GARLIC. It’s one ingredient that we Filipinos cannot do without. Our ginisa (sautéed) dishes always start with garlic and onion and tomatoes. We fry garlic, we bake with it, we roast it, we do all sorts of things with it, and the dish always comes out smelling and tasting so heavenly delicious. No wonder a concept restaurant like Mad for Garlic was conceptualized in Korea some 13 years ago, and now the restaurant chain is in Manila after making waves in Singapore and Jakarta, Indonesia. It was brought in by Global Restaurant Concepts Inc. (GRCI), the same name behind California Pizza Kitchen, PF Chang’s and IHOP Philippines.
Mad for Garlic, which opened its first store in Manila at W Global Center along 30th St. cor. 9th Ave. in Bonifacio Global City very recently, showcases garlic-themed dishes using different varieties of garlic and cuts. It serves basically Italian cuisine with a twist of Asian flavors, especially since it was conceptualized in Korea. Like Filipinos, Koreans love garlic. Apparently, other Asians love garlic, as well, because when Mad for Garlic opened stores in Singapore and Indonesia, Mad for Garlic also turned out to be a big hit.
Its first Philippine store also happens to be the restaurant chain’s 23rd store in Asia.
Mad for Garlic is actually a wine bistro. It was conceptualized to be so in accordance with Korean culture, where working people between ages 20 and 40 like to hang out in wine bars after work to share a drink or two before heading home. In the Philippines, however, Mad for Garlic targets more of the family crowd, although it’s still carries a wide range of wines for the corporate crowd. It also offers basically the same menu from Korea.
The menu is quite extensive, with garlic-infused dishes from Starters and Salads to Pizza, Rice and Risotto choices, Pasta dishes, Steaks, Wine Dishes and Desserts. Yes, desserts! They have garlic in them. Well, actually one of them has. Garlic Sprinkle Gelato (Php175) is a special garlic ice cream served with a garlic cookie and garlic sprinkles. I had a taste of it last Tuesday (April 16, 2013), when GRCI invited the local food media to a food tasting at Mad for Garlic. It’s something different, something new that’s worth a try. It’s a unique way to end a garlic-infused meal.
We also got to try a number of specialty dishes that GRCI president and CEO Archie Rodriguez believes will become big hits in the Philippines. These include Dracula Killer (soft garlic bread serced with garlic cloves cooked in olive oil and anchovies), Zuppa di Pesce (a special spicy soup with various kinds of seafood, served with garlic bread sticks), Tutto Mushroom Salad (three kinds of mushrooms, served in teriyaki sauce with grilled red pepper, asparagus and arugula), classic Caprese Salad (fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella cheese with traditional basil dressing), Garlic Snowing Pizza (thin crust pizza with Mad for Garlic special sauce, topped with shrimps, pineapple and fried sliced garlic), Gorgonzola Pizza (pizza with gorgonzola cheese, served with honey), Crab and Lobster Pasta (spaghetti in garlic cream sauce with crab and lobster meat), and Dancing Salsa Rice with Steak (garlic rice served with wine-marinated beef, topped with fresh bean sprouts and fried egg).
Our lovely server specifically warned us that the Zuppa di Pesce (Php655) was spicy – and on the Starters menu, it had “two chilies” to symbolize its spice level, but when I got to taste it, the spice level was actually just alright for the Filipino palate. Not too spicy at all.
“At Mad for Garlic, you can tell your server to lessen or increase the spice level, and you can also request to either lessen or add more garlic into a dish that you’re ordering,” explains Manuel Zubiri, one of the owners.
I particularly liked the salads, especially the Tutto Mushroom Salad (Php665) because I love mushrooms – and there were three kinds in there – and I love arugula. The Caprese Salad (Php695) is a classic whose combination of mozzarella cheese and fresh tomatoes is always a winner. At Mad for Garlic, the mozzarella cheese slices are generous, and the tomatoes plump and juicy.
I also enjoyed the pizzas a lot. I love pizza, but I prefer the thin-crust type that allows me to enjoy the crunch of a really good crust and savor the toppings with the cheese and the sauce, so the thin-crust pizzas of Mad for Garlic were a delight to me. Garlic Snowing Pizza (Php545), which GCRI predicts will become a big hit in Manila, got my full attention because it looked so simple and yet so interesting and delicious. I don’t like biting into roasted garlic cloves. That’s not for me. I usually just swallow the roasted garlic cloves because garlic is good for the health, particularly the heart. But bite it? No way. In the case of the Garlic Snowing Pizza, what it has are very thinly sliced garlic that’s been fried to a golden crisp. I like that. And despite the generous garlic topping, it doesn’t taste overpoweringly garlicky. It has a mild sweet flavor and a good crunch, which is a good combination. The Gorgonzola Pizza (Php475) I liked because it was so simple and unpretentious. There’s just melted gorgonzola cheese on top, nothing more fancy or elaborate added to it.
There are 12 choices when it comes to Pasta dishes, but Mad for Garlic chose to serve Crab and Lobster Pasta (Php475) for a reason. It’s a refreshing cream-based pasta concoction that capitalizes on the mild, natural flavors of crab and lobster meat. For diners who prefer cream-based pasta dishes over tomato-based ones, this will certainly be a good choice. Pasta dishes at Mad for Garlic offer a good variety. There’s even a soup-based pasta dish called Red Devil (spicy soup-based pasta) (Php595) on the menu, which sounds quite interesting. Except for the fact that it carries a “three chilies” symbol for its level of spiciness, I would like to try that the next time I visit Mad for Garlic.
As for the Rice and Risotto Dishes, Dancing Salsa Rice with Steak (Php295) was served. It’s a dish that looks good as it is served in layers of garlic rice, wine-marinated beef strips, then beansprouts finally topped with a fried sunny-side up egg on a round sizzling plate. But it’s also a dish that comes with “showmanship.” When it is served, the server places the sizzling plate on the table and mixes it up for you, performance level, complete with well-timed “musically pleasing” sounds made with the silverware.
For drinks, if you’re not a wine drinker or you just want something refreshing, Yuja_Ade and Wine_Ade would be good choices. I had Yuja_Ade, which was Korean traditional Yuja or citron tea turned into a cold carbonated drink. It goes very well with the food at Mad for Garlic. You can also go for other signature Ades, such as Lemon_Ade and Orange-Ade, or opt for the more familiar fruit shakes, beers, coffee, sodas and teas.
(Mad for Garlic can be found on the Ground Floor of W Global Center, 30th St. cor. 9th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City; and is open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays and Sundays, and from 11:00 a.m. to 12 midnight, Fridays and Saturdays.)