Admittedly, the restaurant’s name, Purple Feet, gives me pause, but once I’m made to see that the restaurant is an extension of the wine store, it all starts to make sense. The wine making process of old included the time-honored tradition of stomping the grapes into what is commonly referred to as “must”, the freshly-pressed juice of grapes. Today, mechanical crushers have replaced the “purple feet,” thus “stomping out,” (some say) the romance and ritual of wine making, but one cannot argue the tremendous sanitary gain that the mechanical presses bring.
Purple Feet is decidedly unfussy in its ambiance, almost utilitarian in its décor. Guests are surrounded by crates of wine and sit on wooden tables and chairs. Wine choices are listed on pillars, and as I can expect from a restaurant that claims its “wine list is our wine shop,” wine is a huge aspect of the dishes served here. This restaurant is what I imagine a wine lover’s paradise looks like.
The chef, Marco Legasto, invites diners to let their culinary imaginations fly. The menu is written out on a big blackboard for all to see, raw materials that the chefs can work wonders on: prime cuts of beef, pork, poultry, rabbit and ostrich, and seafood. The menu abounds in big pleasures supported by a constellation of flavors. I’m told to choose a protein and then tell the chef my preferred preparation and flavor. I’m told that the chefs can handle a variety of cuisines from Indian to Spanish.
In pursuit of the restaurant’s vision of freestyle cooking ”“ basically giving the diner what he/she wants to eat ”“ Chef Marco and his crew place a unique challenge on their guests: choose your food and tell them how to cook it. As a zealous food lover who occasionally putters in the kitchen, I relish the idea; my friend however, an avowed “canned-food eater,” is terrified. The chef that comes out to talk to us, who obviously is used to such fearful indecisiveness, is successful at getting my friend to choose a meat: “Lamb chops, yes.” How shall I cook it? Again, that bug-eyed look. “Perhaps with some rosemary and olive oil,” I interject. The chef nods knowingly. “The classical way,” he announces.
I, on the other hand, am about ready to bolt from my seat in excitement, like the annoying classroom know-it-all. “I’m feeling adventurous today,” I tell the chef confidently. I peruse the blackboard. “How does rabbit taste?” “Like chicken,” is the reply. After some discussion, chef decides on braising the rabbit in a deep red wine sauce reminiscent of Mediterranean cooking. With the main dish dilemmas out of the way, the chef disappears into the kitchen while the waiter ambles up to us and asks which sides we prefer: risotto or pasta?
The saving grace ”“ the prize, if you will ”“ for being made to “choose your own meal adventure” at Purple Feet is the masterful handling of top-tier ingredients. Every bite sparkles, every flavor flows seamlessly into the next one. Today, the braised rabbit remains beguiling fare, its tender meat bathed in a sauce heavy on red wine with murmurs of the Mediterranean ”“ olives, rosemary, garlic, and the purest olive oil. On another day, my dining companion and I have our own personal epiphanies with our respective dishes ”“ him with his chicken (not spicy, please!) curry (see cover photo), and I with perhaps the best pork tenderloin I’ve had. Ever.
On this evening, I’m all set to once again dine at Purple Feet. I have steak on my mind, perhaps one of those mammoth 800 gram US Prime Rib Eye (P3,000) slabs of meat that they serve. But upon seeing Chef Marco, I ask, “What do you feel like cooking tonight?” After some thought, he replies, “I’ll make you some laing stuffed in pork tenderloin, roll it up, and then top it with uni butter.” Yes, not too impressive sounding I have to admit then and there, but I take the food lover’s leap of faith and let the chef’s creativity be.
And how I’m rewarded for it! The dish comes to me awash in that ethereal aroma of truffle oil (from where? from where? I ask myself). The smokiness of the laing creates a depth that’s deepened by the uni butter ”“ an amalgamation of whipped butter, uni, foie gras for silkiness, and truffle oil. Melting in its divine state, it renders every bite of pork tenderloin juicy and an absolute food from the gods. Good lord, take me now. The meat is complemented with spoonfuls of mushroom risotto that is perfection in itself. I still smile at the blissful memory of this dish.
Desserts are a simpler, more straightforward matter, though I wouldn’t mind having to construct my dessert from scratch. The bread pudding is so good that all spoons zero in on it and finish it off in seconds. With some irritation, I have to prod my self-proclaimed “non-dessert eater” friend to leave some for me. The panna cotta is a darling little thing with a beautiful mango flower atop its soft, velvet body. Another time, the baked cheesecake is like a study in the architecture of flavor. Four cheeses ”“ cream cheese, Gouda, Havarti, and aged cheddar ”“ mix and meld. The result: a very dense, very rich cake where the Gouda flavor reigns over all. The dessert’s subtle chewiness and mouth-cloaking texture is fascinating, and it’s a dessert that I finish while deciding whether I like it or not.
The only loser on the dessert list is the apple pie, certainly an easy dessert in terms of conceptualization and execution. Butter-enriched bread (think: brioche, challah, etc.) is left to stale for a few days before being formed into “cups” by toasting them in muffin cup pans. Apple chunks sautéed in butter and mixed with raisins and cinnamon are then placed in the “cups,” and covered with a top “crust” of some more toasted bread. Sounds easy enough to eat and enjoy, but the apples are dry, almost crying out for some sort of basting liquid, and the bread is so crusty I can snap it in two. I’m also appalled at the use of processed cheese product that garnishes the dessert. I’m very frank with Chef Marco when I tell him that this dessert needs to be re-thought, and to avoid using “supermarket cheese” in the future. He must be thinking I’m “schizo” ”“ a far cry from the fawning, all-adoring fan of his savory food, only to turn into a savage when it comes to dessert. But he says he understands. I hope.
When at Purple Feet, I highly suggest talking directly to a chef when mulling over what to eat and not to the servers. I find that the chefs can (obviously) give me more enlightened, exciting food choices instead of a server who recites things by rote. Their service is efficient but if you’re as demanding with your food as I am, then go directly to the people wearing white. Even when it comes to wines, I find that the restaurant’s so-called sommeliers aren’t exactly spot-on. Though I know next to nothing about wines, I find that the sommelier’s suggestions to my yearning for a “sweet, slightly fruity wine,” are met with a blank look. On another visit, another sommelier tells me that I can’t have my Moscato Di Asti (an exquisite dessert wine) with my main course. I march up to Chef Marco to ask if this is true and he waves away my apprehensiveness. “You can do what you like,” he says.
And that’s what Purple Feet is all about ”“ a way of eating that is intelligent and inspired, dishes that are direct and true to their flavors with original and unexpected seasonings that evoke intense, immense emotions in me, cooked by chefs that are inspired and willful. I’ve had some of my best meals in recent memory at Purple Feet. With some imagination and a sense of adventure, you will too.
217 Nicanor Garcia St. (formerly Reposo St.),
Bel-Air, Makati City.
897. 3220 / 897. 8167
Open from Mondays ”“ Saturdays,
10:30am ”“ 2pm; 5:30-10pm.