Like many others at the vanguard of the covert dining scene, violinist and fashion/art industry insider Björn DelaCruz started hosting pop-up dinners to slake his desire to cook and provide hospitality. Focusing on ten-course tasting menus, the club grew in popularity, eventually garnering a steady following through his mailing list. With a desire to branch out even further, DelaCruz and his siblings decided to open Manila Social Club (2 Hope Street, Brooklyn) in Williamsburg.
Debuting the last weekend in February, the eatery aims to express DelaCruz’s unique perspective on fare and his family’s hospitality (his brother Samuel Ware is partner and general manager, and sister Catherine Khan is running the books). A native of the Philippines who moved to the States as a kid, DelaCruz strives to blend his life experiences into everything he cooks. He’s a well-seasoned traveler, and he’s visited much of the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, and his original homeland. So his food is not traditional Filipino, but it does incorporate ingredients, flavors, and new takes on dishes from the island nation. He thinks it best fits under the heading of New American cuisine. “My travel experience comes through in the food,” says DelaCruz. “We will be working with farmers and markets, but I don’t want to keep it in a 300-mile radius. We’re in New York; it’s expected that food is of [the] freshest and best standard. It’s more important to say, ‘What is the perspective of the chef?’ ”
The brick-and-mortar outpost of the concept will pull from the catalog of the club’s tried-and-true recipes. Expect to see French technique melded with exotic elements like black chicken that’s almost a mix between coq au vin and Filipino chicken adobo. Coconut vinegar and coconut wine vinegar are used for the liquid; compressed turnip and fermented mustard greens finish off the plate.
His surf ‘n’ turf appetizer was inspired by a motorcycle trip through the southern Philippines. He combines kinilaw (essentially the Filipino version of ceviche) with marinated grilled pork belly.
Based off an old Pierre Koffman recipe he found in a book, DelaCruz does stuffed pork trotter with foie gras and chicken mousse. “In the Philippines, they work with off-cuts like pig’s feet and offal,” says DelaCruz. “I mix it with classic French technique and my own flavor.”
Bringing in his fine-arts background, DelaCruz will fold a strong visual component into the restaurant. Works from artists he represents will adorn the walls. And plating will be a big focus for the eatery. Where most of their family in the Philippines went into law or medicine, when the siblings’ mother brought them to the United States, they felt more freedom to express themselves creatively. They hope to use the restaurant as an interpretation of their story. “New Filipino places are popping up,” says DelaCruz. “Everyone wants to do what their grandma made. That old, traditional food is great, but our grandma didn’t cook. We would travel with her and try new things all over the place. She would keep our eyes open to what the next new thing would be.”
Pulling from their wide arsenal of contacts, the team has enlisted help from colleagues other than DelaCruz’s art world friends. For cocktails, they recruited friend and renowned mixologist Albert Trummer, formerly of Apotheke, in assisting with the cocktail list. They haven’t released the menu yet, but DelaCruz says to anticipate infusions and other house-made concoctions.
While the restaurant will only serve meals in the evening, the space will be open during the day to serve an assortment of pastries and hot drinks. Coffee will be sourced from the Lazy Ibus in Crown Heights. With Wi-Fi set up, the goal is to get people to come in and spend time. “I want to invite people into our lifestyle,” says DelaCruz. “It will definitely be an extension of us in every sense of the word.”
Manila Social Club will be open for dinner, weekend brunch, and chef’s tasting dinners every other Sunday.