The South District: Alabang’s newest food hall

If you ask me to choose between a food park and a food hall, I will choose the latter, right off the bat.

Why?

Because I feel more safe and comfortable in a food hall than open space food parks. Most food halls are located inside malls, too, so it is even more convenient. And most malls have ample parking spaces.

Well basically, food halls are just modern food courts. They are more upscale and the food concepts are more unique and hipster-y. They also have modern designs and layouts, with beautiful and non-generic dining furniture.

For instance, The South District (TSD) is the newest food hall to open in Alabang. It’s modern and has new food concepts. Located at the fourth floor of Madison Galeries mall, Alabang Hills in Muntinlupa City, the food hall promises new eats in a comfortable setting.

SB TSD Interior
The modern and chic interior of The South District

TSD is smaller compared to other food halls in big mall chains. This is not a disadvantage, however, because the smaller space actually makes TSD cozier and look less like a food court but more of a restaurant. It can seat 150 diners inside the main dining area and a small al fresco space. It has modern furnishings like wooden tables, steel chairs, plush couches, and contemporary lighting fixtures.

“It’s different from a food court because we wanted it to be a bit more modern. The interior is a bit more intricate when we designed it What makes it different is it’s affordable, even with the nice interiors it’s just we want to make the experience a good experience,” explains Madison Galeries marketing associate Keana Rustia.

Rustia family owns Madison Galeries, which also operates and maanges TSD.

To draw in the crowd, the food hall decided to keep it small, only housing seven food concepts, most of which are new. But there are a couple of brands that are quite familiar, too.

Here are the concepts you can try at TSD:

1. DOS BANDIDOS

SB TSD Dos Bandidos
Dos Bandidos’ Filipino-inspired taco, aligue shrimp

A concept by chef Luigi Muhlach, Dos Bandidos marries Mexican and Filipino flavors creating a delicious fusion. It offers not your run-off-the-mill tacos, burritos, or nachos. How about some shrimp aligue taco or lechon taco or chicken inasal taco. The Queso de Bomba croquettes, which uses queso de bola, is also a must-try.

2. BRONX FRIED CHICKEN

SB TSD Bronx Fried Chicken
Beer battered fried chicken with rice and Sriracha ketchup

A big piece of beer battered boneless fried chicken thigh with Sriracha ketchup. Count me in! This concept, owned also by the Rustias, puts a spin on the classic fried chicken. It fries boneless chicken thighs in two different coatings, original blend called “The Notorious” and beer batter blend called the “Brewsky.” The chicken meals are served with rice and your choice of sauce—gravy, taco cheese, Sriracha ketchup, adobo, or barbecue.

3. TIX MIX

SB TSD Tix Mix
Chicken biryani

No, not Tex-Mex but Tix Mix. Funny or clever? This concept specializes in Arabic, Indian, and Persian cuisines. It serves rice meals like kebab with rice, chicken biryani, and beef biryani. Tix Mix also serves hummus or falafel with pita bread. But probably its best offering are the affordable shawarma, which starts at only P59! That’s a steal!

4. CHEF T

SB Chef T roast beef
Roast beef

For meat lovers, Chef T offers meat carvings and sizzling meals. Must try is its roast beef served with rice and gravy.

5. JUJU EATS

SB TSD Juju Eats
Juju Eats’ classic caesar salad and taco salad

Juju Eats has been in the business for quite some time. It offers healthy fare from salads to paninis to rice meals. Health buffs will love the taco salad and classic caesar salad.

6. NOLITA

SB TSD Nolita
Big New York pizza slices (Handout photo)

Nolita or North of Italy specializes in New York-style fare like pizza, Angus beef burgers, and buffalo wings. Its specialty is its pizza, which it claims as the “real New York pizza,” which it serves by the slice. Choose from its various flavors like cheese, pepperoni, and spicy Italian sausage.

7. LIQUID LUCK

SB TSD Liquid Luck
Liquid Luck serves wines, too (Handout photo)

Liquid Luck is TSD’s in-house beverage bar. It serves alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks from sodas to coffee to shakes to beers to cocktails.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

The South District, fourth floor, Madison Galeries, 398 Don Jesus Boulevard, Alabang Hills, Muntinlupa City / Facebook/thesouthdistrictph

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Last chance to sample Australian grassfed beef specials at Dean & Deluca, 22 Prime, and more

Last June, the Australian Embassy launched its Australian Grassfed on the Menu campaign. They partnered with several restaurants in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao to create special beef dishes that would only be available for the two-month period of the promotion. And it will end on Aug. 30.

What’s so special about these dishes?

Well, for one, they use only high-grade Australian grassfed beef, which is said to be “healthier” than other cattle meat. Ninety-seven percent of Australian cattle are grown, free range. This means that cows freely graze on fields and mainly eat grass. Some Australian farms even allot one hectare per cow.

This type of beef is not actually new to the Philippines because it holds the lion share of beef imports to the country. According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), 40 percent of all imported beef are from Australia. These products mainly go to fast food chains, hotels, and restaurants.

The promo, however, would like to highlight the beef at its best form, serving it like what Filipinos are used to when it comes to premium meat. While most of us are likely to eat more Australian beef than others, it doesn’t have the same brand recall like USDA Prime or Japanese Wagyu.

The Aussie embassy started this promo two years ago. They held special food trails for the media to try out the different dishes. I attended the first one, which is probably the best food crawl I have ever participated in. Because you know, beef. Fast forward to 2017 to another food trail.

They held the food trail for more than a week, covering participating restaurants in Metro Manila. I attended the last trail that listed five restaurants—Dean & Deluca, 22 Prime, Papa Didi’s, Chef Jessie Grill, and Epicurious. It’s basically eating beef from morning to sundown. I mean, best day ever, right?

Like a food crawl veteran (LOL), I was able to power through the whole day of eating beef. I’ve learned how to pace myself and my limits. Like what we usually do at buffet restaurants. And I must say—again—that it was another amazing food crawl.

Here are the five restaurants and the dishes to try:

DEAN & DELUCA, Rockwell, Makati City

SB Roast beef marmalade on crostini topped with pickles (Dean & Deluca)

Roast Beef Marmalade (Sweet, pulled pork-like shredded roasted beef on crunchy crostini topped with pickles.)

SB Braised beef ragu (Dean & Deluca)

Braised Beef Ragu (Slow cooked beef shank ragu ala Milanese with papardelle pasta and tendon puff. Very hearty!)

SB Ribe eye steak with bonne marrow butter annd served with tabbouleh salad (Dean & Deluca)

Ribe Eye Steak (Cooked to your liking, of course, but topped with flaky sea salt, bone marrow butterm and served with tabbouleh salad to balance things out.)

SB Roasted beef short ribs

Roasted Beef Short Ribs (Super tender roasted beef short ribs served with red rice, green shallot kimchi, and jalapeño puree.)

SB Beef hash

Natural Beef Hash (Heirloom potatoes, bell peppers, onion, topped with two poached eggs, slowly braised beef chunks, chopped tomato, basil pesto, and Parmesan cheese.)

22 PRIME, Discovery Suites, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

SB Steak and tomato salad (22 Prime)

Steak and Tomato Salad (Grilled sake marinated skirt steak with heirloom tomatoes, basil, feta cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. My kind of salad.)

SB Oven braised short ribs with seaweed potato puree and wilted garlic spinach (22 Prime)

Oven Braised Short Ribs (Another super tender slow cooked boneless short ribs with seaweed potato purée and wilted garlic spinach)

SB Sous vide striploin with mushroom ragout, asparagus, poached egg, and sambal hollandaise sauce (22 Prime)

Sous Vide Striploin (Served with roasted potatoes, mushroom ragout, asparagus, and sambal hollandaise sauce)

PAPA DIDDI’S, Sapphire Bloc, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

SB Pancit Batil Patung

Pancit Batil Patung (Fresh linguini noodles cooked in beef stock then topped with poached egg, cabbage, onions, and carrots, served with extra stoup, fresh onions, chili, and soy sauce on the side)

SB Pappa Diddi's fusion burger with ube buns

Papa Diddi’s Fusion Burger (Beef patty with banana blossom patty, pineapple ring, sunny side up egg, pickles, lettuce, kesong puti, and honey mustard sauce with your choice of ube, malunggay, or pandan bun)

CHEF JESSIE GRILL, The Grove by Rockwell, Brgy. Ugong, Pasig City

SB Charcoal grilled oyster blade with fries and mesclun greens (Chef Jessie Grill)

Oyster Blade Steak (Cooked in a charcoal grill oven, it is served in mustard sauce with mesclun greens and french fries on the side)

SB Charcoal grilled beef striploin with grilled leeks and potato wedges (Chef Jessie Grill)

Striploin Steak (Served with grilled leeks, potatoes, and gravy)

SB Slow roast beef cheeks served with poutine and sauteed spinach (Chef Jessie Grill)

Slow Roast Beef Cheeks (Served with poutine and sautéed spinach)

EPICURIOUS, Shangri-la Plaza, Mandaluyong City

SB Beef fajitas with salsa and sour cream (Epicurious)

Beef Fajitas (Beef strips sautéed with bell peppers, onions, and young corn served with soft tortillas, salsa, and sour cream)

SB Fettuccine beef stroganoff (Epicurious)

Fettucine Stroganoff (Fettucine pasta in creamy beef and mushroom sauce served with garlic bread)

SB Roast beef with mushroom sauce

Roast Beef with Mushroom Sauce (Roast beef served with roasted vegetables and enoki mushroom, rice, and mushroom gravy)

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Find the complete list of restaurants on Facebook/Australia in the Philippines / Twitter @AusAmbPH / #TrueAussieBeefPH

Genki Sushi opens new branch and adds new items on its menu

Popular for its sushi delivery system, Genki Sushi is quickly becoming a favorite among sushi-loving Filipinos. And I see why.

The Japanese restaurant chain recently opened its fourth branch at SM Aura Premier in Bonifacio Global City, proving that they are doing good business in the country. Managed locally by the Mother Spice Group, Genki Sushi is one of its brands that is growing significantly.

Mother Spice Group also operates Mango Tree, Mango Tree Bistro, and Cocina Peruvia.

SB Genki Sushi's Kousoku Express Train System delivers food straight to your table
Genki Sushi’s Kousoku Express Train System delivers food straight to your table. On board is one of the resto’s newest dishes, coconut shrimps.

Genki Sushi was founded in Japan in 1968 by Japanese sushi chef Fumio Saito, who created the concept of kaiten sushi, where sushi is served by conveyor belt. Today, the chain has grown exponentially, with branches across the globe.

The novelty of its service is what’s keeping people coming back to the restaurant. The eatery employs the Kousoku Express Train System or its toy-like train delivery system. Inspired by the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train), the tracks run from the kitchen to the tables.

SB Crispy salmon skin strips
Crispy salmon skin strips

Customers order via tablet computers and the food is delivered by a small train. It’s very entertaining to watch, especially to kids…like me.

But probably the resto’s main selling point is its food. Genki Sushi serves quality food, from sushi to donburi to desserts.

According to Genki Sushi Philippines brand manager DJ Atienza, the local franchise gets a visit from the mother ship quarterly. They ensure the quality of the products and the service of the restaurant. Most of the ingredients the local shops get are from Japan, too.

SB Trio of gunkanmaki sushi
A trio of gunkanmaki sushi (kanikama salad, spicy tuna, and tuna salad)

“Even the sauces are from Japan to make it consistent like the shoyu (soy sauce) and also the pickled ginger and green tea. We are not allowed to use local ingredients unless they approve it,” he said.

Along with the opening of the new branch, the sushi resto also launched new items on its menu.

These new dishes include: coconut shrimps (like shrimp tempura but with panko bread crumbs and coconut flakes), kushi-age (small basket of fried seafood and vegetables), crispy salmon skin strips, caramel mochi, and vanilla and strawberry mille crepes.

They are also now offering sushi plates of three. Regular orders usually have two pieces in a plate but now, people can order three different sushi in one plate. They offer a trio of salmon nigiri sushi (regular salmon, seared with pollock roe, and seared with black pepper) and a trio of gunkanmaki sushi (spicy tuna, tuna salad, and kanikama salad).

SB Caramel mochi
Caramel mochi with creme brulee-like torched sugar

And if you haven’t tried its Japanese cheesecake, you should. It’s not the fluffy cotton cheesecake kind but a soft delicate, light, and not-so-sweet cheesecake which I think is the perfect ending to a sushi meal.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Facebook/GenkiSuhsiPhilippines and Instagram @genkisushiph

Myron’s: Steak perfected

 

I love steak. I like it medium and seasoned perfectly with salt and pepper. I like it with a side of roasted vegetables and rice or potatoes. Sauces are optional because you don’t need a sauce with a good steak.

I remember eating my first wagyu (or some kind of high grade Japanese beef) at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati years back and it was so good. Every bite was like heaven in my mouth.

Then one of the first steak houses I ever dined in was Myron’s Steak, Ribs and Seafood at Power Plant mall in Rockwell. This was 10 years ago (I think) and the steak house was pretty new then but they served good steak.

Since then, I have consumed many more steaks—bad, okay, good, great—but those two first experiences for me are the most memorable and delicious.

SB Cappuccino of mushroom soup
Cappucino of Mushroom

A little over a week ago, I was able to go back to Myron’s after many years. The restaurant has a new home, at the 6th floor of The Ascott Residences in Makati, moving from Greenbelt 5. The restaurant now serves as the property’s breakfast restaurant and they basically operate Ascott’s food and beverage (F&B) needs.

This is a big challenge for owners Ramon and Monica Eugenio considering that they started in food business at a small stall at Salcedo’s weekend market. Both experienced chefs, the couple started selling their Angus roast beef at Salcedo market in 2005. A year later, they had an opportunity to open their first restaurant at Power Plant mall. The couple partnered with friend and kitchen colleague Melanio Resuma to kick start the steak house.

SB Fusilli with grilled chicken and blue cheese
Fusilli with grilled chicken and blue cheese

After 11 years of operations, the restaurant has grown significantly and turned into a company running several restaurants including The Flying Pan, Franco’s, and Miguelito’s.

“As you can see it’s a bigger opportunity for us. I think it’s the biggest challenge for Monique and I. We started at the Saturday market and then after 10 years we were able to move from a stall in Salcedo to running the F&B department of one of the major players in Makati,” Ramon said.

One of the factors why Myron’s have lasted this long is because of a loyal following. Another is simply because they make good food.

For starters, the restaurant offers a variety of appetizers but the must tries are the caesar salad that’s freshly made beside your table and the delicious cappuccino of mushroom. It’s a mushroom soup that is creamy and foamy, giving that distinct cappuccino texture. The fresh mushroom flavors are there, not the kind you get in a can. It’s also adorably served in a coffee cup with a thin bread stick on the side.

SB Tiger prawn and US sea scallops with roasted pumpkin and scallion sauce
Tiger prawn and US sea scallops with roasted pumpkin and scallion sauce

If you’re a pasta lover, try the fusilli with grilled chicken and blue cheese. Yes, I know, blue cheese is notoriously pungent but this dish has no moldy aroma, whatsoever. It’s a surprisingly light pasta for a creamy dish and the grilled chicken complements it very well.

For people trying to stay away from carbs and want to eat “healthy,” try the tiger prawn and US sea scallops with roasted pumpkin and scallion sauce. I love seafood so this dish pleased me a lot, gastronomically speaking. The huge grilled tiger prawn has perfect charred sides and the scallops beautifully seared—both protein are very tender and well seasoned. The roasted pumpkin adds a smoky sweetness to the dish. All of the components are tied together by a creamy and delicate scallion sauce.

For the main event, Myron’s signature steak was served, called The President. It’s a US ribeye cooked medium and was served already sliced. It has a pink Himalayan salt topping and served with a side of steamed French beans. The sear was perfect and the seasoning was on point. I get why this steak is popular dish. This is best eaten with Myron’s rice, which is like fried rice but using steak drippings.

SB The President ribeye steak
‘The President’ ribeye steak

Although this was not the steak that I ate back then, it still brought back memories. Also, The President doesn’t need any sauce because it’s perfect as it is.

We ended the meal with an intricately plated chocolate cake. Ramon said that their pastry chef was formerly from Mandarin Oriental so the execution was very hotel-y. It was nice but I would have preferred the bread pudding.

The steak house is the living legacy of the man behind the name. Monica’s dad, Myron Papa is a big part of the concept when they envisioned the restaurant over a decade ago. The couple described the late stockbroker as someone who loved to entertain and feed people.

“He loved to entertain people with only the best food and wine,” recalled Monica. “When it came to get-togethers at home, he was very conscious about the quality of food being served, and very generous with the servings. You go home happy and well fed after a date with Myron.”

SB The Marianito
Marianito cocktail

This father’s day, Myron’s will celebrate with an addition to its bar menu. A new signature cocktail will be launched on June 18. Called the Marianito, it’s a classic Spanish cocktail made of vermouth, gin, campari, and angostura bitters.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Myron’s, 6th floor The Ascott Residences, Makati City / +632 755 8898 / reservations@myronsph.com / Facebook and Instagram @myrons_ph

Cebu’s UNO restaurant puts the spotlight on Filipino fare

When you ask me what my comfort food is, I would quickly respond Filipino food. As someone who grew up eating good Filipino fare at home, my love affair with local cuisine will last forever. Pizza got nothing on kare-kare.

The best thing about my mom and dad’s cooking (yes, they both cook) is they still do it the traditional way. Yes, no shortcuts. Why? Well, first, the flavors are different when using convenience products. Secondly, it’s healthier because you know exactly what you’re putting in your food.

Paella negra and arrox con pollo
UNO restaurant’s paella negra and arroz con pollo

My parents would use actual sampaloc in sinigang, boiling the sour fruit and pressing the juices through a sieve. I think my they have never used instant mix especially in kare-kare. They would use freshly ground peanuts from the market and use giniling na bigas (finely ground rice) as thickener.

Lucky for my siblings and I, we grew up tasting the real deal.

Cooking Filipino food the traditional way is also an advocacy of celebrity chef couple Roland and Jackie Laudico. Both chefs champion Pinoy food, promoting local cuisine through their restaurants and festivals here and overseas.

“The number one problem with Filipino cuisine is convenience products, all that instant cr**. We do not only advocate Filipino food, we promote the traditional way of preparing Filipino food,” explained chef Roland who is also known as chef Lau. He said this during a sit down interview with the media during the launch of their collaboration with UNO restaurant of Waterfront Cebu.

UNO restaurant interiors
Waterfront Hotel’s flagship restaurant, UNO

Last month, the chef tandem launched a Filipino food feast in partnership with the Waterfront group of hotels. Called “UNO’s Modern Filipino Taste: A Filipino Feast for All Senses,” the hotel’s buffet restaurant features a special menu by the Laudicos for a limited time, which started last week and will run until Aug. 31 of this year.

The two chefs added more than 40 dishes to the existing Filipino buffet menu. The dishes range from the traditional to modern to the Laudico’s personal spin to local dishes. The special menu is available at the hotel chain’s Cebu branches, Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino (Lahug) and Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino (Mactan).

Ngohiong cones
Ngohiong is a lumpia-like Cebuano dish and chef Lau turns it into bite-sized crunchy cones

“It is really with great passion and love that we always try to promote Filipino cuisine. It is such an honor for us to be able to do it at the country’s only Filipino-owned hotel chain. We are really happy to work with the Waterfornt group,” chef Jackie said.

Owned by the Gatchalian family, Waterfront hotels operate in Luzon (Manila), Visayas (Cebu), and Mindano (Davao). The local hotel chain is known for having PAGCOR casinos and even Duty Free shops at their hotels.

Lechon baka
Lechon baka

More than 60 dishes would greet diners at the hotel’s flagship restaurant. One of the main attraction of the buffet is a row of various lechon, after all, a Cebuano buffet is not complete without lechon.

Chef Lau’s take on the classic roast pig is adding a local flavor. He used basil-like local herb sangig along with the traditional aromatics used in lechon. The lechon line is also composed of baka (cow), goat, and his version of spicy “bellychon.”

Spicy bellychon2
Spicy bellychon

Also included in the lineup are classic dishes like pork humba, paella negra, and local dish balbacua. Chef Lau also put a modern spin on local favorites like the pinaupong nilasing na manok (beer can chicken cooked in a clay pot), inasal siomai, sinigang bites (crispy kangkong with bangus mousse), ngohiong cones (fried spring roll-like Cebuano dish), and many more.

Oh, did I mention there’s bacon bagnet? Yup, that exists in this buffet.

Suman panna cotta
Suman panna cotta

Chef Jackie on the other hand took care of the dessert, as usual. She made classic cakes and pastries and also modern Filipino desserts like queso de bola cheesecake, suman pana cotta, and molten tableya cake.

“We started doing Filipino food 18 years ago. We really wanted Filipino food to be respected globally, not just here and that’s happening. Finally, it’s happening, it should have happened many, many years ago,” chef Lau said.

Molten tableya cake
Molten tableya cake that uses Davao chocolate

“We’ve been doing Filipino food ever since hoping that we could inspire other chefs to do it and we’re very very happy that a lot are doing it now,” he added.

The couple is also bringing the festival in Davao this August and continue to experiment with Filipino food.

Please check out my story on ABS-CBN Life here.

For more information visit: www.waterfronthotels.com.ph

Asian food with a twist

When opening a restaurant in Manila, one sure fire way to succeed is to offer something familiar with the Filipino palate. And when it comes to food, you can never go wrong with Asian. Well, unless you serve bad food.

The secret behind the menu of Toast Asian Kitchen, one of the newest restaurants in the metro, is a collaboration between experienced and young chefs with different cuisine expertise. According to the restaurant’s managing director Timo Roxas-Chua, the menu was created by several chefs who tried and tested several dishes that keep in line with the Toast brand which they call “playful cuisine.”

Quesong puti croquettas
Quesong puti croquetas

Right off the bat, Timo says that Toast is not trying to be an authentic Asian restaurant. This is immediately clear on the menu because each classic Asian dish is not served as it is, but with an interesting twist. Located at Ayala Mall The 30th in Pasig City, the restaurant is banking on Filipinos’ love for food and big appetite to try something new.

For instance the “gyozig” is a hybrid of the classic Japanese dumpling and a Filipino pulutan favorite, an instant hit to customers. The resto also fuses together Western techniques with Eastern flavors like the quesong puti croquetas and Thai basil chicken poppers.

Tom yum meatballs
Tom yam meatballs

“I really believe that all these Asian dishes are intertwined with each other. Most Asian dishes have the same raw ingredients,” he said.

Some of the must try dishes include the “Blaksa” or black laksa. The resto’s version of the Peranakan favorite is mild—in terms of heat but the flavors are there—and the soup is colored by squid ink, hence the name. Another is the yakitori skewers, specifically the melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef cubes yakitori flavored with teriyaki or soy glaze.

Wagyu cubes yakitori
Wagyu beef cubes yakitori

The twice cooked pork belly on a bed of salted fried rice is another must try. The protein in this hearty meal is first braised then seared in a pan then tossed in a honey-garlic glaze.

Twice cooked pork belly with salted egg fried rice
Twice cooked pork belly on salted egg fried rice

“The inspiration came from my different travels. Asian food has gone way, way up unlike before. Before we only want to travel to the States or Europe, when we go to Asia, it’s only for shopping. Now, I want to go to Hong Kong and eat goose or I want to go to Japan to eat ramen,” Timo explained.

But what makes the restaurant different from others is its Tasting Room, a space dedicated for drinking hard to find liquors, spirits, and craft beers. Timo and his partners’ previous businesses are bars, so having this room in a resto is just combining their love for drinks and food in one setting. This is their first venture into the restaurant business.

Toast's Tasting Room stocked with hard to find spirits, liquors, and craft beers
Toast’s Tasting Room

Toast also commissioned Singaporean mixologist Jason Gray to create Asian inspired cocktails for the restaurant. The bartender created four signature cocktails namely: Tokyo Fog Cutter (whiskey, sake, lemon juice, cloudy apple juice, and absinthe), Pomelo Sour (vodka, lime, red bell pepper and ginger), Seoul Searcher (gin lime, Thai basil, pomelo, egg white, and white pepper), and Jack Sparrow (spiced rum, jackfruit, apple, lime juice, pandan syrup, and egg white)

The interiors also doesn’t scream Asian or a new modern restaurant. It has a rustic and bar feel. The space definitely stays away from the trend of modern interiors that can be a bit stiff and overused.

Toast interior
Toast’s main dining space

“I wanted something homey or rustic, not your typical restaurant. I believe this rustic feeling is long term. It grows on you unlike modern restaurants and practicality wise it doesn’t grow old,” he ended.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Toast Asian Kitchen and Tasting Room, ground floor Ayala Malls The 30th, Meralco Ave., Pasig City / Facebook and Instagram @toastkitchenph

Filipino-inspired Japanese-Peruvian dishes

Okay, that title is a bit confusing. How can food be Filipino, Japanese, and Peruvian at the same time Well, ever since Nobu opened here in Manila, foodies (myself included) have wondered how would it incorporate its cuisine with Filipino flavors. After all, it’s a common practice for international restaurant chains to include Filipino food/flavors on their menus when opening shop here.

For those who are unfamiliar with Nobu, the US-based restaurant’s cuisine has Japanese and Peruvian influences, thanks to its genius founder, chef Nobu Matsuhisa. His fusion food is the reason why restaurant is so successful, which first opened in Los Angeles, California. The restaurant is so good, Hollywood actor Robert De Niro invested in it and he eventually became a business partner of Chef Nobu. Now, the restaurant has several branches worldwide.

A selection of sushi
A selection of Filipino-inspired sushi.

Two years ago, Nobu opened here in Manila, not just a restaurant but a whole luxury hotel. It’s Nobu first hotel in the world. Although the hotel opened with a rocky start, the restaurant proved why it has been successful around the world.

Last April, Nobu launched its special menu, a collection of Filipino-inspired dishes. For a chef, this is a tough menu to make especially when the restaurant’s cuisine is already fusion. Adding another cuisine to the mix can be daunting.

Kurobuta and foie gras sisig bao
Kurobuta and foie gras sisig bao

But Nobu Manila’s head chef Michael de Jesus is no stranger to Filipino food because Pinoy blood runs through his veins. Coming from Nobu Las Vegas, chef Michael joined Nobu Manila last year.

“The challenge is to marry almost three different kinds of cuisines but still holding our identity because Nobu is Japanese-Pervuian. And now we try to add a Filipino aspect,” the Filipino-American chef said.

The special menu took a cue from the very successful Filipino-Japaese omakase dinner by chef Michael and Nobu NYC executive chef Ricky Estrellado last year. Chef Michael, through the help of his Filipino team, chose popular Pinoy dishes and translated them to their food—Filipino with a Nobu flair.

Uni palabok 02
Uni palabok

The nigiri and sushi selection is a clear standout. One nigiri features a lightly seared tuna topped with a “ginataan” sauce. The flavors were on point. The familiar creamy flavor of coconut milk with ginger, garlic, and added heat from chili peppers. Another standout is the tuna sisig roll, a sushi roll made of cooked tuna—sisig style—with cucumber and peppers.

The most impressive dishes on the menu are two Filipino classics, palabok and kare-kare. The uni palabok is a rich comforting dish on its own. Instead of a shrimp-based sauce, chef Michael used uni or sea urchin roe, giving the sauce that rich yet familiar seafood flavor. Instead of rice noodles, udon was used and is topped with prawns, onsen eggs (Japanese soft boiled eggs), and Nobu’s version of crushed chicharon. The finely crushed “chicharon” is actually made of bacon, seaweed, and sesame seeds.

Wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho
Wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho

The wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho on the other hand, is an elevated version of our beautiful peanut stew. Using high grade beef, the peanut sauce is mixed with the Peruvian anticucho sauce which is made of lemon, vinegar, and various herbs and spices. It’s also presented beautifully with steamed vegetables on the side like Japanese eggplant. You would need a cup (or two) of rice for this.

Chef Michael was able to fuse together the flavors from the three cuisines. The special menu is a definite must try for foodies and especially for the fans of Nobu.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

The Filipino-Inspired Nobu Specials is available until June 30, 2017 / Nobu Manila, Level 1, Nobu Hotel Manila / +632 800 8080, +632 6912882 / guestservices@cod-manila.com / cityofdreamsmanila.com

Baguio’s secret garden restaurant

It’s not located near the toruist-y areas nor well advertised. It’s so exclusive, the chef only accepts 30 customers at a time to dine in its beautiful garden restaurant setting. But the thing is, dining at this restaurant won’t cost you an arm and a leg, unless you choose the fine dining option (by reservation only). It’s the best kind of eatery—no waiting in line, no boisterous crowd, no bad food.

Mother’s Garden restaurant is tucked in a residential area on Quezon Hill. The narrow streets and steep roads have kept this place practically unknown. According to its owner, chef Therese Jison, most of her customers are repeaters, people who have grown to love her food and the restaurant.

View from the restaurant
View of the city from the restaurant

“I wouldn’t accept more than 30 people, we close the gate. I want to maintain the exclusivity of the place. Being crowded destroys the reason why people come to us because they know it’s a relaxed atmosphere, and you can even spend the whole day here. Sometimes I feel bad that I have to turn down people but I have to maintain the reason people come here,” she explains.

The atmosphere is indeed relaxing. The main dining area is fitted with typical iron and glass garden furniture, placed on a gravel floor. The space is surrounded by plants and animals, too, like the birds in the aviary and friendly dogs scurrying about. The rose garden is its al fresco dining area with two tables surrounded by rose plants and overlooking a view of the city. The fine dining section is located on the second floor, furnished with antique furniture originally from the owner’s family hacienda.

Mother's Garden's fine dining section
The fine dining section is fitted with antique furniture from chef Jison’s family hacienda

Since it’s situated on the side of the hill, the property goes down deep, about four floors down, divided into sections and levels like the herb garden, salad garden, citrus garden, an Igorot garden, the pottery/playground area, the animal cages, and a cottage exclusive to family and friends.

Apart from its charming setting, the food is the reason why people come back. The food here is not just delicious but actually good for you because the restaurant uses mostly organic ingredients that the chef grows herself in the garden. So expect pesticide free vegetables, hormone free meat, and GMO free fruits.

Chef Jison took up courses at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. She previously owned two boats, rented out by different organizations, where she also worked as executive chef. She is now settled in at Mother’s Garden with her partner Heinrich Maulbecker, the former general manager of The Manor and the Hyatt.

Welcome cold cuts, champagne, and fresh strawberries
Welcome cocktail: assorted cold cuts, champagne, and strawberries and cream

According to chef Jison, she put up this place to create a small oasis in a city that condones bad urban development. While some greenery on the mountains still remain untouched, most areas in the city have been lost to over development. The restaurant reminds chef Jison of their family hacienda in Negros and her father’s family’s rice farm in Nueva Ecija. Coming from a family of planters, growing an organic garden came naturally to her.

Through the help of organic agriculturist Dr. Jose Balaoing, chef Jison was able to put up a flourishing garden. She has even extended her organic practices to her gardener Roy, who converted their own farm into an organic one, assisted by chef Jison. His farm, located at the lower areas of Benguet where more produce and livestock flourish, is the main source of ingredients for the restaurant.

Chef Therese Jison shows her salad garden
Chef Therese Jison shows her salad garden

“The chicken don’t grow very well in Baguio that’s why we grow our chicken and ducks at lower levels. The pigs are not fat because we make them run around. We feed them with grass and vegetable leftovers,” she says. “It takes a long time to plant that is why most commercial farmers use hormones to make them grow fast. Our food takes time to grow.”

During our three-day visit, chef Jison served us unforgettable meals that are both healthy and delicious. She first welcomed us with cocktails, a glass of champagne, fresh organic strawberries with cream, sardines on arugula, pear wrapped in ham, and homemade sun dried tomatoes. At dinner, she served fresh Greek salad, incredibly rich lentil soup with homemade chorizo, organic steak with burgundy sauce served with mashed potatoes and carrots, and this were all paired with a glass of Musso, a Spanish organic red wine.

Lentil soup with homemade chorizo
Lentil soup with homemade chorizo

The next day the breakfast is composed of fresh fruits, strawberries and cream, a tub of kesong puti (fresh cheese) with fresh herbs, fluffy pancake, bacon, and homemade sausage. I accompanied my breakfast with turmeric tea since I refrain from drinking coffee as much as possible.

After breakfast she toured us in her garden. She has an herb garden that grows lavender that blooms (very rare in the country), fennel, dill, rosemary, basil, etc. The salad garden is where hard to grow produce thrive like celery, rhubarb, kale, radish, and different kinds of lettuce.

Herb garden
Herb garden

Raspberry also thrive in her garden as well as lemons that bear huge lemons. Chef Jison’s garden is also home to several animals including a ram (named Hansel), pot bellied pigs, miniature chicken, rabbits, an injured eagle, wild hogs, and pigs.

For lunch, we picked from the regular menu. The pasta dishes are highly recommended like the Mediterranean chicken on a bed of spaghetti in red sauce with zucchini; and also the piccata milanese, fried pork cutlets served on a bed of spaghetti neapolitana. We paired the pasta with freshly squeezed lemonade made from lemons picked from the garden.

Piccata milanese
Piccata milanese, fried pork cutlets on a bed of spaghetti neapolitana

Chef Jison says that the restaurant changes its menu based on the available ingredients of the season—cold and wet season (July to October), cold and dry season (November to February), and summer (March to June). So expect different dishes every season.

Dinner that night was extra special, the chef cooked lechon de leche in her Greek oven. The roasted organic pig was less fatty and fall-off-the-bone meat tender. She cooked it Bacolod style, using lemon grass and pandan to flavor the pig. The lechon was accompanied by red rice, pinaputok na hito, flavorful pho, and crispy Thai spring rolls. We finished the meal with leche flan served on top of a sesame seed brittle disc.

Organic lechon de leche
Organic lechon de leche

The next morning, before leaving, we had our final breakfast and one of the best meals of the trip. Organically grown daing na bangus from San Juan in La Union, homemade longganisa, scrambled egg, and garlic red rice. We ended the meal on a sweet note with cubes of fresh mango.

Chef Jison ultimately hopes that someday, more farmers would choose the organic ways and more people consume organic food. “I’m doing something I like. Even my son would come in and eat. I’m happy because he’s not going to get sick. I am teaching the next generation how important this is. The delight of the person eating it, it’s worth giving them something organic.”

Breakfast combo--homemade longganisa, garlic red rice, and scrambled eggs
Breakfast combo–homemade longganisa, garlic red rice, and scrambled eggs

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Mother’s Garden, Upper Fairview Road, Quezon Hill Proper, Baguio City / +6374 424 3702, +63917 8693623, +63921 9776027 / Facebook/mothersgardenbaguiocity