The joy of eating

There is almost always a restaurant opening in the metropolis — either to excite the taste buds or simply elevate the Filipino dining experience. Yes, from Filipino dishes to American-Italian fare and specialty steakhouse, there will always be something for everyone to discover, relish and enjoy.

A cozy, contemporary space ensconced inside the Estancia Mall in Pasig City, Locavore is given true Filipino touches with its warm woods, rattan chairs, rustic pendant lights and an expansive glass window that provides an exceptional view of the surrounding environs.

OLIVE Garden’s Herb Roasted Chicken.

Opened last May, Locavore at Estancia Mall is the seventh branch of the restaurant, which catapulted to prominence in the culinary arena in 2014 after it opened its first branch at Brixton Barrio Kapitolyo, also in Pasig City. It then opened at Forbestown in Taguig City, Valero Street in Makati City, S’Maison in Pasay City, Eastwood Mall in Quezon City and SM City Bacoor.

With the talented chef Mikel Zaguirre and his team at the helm, Locavore takes the homey heartwarming flavors of Filipino cooking gives a more sophisticated interpretation. And with the newly opened branch comes an expanded menu and new dishes exclusively in the Estancia outlet.

For starters, have the crisp BBM or Bagnet, Buro and Mustasa — a platter filled with thinly sliced, crispy pork bagnet chips that you wrap in mustasa leaves (Samgyup style) seasoned with burong (pickled) hipon and burong mangga with gochugaru (Korean chili flakes).

Follow it up with Bistek Pintxos, toasted bread decked with bistek-style beef tenderloin, grilled quesong puti, truffle aioli and red onions.

OLIVE Garden’s Purple White Cocktail.

“The new dishes are presented on slate plates because they are mostly bar chows,” says Alejandro Pahan Jr., operations manager. “That’s our new concept. We were thinking of madaling kainin (easy to eat) and something fun. Because samgyup is trending, we came up with pintxos.”

The resto also has Bulalo Pintxos, roasted bone marrow with pickled labanos and pares jam; Yakitori Platter, grilled skewered chicken wings, chicken thigh meat, gizzard and liver served with annatto aioli, tocino butter, miso butter and spiced suka; Bagnet Chips, housemade bagnet chips served with spiced vinegar; and Inasalitos, inasal chicken with salsa, labuyo aioli served in lumpia taco shell.

All these dishes are paired with seven new signature cocktail drinks, crafted by its in-house mixologist. Pahan says the new refreshing drinks heavily relies on the food being served at the restaurant. They complement the taste of the meals. Locavore serves alcohol and spirits.

The drinks include Hardin, a hybrid between gin tonic and Tom Collins, with tonic water and botanicals and floral notes like blue pea and elderflower (which has a similar taste notes of lychee), garnished with rosemary and black pepper; Kinilig, a combo of Disaronno amaretto, honey, lemon juice and rum, with rice paper art design on top; Diwata, a blend of Bombay Sapphire gin with Giffard Lychee liqueur, sugar syrup and lemon juice, dressed with basil sprig and forget me not flower; and Antibayotiko, a whiskey-based mix of bourbon, ginger liqueur, honey and lemon juice.

Locavore at Estancia Mall has a seating capacity of 120 people and targets bar goers in the area. It’s open until 1 a.m. from Wednesday to Saturday. The rest of the week, it follows the mall hours.

A visit to the newly opened third branch of Olive Garden at The Verve in BGC, Taguig City, is a journey of discovery into a world of delicious and affordable pasta, bread, salad, chicken and pizza sensibilities.

The menu is broad and touches base with all the departments of classic Italian-American fare. Upon arrival, diners are swiftly delivered a basket of freshly baked breadsticks, which are widely popular in all 900 Olive Garden stores all over the world, including the Philippines. They are buttery, a bit garlicky, moist and chewy. The unlimited breadsticks, including the never-ending soups and salads, come free with every order of an entrée. What a treat!

LOCAVORE’S BBM (Bagnet, Buro, Mustasa).

The refreshing salad is a merry mix of healthy greens, tomatoes and olives with a light house dressing, while the soup selection includes Pasta E Fagioli, Zuppa Toscana, Minestrone and Chicken & Gnocchi.

Olive Garden first opened at the Mall of Asia on 12 September 2022 and at Glorietta 3 in Makati City on 9 January 2023.

“It is, more or less, the same menu that we have for our first branch in MOA and also the same menu all over the United States,” Rechele Tiongson, chief operating officer of The Bistro Group, the company responsible for bringing in Olive Garden which was founded in 1982 in Orlando, Florida. “We never changed anything aside from modifying some of the portions that would fit the Filipino market, but the taste and flavor are the same. We use the finest ingredients like imported cheeses.”

She adds: “Just to be clear, we did not reduce the portions but we introduce the smaller ones like solo version for those will smaller appetites. The big portions remain the same.”

Browsing the menu uncovers more inviting dishes, such as the signature item, Tour of Italy (a huge platter of everything good — Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna Classico and Fettucino Alfredo pasta), Amazing Alfredos (made from scratch using imported cheeses, not just heavy cream) and an Italian classic, Shrimp Scampi.

Just recently, four new dishes were introduced — Mediterranean Chicken, Chicken Tuscany, Roasted Herb Chicken and Italian Braised Short Ribs, all served with a choice of mashed potato or steamed rice.

“We are happy with the response of the public to Olive Garden,” shares Tiongson. “It was extremely unexpected when we first opened in MOA. We were busy for the next six months of the restaurant.
The queue was really long. People had to wait for 30 to 45 minutes, which we felt bad for our customers, but that was how they responded to the first opening of Olive Garden in the Philippines.”

Olive Garden’s vibe is casual, light and bright yet it is warm and comforting with olive green accents. The design of the interiors is an allusion to the Italian countryside through earth tones and natural textures. It can accommodate 150 people.

Olive Garden at The Verve in BGC is open from Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

LOCAVORE’S Sizzling Sinigang.

Tron Ng, Astons business development executive based in Singapore, flew to Manila last, 22 September, in time for the opening of the third branch of Astons Specialities, a Singapore-based restaurant chain renowned for serving affordable steaks and Western cuisine, at Arcovia City in Pasig City.

Astons is a casual steakhouse which first opened in the Philippines last year on the 4/F of Mega Atrium in SM Megamall. The second branch was at Trinoma Mall in Quezon City early this year.

Silver Lush Food Corporation brought in the Singapore brand to satisfy the cravings of steak lovers and those who enjoy more seafood, chicken, sausages, burgers and pasta dishes.

“This is our third outlet in the Philippines in a span of 16 months,” says Ng. “We have been around since 2005 when it was founded by Aston Soon. We started as a very small coffeeshop in Singapore. Eventually, we managed to draw a lot of attention because we offer quality food at affordable prices.”

He adds: “Within a year, we opened our own restaurant and we continue to grow and expand. We have introduced many different brands under Astons and we have over 40 restaurants only in Singapore alone.”

OLIVE Garden Pasta Twirl. (From left) Zachary Reams of Darden Int’l Learning and Development partner; Marc Buencamino, Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation operations director; RC Tiongson, The Bistro Group chief operating officer; Lourdes Reyes, FBDC chief financial officer; and Lisa Ronquillo-Along, The Bistro Group chief marketing officer.

Aside from the Philippines, Aston Specialities can also be found in Myanmar and Malaysia. It was also recognized by the AsiaOne’s People Choice Awards and Asian Enterprise Brand Awards for its service and offerings.

“I believe Astons will do well in the Philippines because the locals lean more on western food,” Ng says.

Of course, the piece de resistance of Astons revolves around its steaks and meat, as it should be. The different cuts of meat from prime sirloin and New York strip to prime ribeye steak do not disappoint. Each has wonderful marbling with the juiciness of the meat, coating your tongue with every bite.

The perfect grill marks immediately excite one’s appetite and invite you to dig in with your own side dishes — potatoes (baked, mashed, wedges or fries), Mexican nachos (chicken or beef) or Mac & Cheese.

Other items on the menu are also a treat, such as Surf & Turf and Chargrilled Salmon Fillet, Grilled Porkchops and Honey Bourbon Ribs.

Cocktail drinks are also aplenty — Piña Colada, Tequila Sunrise, Daiquiri, Orange Margarita and Sangria, to name some.

With its industrial chandelier, brick accents and dark wood touches, the place takes on the air of an upscale roadhouse, but softened by the muted walls and expansive glass windows.

Astons Specialities at Arcovia City is open daily, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

All told, a trip to any of these newly opened restaurants guarantees a truly gratifying dining experience.