A portico was the principal porch or entrance to a Greek temple possessing an expansive roof and open sides. In Manila, it’s the name of a restaurant backed by years of experience in the industry that has found a new home in Serendra. In this city’s ambitious restaurant scene, it stays ahead of the game with its cutting-edge, imaginative cuisine.
Consider the house specialty, a benignly named spring tofu (P180). To lay eyes on it and then dub it a tofu omelet is doing it a great injustice. What it is, really, is blocks of soft tofu (I assume of the Japanese sort), ensconced in a fluffy omelet. Almost gossamer in texture, it’s a creamy creation the likes of which I’ve not encountered before. This dish truly deserves to be called the house specialty.
Another appetizer, the shrimp cracker salad (P280) reminds me of an Indonesian salad. Dainty crisps of kropek (in Indonesian, krupuk) serve as receptacles to an edible patchwork of minced shrimp, hearts of palm (ubod), fried shallots, lemongrass (tanglad), and shredded lettuce all bound together with green lemon mayo. It’s a curious dish with no particular flavor jumping out but the medley works, and it’s got quite a crunch too.
I order the mild Szechuan eggplant (P110), which can serve as a side to one’s main dish or even as a light meal by itself. I confess a penchant for anything with eggplant, and this one reminds me of ma po tofu, a mainstay at Chinese restaurants. The vegetable is stir-fried in garlic and oyster sauce with added heat contributed by the hot bean paste and chili flakes. Indeed, the immediate sensation registered in my mouth is an incendiary flash. But I love it, chili head that I am.
Portico 1771 is an epicenter of Asian cuisine helmed by master chef Vicky Rose Pacheco. The restaurant’s line-up is a veritable display of East Asian cuisine (Vietnam, Thailand, China and Japan). Filipino ingredients are utilized and encouraged to play with those of our neighbors, resulting in exceptional never-would’ve-thought-of-that combinations. As sibling to great restaurants Chateau 1771, Sentro 1771 and Sidebar Café, I’m not surprised.
On the night I’m here, the servers are hustling. Every table is booked and the one I’m at has me close enough to the next party that I can actually hear their conversation. But space is paramount in a restaurant, so every square meter counts. Contrary to their name, nothing in the interiors resembles a porch, but I’m appreciative of the high ceilings, and tall windows that suggest space. I wonder though what they do when the afternoon sun causes glare to diners? Other Asian accents in the interior include bamboo dividers and wooden ceiling fans.
Expect novelty when you come here. The grilled tic tac prawns (P450) thrill me with their tic-tac-toe plating, the grids delineated by what I’m told are chive flowers. The menu describes this dish as possessing an “…unbelievably good sauce of olive oil, oyster sauce, and thyme,” although what I taste registers as a lemon-butter sauce. I could be wrong. We all perceive taste differently. No matter, the prawns are cooked just to succulence with pistachio nuts adding another tangent of flavor.
The gindara with crispy pata bits (P390) baits my curiosity. Never one to shy away from new tastes, I order it. In theory, it’s an exciting proposition: the gloriously supple meat of gindara (black cod) with pork hock. In execution however, I feel that it’s not quite there yet. The bits of pata which take on the appearance of ground pork, stains the taste of the dish’s clear sauce, imbibing it with an overly pork-y flavor. The bits then become spongy the longer they sit in the dish. In the mouth, it feels like wet cotton. Perhaps the pata bits should be served on the side for the diner to sprinkle at will or include per spoonful. The gindara however, is outstanding, magnificent in size and fairly undulating in its tenderness.
Portico remakes the Filipino favorite of chicken barbeque. Calling it their “un-barbeque,” chunks of chicken with attractive grill marks are plated inside a border of two sauces, a sweet oyster sauce and what I think to be basil oil (too busy stuffing my mouth to check). A dollop of chili sauce is positioned to one corner. All in all, quite a novel take on good ol’ chicken inasal.
Desserts at Portico are entitled, “Blissful Endings ”“ taste setting innovations in dessert platters.” There are seven sets, all at P220 each, encompassing the taste gamut of whichever flavor one craves for after a satisfying meal. Choose from among meringues, chocolate, berries, oriental, nuts, coffee, and low-fat. Each set consists of three small desserts that could be a meringue, a cake, a brownie, a gelee, a terrine, etc. There are also individual desserts (P90/each) like a strawberry shortcake, chocolate terrine, genoise et pistache, jackfruit banana crunch, a fruit pavlova, and their signature coffee pie. My Bin, ardent fan that he is of any and all types of meringue, puts dibs on the pavlova, a firm, crunchy meringue serving as a bed for a mélange of fruits. It satiates on all counts but what I’ve got my eye on is the coffee pie.
Essentially a cream cheese-coffee concoction sitting on a cocoa-nut crust, I cannot resist ordering this coffee pie whenever I’m in any of the 1771 restaurants. Cool to the bite, it instantly dissolves into a haze on the tongue, leaving behind an ephemeral trail of coffee and cream sans any of the bitterness characteristic of a lot of coffee desserts. My only complaint about this wonder of a pie is how it has shrunk through the years. What I get tonight is but a sliver of its former self. Whether this is a marketing issue to get diners to order more! more! more! of this pie or simply a reflection of current economic conditions, what I know is that I can’t get enough of this pie, and I blame my lack of it for this lousy photo I shoot.
Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
856-0581 for reservations.