A recent online article detailing the 40 or so new restaurants opening in 2015 reveals as much as what foodies can look forward to as the state of the cutthroat food wars in the metropolis. Majority of the listed dining options come from established brands from North America, Europe and East Asia; ready to serve the Pinoy palate already satiated from the katsudon, ramen and pork bun trends of the years past.
The sad reality is that while these foreign franchises do bring something new, the food they serve do not always taste the same as how it is back in their country of origin.
Whether it is in the ingredients, preparation or cooking method, sometimes, a home-grown concept is the better choice as the proprietors tweak and adjust global food concepts and flavors to suit the Pinoy taste buds and not the other way around.
It’s refreshing to see the young entrepreneurs behind Croque Cafe + Bakery doing their own thing, challenging the giants of the food industry and making it on their own. Less than a year old, Croque sits right in the middle of the stretch of Arnaiz Avenue (Pasay Road) between EDSA to Osmeña Highway.
The ground floor cafe, with interior and exterior designs inspired by the laid-back restaurants of southern France, has already attracted its fair share of weekday Makati yuppies seeking set lunch options to out-of-town folks opting for a peaceful Saturday brunch.
Visiting Croque on a January/February Saturday morning meant that coffee should be the first thing ordered before going through the food menu. While I found the White Chocolate Mocha a tad sweet, the Butterscotch Hazelnut Joy that my companions had was spot on. The warmth of the beverages and the inspiring hand-written message in each mug used were just like “receiving warm hugs” on breezy day.
For starters, Coconut Pumpkin Soup and Dilis Arugula Salad are good alternatives to the classic onion soup and Caesar salad. Despite a personal displeasure eating anything with coconut in it (except gata-based dishes), I enjoyed the coconut pumpkin soup for its balance flavor. Never mind that the bowl of soup lacked the pine nuts mentioned in the menu, the silky smooth texture of the soup coupled with the freshly baked bread makes this dish a winner.
Clearly a Filipino-inspired dish, the Dilis Arugula Salad neither tastes fishy nor drowns in too much dressing. In between the starters and entrees, we were given Fried Pan de Sal dough with Homemade Corned Beef Paté and Strawberry Jam, an innovation from the kitchen not yet on the menu but as of writing, was served complimentary to diners.
The corned beef paté is very salty on its own but makes for a good spread or filling with the fried dough. The fried bread itself doesn’t taste or feel like the traditional oven-baked Filipino staple, but one can’t really blame the chefs for daring to give the classic pan de sal with corned beef with a touch of sophistication.
Interestingly enough, the three mains that we ordered are staples in three different countries. The Open-Face Croque Madame is a French grilled ham and cheese sandwich while the Shepherd’s Pie’s place of origin is in the United Kingdom. The Silog Medley of course is completely Filipino through and through.
I was actually excited about the Croque Madame, expecting that this dish would be excellent since the restaurant took its name from the French sandwich. Though not disappointing in taste, the open-faced nature of the sandwich meant that eating it entails the use of a fork and a knife. Not an easy thing considering the thickness of the bread, ham, cheese and Bechamel sauce.
I would have personally preferred the yolk of the fried egg to be still runny. From what I can conclude, the dish was first prepared then put under a broiler or salamander to toast; this was reason for the yolk to become dry and hard.
The oldest dish of the three, spanning back to the 19th century, the Shepherd’s Pie was easily my favorite from the main courses. Made with minced lamb, potato puree and Parmiggiano Reggiano, it is comfort food at its best. An order is just enough for one hungry person or for two lovebirds to share.
The thinking behind the Silog Medley is why choose between pork tocino and beef tapa when you can have both? The textures and flavors were right on as chewing the beef tapa didn’t feel like eating leather while the pork tocino was soft and not too sweet.
Should professionals and foodies still find enough space after a power lunch or weekend brunch, desserts and pastries like the Three Layer Chocolate Cake and Red Velvet Cheese Mousse should satisfy the sweetest of teeth.
Scanning the dining area, one cannot help but notice three positive words adorning the walls of Croque: dream, believe and eat. Powerful words that not only act as positive reenforcement for its diners and patrons but also reflect the principles and beliefs of the chefs/owners with regards to Manila’s bustling food scene.