From Coffee to Cocktails and all the Chinese food in between

Surfboards and chow mein feel right at home in this Paseo de Roxas restaurant.

by Jonty Cruz, photo by Sam Lim
Every so often I try to imagine a ‘90s and early aughts where food reviews were as ubiquitous as they are today. Granted, there was less hunger to try something new back then. Most of us went to hotels for upscale eats or to dependable regulars like Sugi in San Juan or Makati’s Old Swiss Inn.



The restaurant that always did it for me was Good Earth in Magallanes. It was a quaint restaurant my family and I would go to every other Saturday for dinner. Good Earth focused on simple Asian cuisine, and it had one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, the crispy chicken pao: small fried dumplings filled with chicken and mushroom and dipped in black vinegar. The ambiance was modest and homey; it was the closest thing to a neighborhood “comfort food” restaurant I had back then.

 

But Magallanes redeveloped at the turn of the millennium, and Good Earth was among the first to go. It’s been years since I’ve had a bite of their chicken pao and could only find its comfort in nostalgia–until I found out that Good Earth had been reborn not too long ago as 59C.

 

Tucked away in a house along Paseo de Roxas, 59C is the brainchild of Jean Paul Cheung and Trisha Locsin-Cheung. Jean Paul is the son of Henry Cheung, the legend behind the Good Earth empire, and grew up learning about cooking from his dad. Trisha, meanwhile, honed her skills as Margarita Fores’ assistant for nine years. The two worked separately and gained their own experiences in the industry. It was only after Jean Paul and Trisha got married and started a family that they joined together to create their own restaurants.

 

 

59C is the culmination and representation of Jean Paul and Trisha’s history. It serves everything from familiar Asian comfort food, to bar chow, to coffee, to cocktails. The restaurant seems to have everything because it is, in many ways, a shared place: it’s a restaurant, a co-working space, a cocktail bar, and a coffee shop. To an inexperienced entrepreneur, that plurality of purpose may seem cluttered (the mashup of surfboards and oriental furniture certainly suggests so), but here it still manages to feel like a singular, cohesive environment.

 

“Before we opened this, we went to Europe,” says Trisha, “and there was a coffee place in Amsterdam that Jean Paul liked.”

 

“Everyone was just reading and drinking coffee,” Jean Paul explains. Trisha nods. “He was like, ‘I want a vibe like this.’”

 

Jean Paul wanted to combine different ideas into 59C, and Trisha was there to make it all work together, beginning first and foremost with the food. “I decided to stick to what we’ve been doing, [which was] Asian food. [But] we didn’t want it to be too Chinese. We wanted to have options also of comfort food, [just] with an Asian twist naman.”

 

The dishes, however, speak for themselves. The chicken chow mein, for example, captures the taste of the Asian classic perfectly, but with an extra dimension of umami—thanks to the use of local spices and ingredients—that separates it from its original incarnation.

 

But it’s their fried Hainanese chicken that you should get your hands on. Arguably one the best new dishes of the last year, it takes familiar flavors but adds a welcome crunch we never thought the dish needed until now. It’s quite possible you’ll never want the same old Hainanese chicken after you’ve tasted 59C’s version.

 

As Jean Paul and Trisha ventured into new territory with 59C, they never forgot to keep everything as simple as possible. “[Our goal] was that, when people look at the menu, they won’t have to ask [about it]. When the customer looks at the menu, they understand it na,” says Trisha. “For example, when you say chicken pao, people think it’s a siopao. When we changed the name of the dish to wonton sipa, it became clearer for people.”

 

While the food is the core of what 59C is all about, the dictates of Makati and its people have allowed the couple to branch out to offer a variety of products. The bar, for example, has a simple list of drinks that caters to those looking for warmth and comfort after a long and hectic day. Conceptualized by Jean Paul himself, drinks like the New Fashioned provide an inspired take on the cocktail standard by adding cinnamon whiskey for a surprisingly refreshing kick. The Cold Brew Bang is a bourbon-based cocktail with a sweet finish, thanks to Jean Paul’s salted caramel cold brew.

 

 

“We wanted a restaurant that you can sustain from 9AM to 1AM—from coffee to cocktails,” says Jean Paul. After operating traditional restaurants for about a decade, Jean Paul wanted a space where there wouldn’t be any dead hour, where people could stay throughout the day.

 

“He wanted [a space where people] would come in at 9AM. They’d have coffee and breakfast, they’d have their meetings here… all throughout their day,” adds Trisha.

 

It’s fitting, then, that 59C is structured within a house. It can be quite easy to miss for anyone in traffic, but it acts as a sort of oasis amidst the buildings and offices in Makati, a nice contrast from the noisy and hectic mall restaurant. It’s a quaint place in the middle of the city that’s perfect for a quiet Sunday reunion.

 

 

“If this were my house, we’d serve the same food. We’d have the same drinks. The [same] coffee also. It’s an extension of our living room,” admits Jean Paul. And perhaps that’s 59C’s golden ticket. Where so many restaurants today promise the experience of something new or foreign, what Jean Paul and Trisha have done is to offer something familiar: the comfort of home.

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