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Drawing diners since it opened, 2nd?s takes diners out of their comfort zone and into a field of surprises
THEY WERE all part of a youth group, seven well-heeled friends in their 20s who would meet regularly in an art gallery that doubled as a place for church services.

When the gallery closed down, they found themselves wondering what to do about it?until one of them, Luigi Tabuena, suggested, somewhat as a joke, that they take over the place and open their own restaurant.

It was a joke that the rest of the group eventually took seriously.

?The next thing we knew, we had a restaurant,? says Tanya Kropp, one of the partners in the group. They named the place 2nd?s, and it hasn?t been wanting in diners since it opened late December.

It must be the menu. While the dishes may seem familiar, there?s nothing ordinary about them.

For starters, the camote chips, sliced ever so thinly as to be almost translucent, come with a sprinkling of finely shaved Parmesan cheese.

The chicharon, which by its very name is enough to strike fear in the heart of any food-loving cholesterol-watcher, is made not from the usual pork rind but from large slabs of bacon, the fatty and meaty parts crackling into delicious decadence with every bite. Making it even more tempting are the accompanying tangy muscovado mustard dip and the spicy vinegar sauce (the latter admittedly a concession to tradition).

The macaroni and cheese isn?t the kind generations of kids grew up with. It?s given a more grown-up flavor with an infusion of truffle oil and the use of three kinds of cheese: emmental, blue and sharp cheddar. The twist keeps the taste buds alert and the dish from being boring.

?It?s comfort food revisited,? explains Tanya.

It?s also the result of endless kitchen tests made by Indy Villalon, one of the seven partners, and their chef, Mikko Reyes, who shares their vision of a restaurant that?s both a comfortable and a comforting place.

Surprising twists

Ironically, while many of the dishes are indeed traditional comfort foods, their twists take diners out of their comfort zone and into a field of surprises.

The salpicao, for instance, is topped with foie gras, while the adobo is formed into balls of croquettes and is enhanced with béchamel sauce.

The traditional ham and cheese sandwich is given a Spanish touch with the use of jamon Serrano and Manchego cheese.

As for the hamburger, one can choose the ?safe? burger, choice USDA sirloin beef patty topped with melted sharp Cheddar cheese; or one can be adventurous and order the jerk burger, the same sirloin patty but seasoned with Jamaican spices and served with red cabbage slaw.

Both the safe and the jerky burgers are in a bun that?s been toasted just until it is crusty and crisp, thus providing an interesting contrast in texture to the tenderness of the meat.

Then, too, instead of a Caesar Salad, the menu offers a Brutus Salad. As in the Shakespearean play, it has the chutzpah of a villain. The fresh lettuce leaves are grilled so they have a slightly toasty flavor, and the anchovies, instead of being tossed with the leaves, are sneaked into the dressing so as not to be overwhelming.

Also given a makeover are the buffalo chicken wings. Shaped into drumettes (better known to kids as chicken lollipop), they?re coated with crushed cornflakes, while the accompanying blue cheese dressing is tamed by mixing Danish blue cheese with cream cheese.

On the more upscale side, there?s duck confit served on a cushion of mashed potatoes and with a mound of pineapple chutney on the side; and the rib-eye steak, its tender, meaty lusciousness complemented by a smothering of raclette cheese.

Ambiance

If there?s another thing that keeps luring customers to 2nd?s, it must be the ambiance.

?We?ve always wanted a place where, when you walk in, it gives you a big hug,? says Tanya.

To that end, 2nd?s has the feel of a friendly neighborhood restaurant, perhaps one located somewhere in New York. Wooden tables and low-back cushioned chairs give it a minimalist look, but there?s warmth connoted by the coat rack, the book shelves and the framed photographs on the wall, which are all suggestive of home.

Pin lights keep the lighting subdued, while the stemware and wine bottles glimmer in the reflection of a strategically placed mirror in the bar.

Although the owners are young, the music is delightfully old-fashioned: Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald and the Beatles croon inconspicuously in the background, allowing conversation to flow freely among diners and adding to the feel-good mood of the place.

2nd?s Restaurant is at the 2/F, Wumaco Building 1, Quadrant 3, 9th Ave., Bonifacio High St., Taguig. Call 8465293 or 8465286. Open daily for lunch and dinner.