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Monday, February 27, 2012

Open A Branch In Manila. Please.

I'm addressing this post's title to the owner/s of Persian Palate in Cebu.

I first encountered Persian Palate about 5 or 6 years ago. I was in Cebu for a work related event and was graciously hosted by my friend Annie and her husband Jet. As foodies from way back, she brought us to Ayala Center in Cebu (which has been given a massive facelift, from what I remember) and told us to try the food in PP. I have since tried to find an equivalent for it in Manila, with little to no success.

I was in Cebu again recently, and I have to say: It really is better the second time around.

As can be gleaned from the name, Persian Palate focuses on (from their website) "the best vegetarian and non-vegetarian food with the touch of Indian,Indonesian and Middle Eastern cuisine". I was actually surprised to find they have a website, as the restaurant itself has that rustic feel, and the food is only freshly prepared when you order them, accounting for a bit of a wait for the food to arrive, all of which seemed to spell out "old-school", where no shortcuts are taken.

As soon as Art and I sat down, his eyes gravitated towards the lassi, a yoghurt drink that has been popularized in Indian cuisine as a way to refresh oneself owing to the spicy nature of the preparation of their foods. They had different flavors, all of which cost PhP 95.00. Art took the mango variant, while I settled for the banana version.

(Side note: This isn't a tablecloth/butler service restaurant, so prissy eaters who focus on tasteful, pristine surroundings way above food quality need not enter this establishment. The almost dilapidated laminated menu is a testament to this.)

We had both agreed to keep things light - we were en route to the airport for our flight back to Manila so the lassi actually raised a red flag for me, but I decided to wing it since I wasn't sure when I would be back to Cebu. So the plan was to order an appetizer to share and a main dish each.

Boy, did those prices fool us. In the most pleasant way.

We started with the Aloo Parathas (PhP 75.00), which was described as a stuffed potato patty in their menu. I had originally wanted either the Spinach or Garlic Parathas (PhP 85.00 and 75.00, respectively) - sadly, they were not available that day.

Do not let its initial appearance fool you: this appetizer is filling. There were 4 pieces that arrived at our table, and after we had one piece each, Art suggested we had the others wrapped up for our plane trip. You are instantly immersed in the scent of curry and potatoes, along with other spices that I could not really identify, nor did I want to - I was too engrossed in the heady aroma and rich taste, that I feared it would be asking the magician what's behind the curtain to do so. (Plus, I do not really cook.) It came with a siding of mango chutney, for those who like it sweet. (The dish stands on its own, in my opinion.)

After we waited for a few more minutes (approximately around 10 minutes from when we had the appetizers wrapped up to go), our dishes arrived: Art had the Chicken Kebab Wrap (PhP 120.00), which was a slice of their chicken kebab stuffed in a pita bread - a large one - along with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, served wrapped in foil.

I know they used chicken breast for their kebabs owing to the "no fat" appearance the kebab had, and its general leanness, but what surprised both of us was how flavorful it was (an "about to be burned" taste that wasn't bitter, just tasty).

You had two choices for the dip, a green dip that was "sobrang anghang" (too spicy) as described by Art, and a yoghurt dip (white), which was better for those averse to more-than-a-touch-spicy food.

My order came along right after: Stew Tofu, Eggplant Tomatoes (PhP 165.00), which was served with organic rice. (I actually didn't notice that it came with rice, I just wanted my veggies for the day.) It had a rich coating, (I'm assuming tomato was the base as it was predominantly red), but when it hits your mouth, it translates itself into an almost luxurious feel, which was (Art and I deduced) helped by adding cheese into the sauce in some way, shape or form, not visually perceptible but our taste buds were tingling with that hint, more like an undertone, of luxury that one feels when digesting cheese. It was also tangy, which was perfect to cut through any ickyness one gets after having had more than a fair share of cheese products.

Art's reaction when it first arrived at the table (and the server had left) was "Ano yan?!?" (What is that?!?) as it was really a dark dish, so much so that it obscured the vegetable components - eggplant, and tomatoes, only "lightened" up by the tofu cubes, which were steamed. This is a must try: Art actually began placing bits of my dish inside his kebab wrap.

A contradiction was that while the texture of the sauce was almost silky, the character of the dish was swarthy: large cuts of eggplant and tomatoes looked imposing along the more modestly presented tofu slices, but because this dish was stewed, they were easily serrated through using fork and spoon. The organic rice provided a perfect canvas to showcase the aromatic flavors of this dish - I think taking the dish alone would have made it guilty of "having too much flavor".

Our bill came up to a little over PhP 500.00, which really surprised both of us. The same themed restaurants we try in Manila would set us back easily at PhP 400.00 per head, and with miniscule servings and just a merely-passable quality in terms of both authenticity and taste. Persian Palate should be the template for people wanting to find out how to make vegetarian dishes not just bearable, but also delectable and something to look forward to, instead of something to tolerate for the "sake of heath and beauty".

Mr. Ahmad Vatandoost (listed as Persian Palate's founder in its website), please consider opening a branch of your restaurant for Manila patrons. I am sure that you will be very well received, seeing as there really are not that much restaurants that have Mediterranean fare on their menus here that do it quite as well as you do.


Persian Palate
2nd Level, Active Zone
Ayala Center, Cebu 
+63 (32) 232-6898
(They also have branches in Mango Square Mall and Robinson's Mall in Cebu)

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