THERE’S a new dining hub in Quezon City. It’s called U.P. Town Center, and it stands right where the High School Department of the University of the Philippines-Diliman used to be. It’s strategically located within the 7.4-hectare U.P. Diliman East Campus property along Katipunan Ave., Quezon City, and is Ayala Malls’ newest development that houses both retail stores and offices.
Due to its location, U.P. Town Center has been envisioned to be a haven for students, professors and young professionals who want to relax and unwind after a stressful day in the campus. Now that it’s open to the public after its first phase of construction has been completed, it is fast becoming a favorite hangout place for its target clientele. It’s mainly a dining hub because, out of its 28 initial merchants, 26 are restaurants.
I recently got to ‘discover’ the many dining possibilities of U.P. Town Center when Ayala Malls management, led by Rowena Tomeldan, invited media friends over for a “food crawl.” It turned out to be almost literally a “food crawl,” as the lunchtime food sampling involved 11 restaurants and stretched for more than four hours of nonstop food tasting.
THE GREEK CONNECTION
Lunch began at Kos Greek Ouzeni, owned by Romy Mercado and whose full Greek menu was developed by Chef Mats Loo of First Gourmet Academy. Kos offers an extensive menu of Green mezedes (appetizers), soupas (soups), salatas (salads), pasta, seafood, meat, gyros (pork, chicken or lamb wrapped in pita bread with yogurt garlic sauce, sliced tomatoes and onion, and served with French fries), souvlaki (skewered meat served with roasted vegetables, yogurt garlic sauce and red pepper sauce), ladera (side dishes), psomi (freshly baked breads) and glyka (desserts).
Popular Greek dishes can be found here, including Tzatziki (yogurt cucumber dip flavored with garlic and dill), Hummus be thini (mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic), Spanacopita (spinach pie made with layers of phyllo and a filling of seasoned spinach, onion, scallions and feta cheese), Moussaka (layers of potatoes, eggplants and meat sauce, topped with béchamel sauce and shredded cheese) and Baklava (sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo pastry and filled with chopped nuts sweetened with syrup).
For the food sampling, it had Moussaka, Garides Saganaki (shrimps and cheese baked in oven), Kalamaria Toursi (squid marinated in vinegar with herbs and spices), Greek Pasta with Tomatoes, Feta and Dill, several dips, and unlimited Kos Bread, Karythopita (spiced walnut cake) and Pontica (orange cake in syrup), among others.
Second stop was at Boon Tong Kee, a Hainanese Chicken restaurant that originates from Singapore and brought in to the Philippines by the owners of Burgoo and partner Miguel Aranaz. As diners who have tried the food of Boon Tong Kee in Singapore expect, the restaurant serves all of its signature dishes, including Hainanese Boiled Chicken (cooked using the Cantonese process of preparing and cooking the chicken to make the meat juicier and more succulent), Crispy Cereal Prawns, Prawn Toast (fresh prawn meat delicately pressed on bread slices then deep-fried to golden crispiness, served with green tea mayo), Char Siu Bun (asado meat wrapped in bun and fried) and Fried Spare Ribs with Zhen Jiang Sauce.
Piñac is a Kapampangan word for “swamp.” It follows therefore that Piñac, the restaurant, specializes in Kampampangan cuisince, specifically traditional Candaba cuisine using the heirloom recipes of the Pelayo family who hails from Candaba. Candaba is an old town in Pampanga that’s known for its swamp. Small wonder lovely fresh pink lotus flowers, whose petals have been carefully tucked in, form part of the dining table setup of the restaurant.
Piñac offers dishes prepared using fresh produce from the various farms in Candaba, counting among its specialties Candaba Longganisa, Buro, Sisig, Kare-Kare, Crispy Pata, Crispy Hito and Lengua.
We tried the Crispy Hito Balls, Mustasa at Buro (fried catfish balls wrapped in fresh mustasa leaves and dipped in buro or fermented fish), Ensaladang Pako with Fried Itik Floss (edible fern with salted egg, green mango, cucumber and tomatoes, served with Pinac vinaigrette and topped with deep-fried itik floss), Chef Nino’s Rellenong Manok (chicken stuffed with ground pork, chorizo and cheese on a bed of mashed camote) and Pinac’s Crispy Pata (boneless pork knuckle poached in aromatics for 6 hours then deep-fried) with a refreshing glass of Tanglad Dalandan Iced Tea.
There are several menu items that I find interesting to try: Lumpiang Ubod Taquitos, Mantekadong Balut, Sizzling Bulalo with Mushroom Gravy, White Dulong Pizza, and Brazo de Mais and Salabat.
HOMEGROWN CEBUANO CONCEPT
Casa Verde is a Cebuano food concept, but it does not serve Cebuano food. It specializes in Western food, specifically ribs and steaks. Steaks hot off the grill include The Dax (a combination of USDA eye fillet steak topped with brown sauce and onion, paired with a catch of tavern shrimps, and served with tartar sauce, harvest rice and vegetable medley), John Jay’s Steak & Pasta (marinated USDA steak with brown sauce, served with a side of spaghetti noodles sautéed in olive oil and garlic), and David Dean’s Tenderloin (single USDA steak on a mound of mashed potato, topped with cheese and brown sauce, garnished with fried onion and roasted almonds).
There’s also fried and roasted chicken on the menu, as well as seafood entrees, decadent desserts and milk shakes.
Casa Verde is also the place where diners can find a huge 12-inch burger called The Mighty Ton.
SPECIALIZING IN PORK
Young food entrepreneur Richie Yang, who is responsible for the successful chains Super Bowl of China, Yomenya Goemon Japanese Spaghetti and Red China by Super Bowl, is also the brains behind the new Tokyo Tonteki at U.P. Town Center. The first and only franchise outside of Japan, the restaurant prides itself in having the passion for perfectly prepared pork. It uses only thick cuts of premium, high grade tonteki or pork steak for its Tonteki Sets (premium pork steaks) and Tonburg Sets (premium ground pork in burger form).
To go with these hearty set meals, Tokyo Tonteki offers starters such as Spicy Bean Sprouts and Spring Roll of Prosciutto, Avocado and Onsen Egg, and salads like Potato Salad and Avocado & Tofu Salad.
The Spring Roll of Prosciutto, Avocado and Onsen Egg is particularly interesting because the Prosciutto ham and avocado go very well with Onsen egg, which is a Japanese-style soft-boiled egg. The best way to eat it is to break the yolk of the soft-boiled egg and use it like a dressing on the ham and avocado.
AUTHENTIC TAIWANESE CUISINE
If you’re craving for authentic Taiwanese Beef Noodles and Crispy Dumplings (half pan-fried and half-boiled crispy dumplings that are both chewy and crunchy), Red Onion is the place to go. Its 39 Spices Beef Noodles is to die for. As its name suggests, there are 39 different spices that go into the braised beef broth. The noodles are hand-shaved, and diners can even watch, through the open kitchen, the chef hand-shaving the noodles from a big dough, straight into a pot of boiling water. Diners can have as much hand-shaved noodles as they want.
Red Onion also specializes in freshly made dumplings as well as other Taiwanese dishes, such as Double Fried Sweet and Sour Pork, Sichuan Peppercorn Chicken, and Taiwanese Pork Chop with Braised Pork.
SPECIALIZING IN KATSU
From the same owners of Chicken Bon Chon come Ginza Bairin, which elevates the concept of teishoku, or Japanese set meal, by offering endless enjoyment of katsu (crispy, golden-fried meats) with unlimited Japanese kashihikari rice, genmaicha (Japanese brown rice tea), miso soup, cabbage salad, wasabi shoyu dressing and roasted sesame dressing.
The katsu choices are rosu (loin), hire (tenderloin), kurobuta rosu (Berkshire black pig), chicken, kushi katsu (tenderloin chunks and onions on skewers). Seafood choices include Prawn Fry Set, Salmon Fry Set, Premium White Fish Fry Set and Unagi Katsu Set.
Ginza Bairin also offers katsudon sets (katsu rice bowls) as well as Katsu Sando (crisp hire katsu sandwiched between soft, freshly baked bread, and seasoned with two sauces).
BRIOCHE FRENCH TOAST
As for IHOP, which is known for its breakfast fares, it has just introduced its new breakfast innovation, Brioche French Toast, which was introduced in the United States earlier this year. An exciting twist on an established breakfast classic, these thick-cut slices of rich, round brioche bread are soaked in a lightly sweetened vanilla batter and grilled to a delicate warm golden crispiness. It comes in three flavorful toppings: Berry Berry Brioche French Toast, Peaches & Cream Brioche French Toast and Bananas Foster Brioche French Toast.
A hip and modern restaurant, Torch Restaurant serves international fusion cuisine. It carries a relatively expansive men u inspired mostly by Japanese and Italian dishes, such as ultra thin and crispy pizza in various flavors, hot sushi choices, steaks and burgers.
Must-tries include White Truffle Sausage Panizza (grilled Italian sausages drizzled with white truffle oil on a fresh, oven-baked panizza, topped with mozzarella cheese, and served with refillable alfalfa sprouts, arugula and salsa), Gambas Pizza (shrimps sauteed in Chipotle garlic olive oil, served on top of a crispy pizza), Philly Cheese Steak Pizza (classic Philly cheese steak sandwich filling on thin crust, topped with mozzarella and cream cheese), Volcano Roll (freshly baked sushi roll filled with tempura, tamago and Japanese cucumber, topped with spice-baked U.S. scallops), and Steak Fondue (melt-in-your-mouth Ribeye Meltique Beef with five different sauces from five different countries).
To wash all the food down, try Dragon Sangria, a light and refreshing white wine sangria with fresh dragonfruit and guava, served in a fish bowl.
VIETNAMESE FOOD AND COFFEE
Highland Coffee is a Vietnamese coffee chain focusing on traditional Vietnamese brewed coffee and espresso based drinks. Vietnamese Coffee is served in cups with evaporated milk and topped with a handy coffee brewer, from where coffee flows into the cup. Also available are machiattos, iced lattes and flavored lattes, as well as a full range of complementary food such as pastries and sandwiches. A must-try is the Banh Mi Chicken Sandwich.
Also a coffee shop that serves a whole range of hot and cold coffee concoctions, Café Shibuya specializes in freshly baked French Toasts served with toppings and a scoop of ice cream. Flavor choices include Strawberry Matcha Toast (honey toast dusted with matcha green tea powder and lavished with cinnamon strawberries, served with green tea ice cream), Tiramisu (Italian-inspired toast brushed with Kahlua syrup and cream cheese, served with coffee ice cream), All American PB&J (creamy peanut butter, strawberry jelly, banana and vanilla ice cream) and Ultimate Chocolate (rich and dark Belgian chocolate sauce with marshmallows, chocolate chips and rocky road ice cream).
Café Shibuya also serves savory dishes such as pastas, a best-selling item of which is Mentaiko Pasta (Japanese-Italian fusion which pairs cod roe with olive oil).