In 2013, the restaurant industry was on steroids. Restaurants mushroomed everywhere—in Baguio, Pampanga, San Juan, Taguig, BF/Alabang, Cebu, Iloilo and Davao. But a few trends stood out:
1. Support for local farmers
Margarita Fores, always ahead of the culinary pack, spread this advocacy with the opening of her restaurant Grace Park in One Rockwell.
The restaurant’s purpose, she said, is not only to entertain guests with the chef’s culinary savvy but also to educate diners on the advantages of organic food in terms of flavor, and to encourage the use of local produce. So the menu has no theme (i.e., it’s not Italian, the cuisine Fores is best known for), but more freestyle, allowing the produce to dictate how they must be presented.
Fores has also put her heart into sourcing the produce herself. On a visit to her commissary, I caught her on her way out to visit a farm in Batangas so she could personally check out its selection of greens. She also enthusiastically explained how the tomatoes in Bukidnon are comparable to those in Italy. The chef has been networking as well with Organic Produce Farmers, producers and purveyors from around the Philippines, especially from Negros Occidental, Bukidnon, Tagaytay, Batangas and Laguna, to put together an extensive list of sources to share with other restaurant owners and chefs.
She said of her advocacy, “I feel the need to convince others of the benefits of choosing organic, and at the same time have lots of produce that diners can choose from in our Grace Park menu.”
The farm-to-table advocacy has also been embraced by Robbie Goco with his latest project Green Pastures. What started out as a salad bar concept grew to become an advocacy for eating organic and eating local.
Organic case in point: Tequila Joe’s salpicao (remember that?) is being revived. But this time, organic meat is used and paired off with bulgur, a kind of cereal of Turkish origin using durum wheat, instead of rice that’s highly recommended for weight loss. For the health-conscious, take note: Bulgur is high-fiber, low-fat and low-calorie—a great substitute for rice!
Promoting both local farmers and flavors is also evident in how some chefs treat cheese these days. There’s real burrata (served with organic strawberries), and there’s burrata ala Robbie which is stracciatella, but mixed with Pinoy carabao cream. This is cheese heaven!
And to prove that old school Pinoy flavors need not be all too familiar, Goco also experimented on what he calls a December Salad. Asked to create a salad that is very Pinoy, he asked what the favorite Pinoy salads are. He came up with this list: potato salad, macaroni salad, Caesar salad and fruit salad. So he just put them all together in one go, and the result is a surprisingly addictive, albeit repurposed, salad!
There are no softdrinks sold in Goco’s restaurant; you will have to purchase these next door. But there is a drink called Kombucha, a fermented sweetened black tea that helps detoxify you. It’s the antidote to too much eating.
2. All-day breakfast
Back in the day, there was just Pancake House: waffles, blueberry pancakes, bacon on the side and that creamy white butter. For any other breakfast greats, you would have to hit a hotel, the most popular back then being Jeepney Coffee Shop at the Hotel Intercon in Makati.
Today, there are choices, choices, and more choices. The first is Pancake House’s sosyal version: Maple. The pancakes are buttermilk pancakes. The dark chocolate used is Felchlin. Waffles are topped with maple-glazed walnuts. The eggs benedict is roesti-ish with its crispy version of a muffin. The champorado is “gourmet champorado” (which doesn’t mean anything). And its version of tapsilog uses prime rib—a huge slab of meat served with the bone.
In fact, 2013 gave us the sosyal na tapsilog (upscale version of rice topped with cured beef and fried egg), something we can look forward to this 2014. Brasserie Girolle has a killer version of this Pinoy breakfast favorite that uses beef flakes instead of strips. It’s the kind that would make a health-conscious high-blood subject risk a stroke.
Stacy’s—first in Capitol Hills, Quezon City and now at The Fort, Taguig—also has its version, whose accompanying mound of rice, adorably served in the shape of a heart, makes you forget that the meat is not as tender as it should be.
Early Bird, situated beside Girolle also at The Fort, offers a sweet version, which nails the classic flavors of this dish even if its presentation is more frou-frou (fancy).
There has also been a rekindled love for eggs benedict, with foodies in search of the best one in the metro. The best ones are found in comeback kings Breakfast at Antonio’s and M Café, and old timer Apartment 1B.
Catching up on the brekkie craze is Hatch 22, the latest addition to the roster of restaurants at Rockwell Power Plant Mall. It has just hatched so we have yet to see it spread its wings. It has taken a few shaky steps, like a very odd oatmeal concoction that has fruit slices designed into it. Maybe it’s avante garde and ahead of its time, but for most dishes, the baby steps are sure and strong. The eggs benedict wins you over in spite of its unique qualities (arugula and mushrooms) because of the beautifully poached eggs. Their tapsilog can give the Whistlestop classic a run for its money.
On a sadder note, Rufo’s has given up its sidewalk spot by the former location of International School along Kalayaan Ave., Makati, and moved to nearby A.Venue on Makati Ave. If you spent your high school, college and post-grad years going to this hole in the wall at 4 in the morning after Orange, Venezia or other places that reeked of beer, vomit and happy times, this is end-of-an-era news. The new Rufo’s is not the same.
3. Cronuts versus Cupcakes
Grace Poe was not the only surprise offered by 2013. The Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York likewise surprised the world with its invention of the cronut: a hybrid of the croissant and the donut. Of course Pinoys were quick to catch on and before long, the lines for cronuts outside Wildflour were… wild. Then other versions were created, supposedly due to trademark issues, like the doussant (donut-croissant). Even Dunkin Donuts created its own version!
But the fad, like the lechon manok or the Zagu craze, has plateaued and tapered off. And slowly creeping back into the limelight are cupcakes, the movement once led by Sonja Ocampo. She has just opened several more branches of Cupcakes by Sonja—at Glorietta, Rockwell and the Shangri-La East Wing. It seems that, unlike the affair with the cronut, our love for cupcakes is here to stay.
4. Eating for a Cause
The Philippines was devastated by disaster after disaster this 2013, both caused by man (the attacks by the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga) and nature, the worst, as you know, being the storm surge from Super Typhoon “Yolanda.” But the Filipino spirit is indeed waterproof and the bayanihan spirit emerged from the floodwaters. In the food community, various eat-for-a-cause events were put together and were extremely well-attended. The series of dinners organized by New Yorker Amy Besa, in cooperation with Pinoy Eats World, the Kawali Kings and the Swiss ambassador (among other volunteers) cumulatively generated almost P1 million for “Yolanda” victims. The Cyma group of companies announced that it would donate all proceeds from all its restaurants on specific days after the storm for the benefit of typhoon victims and, with the support of restaurant lovers everywhere, was able to raise P1.2 million for the typhoon survivors. Other restaurants also had similar events, making this truly a season of giving.
Hopefully, this 2014, we will continue to rise and shine with sumptuous breakfasts, smile with our sweet tooth from exceptional desserts, and continue to eat for a cause to help, in our own little way, rebuild our shaken nation.