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Teppanyaki cuisine, authentic Italian, turn-of-the-century Filipino–the creative reimaginings are all worth a visit

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FROM Corazon restaurant, Baked Scallops on a bed of salt

Maybe the place has become too small for the big crowd. Just try getting a table in any of Shangri-La Plaza’s fifth-floor restaurants on a Sunday afternoon. Unless you choose to have lunch at the unlikely hour of 3 p.m. (in which case it would no longer be lunch), you’d probably have a long wait ahead of you.

People seem to find congregating in this mall a most relaxing and delicious pastime,  hence the perpetually occupied restaurants.

Shangri-La Plaza must have responded to the clamor of the crowd because it has just opened an East Wing where the outdoor parking lot used to be. If the old building is on the high end of the shopping spectrum, this East Wing is on the stratospheric side. With marble floors, wider corridors and restrooms that can rival that of any five-star hotel, the East Wing whispers class with the breathless appeal of a Jackie Onassis.

Familiar shops such as Banana Republic, Esprit and Guess have all opened branches here, but with an aura of newness and reinvigorated purpose.

Likewise with the restaurants. Those we’ve tried seem to be creative reimaginings of successful ventures, such as:

Corazon. It’s not for nothing that chef Florabel Co has won accolades for her kitchen prowess. Her restaurants have been notable for serving Filipino food with turn-of-the-century flair. Elias and Crisostomo exude Old World graciousness while serving dishes that seem to have been cooked by a hip grandmother.

At Corazon, diners will find  dishes they’ve come to love in Co’s restaurants. The crispy pata lives up to its reputation of being crispy on the outside yet tender on the inside. There’s Paella Valenciana, which while not exactly like the original rice dish invented in Valencia, Spain, is flavorful and replete with seafood like mussels, prawns and squid.

Speaking of seafood, a must-try is the baked scallops in the shell served on a bed of salt.

For dessert, Corazon has given the traditional suman at tsokalate a contemporary facelift. Bite-size skewers of suman are smudged with latik and served in dainty glasses half-filled with thick Batangas chocolate. It’s a dessert you’ll not only be pleased to eat, but one you’ll also be proud to present to your balikbayan and foreigner friends.

Balboa. The bold name seems appropriate for a restaurant that serves hearty dishes of Italian-American descent. But, after all, its name was inspired by Rocky Balboa, a character

Balboa’s Parmesan-crusted Halibut with Risotto

portrayed by Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone. Here, pizza and pasta may be the anchor of the menu but other dishes are also worth their weight in flavor.

The Parmesan-crusted halibut which we tried at lunch was perfectly cooked and flavorful, as was the accompanying risotto. Certainly worth some bites is the osso bucco Milanese, a classic Italian dish with chunks of veal and vegetables braised in a wine-tomato sauce.

The all-day menu  includes Eggs Benedict, burgers and steaks.

Lingering is allowed in this restaurant, which customers might well want to do if only to enjoy the comforts of its stylish interior and to listen to the songs of Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole.

Akira. Teppanyaki cuisine takes center stage in this restaurant owned by Ricky Laudico and actor Marvin Agustin. The beef served is on the higher end of the gourmet spectrum: Kobe beef, Japanese Wagyu, US rib-eye and tenderloin.

Not that customers are limited to those. Sushi choices include the Akira roll, skewers of sushi dusted with salmon roe.  The pork gyoza we tried was hefty with a filling of ground pork and was steamed to just the right doneness.

Named after the acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, the restaurant is furnished with chairs that feature sketches of Japanese heroes, with matching virtues written at the back.

Lombardi’s. It’s hard to get any more Italian than this restaurant, owned by chef Davide Lombardi, who hails from Milan. In the interest of authenticity, he imports nearly all his ingredients from Italy, from the olive oil to the salame for the pizza, and the milk for the gelato.

Italian residents in Manila who have eaten in his restaurants sometimes call him to commend him and express their satisfaction with the food (he also owns restaurants in Quezon City and in Makati).

Steamed Pork Gyoza from Akira Restaurant

“Italian food is all about balance, a combination of simple and fresh ingredients,” he says.  And while each family in Italy would have its own recipes, the base of Italian cuisine would always be present in all these dishes.

Freshness for Lombardi means making the pizza dough himself, even if it takes three days of preparation. He uses very little yeast and no sugar for the dough, which gives it its unique texture of crispness and chewiness. And it probably goes without saying that all the pasta at Lombardi’s are made from scratch.

Aside from pizza, Lombardi’s serves dishes from various regions of Italy, from the rustic northern regions of Calabria to the sunny southern Sicily in the Mediterranean. Dishes worth trying are the Carpaccio di Manzo (fresh beef marinated in lemon and olive oil); the Mozzarella in Carrozza with Arrabbiata sauce; and Fettuccine alla Norma, pasta with a sauce of ricotta cheese, tomatoes and eggplants.

The above restaurants are at the 4/L, new East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Edsa corner Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong City.


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