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UP Town Center: A foodie’s paradise

Julie Cabatit-Alegre (The Philippine Star) - October 31, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The exclusive press tour at the UP Town Center, “a one-stop destination for exciting dining outlets,” was dubbed a “food crawl.”

Of the 28 merchants in the first phase of this newly opened Ayala Mall along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, 26 are restaurants. We were to sample 11 of these food establishments with different concepts, all within an otherwise uneventful first day of the week. In the end, it felt more like a marathon run.

First stop was Kos Ouzeri, which offers a variety of Greek dishes. What makes it different is that students of the culinary school First Gourmet Academy, with executive chef Mats Loo, prepare everything. If the moussaka we sampled was any indicator, you can expect to get the tastiest Greek dishes at Kos Ouzeri. The baby squids in olive oil were very good, too.

The Red Onion Café is a “Manila-based quick-service restaurant that focuses on serving authentic Taiwanese beef noodles and crispy dumplings in a modern, outdoor café-styled setting,” business partners Wen-Szu Lin and Mark Endaya explained. The red onion, a key ingredient in well-loved Taiwanese dishes, inspired the name, Wen-Szu Lin shared.

Scott Tan at Ginza Bairin showed us the best way to enjoy the “tender hire katsu with fragrant Japanese Koshihika rice, an intensely flavorful sauce of broth simmered for hours, and a double serving of golden farm-fresh eggs.” With its orange-hued runny yolk, the egg was perfectly done. If only for this, it’s certainly worth going back to.

At IHOP, we sampled their newest breakfast innovation, brioche French toast — “thick-cut slices of rich brioche bread soaked in a lightly sweetened vanilla batter and grilled to a delicate warm golden crispiness.”  We tried the toasts with the new toppings, peaches with butter pecan as well as glazed strawberry. It does not have to be breakfast time to enjoy breakfast fare at IHOP.

The popular Torch Restaurant in Greenhills opened its second store at the UP Town Center, serving an eclectic mix of Japanese, Italian, and American comfort food as well as Filipino fusion. Among their bestsellers are the thin gourmet pizzas, sizzling marbled Angus steaks and various kinds of sushi rolls. We sampled the smoked salmon truffle sushi as well as the steak fondue, while business partners Michael Chua and Richard Tiu engaged us in pleasant conversation. The dragon fruit sangria was so good we had to have a second glass.

The owners of Burgoo and partner Miguel Aranaz have brought Bong Tong Kee, a Hainanese chicken restaurant in Singapore, to the Philippines. We sampled familiar dishes like Hainanese boiled chicken, crispy cereal prawns, and fried spareribs with Zhen Jiang sauce.

By the time we got to our seventh restaurant, Pinac, we were already feeling quite full, which was a pity because Pinac was one of the restaurants we would have wanted to enjoy a full meal at. Pinac is the Kapampangan word for “swamp,” owner Angel Pelayo-Ty explained. At Pinac they serve traditional Candaba cuisine using heirloom recipes. They use only fresh produce sourced from local farms in the old town of Candaba in Pampanga.

Pinac’s specialties include the Candaba longganisa, sisig, kare-kare, crispy pata, and crispy hito. We enjoyed the fresh pako salad, which had the usual salted eggs and tomato, but with the addition of slivers of green mango, cucumber, and flossed fried itik. The brazo de mais, which Angel said is usually served only during fiestas, was exceptional. If we were not feeling too full, we would have helped ourselves to more.

Casa Verde is a homegrown concept from Cebu, where it started 10 years ago. Its American-inspired hearty fare includes ribs, steaks, and burgers, said marketing officer and owner, Therese Anne Galang. It was way past lunchtime when we arrived but the place was still packed with diners enjoying the dishes with rice at three in the afternoon.

If you are a pork lover like Anthony Bourdain, then Tokyo Tonteki is the place for you. “We’re a pork steak concept on a hot plate,” said marketing manager Roberto Vallar. They also serve hamburgers made of pork as well as chicken steak done specially for the Philippine market. Naturally, their bestseller is the tonteki, or pork steak made with high-grade pork, spread out like a fan and served on a hot plate. “Despite its thickness, the pork meat is very soft, juicy and flavorful,” Vallar remarked.

One more Japanese place we visited was the Café Shibuya, which serves their signature honey toast, a dessert popularized in Shibuya, Japan. Their milkshakes use Ghirardelli chocolate. With that, how can you go wrong? As the sign says, “There is always room for dessert.”

Our last stop was at Highlands Coffee. This Vietnamese coffee chain serves traditional Vietnamese brewed coffee and espresso-based drinks. It was just the right way to cap our food marathon.

Sampling dishes from 11 restaurants in the span of six hours is no easy task. But hey, someone has to do it. At the restaurants at Ayala Malls’ UP Town Center, it was a real pleasure.

ANGEL PELAYO-TY ANTHONY BOURDAIN AT PINAC AYALA MALL CANDABA KOS OUZERI PINAC TOWN CENTER
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