Sunday Lifestyle

Eats in the City

- Lai S. Reyes -

MANILA, Philippines - Are you itching to try the newest restos in town? Forget about those food directories handed out by the dozen. At the new Eastwood Mall, choosing a restaurant is literally just a walk in (Eastwood) park.

The four-story building, strategically built at the center of Eastwood City, houses over 30 dining hot spots that offer a wide variety of dishes enough to entice you to go on a gourmet tour. Well, that’s exactly what we did last Tuesday.  It was raining that morning so a hot and delish bowl of ramen was first on our food itinerary. First stop: Ramen Bar.

As its name suggests, Ramen Bar boasts authentic ramen that can be enjoyed in either tonkotsu (pork bone) or ukokkei (chicken bone) broth. Must-try is the Ramen Bar Special. Served piping hot in a big bowl, this soy-infused tonkotsu ramen is topped with tamago (egg), naruto (fish sticks), nori (dried seaweed), negi (spring onion), chasyu (sliced pork ribs), and kakuni (braised pork belly). Each of the ingredients contributes to giving the pork bone soup — which is boiled for 20 hours — its rich and smoky flavor.

“The soft-boiled egg is marinated for two days in a special mixture, while the kakuni is boiled for four hours to achieve its melt-in-the-mouth texture.  The flavor of tonkotsu is so intense as compared to the okoke broth,” explains Charles Paw, owner of Ramen Bar.

If mami is best enjoyed with siopao, tonkotsu ramen goes well with kakuni buns. Similar to cuapao, the special white bun is filled with pork belly, which tastes like patatim.

Charles and his wife Anna are certified foodies. They travel a lot for food. In fact, the couple recently came from a gastronomic journey to Spain where they dined at the world-renowned Arzak and Mugaritz restaurants.

“It’s something you won’t do on a regular basis. You dine there for the experience. The chef at Mugaritz used to work for Ferran Adria’s El Bulli,” shares Charles, who admits that Japanese cuisine remains to be his favorite. “I just can’t get enough of ramen. It’s something I won’t get tired of eating.” Needless to say, that’s what inspired him to put up a restaurant that specializes in ramen.

For Ramen Bar, Charles has partnered with Japanese chef Masa Ishikawa, who has three ramen houses in Nagoya, and his buddy Yoshi Kadowaki.

“We want to offer our diners authentic ramen at reasonable prices,” Charles adds.

Just a few months after it opened, Ramen Bar has already gained a cult following. In fact, benches were placed outside the resto to accommodate “willing to wait” diners. From “Japan,” we traveled to “Portugal” by foot and enjoyed a good meal at O’sonho, a Portuguese fusion restaurant known for its Peri-Peri chicken and coffee-marinated roast pork.

Near O’sonho is the Cookbook Kitchen, which serves Italian, Mediterranean, Filipino, and American fusion dishes. What started out as a hole-in-the-wall on Luna Mencias St. in Mandaluyong City became so successful that the owners — husband and wife Gen and Liza Capati — decided to open its second branch in Metro Manila, which is at Eastwood Mall Promenade.

We were welcomed by their daughter-in-law Zenia Capati who joined us for lunch. Zenia let us sample the dishes usually served in their home during special occasions. “My in-laws are so passionate about food. In fact, 60 percent of the dishes we serve in the restaurant are family recipes,” she says.

The Parmesan-crusted white fish is to dine for. Sprinkled with herbs and spices, the cream dory is then topped with Parmesan cheese (to seal in the flavor) then baked for a few minutes. It’s creamy, juicy and simply delish. If it’s pasta you like, go for Pasta Al Adobo or the Ilocos Pasta with homemade Vigan longganisa. It is served with salt and pepper vinegar for a change.

For only P450, diners can indulge in the Temecula Ribs, one of Cookbook Kitchen’s best-sellers. The smoked pork ribs are topped with tomato slices and marble potatoes then drizzled with zesty and tangy barbecue sauce. It can be a good alternative for fiesta ham this Christmas. For dessert, we just couldn’t get our forks off Kittin’s Scarlet Cake, which is Zenia’s wedding cake. The moist velvet cake is definitely worth the calories!

Chefs’ haven

From Eastwood Mall Promenade, we proceeded to the new Eastwood Mall Veranda where the unique resto concepts by the country’s best chefs are located. Chef Florabel Co’s Crisostomo is famous not only for its irresistible Pinoy fare but also for the interesting names of the dishes, which have references to the characters in Dr. Jose Rizal’s two novels (Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo), his life, and other people and places of the revolution.

The Azotea tops our list. This laing tempura is made yummier with grilled prawns in coconut cream sauce. Don’t leave without ordering Binagoongan ni Pia (pork stewed in bagoong) and the crispy beef tapa (deep-fried sukiyaki served with homemade sauce). Whether you’re a balikbayan craving for delectable Pinoy dishes, or simply tired and just want to eat good food, Crisostomo is the place to be.

Uncle Cheffy, which is owned and operated by chef Mau Arjona, is famous for its thin-as-paper pizza called panizza. The brick oven-baked pizza comes in three variants: the Seafood Lovers (topped with salmon, shrimp, clams, squid, three cheeses, onions, and herbs); the Cheese & Cheese & Cheese (topped with mozzarella, Parmesan, cheddar, gruyere, blue cheese herbs, and drizzled with olive oil); and the East Meets West (with Parma ham, kesong puti, salted eggs, tomatoes., and mango slices).

Here’s the right way to enjoy your panizza: Slice it horizontally, top each slice with arugula and alfalfa, roll it, and dunk it into your mouth. Talk about love at first bite.

Buenisimo is the newest satellite outlet of chef Gene Gonzales’ Café Ysabel. The menu is a combination of Café Ysabel’s favorites with new dishes inspired by the owners’ — Giannina and Gino Gonzales’ — travels and culinary experiences. The Galician-style US tender riblets with wild mushroom ragout and puttanesca a la Buenisimo shouldn’t be missed. The flavor of this Italian staple is further enhanced with Lucban longanisa and gourmet tuyo.

Foodies need not go far to savor the staples of the Greek gods. Cyma, the Greek-inspired restaurant of chef Robby Goco, takes pride in its healthy choices and mouthwatering selections made from all-natural ingredients. No wonder strict vegetarians dine here, too.

Combo bistros are the rage at the newly opened Eastwood Mall. What diners find appealing about this new concept is that they get to sample the specialties of the two restaurants in one go. The menu is just as creative. Celebrity chef Peter Ayson and restaurateur Raymund Magdaluyo combine fresh flavors and Asian influences to entice diners to try out Blu Fish and The Flying Pig.

The first thing you’ll find appealing about Mr. Kurosawa by chef Ricky Laudico and Marvin Agustin is the play of colors in its interiors. Though the place looks a bit upscale, prices of meals are quite reasonable. The generous serving of ebi fry pesto is enough to feed two to four persons. This pasta dish is smothered with mushroom cream sauce, chicken fillet, spinach, and mushroom.

At My Thai, chef Fern Aracama created a menu that offers home-style Thai cooking that’s slightly modified to suit the Filipino palate. Best-sellers include tom yum goong soup, the pad thai, pomelo salad, and the refreshing Thai milk tea.

Let’s meat at the eastwood mall

There’s only one place to go when the craving for Wagyu steak knocks on your palate — the House of Wagyu Stone Grill. This restaurant serves only Wagyu steaks. The raw meat is served on a volcanic stone grill, which is heated for four hours at 700 degrees. With that, you can cook the meat according to your liking — rare, medium rare, or well done.

At the House of Wagyu, diners have choices when it comes to the grade and size of the steak. The highest grade they have is Grade 8. The meat is soft, juicy and flavorful with just the right marbling. The Wagyu steak is served with mashed potatoes_ and mixed veggies, but you can order a cup of Wagyu rice to go with it. The steaks, too, are probably one of the reasons why foodies keep coming back to Old Vine. The resto boasts a variety of steaks, which are surprisingly priced way below average. For less than P400, diners can indulge in Chef’s Quarter steak, a six-ounce top blade steak with vegetable compote. More food and more drinks await diners at Momo. This contemporary diner serves American comfort food, the kind of food your mother or grandmother would cook on weekends.

Momo’s Grandma’s Country Herb- and Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf is a steal at less than P500. Stuffed with Spanish chorizo topped with tomato cream gravy and fried egg, the meaty treat is good enough to share.

The Greta Garbo steak at The Gustavian is a steal at only P350. Served with mashed potato, Dijon mustard, and horseradish on the side, it’s definitely the ultimate steak treat. The resto also serves Salmon a la Russe with truffle-mayo dressing, potato and beets for fish munchers. Cebu’s finest deli boasts a deli counter where Continental sausages, artisan breads, spices and herbs, and homemade cheese and spreads can be served for dine-in guests or can be enjoyed at home.

Koreans who miss their kimchi, bulgogi, and the yummy Korean barbecue will be at home at Kogi Bulgogi.  Kalbi jim, which is one of my favorite Korean dishes, is the resto’s best-seller.  This beef stew with short ribs flavored with radish and garlic is superb.

Also try the Tuk-Bulgogi (bulgogi pot). The well-marbled premium imported beef, golden mushrooms, tofu, vegetables, and glass noodles on light sauce are cooked and simmered right on your table. It’s like having shabu-shabu. 

A cup of classic fro-yo from Red Mango capped our gastronomic adventure at the new Eastwood Mall. The not so sweet, tangy taste of frozen yogurt washed out the hodgepodge of flavors on our taste buds.

The restaurants you’ll find at the new Eastwood Mall are simply world-class. Well, if these dining establishments don’t excite you, what else will?

* * *

Also check out these restos — The Old Vine, Trattoria Italia, Lucky Niku Cafe, Johnny Rockets, Via_ Mare Cafe, Thousand Cranes Shabu-Shabu, Zao, Kogi Bulgogi, Italianni’s, La Creperie, Gloria Jeans, CCA Kitchen/ Cravings, UCC Park Café, Mary Grace, Caffecino by Dome Cafe, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and soon-to-open Cibo — for more yummy finds.










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