Friday, June 25, 2010

Le Bistro Vert

Tawilis Bouillabaise (Php95, single serving)

A former elementary and high school schoolmate, whom I don't ever remember speaking with, emailed me this link to an article published sometime in late February, upon discovering this blog and that one of my interests is food and its correlated activities, cooking and eating.

Basically, that article talked about Filipino-American (Fil-Am) chefs whose restaurants (one of which has two Michelin stars) are doing well in California, but who have been found by the author to be somewhat snobs when it came to nodding to their Filipino roots. There seems to be a concrete dividing line between dishes served at these Fil-Am chefs' restaurants and the Filipino dishes they cook and eat at home in the US, and during vacations in the Philippines.

The main underlying cause, as expounded by some of the chefs, was the regionality of Filipino cooking, and the basic appeal of food at home - comforting but unappealing, at least in appearance.

I emailed back then that the most powerful Filipino chef in America, who studied at the Philippines' premier state university, even seems to have forgotten her roots. I was subsequently proven wrong, though, as Chef Comerford declared that the first family at the White House loves pancit, turon and adobo. She wasn't interviewed for the article, though, as it focused on LA-based chefs.

A few days after this very interesting exchange, one of my dining groups invited me to try out a new restaurant near the office, the flagship of a well-known Filipino French-trained but home-based chef. When I scanned the menu I wasn't really that much attracted, but my friends were all very intrigued about its fusion theme - incorporating local, organic ingredients into foreign dishes, and practicing sustainable agriculture (or at least sourcing ingredients from farmers who practice it).

Certainly, one could easily be enticed by the photos in this website, and coming from an agency which champions the environment, the "green" and sustainable themes were good draws for my friends.

I relate that experience to the article about California Fil-Am chefs because, somehow, it also proves that Filipino cuisine is not really that attractive to Filipino chefs. In this case, we have a local chef who incorporates local ingredients into the menu, but still serves dishes from foreign cuisines.

One of the LA chefs mentioned about being trained to cook and serve foreign cuisines. And this is also the case for the chef at the local restaurant we ate in. Yes, I understand. But isn't training just training? A good chef can apply all the techniques to any cuisine, can't he?

But at Le Bistro Vert, as the name implies, the emphasis is on French casual food. Sprinkled with local ingredients.

Due to the limited quantity per serving (all singles, as explained by the waiters who were very much attentive) we ordered a lot of dishes so that I think we were able to try out a good representative sample of the entire menu for a fair review. Because I don't think my friends will be able to drag me back there again. Not that they'd want to go back, too.

While waiting for our orders, we entertained ourselves with generous servings of fried thin shavings (fries) of multi-colored kamote (sweet potato), on the house.

Organic Vegetable & Tofu Minestrone with Malunggay Pesto and Garlic Bread (Php95). This reinforces the many dining experiences I've had that anything organic is tasteless, I don't know why....

Topmost photo is soup made from the little fish tawilis which is endemic to Taal Lake. It was smoky-flavored, and eating it was like imbibing tinapa (local smoked fish).

Le Bistro Vert Caesar (salted egg, tinapa & queso de bola, Php155). I don't know what those twigs that look like they were kinalburo were all about, but the ingredients in this salad can all be commonly and ordinarily found in any household meal across the country (well, except for the cheese, but it's common during Christmastime). I just wish the purveyors of these ingredients were more carefully chosen.

As it is, the salted eggs were too salty and weren't too fresh. I believe itlog na maalat were not made to be such, and I've had a lot of salted eggs that were creamy and just incredibly fantastic. And I've bought them just a ride away from the bistro's location.

Sagada Orange, Carabao Cheese, Tomato, with Malunggay and Basil Pesto (Php175). The combination doesn't work for me. The sweetness of the oranges dwarfs the bland cheese, and the pesto was made in such a way that the basil was cowering from the malunggay. In short, tasteless, perhaps due to the effort of emphasizing the malunggay. So no depth of flavor here.

An Asian Salad (Php165) made of roasted chicken, cubes of mangoes on a bed of greens, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and doused with a sweet-salty-umami dressing. Good one, this. But alas, it is the only one I was happy with among all the dishes we ordered.

Palawan Cashew & Herb Crusted Sole Fillet with Edamame Puree and Burnt Lemon Butter Sauce (Php295). Instead of the lemon being burnt, the fillet spent a tad too long on the pan, resulting in a very tough fish (just look at that burnt underside) aggravated by the cashew top crust.

When we were placing our orders, the waiters suggested cream dory done two ways for our main course, and we all screamed in unison from cream-dory-fatigue. Which restaurant nowadays doesn't offer cream dory in its menu? But in retrospect, we should have listened to the recommendation. The sole was a waste - uneatable, tasteless.

Tagaytay Farmed Vegetable Lasagna with Wasabi Bechamel and Davao Cheese (Php175). This tasted good, but it was too, uh, wet. Everything was drowned in too much sauce. And the wasabi was too tame it was barely noticeable.

Tuyo Penne with Quesong Puti, Roasted Cashew and Malunggay Pesto. Again, the tasteless malunggay pesto and white cheese. If only the basil wasn't made to submit to the malunggay, and a saltier carabao cheese from Lucena was used.

And the tuyo - I always substitute local tuyo in any foreign dish I cook that calls for anchovies, with very good results. The tuyo in this pesto was not salty at all, contributing to the over-all square taste of the dish.

Banana-Pineapple-Orange Shake (Php125)

foreground, Tamarind Iced Tea (Php95)
background, Banana Peanut Shake (PhpP125)

Kalamansi Pie (Php175)

Good thing Le Bistro Vert serves great shakes and desserts, otherwise we would have had an almost unforgiveable meal. This pie was a winner, even though I think that thick layer of bland cream was totally unnecessary (why are pies submerged in banal cream?). This pie was as tart as it could get, but creamy and sweet, and heavenly unctuous, as well.

Pandan Sans Rival (Php175)

Ditto for this sans rival. Unrivaled among all others. The pandan-flavored butter balances well with the sweet and chewy meringue.

Choco Lava (Php150)

The best choco lava cake I've had in a while. A whole universe better than a sentimental favorite.

Earlier this month, esteemed artist and chef Claude Tayag came out with a rebuttal to that LA article, along with an invitation to all the Fil-Am chefs for a meal in Pampanga. I don't feel as much as indignation as Tayag does, considering the Fil-Am chefs' upbringing and educational training. But I do hope we get to have many good Filipino restaurants serving good Filipino dishes, not just nods here and there to the cuisine.


Anonymous said...

that was really one forgettable meal. while i appreciate the effort to promote "organic", it doesn't have to be bland. I wish the they would inject more flavor into the menu. that is creativity.

Anonymous said...

it is not the organic ingredients that makes it bland but it is the way the chef cooks. People who are on diet seems they prefer to have less salt.. sugar.
I grew organic vegetables,for family consumptions, but they tastes is a lot better specially you cook them while they are still fresh. People defines that organic produce are raised or grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It is summer time here in NJ and I plant vegetables in my backyard. I use guano (bat manure)and compost leaves that were gathered last year fall. I lower the compost pH level to 5 by adding limestone. The tomatoe trees are about 6ft high, egglants at 5ft. in barely 6 weeks from the date it was transplanted. Kai if you could give me your e-mail I'll be happy to send you my garden pictures. My email is

Unknown said...

Well at least some were all original Filipino recipe e.g. Pandan Sansrival

i♥pinkc00kies said...

the pandan sans rival looks delish.

Anonymous said...

Yep, these chefs (from the link article) are French-classically trained and they have every right to select the cuisines they cook. What we need are visionaries that can raise Filipino food to the next level. Unfortunately, Le Bistro Vert failed miserably short according to your review (I will try eating at this place soon). Thanks for the post.