Monday, February 26, 2007

ABÉ - November 3, 2006

When family or friends come visiting from the States, we always take them to go to the mall, visit other family and friends, host reunions for them and make them gorge on good ole’ Pinoy food. Tiendesitas and Market Market are good shopping destinations because each mall feature pasalubong from all over the Philippines. There is of course the added bonus of the availability of many food choices in both malls.

My brother-in-law recently visited and we were going to bring him to the Ortigas dampa but decided to try out the two-week old ABÉ in Serendra, which is just across Market Market, instead. My Kuya had read a feature about it and foodie friends had tried it on its second day of operations. Both feature and foodie feedback gave ABÉ raves. My friend said it was not a fussy restaurant that served good Pinoy food, describing the dining experience as akin to one would have at home, if one had a matriarch or cook who churned out excellent home-cooked meals.

ABÉ is one of the first few restaurants operating in Serendra. It is run by the LJC Group, which has had some hits (Café Adriatico – the café that started the Malate trend, and the now-defunct Bistro Burgos, which served the best kare-kare I’ve tasted) and a few misses (Café Havana – about whose alarming cockroach infestation I wrote in May 2005, and Bollywood – nice place, icky Bumbay food). ABÉ is named after owner Larry J. Cruz’ father, who was a diplomat who loved good food.

The restaurant itself looks like a hodge-podge of several restaurants: its furniture is an eclectic mix of old, new and funky (check out the 60s molded chairs). The dining room is brightly lit, features a pianist (reminiscent of Bistro Burgos) and alternately, piped in Pinoy fiesta music. The over-all earth tones of the dining room are complemented by the sepia photographs of Cruz gatherings bordering the ceiling. This halo-halo look is mirrored by the halo-halo menu, with some new items and a good number culled from old LJC menus. There is a good mix of Pinoy home-cooking, old Binondo favorites and recipes brought home by Abé from his foreign trips. Since we were a big group, we could afford to indulge: sisig (thankfully devoid of chicharon or utak or mayonnaise – culinary affectations of the gustatorily retarded), kinilaw (freshly prepared but lacking the ginger and lime familiar to my Bisaya taste buds), battered squid (delicately sweet), morcon (too salty for my taste and swimming in sauce), pata tim (EXCELENTE! But the accompanying cuapao could have been bigger and fluffier), knock out knuckles (Chieftain, while I swear by Honey’s, this one comes a close second), pastel de lengua (perfect crust encasing a perfect stew), chicken supreme (this must have been cooked in pork lard! It tasted just like what my Lola Inday used to prepare), and the Bistro Burgos kare-kare: ox tail perfection on a plate! My taste buds are still orgasmic from that dish…

Sadly, the dessert selection is sparse and uninspired: a mediocre leche flan, a generic-tasting ube jam with macapuno, both of which were somewhat redeemed by old-fashioned maja blanca topped with toasted pinipig. Still and all, the main meal was a real treat that got me making mental notes to try ABÉ again and again and again.

ABÉ is a perfect family dining place, not quite so for romantic dates. It was full to the last table last Friday, so you best be making reservations, especially if you’re a big group.

Surprisingly, for the quality of ABÉ’s fare, plus its premium location, prices are very affordable and servings are generous. The men’s room is immaculate, parking is plentiful and free (for now) and the fiesta music is appropriate and in fact fun, even if you hate listening to Bayanihan selections.

ABÉ, G/F Serendra, Global City, Taguig City. Call 8560526 for reservations.

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