In 2001, I came across Café Metro along C5, Libis. The food was simple home cooking—a lot of traditional Filipino fare, plus anything the owners felt was delicious enough to serve.
Owners Mikey and Ria, whom I know, are both adventurous foodies whose first priority when traveling out of town is to eat at the most popular and most frequented restaurants. When they get back home, the new dishes they’ve discovered are immediately recreated in their kitchen, experimented on and given a new spin.
Today, Café Metro has evolved into Recipes restaurant. The husband-and-wife tandem has not stopped looking for new things to add to the menu. Some of their sources have come from the many restaurants we experienced together in Vancouver, Canada, one of which is a Cambodian restaurant called Phnom Penh.
That restaurant has an extensive menu, but the unassuming crispy chicken wings with pepper and lemon dip is one of its bestsellers. I would see traces of sugar on the plate, among other ingredients, while Mikey and I would rack our brains trying to figure out how this simple dish was so extraordinarily delicious.
One day, of course, Mikey figured it out. The rest of us were just content to be the guinea pigs for his kitchen experimentations.
In June 2011, Recipes did a taste test for a select group of diners at its newest outlet at Resorts World. Again, we were all excited to sample many of the prospective new dishes. With a straightforward presentation and just enough portion size, the dishes looked enticing. We were given rate sheets and served one dish at a time.
Mikey, like chef Gordon Ramsey, was in the kitchen shouting out orders to make sure everything that left that kitchen was perfect. (What you see in the “Hell’s Kitchen” show is not unusual. Everyone who works in a busy kitchen has become familiar with, even callous, to the “F” word, not to mention loud, shrill voices. It’s almost expected and nothing is to be taken personally. Trabaho lang po.)
Apart from Recipes bestsellers of Crispy General Chicken, Gising Gising veggies, Crispy Tilapia and a few others, the ones I believed should make the new list are the Calamansi Chicken, Tilapia with Tamarind sauce, and a few others.
The tamarind tilapia is a boneless tilapia dish, crispy fried and served with sampaloc sauce that has a new taste and is just divine. The source of this recipe is Mikey’s aunt Nora, who is now a resident of Vietnam.
Recipes’ seven-plus chain of restaurants is run like a well-oiled machine by Abie, the overall manager. She makes sure all the branches maintain the same quality of food. Most of the preparation is done at the commissary, and no matter where one dines, the quality is the same. Consistency is an area that is crucial to the life of a restaurant. It’s become the downfall of many chains.
Having said that, this is an area I intend to take seriously in my newly opened restaurant Wooden Spoon on Katipunan Avenue, across Ateneo and next to Ilocos Empanada. My partner Ding and I are making sure we can expand our reach while maintaining our high standards of quality. It is a work in progress.
Café Metro has come a long, long way. All restaurants should try to duplicate the consistency in food quality this place has mastered. Check it out and its new winners at any of the Recipes branches. I love going to the one on Greenbelt 3.