallops. This dish goes quickly, and it is not hard to understand why. The creamy scallop sauce adds a delicious nutty flavor to the prawns. The sauce is thick enough to have as soup, and you can slurp it down with a spoon.

As we cleaned our plate of prawns, chef Henry sat down at the table as he motioned to a waiter to bring in the next dish. It was a deep white dish filled with rock salt. Piled on the bed of salt was a lotus leaf package.

"This is my new dish," chef Henry says. "I call it flaming chicken."

A waiter then poured Chinese wine over the lotus leaf package and proceeded to flame it. We admired the sight of lotus leaf slowly burning to a sizzle. When the olive-colored leaf turned brown, the waiter removed the dish to a side and unwrapped the package. He proceeded to cup up the chicken breast part in thin slices and served us our portion.

The soft chicken flesh was braised in a savory sauce before being wrapped in the lotus leaf and steamed further. With the chicken meat is an assortment of vegetables, mostly mushrooms, that adds a distinct flavor to the dish.

As we savored the tasty chicken, we were served one of the house specials, seafood chow mein. You have to eat fast when the waiter sets down the platter of noodles because everybody reaches for the prawn morsels first. And how can you not miss the prawn pieces when they are fat and pink? The noodle isn’t as egg-y as the usual canton and the creamy seafood sauce smothers the noodles with its full flavor.

What trip to a Chinese restaurant will be complete without a bowl of fried rice? Accompanying the fried rice was a platter of spicy Nanking beef, an old Good Earth favorite. As an innovation, chef Henry piles up the sweet-spicy beef pieces on crispy taro hay. It wasn’t as spicy hot as it claimed to be, making it perfect for spice sissies like me.

For dessert, we were served chef Henry’s new sweet concoction, chestnut delight. Chestnuts were ground to a paste and flavored with sugar and piled up into deep-fried wanton wrappers for a different taste sensation. The chestnut cream was sweet and heavy, a wonderful way to cleanse the palate from the rich food we just had.

Those who want something more familiar will enjoy the mango sago, small tapioca pearls that add texture to a thick puree of mango. Since it isn’t mango season yet, the mango puree was a bit sour. But we all agreed that when summer comes, this would be a truly refreshing sweet dish.

Although Good Earth Oriental Cuisine and Bar at the Republic of Malate is just two weeks old, you really wouldn’t know it. The service is quick and efficient, while chef Henry is there to offer first-time diners suggestions. With him around, you are sure to find much to delight you in this new Good Earth.

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The Good Earth Oriental Cuisine and Bar is located at the ground floor of Republic of Malate Bldg., 1769 A. Mabini St., Malate, Manila, with tel. no. 303-8729, and at The Fort, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Metro Manila, with tel. no. 887-7500.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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