Dinner at Wildflour, Back for Breakfast (1st of 2 Parts)

In this series:
Breakfast at Wildflour

Today, dinner. Tomorrow, breakfast.

In the seven years of DCF, I’ve chronicled the debuts of more restaurants than I can recall. But no other place has garnered more curiosity than Wildflour, and no other café has elicited more shout outs to me on Twitter (“When are you posting your review on Wildflour, Lori? Can’t wait to read your thoughts so I know what to order.); and email too, from DCF readers abroad (“I look forward to your review of Wildflour. I used to frequent Church & State, and the menu looks very similar.”)  Clearly, my feature on this bakery+café would have to be expansive and intensive.

Wildflour is owned by well-known LA restaurateur couple Walter and Margie Manzke, and Ana de Ocampo. Walter is a chef by training, responsible for the opening and subsequent success of several restaurants, most notably Church+State, where DCF readers in LA tell me he is much missed. Both Walter and Margie are currently in LA to open their long-awaited République and Factory Baking Company but will be back in Manila soon. Margie and Ana, who are sisters, are both professionally trained as well – the former at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and the latter at Le Cordon Bleu. Together with Walter, it’s a trio that’s backed up by some formidable culinary skills. Also at the helm is sous chef Allen Buhay, who’s worked with Walter for a long time.

Wildflour was originally designed to be a bakery, its name a playful spin on flour/flower, wildflower, etc., since all the baked goods are made in-house, especially those divine baguettes and brioche; more on those later. “But we’re also a café because of the food we serve,” says Ana, “so we call ourselves a Café+Bakery.”

An evening spent at Wildflour delivers a vastly different vibe from a day visit. For one thing, it’s the new kid on the block, the golden goose that everyone wants a piece of so it’s constantly killer busy. Reserve in advance or be prepared to wait. And wait. Yes, it’s also noisy but I can easily enumerate nearby restaurants that hit higher noise levels. The crowds can be frenetic but I like this place the second I walk in. It specializes in bready things so that already ramps it up several notches in my book, plus being inside is like being transported to a bistro in Manhattan or LA: hanging lamps, clear glass windows, warehouse and wood accents, scribbled chalkboard menus, cutlery served in cans, and drinking water served in bottles.

As soon as I sit down, water is immediately poured into my glass and a baguette is brought out. Much has been said about Wildflour’s baguette, about its exquisite crust and tang, its loose crumb and large holes. Believe it, bite it, like it. Don’t forget to smear a slice with butter, too. I only wish the bread could be warmed, but that’s just me.

“Banh mi” sliders (P295) are an unusual start to the meal. Mini brioche buns replace the traditional crispy baguette and inside are pork strips – listen to them crunch in the mouth together with the medley of raw vegetables. The lot is glazed with chili, and somewhere in there, a lingering liver flavor.

I like all manner of things enshrouded in the secrecy of puff pastry as is the Baked Escargot (P420) but this isn’t something I can recommend. The vessels seem too large for such small servings, and on the evening I’m here, the garlic butter can’t mask the lack of seasoning. A better alternative would be the Garlic Susu at Villa Café.

A dish that’s on every table at Wildflour and one fervently recommended by all the servers are the Tartes Flambés (both P425). We’re confused as to why this “pizza” has flambé in its name until we’re told that it’s cooked in an open-fire oven. Whatever it is, it’s a superlative dish, a contrast in flavors and textures. The crust is crackly and cracker-light, shattering into a thousand pieces that hint of butter on the tongue. Then the creamy nuttiness of the brie sets in before being assuaged by caramelized onions and the twin crunch of apple and arugula.

That the Croque Madame (P380) is listed as a dinner item is an indication of its immense popularity. Massive in size, it’s two slices of the house brioche, buttery and soft, embracing rounds of ham laced and lavished with an almost unimaginable amount of melting Gruyere. Gilding the lily even more is a perfectly fried egg, its golden orb winks before it slides off the sandwich, pierces itself on a crumb and surrenders its liquid treasure. This is Manila’s best croque madame, a dish I won’t share.

Almost as good as the croque and definitely more favored by the men in my party is the Braised Beef Short Rib (P795). Tender to the point that it renders knives almost unnecessary, the meat has a top layer of fat that moistens it whilst a pool of deep red wine sauce emboldens its beefiness. A macho dish and one whose sauce I want to lap up with bits of the baguette.

Wildflour has an open kitchen at back where a vast amount of work is accomplished in such a confined space. The toils of its labor are then displayed in a glass display that sits prominently up front. For a place that bills itself as a café and bakery, I would expect the desserts to be spot-on. It isn’t the case, at least not yet. The Sticky Bun (P130) is dry and lacking, well, stickiness. The Frozen Affogato (P170) doesn’t appeal to me because I’m not fond of granités and this is one. I like the Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie (P170), but unfortunately, so does everyone else, so I have to fight for my few forkfuls of it. A barely-there crust carries a cache of custard and cream, and my taste buds announce the presence of peanut butter, which I can’t see but I do taste. Mmm. The Valrhona Chocolate Pot Au Crème, true to form, comes in a little pot. Firm and leaving chocolate lick marks on spoons, it’s sufficiently sweet with trails of crushed cashew providing contrast.

Tomorrow: Back for Breakfast

Wildflour Café + Bakery
G/F, Net Lima Bldg., 4th Ave. cor. 26th St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; tel. 8567600.
Will open on Sundays beginning 3rd week in September.

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