Solaire Resort and Casino’s Finestra restaurant. | PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOY ASAGRA FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE

The nearly unattainable Michelin star, a mark of the best of the best in fine dining, is only awarded to heavenly kitchens in certain cities around the world. The Michelin Guide is a prestigious map for hungry, fancy travelers who wish to infuse their souls with a luxurious adventure in every single bite.

(FROM left) Michelin chefs Xu Fan, Cristina Bowerman and Goh Fukuyama.

Let’s say you’re in Paris specifically to visit the Louvre. The one-star Michelin restaurant in that city is, according to the guide, is “worth a stop.” Two stars, means the restaurant is definitely “worth a detour.” Three stars (the maximum number), well, you have to plan your entire itinerary around this restaurant because the food is the vacation itself. The chief destination. The rest of your trip will just be an afterthought. But achieving just one Michelin star is already quite a feat.

It was in Singapore where I first experienced a Michelin-listed dish. Tian Tian’s chicken rice, awarded with a Bib Gourmand and stamped with Anthony Bourdain’s approval, was good. But my true Michelin-star experience was at the DB Bistro and Oyster Bar owned by the two-Michelin star French chef Daniel Boulud. His divine heirloom tomatoes and burrata salad and Norwegian sea trout amandine made me weep with joy, my eyes glistening with, well, Michelin stars. 

Since there is no Michelin Guide yet in the Philippines, Solaire Resort & Casino had the jaw-dropping idea to fly in Michelin-star chefs to Manila all the way from Rome, Fukuoka and Chengdu to celebrate their 11th anniversary month this March. They called the gastronomy event “Savor the Stars.”

The Forbes’ five-star resort’s three signature restaurants — Finestra, Yakumi and Red Lantern — instantly became the hottest Michelin-star destination in the past four days in the country. 

Italian chef of molecular gastronomy Cristina Bowerman of Rome’s famous one Glass Hostaria manned the kitchens at Finestra; Japanese chef Takeshi “Goh” Fukuyama — celebrated French-Japanese culinary master of Maison de la Nature Goh (and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants) — was the temporary maestro in Yakumi; and chef Xu Fan, China’s top Sichuan chef behind the hit Xu’s Cuisine, worked his magic in Red Lantern. All three are celebrated one-Michelin star chefs.

Reservations for the full-course dinners whipped up by the renowned chefs immediately sold out (priced nearly P12,000) even before the fourth and last day of the event.


 Day 1 of the “Savor the Stars,” the press was gathered at Finestra and given a taste of the three visiting chefs boundary-pushing creations. We also met the chefs — with chef Goh and chef Xu accompanied by interpreters. 

Before the six-item dinner orchestrated by all three chefs, we were first served with hors d’oeuvres, one food item from each chef, at Finestra’s al fresco area. We nibbled on fancy stuff while facing the Manila Bay beyond a line of sun-dappled African Talisay trees.

Trays of Michelin-star concoctions were circulated in the area, a teaser of what’s to come. Of all three, the Chinese chef’s “buchi-looking” eye-popping abalone delight, bursting with sweet-salty briny flavors, was my favorite. I was tempted to ask for the entire tray, but reminded myself of the main event later that night.


 The first item served was an ambrosial bowl of white asparagus cream fukinotou blancmange, with caviar and raw sea urchin from Japanese chef Goh. I have one word for it: sublime.

The next was the Italian chef Cristina’s pasta dish, which at first looks like carbonara. But it’s actually tagliolini drenched in almond milk and scattered with the subtly salty bottarga (mullet roe), and powerfully infused with the lime-y taste of trombolotto, a variety of lemon — the dish’s pièce de résistance. This speaks of the renowned chef’s (a spunky pink-haired 58-year-old) talent for creating refined, modern dishes. She calls her Michelin-star a “responsibility.”

Next came chef Xu’s bowl of sauteed shrimp: a delectable, semi-crunchy, semi-mushy single orange crustacean swimming in savory orange Sichuan pepper sauce. By this time, I was already telling my photographer, “Joy, I think I have a favorite chef now.”

What came next was from chef Goh. The humble, cheerful 50-year-old Japanese chef with a big laugh, served something visually surprising. The waiter set a plate of what resembles a small animal generously covered in matcha powder. 

But dissecting it reveals pinks and browns and wine-colored stuff, and huge chunks of abalone and shiitake mushroom risotto imbued with a deeply rich burnt-butter sauce. Brackish, smoky and earthy, with such depth of flavors that speaks of the chef’s bold, modern, yet comforting flavors.

Then came once again the Chinese chef’s showcase: This time, a simple dish of braised USDA beef short ribs blended with Sichuan bean paste, truffles and vegetables

Chef Goh is truly a master in the art of cooking; the first-rate ingredients mesh together to form something so luxurious and impactful. The three food items from him were my favorites — familiar, highly elevated comfort food. Deceptively simple-looking yet hides a mouthwatering treasure of unforgettable goodness. I told him that I fell in love with his dishes through his interpreter, and chef Goh laughed heartily and told me to come visit Chengdu with a side trip to see some pandas.

The dessert from chef Cristina was titled Tiramisu My Way, an appetizing-looking brown orb sitting on cookies-and-cream-like powder. The chef’s “way” is for you to “smash” the ball with your spoon. So, I smacked it and creamy stuff oozed out. Sharp cocoa flavor, and the robust bitter-sweet taste of espresso coalesced into a cold, luscious dessert.

Solaire started guesting Michelin-star chefs beginning last year, and if they continue this trend of treating Filipinos to world-class flavors of the world crafted by proverbial kitchen artists, then it won’t just be a casino destination. Who knows, the resort may soon become Manila’s homegrown international Michelin destination.