Tournéeing vegetables was my unholy terror in culinary school. And here it is, the name of a restaurant.
To tourné ([French]also tournée, tourne) literally means, “turned,” a method of shaping vegetables that somewhat resemble mini footballs. When done properly, vegetables display elegance with their seven evenly spaced sections, a sight to see and very distinctive. For Chef Sandralyn Hataway, deciding to name Manila’s new locavore restaurant in honor of a very difficult culinary technique wasn’t an arbitrary decision. “The accent mark on the ‘e’ [in tourné] is signified by the carrot, which denotes freshness,” she explains. “And then tourné – like you – I didn’t master it [right away], and as always when I’m challenged, it stuck with me, and I’ll give more of myself to do better and so that tourné for me, is something that I’ll never forget.”
Tourné is a celebration of cuisine that’s ingredient-driven and locally-sourced. As soon as I walk in, the restaurant’s message is evident: there’s a colorful, eye-catching mural on the left-hand side with a quote from the mother of slow food herself, Alice Waters. And lest you not see it in the lower corner, an illustration of a tournéed vegetable.
Tourné’s sous chef, Andre Soriano, elaborates on the restaurant’s slow food concept. A recent transplant to Manila from Baguio where he was based for 10 years, he speaks of slow food as something that’s informed his cooking, inspired as he was by the bounty of Baguio’s wet market and his associations with like-minded chefs. He met up with Chef Sandralyn while considering work plans abroad but was thoroughly convinced with her slow food concept. “So I told her, sure, let’s make it happen!” He recalls enthusiastically.
Ingredients are sourced from around the country and as Chef Andre recounts, “We’re also connected to people who grow produce in their backyard, some of them even people from Mercato [weekend market] as well as some people from Baguio who run a cooperative.” To illustrate, consider the Tourné House Salad (P228) that has greens erupting in freshness, the epicenter of various elements – crusted goat’s cheese (kesong puti), candied pili nuts from Bicol, pickled sweet onions, and cherry tomatoes gilded in a balsamic vinegar-honey vinaigrette the acidity of which sears then cools. Congruent in concept save for a cilantro-orange dressing this time is the Fish & Greens (P218), another riff on salad but this time with an encrusted tilapia filet and broken segments of pomelo.
- Tourné’s top two: Chefs Andre and Sandralyn
Chef Andre states that if there’s one dish (incidentally, his favorite dish) that explains what Tourné’s about, it’s the Pili-encrusted Tilapia (P270). “Imagine, it’s tilapia, a fish that’s so neglected but plentiful in our country and it’s served with pili nuts from Bicol, which are plentiful too and then red beet coulis… – “…which people only know in Russian salad!” Chef Sandralyn interjects. “I love the tilapia,” Chef Andre proclaims. “I love everything!” Chef Sandralyn echoes excitedly.
I love this fish dish too. The tilapia is tender to the point of tearing, its exterior giving way to the slightest crunch of crisp aided in part with pocks of rock salt. If Chef Andre hadn’t told me that it was pili, I might’ve guessed it could be panko or pecan, but then again that would go against what Tourné stands for, yes? The building blocks of this dish work together to come up with a flavorsome whole – dip a bit of fish into the beet coulis, lace it with hollandaise, then eat. Chase it down gently with a swallow of potato mash (it’s smooth, not too chunky) and then end it with a crunch of the tournéed carrots dressed up as they are in a reduced balsamic sauce. Absolutely wonderful.
- Chef Andre ready for lunch service.
- Chef Sandralyn kidding around with her guests.
- Note distinctive patches on waiter’s apron. These are a recurring theme throughout the restaurant.
I’m sitting at a table directly facing the open kitchen, the focal source of pride of the restaurant. Inside, Chef Sandralyn moves purposefully, her voice loud but controlled and her kitchen brigade responds accordingly. There are eight chefs in total, each with their own duties and stations to man (yes, Chef Sandralyn is the only female in the kitchen). She comes into the dining room occasionally to interact with her guests and I can’t help but be taken by her. She’s effusive and her thrill at being in the kitchen is practically palpable, her vim spills over into her personality.
- Singularly uncommon placemats that inform and entertain.
While Tourné uses Philippine ingredients, it’s not a space that can be recognized as Filipino. With its tall windows, blue and white checkered tablecloths, and fresh flowers in vases, it reminds me of a bistro I’ve seen in every part of the world. And this isn’t a bad thing. Chef Sandralyn utilized the furniture that she inherited from the previous tenants and imbued them with her own touch. The cloth napkins are cleverly wrapped into a candlestick fold that when unfurled, reveal a duo of cute patches sewn by her mom. It’s the same theme that I see on the waiters’ aprons whose bistro-classic shirt and pants are made more playful with the addition of polka dot suspenders.
Situated as it is near Fitness First, Tourné is in an opportune spot. This is food that can make anyone feel virtuous, especially those who are hankering for a healthy refueling après workout. Portions are sized for one and flavors are as Chef Sandralyn describes, “…fresh, clean, honest.” Their menu changes every two weeks (ambitious!) and in this cycle is a Chicken Fajita Pizza (P180), the “sauce” of which is a cilantro coulis. Its flavor beguiles with its herby creaminess along with roasted bell peppers from Baguio and kesong puti which serve to add to its mystique.
Today, the chef has got her hands on ulang, local langoustine or spiny prawns that she says she’ll prepare for me. But alas, they’ve stayed under the heating element for too long and are just this side of overcooked.
But my favorite, favorite dish here at Tourné and something that I hope they’ll never take off the menu is the Fried Soft Shell Crab Po’boy (P258). Essentially a hero sandwich, it’s a soft-shell crab from Zamboanga that’s dredged then fried “GBD” (Golden-Brown-Delicious – how apropos!), served on a layer of greens and napped in a garlicky remoulade. The hoagie bun that encases this crustacean creation is toasted just so that its crunch resounds in tandem with the crab’s own, its inherent juiciness mimicking the velvetiness of the remoulade, itself abounding in nuances of taste. And oh dear lord, the sweet potato fries that come with this dish! They’re delightfully crispy and when dipped in the housemade ketchup – itself an illustrative example of tangy-sweet, what an epiphany locally-sourced food can be.
Other good things to try from this menu cycle (July 2-15, 2011, their 4th of July menu) are the Texas Style Barbecue Pork Riblets (P518), the Country Fried Steak (P308) and Creole Chicken Pasta (P328) which seem to fly out the kitchen. I’m upset that there’s no Pili Pie to be had for dessert today and I refuse to settle for the Roaster Juan’s Tiramisu so I have coffee instead and the Grilled Chico with Lavender Mascarpone Cheese and Spiced Palawan Honey (P88).
The Fort Strip
7th Ave corner 26th Street, Bonifacio Global City
Taguig, Metro Manila
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