Tuesday, August 18, 2015

40 Years of Remarkable Stories and Classic Filipino Cuisine at Cafe Via Mare

So many stories, each one told through the many flavors of its rich and traditional style of Filipino cuisine... 

Since 1975, Via Mare has been the undisputed choice when it comes to hosting dinners for dignitaries, heads of state, international celebrities and events including the 1995 Miss Universe pageant, the papal visit of John Paul II, the 1996 APEC Summit, the 2007 Asean Summit, and many more milestones. Its long history is filled with remarkable stories, and Via Mare's founder and chef, Glenda Barreto, described its fabled forty-year history as "not only the story of a restaurant, but the story of the Filipino people."

Growing up, my maternal grand aunt would always have the family Christmas and New Year's eve dinners catered by Via Mare, and I have so many fond memories of freshly shucked oysters, the aroma of Puto Bumbong and Bibingka on charcoal. And it was great to be back in a special lunch hosted by Via Mare's Marketing group (R).

I quickly reacquaint myself with Via Mare's classics, starting with some Grilled Pan de Sal with Laguna Cheese (P 155), local bread stuffed with farmer-style white cheese followed by an individual serving of Ensaladang Pako... and one bite brings back so many fond memories from countless family gatherings catered by Via Mare.

Via Mare's Ensaladang Pako (P 220), a local salad with fresh and crisp fiddlehead fern topped with tomatoes, salted egg, and shrimps, with a sharp shrimp paste dressing, delivers clean and familiar flavors. The crisp texture mild sweetness of the fiddlehead fern snaps with every bite, followed by the distinct layers of flavors from the plump shrimps, the salted egg, and tomatoes, rounded out by the sharp shrimp paste dressing. Cafe Via Mare also offers other refreshing salads, including the Ensaladang Suha at Labanos, and the Ensaladang Bagnet, with crispy roasted pork strips on mustard leaves with tomatoes and shallots, drizzled with a calamansi-bagoong dressing.

You can enjoy Cafe Via Mare's signature dishes with steamed white rice, or pair it some creative rice dishes. Via Mare's Sari-Saring Kanin, flavorful rice dishes, was then served, starting with the signature Calgag Rice (P 155), with sun-dried shrimps, bagoong, and scrambled eggs...

...followed by the uniquely flavored Tuyo Fried Rice (P 155), topped with dried fish flakes and scrambled eggs...

...and the colorful Fiesta Rice (P 195) with adobo, salted eggs, and tomatoes, each one delivering its own distinct flavors. Flavorful on its own, the rice dishes are great when paired with Cafe Via Mare's fried main dishes.

A hearty and comforting soup should be part of your meal at Cafe Via Mare, and the hot and hearty Sinigang na Hipon (P 320), with fresh shrimps and vegetables in a refreshingly sour tamarind broth, is always a great choice. A sip of the broth brings a vibrant burst of sour and delicate salty hints, with the shrimps, the tartness of the tomatoes and vegetables adding their own subtle flavors. The flavors of the soup are perfectly balanced, without being overpowering or too sour.

In contrast, the Sinigang na Karne (P 365), brings its own distinct and rich flavors with tender cured beef short ribs and brisket in a sour tamarind broth with vegetables. The beef adds a certain richness that's perfectly tempered by the sour broth. Other signature soups include Pancit Molo, Tiyan ng Bangus Sinigang sa Miso, and Monggo Soup.

Cafe Via Mare also presented their line of Luncheon Specials, the Masaganang Tanghalian line of dishes, which include Arroz ala Cubana (P 285, L) with ground beef cooked in sofrito with raisins and snow peas served with rice, egg and plantains, and Beef Kaldereta (P 470), tender beef stewed in tomatoes served with vegetable egg roll. 

Other dishes include the homey Tortang Alimasag (P 195, L), a crabmeat omelet served with fried vegetable egg roll and rice, and the Pinais na Alimasag (P 380, R), blue crab shell stuffed with crabmeat and young coconut, cooked in coco cream, and served with bagoong balayan rice.

Via Mare's Crispy Binagoongan (P 325), with a slab of sliced crispy pork belly served with sauteed bagoong, green mango slices, and rice, a personal favorite. The pork belly is cooked perfectly, with tender and juicy pork and a light, airy and crisp layer of crackling. Add some bagoong and a slice of green mango for even richer flavors. The crackling sound that comes with every bite just makes you go for yet another piece. And another.

 More dishes were served, including Via Mare's Rellenong Bangus (P 560, L) stuffed whole milkfish with a soy vinegar dip and the Inasal na Manok (P 195), recreating the iconic garlic-annato roast chicken from Negros, served with sinamak dip.

No meal at Via Mare is complete without their signature oysters, served fresh on a half shell with cocktail sauce or baked with a variety of cheeses. My late maternal grand aunt's favorite was the Oysters Rockefeller (P 395), baked with spinach, bacon, and a special 3-cheese blend, a regular part of her Christmas and New Year's Eve dinners.

Laid on a bed of salt, each shell has a plump oyster draped in cheese, delivering the briny sweetness of the oysters layered with the rich and creamy notes of the cheese and bacon.

For dessert, we sampled Cafe Via Mare's Guinataang Halo-Halo (P 98), with taro, purple yam, and sweet potato stewed in rich coconut cream with soft and chewy rice dumplings, plantains and jackfruit; and the delicate Palitaw (P 55), gentle poached rice patties with grated coconut and toasted sesame seeds, perfect with a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

And despite the usual rains in the afternoon, Cafe Via Mare's sweet, indulgent, and refreshing Shooters (P 98), a combination of traditional iced desserts with Halo-Halo, Mais con Hielo, and Guinomis seemed like a perfectly good idea. And it was...

The small shooters are just the ideal size to sample all three iced desserts, with its combination of fresh and preserved fruits, milk, and coconut cream. It's just like that at Cafe Via Mare, serving dishes for any part of the day, with signature breakfast dishes and merienda fare for that afternoon snack.

After a satisfying lunch, I recognized one of Via Mare's managers, one of the pioneer employees of the restaurant and catering company. Mr. Rosendo "Boy" Cano (L), Cafe Via Mare's Operations Manager, served and recalled those times at my late grand aunt's Christmas and New Year's eve gatherings, adding a special note to my lunch at Cafe Via Mare.  Like seeing an old friend, it was great to be back at Cafe Via Mare. The storied history of Via Mare is as rich as the flavorful dishes it served over the past forty years, its legacy preserved in so many fond memories, relived with every visit at Cafe Via Mare.

Cafe Via Mare is located at Unit A215, Level 2, Eastwood Mall, Eulogio Rodriguez Avenue (C5), Bagumbayan, Quezon City or call 709-3005 for inquiries and reservations.

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