Truth be told, it had the air of kids who had something to prove, young chefs who wanted to show all they could with imaginative dishes—accessibility be damned.
This year, the team shifted gears (now made up of Ramos-Flores, her husband Jack Flores, Raul Fores, and his father Oye Fores) and moved to Rockwell with a newfound attention to their diners. We dropped by the new location one afternoon to talk to Ramos-Flores, Flores, and the younger Fores to talk about these changes, and about the growing up they’ve done in the past three years.
For one, the current menu is now more lunch-centric. “We wanted people to know that our food isn't just for dinner or for the weekend,” she continues. But more than that, the team’s point of view had changed.
“The food’s a little less experimental, more of what’s familiar to people,” says Fores. “Less out there,” agrees Ramos-Flores.
It’s something that betrays their new attitude to dining, a maturity that comes after earning your stripes and learning that what diners want isn’t so much creativity as much as something they can depend on. “At the old Made Nice, we literally served whatever the hell we wanted,” Ramos-Flores says, with the team collectively bringing up a retired dish—foie gras with Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, rice, and furikake (Japanese rice seasoning)—and simultaneously laughing and cringing at the thought of it. “Everyone was like ‘what the fuck.’”
“It didn’t really translate,” says Flores about their old dishes. “To be honest, there was a lot more ego in the last one.”
“It took us three years to say, ‘Okay, you know what, we’re going to do lunch, we’re not going to do food that’s like a fricking Picasso, you don’t know what it is,’” says Fores.
Part of the maturation came from the guidance of Fores’ father, who became a partner when Made Nice made the move. “We learned from tito that people won’t trust you right away. You need to earn it, you need to build your brand for people to trust you,” says Ramos-Flores.
There’s a cavatelli pasta cooked the “traditional, Italian way” (at least, according to Fores) with cream, peas, and ham but introduced with edamame almost disguising itself as cheese. The simple carbonara uses etag, a traditional Ifugao slab of pork cured in salt that’s either air-dried or smoked for days, even months. (Flores says they’re planning on using more local items on their menu in the coming months.) And the things that need no reinvention, like the katsudon and the fried chicken, are still dressed up.
The fried chicken comes with a gravy that tastes eerily similar to the gravy of a famous fast food chain. “This really paints a picture of who we are now compared to who we were then,” says Fores about the accidental resemblance. “Back then, we’d say it tastes too fast foody, it’s not us, it’s not sophisticated enough.”
“Now it's like, ‘Oh, that's so approachable. I like it,’” says Ramos-Flores.
“Why will we shy away from something that works just to be different?” asks Flores.
We are lucky enough to have an opportunity to do something again. And most people don’t."