Monday, January 25, 2010
A Case of Good Eats Versus Good Deals
My love affair with food writing stemmed naturally from my appreciation for good food and restaurants. I remember sitting in a favorite eatery, having a great meal, and thinking, “OMG… Everyone in the universe should try this!” I remember Cookie Goddess telling me years ago, “You should start a food blog.” Since I have always been “technically-challenged”, the concept of blogging seemed as foreign to me as Brazilian waxing must be to gorillas. But eventually, fueled by love for food and eating out, I started writing restaurant reviews on my site in multiply.com. After developing a modest following, I finally decided to start a “proper” blog. Despite the initial struggles which accompanied my maiden voyage into “techie-dom”, I was able to set up a food blog which I continue to maintain up to this day.
One of my first ever restaurant reviews was about a small restaurant in Yakal St. called Bianca’s Café and Vinotek. This Werdenberg- owned restaurant was a favorite spot for “business lunches” with my parents when I was fresh out of college and getting a feel for the so-called “real world”. I favored their set menu wherein you get to choose one appetizer and a main course, for only a few hundred pesos. When we started going there in 2000, the set menu was priced at P350. This was not bad at all, considering their hearty portions and an obvious preference for top-notch ingredients. Their house pours are also very reasonably-priced at P100-120 a glass, and these are pretty decent New World wines. Unfortunately, the owners decided to change the concept of the restaurant, opting to serve only Swiss cuisine, no longer the former eclectic mix of continental and European dishes. Out of all the restaurants in Manila, the old Bianca’s is the one I miss the most. Nothing has ever come close to it in terms of value for money and quality.
I longed for it even more after a visit to The Gustavian at the new Eastwood Mall when a business meeting brought me to the area. Looking at its Continental menu, it really reminded me of the Bianca’s I frequented almost a decade ago. Hearty stews, steaks, cold cuts… the selection was a mix of European favorites. What was most alluring to me, though, was their set menu comprising of an appetizer, main course and dessert worth P390++. My eyes bulge out and I palpitate. Have I found a worthy replacement to my beloved Bianca’s? I knew I had to find out for myself and immediately asked for a table.
The décor is undeniably Old World with the high ceilings, white textured walls and dark wood. The restaurant is named after Sweden’s Crown Prince Gustav III and pays homage to the 18th-century monarch’s love for fine French Cuisine. Why the name? I have no idea. The owners (the Cebuano Lhuilliers) look European, but I don’t think they’re Swedish. Anyway, it sounds good, so why not?
My companion and I decided to order from their set menu, which was quite comprehensive with three or four choices per category. We both decided to start with salads- she had the Caesar Salad, and I ordered the Beef Medallions with Chilled Ratatouille. For a starter, the portions were a bit small, but passable. Execution suffered a bit though, but I blame that on budget constraints.
For my main course, I ordered the Fried Sole Fillet with Lemon Risotto. After the diminutive first course, I surprised to see the huge slice of fish topped with more of the ratatouille. The risotto was drier than what I am used to, but it was cooked al dente and not mushy at all. Overall, this was a decent dish.
The other main course was a Sole and Salmon Paupiette in Beurre Blanc with Rice Pilaf. Again, this was another good-sized dish and the sauce was pretty tasty.
For dessert, they only had one for the day- A Mango Crepe with Grand Marnier. You can taste the licqeur which soaked the crepes perfectly, complimented by the sweet Philippine mangoes. I liked this dessert because it was satisfying and yet not too heavy and rich.
So, is The Gustavian the new Bianca’s? Based on this visit, not even close. I blame it on the pricing, though. For P390++, even the most highly-skilled chefs would not be able to whip up a meal with the same quality as Bianca’s, in my opinion. If I’m not mistaken, the set menu at Bianca’s was at P590 per head before they changed their concept. And this was at least three years ago. Personally, I believe that the clientele who have a preference for old-school European country cooking would be willing to shell out a few extra bucks as long as they are presented with better quality food. Right now, I get the impression that The Gustavian is trying to reach out to the working class that frequent the area. I say forget it: Focus on high-quality ingredients and classical cooking techniques to come up with world-class cuisine. Leave the budget meals to the Jollibee group- you’ll never beat them anyway. As the ghost of Jim Morrison told Wayne in Wayne’s World 2, “If you build it, they will come”.
Believe me, they always do. And if The Gustavian’s set menus become as good (or even better) than Bianca’s, I surely will.
Ground Level Eastwood Mall
Libis, Q.C.Tel.no. +639179853429