The late Anthony Bourdain had a lot to say about restaurants, not in the least of which was his idea of what constitutes a good one.
“A focused menu. A restaurant that decides early on what they’re good at and does that relentlessly. I’m looking for a tight menu. I don’t want to see nachos, teriyaki, sushi, spaghetti, and meatballs all in the same menu. How good can they be at all of those things?” he once said in an interview.
At Nono’s, a self-proclaimed hub of comfort food and memory-laden fare, the menu is filled with a good selection of dishes. There’s mac ‘n cheese and steak sliders, classic Bolognese, and fried truffle cheese wontons; there’s banana cream pie, hot chocolate, and almond crunch ice cream sundaes. There’s variety but certainly not to a degree similar to that of a sushi-and-spaghetti anomaly. The menu itself is clean, minimal print set on an almost monochromatic layout interrupted by vivid images of the items. It’s a menu that, much like the restaurant’s interiors, gives diners a clear idea of what Nono’s is good at.
“I really go with things that are timeless. And although I do appreciate people who come up with dishes that have all these spices and flavors, sometimes I feel like I want it to be very simple and just let the food and the cooking speak for itself,” says Nono’s owner Baba Ibazeta-Benedicto.
Prior to Nono’s, Ibazeta-Benedicto is perhaps best known for her decadent creations in Classic Confections, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. The cakes at Classic Confections are reflective of the clear-eyed, unapologetically simple approach Ibazeta-Benedicto has obviously taken in setting up Nono’s: A restaurant in which ideas that are attached or are bound to evoke a memory or an emotion are taken seriously. For instance, Ibazeta-Benedicto loved breakfast so much she decided to have all branches of Nono’s serve it all day. And, having recently opened its third branch at Three Central Makati, one of the first few things she worked on was expanding the breakfast menu.
There’s a kind of sentimentality that’s unique to breakfast, and perhaps the specificity of the food items can account for that. There are also certain scenarios that for some reason can only play out with the aid of a cup of coffee and a half-eaten croissant. “I think the perfect breakfast is really about the people you love. Having breakfast with my husband or my family, with my nieces. It can just be a nice cup of coffee and a croissant. But ultimately, it’s about your interaction,” says Ibazeta-Benedicto.
Nono’s is an example of an establishment that has made a business out of tapping into customers’ emotions. But it’s safe to say that the restaurant industry has caught on to this tactic—there’s the rise of culinary heritage cuisine, fast food-helmed ads that sell heartbreak. Everybody does nostalgia now. But it’s a strategy that’s nonetheless worked for Nono’s not only because of the quality of the food but also because of how specific they are with the human elements they target.
Expanding their all-day breakfast menu targets a specific dining experience. Any sliver of flimsiness inherently attached to this otherwise solid approach is canceled out by the fact that Ibazeta-Benedicto and her team have made the necessary practical considerations.
“[Three Central Makati] is a good location. I think there’s actually not enough restaurants here because during lunch we get really busy and if you walk around the other restaurants, they’re all full. Also, [the location] gives us the liberty to open anytime, so it only made sense that we expanded our breakfast menu. We’re near a lot of offices, and so we’re hoping a lot of people would come to have their early morning breakfast here.”
The straightforward quality of such a tactic can sometimes unfortunately conceal its complexity and the amount of thought and work that went into it. Take the new items on the breakfast menu, for instance. The five new dishes took six months to conceptualize and test out. But a plate of bacon and eggs served with French toast and a bowl of spicy tuyo on rice with mango salsa, although capable of exciting almost any diner, are nothing out of the ordinary. They’re almost plain, in fact. But take a bite of this food and talk to the people behind them and you’ll be acquainted with certain hidden steps—that the toast, tuyo, and mango salsa were all made from scratch.
Other items on the new breakfast menu include Greek yogurt parfait, potatoes with chorizo Bilbao, and eggs Benedict. Again, Ibazeta-Benedicto and her team made it a point to have a lot of the components of these dishes made on the house. Any self-respecting restaurant would likely do the same. It’s obviously not a move driven by conforming to an industry trend, but one that’s indicative of something deeper.
“When we first started [making the new menu], we thought of things that would just sell. We thought about the things that people would like, so it was a bit generic. And then as we we’re doing the R&D, the whole thing changed. It suddenly became things I grew up with, things I remember as a kid, or even part of my life when I lived in San Francisco. It became a little more personal. And I think that’s what actually made it successful in a way. I just feel like there was a lot of heart that was put into it.”
Nono’s new breakfast menu will be available starting this July 18, Wednesday.