Tasting the flavors of McKinley's Tuscany

Posted at 12/03/2013 8:00 PM | Updated as of 12/04/2013 5:44 PM

MANILA – A number of familiar favorites and new concepts have opened at Tuscany, a growing dining destination at McKinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio.

Planet Grapes

Among these establishments is Planet Grapes, which offers a selection of wines that can be paired not only with the usual bread and cheese but also with street food and snacks such as popcorn and potato wedges, chicharon, squid balls and even balut.

A small plate containing balut, squid ball, kikiam and pork siomai. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

The idea, explained wine education manager Carla Santos, is to make wine “less intimidating” to Filipinos.

“Wine can be a little intimidating and not a lot of Filipinos are into wine yet,” said Santos of Planet Grapes, which is part of the Wine Story group. “What we want to do is to make wine approachable, fun and not scary to get into.”

“What we offer at Planet Grapes is a chance for everybody… They don’t even have to have prior experience or a degree when it comes to wine. Anyone can just come in and try any of the wines we have here,” she added.

And to save customers the trouble of ordering a pricey bottle of wine (which they may end up not liking), Planet Grapes sells wine not only by the glass, but also by the “sip” or less than half a glass, which starts at below P100.

“A customer can get a tasting card, it can be prepaid or postpaid, and you can taste any wine from our dispenser,” Santos said. “You can get a full glass, a little sip, or a whole bottle.”

True enough, a 2012 Anne de Joyeuse Camas Syrah Rose goes well with the creamy yolk of the balut, while a glass of Riesling is a good match for squid balls, and even pork siomai.

A glass of 2012 Anne de Joyeuse Camas Syrah Rose. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

Santos agreed, saying, “You have a little meat in the siomai. But in terms of flavors, you can expect it to be a bit salty and savory so a wine that would go well with that is a wine that has acidity and freshness.”

But in the end, she said it is all a matter of preference.

“It’s not just white or red... Wine is not just a beverage. We want to introduce it as a condiment to improve the meal experience. It’s something that you can enjoy every day,” she said.

Main Street

Just a few steps away from Planet Grapes is Main Street, a newly opened Canadian restaurant by Adam Tan, who worked in Canada for five years.

As expected, the restaurant serves the classic Canadian treat poutine, which is made with fries, gravy and cheese curds.

Poutine. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

Other items on the rather small menu – from crab cakes to cheeseburgers and pork chops – are not uniquely Canadian, but are nonetheless popular in the North American country.

“Canadian food is a mix of a lot of different influences, from the immigrants in Canada who are mostly European, Asian and American. It’s similar to Filipino food kasi ‘di ba Filipino food is a mixture of Spanish, Chinese and Malay,” noted Tan, who has cooked in five restaurants in Canada. “They took a lot of influences from, say, French techniques, and use ingredients depending on what’s fresh in the area.”

“So we just wanted to bring that kind of cuisine to Manila and we thought it’s one of the more unique concepts. Because here, you see a lot of New York and California-based places. We wanted to bring something different,” he added.

Crab cakes with mango salsa. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

Main Street, explained Tan, is named after his favorite area in Vancouver. He called it “an emerging restaurant neighborhood.”

“Personally I lived in Richmond, BC, but Main Street in Vancouver, this is where all the restaurants are. We wanted to have a restaurant that pays tribute to that area,” he said. “Even the design of the restaurant came from different inspirations there.”

The prices at Main Street are reasonable, with only the Wagyu cheeseburger going beyond the P300 mark. The big plate of poutine is a steal at P145, with a colleague noting how it tastes exactly like the one she buys in Vancouver.

Trattoria Poggio Antico

Along the same strip of restaurants is Trattoria Poggio Antico, which specializes in hearty Italian food.

The homegrown restaurant owned by Roland Lorilla is a perfect fit to the Tuscany property at McKinley Hill, for obvious reasons.

A slice of pizza and a glass of red wine. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

“I wanted to take home the fresh flavors of Italian cuisine,” said Lorilla, who shared that his family trip to Italy inspired him to open the restaurant.

The menu at Trattoria Poggio Antico is quite straightforward – no catchy names or weird combinations, just good old Italian cooking complete with their Italian names.

A plate containing Tagliatelle con Prosciutto e Tartufo and Bistecca alla Fiorentina.Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

LES Bagels

Another trendy spot in the Tuscany area is LES Bagels, a New York-inspired deli.

While the place also serves pastries such as brownies and homemade Oreos, the chewy and dense bagels and the many flavors of cream cheese still take the spotlight.

Bagels with cream cheese at LES Bagels. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

“The bagels and cream cheese are the star of the show,” said Chef Cuit Kaufmann, one of the owners of LES Bagels.

A no-fail combination is pumpernickel bagel and lox cream cheese, but there are other great pairings such as chocolate bagel and apple cinnamon cream cheese, or anything with the caramelized onion and raisin flavored cream cheese, Kaufmann said.

While there are a few chairs and tables in the shop, LES Bagels works better as a grab-and-go joint.

Food tour

Planet Grapes, Main Street, Trattoria Poggio Antico and LES Bagels are only four of the restaurants included in the “Secret Foodies Tour” hosted by RJ Ledesma and Anton Diaz, who are also co-founders of the popular Mercato Centrale food markets in different parts of the country.

The tour, which will run on the first three Saturdays of December from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., allows guests to sample a 20-dish menu from participating restaurants at Tuscany in McKinley Hill for P1,000 per person.

Other dining concepts included in the tour are B&T Mexican Kitchen, Sauceria, Marciano’s and Sophie’s Mom.

Ledesma said the idea is to promote the “unique” restaurants in the area. “The nice thing about this place is that they were deliberate in curating different restaurants. They make sure that these are not commercialized restaurants,” he said.

“There are no repetitive restaurants,” he added. “Each is a visual treat.”

Tickets to the “Secret Foodies Tour” are sold at the redemption booth near the gate of Tuscany Grand Villas. For more information, call (02) 709-9888 or 0917 838-0111.