I learned that Food Lab is owned by Chef Roxs Cailao of Café Chanterelle fame. He is no longer associated with the restaurant, having broken away to start his own place, although he still serves as a consultant. And he calls his new baby a food lab because he wanted to be able to have free reign to explore and experiment. However, the real name of the restaurant is Katre, after his 18-year old daughter.
This unique eating place is very small ”“ roughly the size of a cozy living room. Bathed in soft yellow light, there are individual tables that seat about four people, as well as tables backed up against the wall with a long upholstered booth seat. There is a bar at the back with stools, and the general ambience is one of dark wood, with an Oriental flair. An interesting touch are the tapestries which somehow look like lightweight Persian rugs, that serve an interesting purpose: to shield the diners from the view of the car repair shop next door.
The cuisine at Katre can only be described as a fusion of sorts, (in as much as I hesitate to use that word), with the influences of Mediterranean and Asian cuisines weighing heavily here. Drawing from Chef Roxs’ international experience as a chef in the US and other Asian countries, the dishes reflect the eclecticism of these cultures. Begin a multi-faceted culinary journey with light meal choices like Grilled chicken fajitas with chili cilantro dip, hummus, pico de gallo, and sour cream (P120); Calamari fingers with beets wasabe puree aioli, and honey mustard dip (P95); and satiate your carbo craving with a Linguini with tinta negra garnished with marinated calamari, pesto, chermoulah and harissa (P165). There are also meat, chicken, pork, and seafood entrees which include Beef caldereta with rice pilaf, served with sweet bell peppers and harissa (P175); and Pan fried pacific cod with squid risotto garnished with calamari in a tomato coriander broth (P190).
This review would be incomplete without my mentioning the absolute creativity with which these dishes are presented. A famous chef once said that eating begins with the eyes, which then awakens the stomach and the appetite. This is none the more true than at Katre where every plate that comes out of the kitchen is edible artwork. The Grilled chicken and vegetable salad (P95) that served as my appetizer was a colorful offering of vegetables and chicken tenderloins, carefully drizzled with dressings of hot chili, cilantro and garlic. The contrasts of colors were more than enough to get my digestive juices flowing. Another attractive dish, this time Filipino, is the Adobo Flakes (P145) made world class with a carefully formed mound of garlic rice surrounded by crisp shredded pork topped with a glistening fried egg, and decorated with green mango slivers and shrimp paste salsa. If you’ve ever said, “this looks too good to eat,” at Katre, that does cross your mind. But just one bite is enough to make you want to keep on eating until there’s nothing left on the plate.