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It’s almost summer — have you lost that excess holiday weight yet? If like us, you’re cram-jamming your diets to make it to summer season, this one’s for you. Seven restaurants around the city that will help you to avoid all the unnecessary fattening junk, stay within your calorie count, and eat properly. Hooray, summer!
1. The Vegetarian Kitchen
62-B Mother Ignacia Avenue, Quezon City; +63 2 3555622, +63915 8300511. Tue-Sat 11am-9pm.
With its straightforward meatless menu, the 32-seater Vegetarian Kitchen is trying to open minds and mouths to vegetarian cuisine. Their dishes are something even meat eaters love, as savory as any meat-based dish.
“The way we cook our food is the way meat eaters prepare and cook meat dishes. Flavor is of utmost importance to us, and we’ve gone beyond just compiling leaves on a bowl,” says Tita M. Soliongco, daughter of literary writer and editor I.P. Soliongco, kitchen head and Hare Krishna devotee. Perhaps you can call her a tofu master — she can absolutely turn tofu into almost anything!
MUST-ORDER: The Grilled Salmon with Coriander Pesto (PHP329) can satisfy any fish craving with its chewy and creamy you-won’t-believe-it’s-not-fish goodness. The Bibimbap Korean Rice Bowl (PHP291) is filling and flavorful with a perfect balance of nutrients. Crispy Tofu Skins with Black Bean Dip (PHP199) will give you the same crunchiness and rich flavor as chicharon, sans the guilt. Other interesting meat-like alternatives include Spaghetti with Meatless Meatballs (half PHP192, full PHP296) and Spanish Lengua in Mushroom and Cream Sauce (PHP291).
TAKE NOTE: Soliongco doesn’t hesitate sharing her favorite ingredients, as well as her know-hows. Her cooking classes are announced on The Vegetarian Kitchen’s Facebook page.
2. Hillside Café & Juice Bar
57 Mother Ignacia Ave, Quezon City; +63916 2206883. Daily 11am-10pm.
Hillside Café & Juice Bar rests in the navel of a botanical depot and its offerings are just as organic. Lacto-vegetarian Alessa Lanot, together with her husband PJ, cousin Noelle Hilario who is a yogi and a vegetarian, and four more other partners, put up Hillside backed by their shared philosophy: “To present food in its original state, bring awareness about healthier eating and raise consciousness about having a well-balanced nutrition. We’d like to bridge the gap also between those who are starting a [healthy] lifestyle and those who are already in the mindset, finding the common ground together, which is wellness.”
Here you’ll find a rainbow of superfood-filled smoothies (PHP185) served in tall glasses bearing green and fruity combinations as if sipping a whole salad; detox juices (PHP155) themed according to your needs, and if you’re craving for a full plate, you’ll definitely have a lot good stuff to choose from.
MUST-ORDER: The Mango Beet and Hillside Greens smoothies pack in vegetable proteins plus iron and omegas from hemp, spinach, malunggay and chia seeds. Alohamelon detox juice, with its natural alkalizers and electrolyte boosters from watermelon, coconut water and lime, makes a good sports drink.
Vegetarians will dig the Eggplant Parmigiana’s (PHP235) lofty stack of eggplants, fresh basil, tomato sauce and cheeses — like moussaka and ratatouille combined. The air-fried Roast Chicken (PHP255) with its tender and juicy-to-the-core tastiness won’t make you miss the sinful deep-fried versions. Make room for raw and gluten-free desserts like the Raw Chocolate Caramel Bar (PHP75 each), or the soft and chewy Raw Choco Goji Berry Power Balls (PHP110), so divine you’ll want to take some home.
TAKE NOTE: Hillside sources its ingredients from different local organic farms around the country.
3. Green Pastures
Unit A320, 3/F, Eastwood Mall, Bagumbayan, Quezon City; +63 2 6613612. Daily 10am-10pm.
Green Pastures successfully opened its second branch in Eastwood Mall mid-February 2015 (its third is coming to Bonifacio Global City later this year). Everything you’ll find in the menu, whether meat, poultry, fish, or dairy product, comes from farms, ranches and fisheries guided by principles of sustainability: “Increase local demand, as well as continuously support our local farmers, [which] should be the mindset of the food-loving Filipino,” shares Chef Robby Goco.
This trickles down to the very basic ingredients like eggs, which he sources from the bucolic Mataas na Kahoy in Batangas where native chickens nest in trees. He also travels to regions like Negros where a sake-like libation called Tapuy is produced and made into Tapuyrinhas (PHP220) with flavors like Mango and Mint, or Strawberry. Batangas-bred honey and ginger and turmeric bugs for organic sodas — Softies — are just a few of Goco’s regional finds, including goat cheese (local version of the chèvre), a gem found in Antipolo, Rizal.
MUST-ORDER: The Ricotta platter with Onion Jam and Roasted Garlic (PHP225), a dreamy coating on toast, tastes even better with a fine dot of sea salt. Crisp salads maintain virtues of freshness and flavor — its selection changes each month, according to “what’s available,” or in season. Try a bowl of Terra Natura (starts PHP430) with its mixture of earthy textures: soft leathery kale, grainy quinoa, juicy beet jewels, glassy baked onions, shards of sweet and crunchy cashew brittle and squash.
Burgers like the 80/20 Burger (PHP550), which combines 80 percent grass-fed beef with 20 percent smoked organic pancetta, are also home prepped, not mass-produced. The Chorizo Shrimp and Farm Fresh Egg Hash (PHP320), which comes with shoestring potatoes and chili definitely gets an award for savory, and its prize — the sublime sous-vide egg (kept at a constant 142°).
TAKE NOTE: Goco likes to cook from scratch, even with his cheeses, ketchup and sriracha. “I grew up in a bungalow with its own vegetable patch and native chickens roaming about. Everything was homemade, even broth from bones.” Currently, he and his team are pressing organic beets, corn, broccoli and mushrooms as entrée sauces. Some signature arsenals also include lemon oil (infused five hours), dehydrated tuna roe, onion jam and egg yolk sauce. “A big cooking philosophy of mine is terroir, where a combination of factors influence the unique character of a flavor.”
Forbes Town Road, Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +63 2 8337874. Daily 11am-11pm.
Two things drove 25-year old design entrepreneur Bianca Mabanta to open SUSI, the first vegan- and gluten-free restaurant in Metro Manila: having a digestive condition called Celiac disease, which causes intestinal damage when she eats gluten, and being inspired to help an Aeta community in Olongapo build their own livelihood. So two years ago, Bianca left Barcelona — her home since she was six — to open Susi.
“The whole process has been a good educational experience for me, and I will continue the path by also sharing information to others via seminars, showing documentaries and posting informative boards in the restaurant. The goal is for Susi to become a showroom for vegan cuisine and its wonderful health benefit.” It had its soft opening just last Valentine’s Day where diners got a sneak preview of its full menu that has cute references to vegan musicians and authors.
MUST-ORDER: Check out the smoked mushroom paté with roasted garlic called Faux Gras (PHP295). We’re loving the reference of this starter: Thom(ato) Yorke (PHP225), which is roasted tomato-beet soup with toasted bread. The Carb-No-Nara (PHP495) is creamy cashew Alfredo pasta with mushroom “bacon,” sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic and capers.
The Emerson (lentil-mushroom loaf served with ratatouille, mashed potatoes and gravy; PHP495), or Quinotto (teriyaki quinoa risotto with radish and mushroom “scallops”; PHP395). Susi also has desserts: Cacao that Cares (chocolate pear tart with a dark chocolate ganache and poached pears; PHP315), or Berry White (strawberry tart with a creamy almond-coconut base; PHP295).
TAKE NOTE: Servings are big enough to sustain you until the next snack. The homemade bread gives a delightful “normal bread” bite, unlike the sometimes either gummy or crumbly texture that is identified with some gluten-free versions.
5. Salad Stop!
G/F, Central Square, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +63 917 8046921. Daily 8am-10pm.
Salad Stop! is a Singapore import, thriving in the city state with 13 branches. It finally makes its way to our shores by way of Bonifacio Global City. Salad Stop! caters to working professionals in need of the quickest, freshest healthy fix: handmade crisp salads, wraps, soups and yogurt.
Creating all hand-tossed and hand-whisked delights of Salad Stop! is chef Vince Buan, who strictly abides by being true to what the café serves, meaning quality and portions. The servings are indeed substantial with room to share. “There’s no guilt here because you’re eating a good, clean salad that is also filling, so eating shouldn’t be a punishment, but rather a treat.” Salad Stop! has over 60 toppings and almost 20 dressings to choose from.
MUST-ORDER: The salad selection, with fresh romaine lettuce as the “base” star, boasts signatures, with wrap options: Hail Caesar (starts at PHP250), which is a better take on the classic Caesar salad because it doesn’t have salt and vinegar. The Jai Ho! (starts PHP250) lends the exotic taste of Bollywood to your usual lettuce bowl: tandoori chicken, Indian-spiced yogurt, chickpeas, capsicum and cherry tomatoes.
For a Singaporean sizzle, the Oh Crab Lah! (starts PHP250) delivers the famous moderately spicy Singapore chili crab dressing to lettuce, vermicelli, crab sticks, red onions, egg and croutons. Local tastebuds will love Sunshine Manila (starts PHP250): romaine, tuna flakes, brown rice, cherry tomatoes, crispy lumpia skin in a tamarind citrus vinaigrette.
TAKE NOTE: “By March, we’re aiming to offer 100 percent local and organic produce. We are already dedicating a piece of land in Batangas exclusive to Salad Stop!,” Buan shares. A second branch is also coming soon!
6. The Wholesome Table
30th St cor 7th Ave, Bonifacio High Street Central, Taguig; +63 2 8670000, or +63 2 6214111. Daily 11am-11pm.
The Wholesome Table’s goal of building a healthy food culture begins by taking food-loving Pinoys back to the basics, away from “convenient eating” and fast food. It reflects the conscious lifestyle that owner Bianca Elizalde has practiced for many years. “In this lifetime you will only have one body; and if you are what you eat, then eat right and eat well,” she says.
She is a seasoned baker, but Elizalde ensures that refined sugars are off-limits at The Wholesome Table. “We are all about using better ingredients that are organic and locally-sourced, meaning food is always made from scratch, nothing from a can, box or packet. Most of our food goes straight from the farm to your plate.” Dates and raw honey are used to sweeten smoothies, soups don’t have extenders, beef dishes come from grass-fed cows, chickens are from free-roaming poultry farms, and pork from pigs that aren’t cramped in unsanitary dens.
Completely hands-on when it comes to updating her restaurant’s menu, Elizalde constantly challenges executive chef Jay Rollan and his team to play around numerous ingredients and whip up new dishes that surprise with incredible taste.
MUST-ORDER: Tables are always teeming with house favorites like the famous burrata cheese topped with grape tomatoes, fresh basil drizzled with balsamic reduction over sourdough toasts (PHP290); and mason jars filled with superfood-laden smoothies like Be Delicious (PHP290). Chef’s favorites include the Barcelona pizza (PHP690), Margarita (P490) and Graze Land (P690). The chef also recommends the Truffled Lapu-Lapu (PHP670). Other delicious mains include the chicken marsala (PHP750) and slow-braised pork (PHP990) — both good for sharing, as well as the Grass-fed Beef Tenderloin (P850).
TAKE NOTE: Elizalde advises regulars, especially those with specific diets, to ask the kitchen for an “option” that meets their nutrition needs, like gluten-free diet. She and Rollan are already working to expand the restaurant’s gluten-free range.
7. Lucy in the Sky Café
222 Wilson St, Greenhills, San Juan; +63 2 3704113. Daily 11am-9pm.
Run by a family of “practical” vegetarians, Lucy in the Sky aims to re-introduce vegetarianism to regular meat-eating folk as a type of cuisine that is simple, delicious, and not difficult. “We really would like to show that vegetarianism isn’t different from regular diets. We eat like regular people,” says Maya Ladyong, the owner of the place. “We don’t want to scare people with specialized ingredients so there are things here that we source from regular groceries, like the buns for our veggie burgers, for instance,” she adds.
It opened in August 2014. Carnivores have been braving the meatless diet that Lucy in the Sky is serving. Majority of the customers are set-in-their-ways elderly folk from Greenhills and nearby Addition Hills. “The ones with dietary restrictions and special needs,” laughs Maya.
MUST-ORDER: My Momma’s Burgers (PHP185) is made with banana blossom pattie tucked into a garden of greens and a well-toasted regular bun. The vegetarian sisig (PHP195) and the barbecue (PHP185) are made with wheat protein that is prepare every morning.
TAKE NOTE: The Ladyong parentals turned vegetarian more than 30 years ago, not for dietary reasons. It’s the more peaceful way of living, they say. Maya has never tasted meat, so items on their menu like sisig and barbecue, are run through her mother.