The café on the first floor of Aruga at Rockwell may have been open for only a couple of months, but the menu has been cooked and fine-tuned for close to 20 years.
It consists of dishes that owner Vicky Pimentel used to serve in her restaurant Cucina Victoria, like Callos à la Madrilena and a pasta with grilled unagi (eel) topped with dried seaweed and toasted sesame seeds.
“People have known us for more than 15 years. They are familiar with the food, but for Aruga Café, I chose only the bestsellers at Cucina Victoria. I didn’t want to overwhelm guests with too many choices,” she says.
First-time customers are certain to be charmed by the compact space that can seat 40 at a time. There is a private dining area at one side that can seat small parties.
The palette used by Los Angeles-based interior designer Butch Valdez is mainly black, mauve and a pleasing avocado green. Tufted couches and fabric covered seats carry the motif, while the café’s walls are covered with pictures, sketches and drawings in matching brass frames.
“When I was offered the space as concessionaire at Aruga by Rockwell Land, I checked it out and liked what I saw. They allowed me to have it designed the way I wanted it to look, from the kitchen to the dining area,” says Pimentel.
While the café is her newest baby, the bulk of the business she shares with partner Manolet Lagdameo is catering.
“Clients and regular customers convinced me to start catering back when I still had Cucina Victoria. We started out small but now we can cater for intimate groups of 15 to huge parties for 1,000 people.”
The café offers set breakfasts as early as 5:30 a.m. to guests staying at the hotel, but it is their regular menu that Pimentel is particularly proud of.
“The first time I offered Capellini Giaponese, few people were willing to order it. The Japanese-inspired pasta dish was too exotic then, but now customers look for it. We also serve a selection of sandwiches including one with slices of smoked Norwegian salmon, lettuce, tomatoes and dill sauce.”
For cheese lovers, Pimentel suggests ordering the cafe’s three-cheese sandwich, grilled pita filled with gruyere, mozzarella and cream cheese served with a piquant guava vinaigrette dip.
Other notable items include their version of Eggplant Parmigiana, nice and gooey; Lentejas, lentil soup with chorizo de Bilbao in sourdough bread; and Lengua con Setas, New Zealand ox tongue in a creamy sauce with button mushrooms and olives.
One afternoon, Pimentel overheard a customer “complaining” about the menu saying, “What do I choose now? Lahat ng nakalista gusto ko. (I like everything on the menu.)”
It was music to Pimentel’s ears.
Aruga Café is at G/L, Aruga Serviced Apartments and Hotel in Amorsolo Drive, Rockwell Center.