BF Homes seems to have become an incubating ground for restaurant concepts of almost every type, with new restos mush- rooming along the length of Aguirre seemingly overnight. It's great for us residents to be sure, but I can only imagine the anxiety of current restaurant owners as the competition heats up. Who will last? Who will break out of BF and make it in Makati, or Malate, or Timog? One of the homegrown concepts I'd take a bet on is Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Pito & Mita, which opened doors around nine months ago.
We'd been hearing good things about this restaurant for some time, so it was with great anticipation that Cat and I went to try it out. Everyone recommends the Spinach Artichoke Dip with Melba Toast, so we tried that, while I got the Eggplant Lasagna and Cat the Parmesan-Crusted Baked Fish. All three are among Pito & Mita's bestsellers, co-owner Paolo de la Fuente tells me, and I soon see why.
Spanish Artichoke Dip
The Spinach Artichoke Dip is light and creamy, with a subtle and somewhat smokey flavor; I suspect they roast the garlic they put in it, and they put in just the right amount, enough to give it a kick but not so much as to overwhelm the delicate spinach and artichoke. I want chef Pia (de la Fuente-Kasilag, Paolo's sister) to start bottling this so I can have it on crackers when reading late at night! Add their sauces and dressings, too, that they make from scratch.
The Eggplant Lasagna is also a must-try, whether you're a vegetarian or a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore like myself. I love meat; I want the taste of meat with practically every meal; but as with Indian cuisine, I can go vegan on this dish and not miss the meat at all. The serving is quite generous, and though this is indeed a meatless dish, the hearty eggplant-tomato sauce and baked cheese crust together with the pasta make this a real belly-filler. Order this to share if you're a light eater.
Parmesan-Crusted Baked Fish
And if I thought the lasagna was good, the Parmesan-Crusted Baked Fish was even better (although Cat couldn't rave enough about the lasagna). This cream dory fillet was baked just right, so the flesh was firm yet melt-in-your-mouth tender, the whole thing crusted in a crisp thin shell of Parmesan cheese. Better yet, while this dish can be served with a side of rice, we had it with the Potato Gratin. Double the cheese is double the fun in my book, and when half of that is on baked potato I can get really mellow!
We may have gotten the crowd favorites but Pia isn't resting on her laurels but is constantly adding new dishes like their newest appetizers, Mushroom Alajillo, Shrimp Gambas & Assorted Grilled Sausages, and a third soup, Cream of Pumpkin. They have started to branch out to catering, just needing a two-week's notice from interested customers.
The secret behind Pito & Mita is chef Pia Kasilag's touch with her old family recipes. "A lot of what we serve in Pito & Mita is the food we grew up with at home," Paolo reveals. The de la Fuentes, it turns out, are a family of foodies with a special love for Spanish and Italian cuisine. After serving a stint as flight attendant in Northwest Airlines, Pia returned to set up the restaurant with Paolo, bringing in family favorites such as the Sopa de Pamplina, a Spanish-inspired soup that's the family's traditional Christmas soup; the Eggplant Lasagna; the Steak Salpicao; the Sicilian Chicken Salad; and the lemon-flavored Moringa juice that they serve as one of the house's recommended drinks. Cat and I washed down our meal with the Moringa juice, and found it very refreshing indeed -- fragrant, lemony, and not at all bitter as you might fear something made from malunggay might be.
And this I think is the reason Pito & Mita will be around for a while. Simple, hearty, delicious food, familiar enough for anyone to get into yet with that unique touch from recipes incubated in family tradition, and all that served _healthy_.
When we asked what has been their best experience so far, Pia said it was hearing rave reviews. "We never know what to expect from business so it's nice to hear good reviews especially from walk-in customers," she smiles. She can deservedly add this review to their growing list good feedbacks.
There's just something about food cooked with traditional methods that takes them a step beyond what we usually can do in a home kitchen. Did I have the space at home, I'd like to have a tandoor oven built into one corner of my kitchen (and if I had the budget, one big enough to accommodate a whole sheep!) At Chi's Brick Oven Kitchen, they have the local counterpart, a wood-fired brick oven or pugon. And boy, do they know how to use it!
Chi's is a cozy little restaurant along Aguirre, near the corner of De La Rama, which is literally built around its brick oven. Practically the only items on the menu not made in the oven are the drinks. The oven is the very first thing you see when yo enter Chi's, as it's right opposite the door. The next thing you'll notice is the homey European style of the place -- heavy, rustic wooden furniture and tables, framed prints on the walls, wine bottles and china on little shelves, giving you a feel of an old Southern French farmhouse but with some Filipino touches. Their menu is similarly eclectic, blending Mediterranean and Pinoy; according to manager and partner Joey Torres, the concept was to build everything around the experience of brick oven cooking.
Cat and I first came here during our anniversary a year and a half ago. We absolutely loved the pizza and the baked clams, but at the time they were having a problem with the air conditioning and we didn't enjoy the experience as much as we could have. This time around, they seem to have the ventilation problem tamed, and the restaurant is much cooler now. If you're a polar bear like me, though, the best place to sit is in the room that doubles as their smoking area, as it's totally insulated from the common room and the oven behind. Having an idea already what to expect in terms of flavor, Cat and I were looking forward to visiting the restaurant again. This time, we tried out the Puchon, one of Chi's most popular entrees, the Roasted Veggie Pizza, the mouth-watering Brick Oven Chocolate Cake a la Mode, and the Chocoholic's Pizza.
The Puchon, short for 'lechon sa pugon', was a hefty slab of pork liempo baked to crisp golden perfection and served with rice in a clay dish and a sharp-salty vinaigrette sauce. I, of course, was very happy that the garnishing thoughtfully included several chilies, as I like my vinegar dip hot. What can I say? The skin was crunchy, the tender flesh cooked through and flavored with a delicate touch of wood smoke. I wanted to take pic of Cat enjoying the Puchon, taking great big bites, but was stopped with a loaded glare. (Would've made a great Facebook post, dang) This order is good for two, even three people. As I normally count as two persons when dining, it was just right for us.
Roasted Veggie Pizza
The Roasted Veggie Pizza not only made for a nice shot, it was very good eating as well. Fresh tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and onion, roasted in foil in the oven then layered on their own freshly-rolled pizza crust with mozzarella cheese and baked. Salad on a pizza! Healthiness plus flavor, that's a winning combo for me. (One sure sign that this pizza was really good was that the leftovers still tasted just as good two days after!)
We finished our meal with two of Chi's signature desserts. The Chocoholic's Pizza is exactly that--layers of white chocolate shavings and dark chocolate chips on a freshly baked pizza crust, crunchy, smoky, and as chocolatey as anyone could wish. If there was anything I would've added to this to make it perfect, it would be a layer of slivered almonds.
Brick Oven Chocolate Cake
The Brick Oven Chocolate Cake is a heavenly confection of rich, dark, gooey chocolate batter topped with cherry preserve straight from the oven and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. As we shot everything first before digging in, by the time we got to sample this cake, the ice cream had totally melted into the cake. Did it make any difference? Not at all, I said. But if you really want to have empirical evidence, we can order another... and at this point Cat whacked me. Too bad. I really wanted another...