NYC’s newest omakase is a women-powered Filipino restaurant led by a ‘Top Chef’ star

Trust Bae brings a one-of-a-kind Filipino omakase to NYC. Photo credit: Hassan Mokkaddam/HMPhotoshoots
A caviar dish at Filipino omakase restaurant Trust Bae in NYC

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Top Chef star Frances Tariga says as she prepares food for eight diners at the chef’s counter of her new New York City tasting-menu restaurant Trust Bae.

It’s obvious Tariga is feeling the vibes as she shares childhood memories attached to each of the 16 courses, sings and dances along with the soundtrack pulsing through the small Koreatown space, and watches eagerly as diners taste their way through her omakase-style menu. “There’s nothing more satisfying than when a guest tastes a dish for the first time and can only nod in approval because it’s that good,” Tariga, one of the few women sushi chefs in New York City, says. “That’s the reaction that keeps me going.” 

In a city full of stellar omakase options such as The Den and U Omakase, Trust Bae’s dinner is like no other. The menu is Filipino (Tariga grew up in the Philippines) and is served in an elevated Japanese style with Middle Eastern influences. A dollop of homemade toum and a garlic chip on a piece of tuna nigiri is a standout on the early menu. 

Trust Bae debuted in early March and marks the culmination of Tariga’s culinary journey so far. “Each dish tells a story of my background, heritage, and culinary history,” she says. She got her start as a prep cook at Burj al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai before stints at Buddakan and Catch in NYC. Tariga became known to a wider American audience after her appearance on the 13th Season of Top Chef.

Showcasing Tariga’s journey is part of Trust Bae’s woman-centric approach. The restaurant is the brainchild of Erika London, the CEO of Simplevenue, the group behind NYC favorites Sushi by Bou and Sushi Suite. Trust Bae hopes to elevate women in the hospitality industry. “I’ve always been on a mission to empower women. This is a passion project of mine coming to life,” London says. “I’d love to see how many different women we can work with and bring in.” 

Apart from Tariga, Trust Bae has an all-women leadership team, plus a wine list that only includes selections from women-owned wineries. Read on for highlights from the tasting menu, what drinks to order, and details on the cozy space. 

a banana leaf-wrapped piece of fish at NYC Filipino restaurant Trust Bae
The banana leaf-wrapped binalot course is one of the menu highlights at Trust Bae. Photo credit: Hassan Mokkaddam/HMPhotoshoots

Trust Bae offers mostly one-bite dishes both cooked and raw on its $150-per-person menu. The foundation for most of the kaiseki courses is rooted in Filipino cuisine, but elevated with ingredients, techniques, and presentation,” Tariga says. Dishes are riffs on classics such as lumpia, which Tariga grew up eating with her dad in the Philippines. 

Tariga swaps out ground beef or pork (the most common fillings for the fried spring rolls) with oxtail that slow cooks for eight hours to make it tender and saucy. She stuffs it in a crispy shell before topping the dish with truffle cream and chives. “When you bite into the dish, it’s mouth watering and savory,” she says. 

Diners receive it on a plate that’s shaped to look like illuminated hands, a nod to Tariga’s playful approach to hospitality. 

The binalot course is another highlight on the menu and refers to a method of wrapping and steaming food using banana leaves. Tariga was inspired to create it based on recipes from her mom’s homeland in Southern Tagalog. The comforting dish features sticky coconut rice, Alaskan King crab, paksiw foam (created from pork ribs), and crispy shallots.

Trust Bae offers cocktails, wine, sake, and beer to pair with the meal. Drinks skew sweet but can be adjusted for personal preference, and many come in tiki-inspired glassware, including highballs that look like colorful parrots.

“We wanted to utilize tropical flavors like guava, calamansi, and coconut to set some of our drinks apart and have them complement the flavors we use throughout the meal,” Tariga says. “A majority of our cocktails have a short finish so they don’t overpower some of the more delicate flavors in the nigiri courses.” That is, the flavors of the cocktails won’t linger too long on your palate, so you can enjoy the meal between sips. 

The FT Smash is an early diner and chef favorite, Tariga says. Trust Bae makes it with bourbon, papaya, lemon, simple syrup, and mint—think of it as a tropical julep. Tariga recommends agave spirits fans swap mezcal for bourbon. Diners can enjoy drinks at cocktail tables before or after their meals, as well.

Wine drinkers can choose bottles and glasses exclusively from women-owned wineries, such as Strong Arms and Bacaia. Plus, sake is inherent to the menu, and a sake shot with the chef is part of the dining experience. 

The interior of the restaurant Trust Bae in NYC with murals on the wall and eight stools against a bar counter.
Trust Bae seats eight at the counter and has additional tables to enjoy cocktails at. Photo credit: Hassan Mokkaddam/HMPhotoshoots.

Interior designer Diana Romeo utilized Trust Bae’s slim and intimate space (a former Garment District wholesale store) to showcase colorful patterns, bright-pink lights, and a cozy counter that seats eight. 

The hip hop, rap, and top 40 hits selected by Tariga are central to the restaurant and make for a more relaxed tasting-menu experience. Tariga grew up listening to that music in the Philippines and wants diners to feel like they can let loose and enjoy the beats and the food. 

“Tasting menus and counter-service experiences don’t have to be intimidating,” she says. “They can be fun, loud, and interactive while guests enjoy dishes one-by-one.”

The Trust Bae leadership team with chef Frances Tariga on the left and CEO Erika London on the right.
Trust Bae chef Frances Tariga (left) and restaurant CEO Erika London. Photo credit: Hassan Mokkaddam/HMPhotoshoots

Trust Bae is open Wednesday to Sunday with 90-minute seatings at 6 pm, 7:30 pm, and 9:00 pm. Seats tend to fill up weeks in advance, so reserve early.

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Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk

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