Angels in the morning

Dina Sta. Maria (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It must be the seven-year itch, and good thing too, because after seven successful years, Angel’s Kitchen along Connecticut street in Greenhills is finally open for breakfast – but not on Sundays.

The breakfast crowd is as thick as their loyal lunch and dinner crowds. The morning we went the week they opened we had to set up a table in the Mi Casa deli extension because the 50-seat dining area was packed. It was a good thing though, because not only was it quieter, it’s appetite-stimulating to be surrounded by all those bottled and packaged goodies.

The breakfast menu, though not extensive (nine entrees, three sandwiches, one dessert), offers enough choices to let you start your day on a full and happy stomach. The obvious bestseller is the Gravlax, house-marinated Norwegian salmon with mustard dill sauce. The longaniza sliders with boursin and apple chutney is deceptive in its daintiness, three petite buns that pack quite a wallop of flavor – and calories!

If you’re looking for something familiar to warm the cockles of your heart – and tummy – go for the pork tocino barbecue with tinapa rice or baked bangus tinapa with tomatoes. I’m not a fan of oatmeal or champorado, but those who are sing praises to the oatmeal champorado with spicy tuyo.

There are sandwiches – the lemon garlic tinapa, described as a medley of duck egg, grilled eggplant, onion and tomato, sounds interesting – and a pasta (corned beef in pomodoro), and churros con chocolate, which must be tried on my next visit. With wonderful childhood memories of churros con chocolate with my mom, I hope this doesn’t disappoint.

All these dishes – as well as those on the regular lunch and dinner menu – are products of the kitchens of these five “angels,” mothers who have been feeding their families with the best they can come up with. It was a deliberate decision not to hire a chef; rather, they hired “skilled people who can cook,” and trained them to prepare dishes their meticulous way. It seems to be a winning formula. It helps, of course, that at least one of them is on duty at all times, to keep the integrity of the food and the efficiency of the service. This is the reason there is no breakfast on Sundays: “We have to rest too, you know!”

The delicious journey of Lisa Sy, Marnie Ong, Lina Tan, Maizie Qua and Lucy Ong started over a decade ago when they were all ICA mothers – their daughters attended the Immaculate Concepcion Academy in Greenhills. They started the ICA Culinary Club, which gave cooking lessons in a spare room in the building in Mandaluyong owned by the family of one of them. They came up with a cookbook, and in 2006 when the space was rented out, they decided to look for a space to continue their classes, even as their daughters had all graduated and gone off to college.

A space along Connecticut street in bustling Greenhills became available; it was ideal for their class, plus a space for a little coffee shop

Each one contributed the specialties of her kitchen, or the comfort food they served their families, dishes perfected through years of feeding demanding husbands and finicky children, and family travels all over the world.

Thus such favorites as pinakbet rice (the runaway bestseller), mandarin chicken, lamb curry, softshell crab salad found their way to the menu. Lisa explains that while innovation is a continuing process in the kitchen, they retain the favorites and add new dishes – or face vociferous complaints from loyal clientele if a dish is not available.

Expansion has been cautious. In 2010 the fruit stall by the parking area gave way to the Mi Casa deli, an extension of Angel’s Kitchen where bottled goods and frozen food are sold. In May 2012 AK Bistro opened in Rockwell.

But Greenhills remains their best market, which is not surprising considering the lifestyle of the rich and hungry who frequent the tiangge (which has become a world-famous shopping destination, like Bangkok’s Chatuchak) the weekend markets and the bustling mall, not to mention the myriad restaurants and coffee shops that clutter the area.


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