Unhealthy Organic/Locavore/Farm-to-Table Restaurants
Don’t let the title mislead you. The movement of using organically-grown, locally-sourced, community-oriented produce in restaurants is something I support. Eating well is also a movement I support. That being said, the common conceptions of such restaurants as serving boring, healthy and flavorless diet food is disputed by the following restaurants. The main reason their food is so good is because the food is also relatively unhealthy, with a liberal use of fat (butter, pork, cheese or otherwise), salt and sugar. Moreover, these restaurants, while vegetarian and vegan friendly, also cater (or dare I say, pander) to the carnivorous and omnivorous members of society. Nevertheless, the guilt of enjoying such tasty food is lessened by the fact that most of their ingredients don’t use chemical pesticides, growth hormones and other hidden nasties, plus the farmers get more income due to organic farming subsidies and discounts while at the same time eliminating the middlemen. Furthermore carbon footprints may be reduced by favoring local suppliers over importers (however this last point has been a matter of contention, as there are other factors in farming animals and produce compared to importing, that may or may not be more detrimental to the environment than simply adding up the carbon consumption involved). Below are five restaurants that focus on locally-sourced ingredients, which may or may not be organic and may or may not be unhealthy. For each one, I’ll give recommended dishes marked accordingly:
- (H) – Healthy
- (U) – Unhealthy but oh-so-good
- (V) – Vegetarian
Moreover, since hipsters love organic, vegan, et cetera stuff, I’ll give a Hipster Rating as well for each restaurant. The higher the rating, the bigger the hipster factor.
1. Green Pastures
Green Pastures, is Chef Robbie Goco of Cyma’s newest venture, located in the East Wing of Shangri-la Plaza. By far, it’s my favorite among all the restaurants mentioned here, and that’s mostly because of his liberal use of butter, bacon, duck fat, bone marrow, cheese, and so on. A lot of the items are organic, almost everything is locally-sourced, but you have to be careful if you’re eating healthy. The menu is “changed” every two weeks or so, but there is a long list of staples.
- Duck You – duck fat fries with crispy duck skin and duck confit. (U – Well, duck fat is healthier than most vegetable oils. So there.)
- Seared beef tataki (H – good for those on a ketogenic diet, but this is a seasonal dish)
- Straciatella (U – It’s homemade cheese, but it’s high in fat and comes with homemade sourdough slathered in butter)
- Bone Marrow and Octopus Fusilli (U – can be hit or miss, as the seasoning is a bit inconsistent, and sometimes they skimp on the marrow. When done well, though, it’s fantastic)
- Sloppy Cow (U – Not your run of the mill salpicao. It would be on the healthy side if you skip the rice, I guess)
- Make your own salad – (V/H – Well, it doesn’t have to be, but then you will have no one else to blame but yourself)
- Monthly salad special (H – This may or may not be low-carb friendly depending on the month, but it’s much easier to let the pros do your salad tossing for you)
Hipster Rating: 5/5. It’s in a fashionable mall, and nearly all the customers are in plaid shirts and thick-framed glasses. Incidentally, the servers are all clad in the same attire, and it’s because they’re supposed to look like redneck country bumpkins or hillbillies with code names like “Peggy Sue”.
2. Grace Park
Grace Park by Margarita Fores in One Rockwell, Makati was probably the first to bring the locavore concept to smart casual dining, having launched a few months prior to Green Pastures. However, as has been documented elsewhere online, it took a few months for this restaurant to really get going. When I visited, though, it was in full swing, and everything was excellent. The servings are humongous, and you can share pretty much everything you order. The regular menu is extensive, but watch out for their specials. I always miss their rack of lamb when I visit.
- Cioppino (H – The best seafood soup I’ve had in a long, long time. I almost don’t believe it’s healthy. They must put crack in it or something. I’m changing my rating to “U”)
- Pepato’s Roasted Bone Marrow (U – Oh Lord this is so good. Try to share this with someone to lessen the risk of an immediate heart attack)
- Muscovado Beef Belly (U – this could possibly qualify as healthy if you skipped the potatoes, but there’s no way the serving size can be healthy for one person – unless you worked out like heck and are trying to gain mass)
- Tres Leches (V/U – hands down, one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time. One of the many things vegans are missing out on)
- Today’s Harvest (V/H – fresh vegetables of the day. Usually has corn. Order this to take away some of the guilt. Or because it’s cheap)
Hipster Rating: 3/5. It’s in upscale One Rockwell, but that entails a walk from Power Plant, where most of the hipsters are at Draft or Barcino. You’re sure to bump into at least one table, though.
3. Earth Kitchen
Earth Kitchen is a spin-off of the Got Heart Foundation, stalwarts of organic farming and farm-to-table produce. It’s located along the plant belt on White Plains. Not only did the food turn out to be good, but the restaurant itself is not as hipster-y as I’d expected, and the clientele when we visited had only one hipster couple among a mostly middle-aged crowd. Earth Kitchen offers several meat dishes as well, such as kebabs, so carnivorous dates don’t have to feel too bad about dining here with their more figure-conscious and/or new-age/hipster/vegan companions.
- Watermelon and feta salad (V/H – definitely a must try. It doesn’t taste healthy at all! Well, depending on who you ask, watermelon can be unhealthy because of a relatively high sugar content)
- Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Paccheri (V/U – You can choose to have this with bacon or candied pili nuts. I recommend the latter, as their bacon tastes too healthy, i.e. boring, as evidenced by their poached egg carbonara. In either case, simple carbs and lots of fat an unhealthy dish make. This was unbelievably good, though, which made me regret ordering a carbonara).
Hipster Rating: 4/5. I think I was just here at a good time. The concept, structure and decor of this place just scream hipster. Maybe they all left before they arrived, because it wasn’t cool anymore.
4. Herb Republic
Herb Republic is the only restaurant not in Metro Manila, located on Kilometer 63, Lopez Avenue, Los Banos, Laguna. It’s literally next to the kilometer marker on the road heading towards UPLB. I give the complete address not only because of the distance, but also because they recently moved locations, and the first hit on Google Maps refers to their previous place along the highway, which I think has been turned into a gas station — the same gas station where we had to ask for directions to Herb Republic. This is probably the most consistently “organic” restaurant among those covered. Their juices and smoothies are to die for.
- Stuffed tofu (V/U – Fried tofu with a sweetish sauce? Not the healthiest thing you’ll try)
- Shiitake mushroom tempura (V/U – again, deep fried. Frying makes everything taste better, doesn’t it? The mushrooms were still perfectly tender, though. If Yabu offered this, you’d pay upwards of Php 500 instead of Php 180.)
- Grilled organic pork belly (H – It’s inihaw na liempo, but it’s organic! Ergo, it’s healthy! Especially if you don’t eat rice with it :D)
- Smoothies (V/U – The smoothies aren’t too sweet, but I’m pretty sure they still have sugar in them, and sugar is the enemy. The Espresso Avocado was the favorite among those we tried)
Hipster Rating: 2/5. This is more hippie than hipster. Plus, what hipster would choose to study in gorgeous UPLB? It’s too far from Manila that they’re actually upstream from the mainstream. (What?)
5. Enchanted Farm Cafe
Enchanted Farm Cafe showcases the products of the GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. They also sell affiliated products such as Bayani Brew and other GK-funded enterprises. It’s a good way to ensure the grassroots communities prosper and grow, because not only do the farmers benefit by cutting out the middleman, but they also benefit from increased awareness that will hopefully spur some form of action on the part of the customers, whether it be patronizing local products more or by actually volunteering or even starting their own social enterprises. This is located on the 2nd floor of the Human Nature store (which sells organic and locally-sourced beauty and personal care products, among other things) on Commonwealth Avenue, so it’s a bit of a destination in itself, unless you live nearby. The food is ridiculously cheap, as locally-sourced produce should be (ahem, restaurants 1-3). A burger, which comes with fries and salad costs Php 150, and if you add Php 50, you get a drink (like Bayani Brew) and the dessert of the day. Not bad at all. Incidentally, and granting that their menu is quite limited compared to the other restaurants on the list, this was probably the least vegetarian-friendly restaurant, with only one non-salad item being truly vegetarian. The focus really is more on favoring locally produced, well, produce than being purely vegetarian.
- All Heart Burger (H/V – It’s a burger patty made of banana hearts. It’s cheap and tasty. If you really want meat, you can try the Enchanted Burger, which is 80% mixed vegetables and 20% lean pork, or the All Meat Burger, which uses lean pork. If you discount the fact that you’re eating white bread and the patty is fried (or at least, griddled), then this is a healthy dish. The fries are baked sweet potatoes, at least)
- Salad (H/V – Everything you order comes with a simple vinaigrette-based side salad, but it was delicious. They have a variety of full-sized salads as well, but I haven’t tried those. I’m more than happy with the side salad, though.)
Hipster Rating: 1/5. It’s in Commonwealth. I’ve seen Terrence Romeo hanging out in Commonwealth, but no hipsters. Also, the menu is far from vegan. Hipsters would go nuts. Plus, this place is all about making people more aware and involved about nation-building and community development. In other words, it’s trying to make those things mainstream. And hipsters don’t like mainstream.
For an organic/locavore/vegetarian-friendly restaurant with excellent food up north, try the eco-friendly Kapuluan Vista Resort in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. They have their own herb garden and almost everything is home made. Having written about it quite recently though, I purposely left it off this list.