Seems like only yesterday when Fat Willy’s was the happening club at The Fort with its wet white shirt contests. This was way back when Mule was the girlie drink of choice, when Le Soufflé was the most prestigious restaurant in the area and parking was abundant. Then came the construction boom of residential and commercial properties.
Today, The Fort is teeming with bars and lounges for people of all ages from all walks of life, and parking has become a penance.
Used to be that Bistro Filipino was a lone-standing restaurant; today there are clusters of restaurants at Serendra, 7th Avenue, Burgos Circle and the Venice Piazza, to name a few hot spots. The number of restos—fast food and fine dining—can be dizzying, so here are a few favorites to answer that never-ending query of where to eat…
Abé remains the top favorite. There is something about Kapampangan cuisine that easily captures the diner’s heart through the stomach. This Larry J. Cruz restaurant remains a favorite because the quality of both its food and service has been maintained. The Binukadkad na Pla-pla, Paco Fern Salad and Halo-Halo still provide the very vibrant Filipino flavors that Pinoys are accustomed to, while the ambience provides a setting that would allow even foreigners to appreciate our cuisine in a unique setting (although I still wish that a musician would actually play kundiman instrumentals live from their makeshift veranda).
Thankfully, other Filipino restaurants have joined Abé in the “highly recommended” list.
For a more casual setting, the best flavors are at Kabisera ng Dencio’s, from the same group behind Dencio’s, which must be credited for mastering the art of casual Filipino dining. This is one place which proves that a good restaurant need not be pretentious with sky-high prices to kill your pocket. Have the Rodrigo’s Roast: three huge spirals of pork slow-roasted before being made into adobo. This dish was named after culinary expert Enriqueta David-Perez’s husband and was inspired by her book. Best paired with a cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen.
For a more flamboyant ambience, head to Cafe Juanita at Burgos Circle. The Dinuguan Doctor swears by Cafe Juanita’s dinuguan (blood stew), and The Fort will have to settle for this until Kanin Club opens a branch here.
For the best sinigang and adobo flakes—and you may be surprised by this because this resto made its name with its Peter Luger-style steaks—head over to Mamou. Malou Fores has proven that she is a master of Pinoy cooking as much as she is a steak aficionado. The Kurobuta sinigang here is one of the best in the country: the right amount of sour, the soup a little more on the textured rather than brothy side and oh so flavorful pork.
For street food, check out Aracama. Pair your Belvedere with kwek-kwek, bituka, chicharon bulaklak—all served on a plate so you won’t have “to make tusok-tusok” (spear) the fish balls! Chef Fernando Aracama must have realized, in his years of being executive chef of renowned club Embassy, that inside every partying socialite is a jejemon appetite!
Best Cuisines Around the World
MEXICAN: Orale beats even other taquerias in the metro with its packed burrito. With its simple yet upbeat ambience, it provides escape here in the afternoon so you can forget problems at work with a margarita.
ITALIAN: L’Opera continues to serve their regional Tuscan cuisine in an elegant setting.
INDIAN: Kebab Factory serves really good Indian cuisine in a modest setting.
KOREAN: Negative. Drive to Jupiter and the gillage (edge of the village) streets off Rockwell!
CHINESE: Negative too! But Eat Well, The Fort’s response to North Park (which has opened a branch at Market! Market!), has developed its own following among Chinese fast food lovers.
JAPANESE: Negative still. Forget The Fort and head over to Pasay Road! Once in a while, though, the chef at Keizo at Burgos Circle gets fresh fish from Japan but you’d have to call in and ask for specific dates when these are expected to arrive. Tatami in Serendra could be your next best bet, although sushi fanatics will be happy to dine at Rose, a beautifully designed sushi bar at an area of The Fort that is quite distant from all the madness. Otherwise, there is just Japanese fusion, which arguably doesn’t really count as Japanese food.
FRENCH: Champetre. Chef Marc Aubry is hands-on and will reprimand you if you complain about your sea bass. It doesn’t get more French than that! Seriously, though, order a foie gras terrine and judge for yourself.
AMERICAN. I will go out on a limb here and stand up for good ol’ Friday’s. Burgers, fries, milkshakes with pop music blaring in the background. From the time it opened its first branch in Glorietta back when Dayanara Torres was still dating Aga Muhlach and the Yangs surprised the Americans with how their simple fast food chain could be upgraded in Manila, Friday’s continues to bring us ribs and burgers the American way.
SPANISH: Doreen Fernandez said it before and it may well be said again: Gaudi serves really good Spanish cuisine. But for tapas to enjoy with Spanish wine after a long day, head over to Barcino for their imported meats.
SINGAPOREAN: Shiok, an unassuming restaurant near a gas station, offers authentic Hainanese chicken rice.
THAI: They all taste the same.
Hands down the best steak at The Fort is still at Mamou. It used to offer just a signature rib-eye but now it has four choices for steak connoisseurs, adding to its menu dry-aged bone-in rib-eye, 28-day dry aged T-bone and 28-day dry aged porterhouse. There is no sense in looking elsewhere.
Pizza is abundant at The Fort, probably because even the streets are patterned after New York. Wood-fired pizza is available at Stella. Panizza is available at Uncle Cheffy’s. Balducci’s and Puccini’s serve Italian-style pizza. And S&R serves American-style pizza. But the recent favorite is the New York style pizza of Nolita: Columbia grads say it takes them back to the streets of New York, and you can’t argue with someone who went to the same school as Spider-Man.
There are three things The Fort still needs: a church, more parking space and breakfast joints. Thankfully, Wildflour has answered the call for brunch. They make a mean hot chocolate as well as their own bread that is crusty outside and soft inside. On weekends, Wildflour is closed but you can have steak and eggs at Malcolm’s, hidden at a corner near McKinley. It opens early and you can duck in after your morning weekend jog.
This is where The Fort beats other cities. Topping the list is newcomer Karen Yang’s Chez Karine. For a big group, have the Honey Toast (now only available on weekends, unfortunately). For a date, have the chocolate ambrosia or a bottled pudding. And for your sweet fix, Yang offers perfectly textured macarons.
The queen of cakes, however, is still Cristina Rivera. Sweet Bella at Burgos Circle is home to her Sweet Charlotte cake that may be appreciated in mango or strawberry flavors. The queen of cupcakes is still Sonja Ocampo’s Cupcakes by Sonja, with the choco cream pie forever etched in our hearts, till death do we part. But Sen. Pia Cayetano’s Slice on 7th Avenue is also gaining its own following with its hearty muffins.
For wines, there’s CAV although Aubergine’s selection is quite impressive, too. For Spanish wines, go to Barcino. For whiskey, hang out at 2nd’s. For fancy beer with even better beer chow, there’s Draft. For the best mojito-and again you may be surprised by this-have the frozen mojito at Mamou. And for those who are more mature, keep it sober with tea at da.u.de, which boasts of an impressive tea selection amidst a chic black and white setting.
A few Fort tips:
Know where you’re going. It gets confusing when you are not familiar with the streets. Be prepared to walk because you may have to park quite a distance from your restaurant destination. Bring an umbrella.
The developers apparently had a nonchalant attitude towards rain. Most importantly, be prepared to spend. That’s the idea. Enjoy! •