Restaurant Spotlight: Mesclun BistroJune 30, 2013
- Mikka WeeWords
Often used as a reference to salad, the word “mesclun”, by its original Latin definition, simply means “to mix.” This is what Mesclun Bistro in Serendra is all about; it’s a blend of all the culinary experiences that have inspired owner Katrina Kuhn-Alcantara in her travels.
“A lot of people ask me what Mesclun is,” says Katrina. “But I’d rather describe it based on what it’s not. Mesclun, really, doesn’t stick to a single cuisine. Rather, it’s a mix of what makes the old world classic and the new world refreshing. That’s how I’d like to describe it,” she tells us.
“I think I’m more old world in my preference. I enjoy knowing about a dish’s history and what makes it a classic. But I also enjoy creative ideas and interpretations,” Katrina says. “I think some dishes and ingredients can still be improved or played with, but there are some that are just already really great. I think the balance is to know when to play with a dish or when to simply execute it well. Respect the dish or respect the ingredients.”
Katrina tells us that setting up restaurants is really what she does. Being the owner and creative culinary mind behind Chuck’s Deli as well, Katrina says that Mesclun was a natural progression. “It’s a product of my experiences, interests, and current state of mind.”
“Most dishes in Mesclun have been my favorite at one time or another,” says Katrina. “I create dishes that I like to eat depending on my mood. But my last dish (if I was on death row—not that I wish to ever find myself in that situation) would be the Foie Gras Sandwich. But that’s not a dish I can eat everyday because it’s very decadent,” she laughs.
Mesclun bakes their bread fresh, employing the same techniques used at Chuck’s Deli. “[The bread is a blend of] a good recipe, good ingredients, and technical know how,” according to her. You can expect the same high quality bread from Chuck’s Deli in Mesclun.
For Mesclun Bistro virgins, Katrina’s top five recommendations are the French Onion Soup, Corned Beef, Foie Gras Sandwich, Croque Ma Duck, and Sourdough Pizza. Check them out along with other Mesclun favorites below.
The first dish that was served to us was the Escargot. It’s baked French snails in garlic-parsley butter, and served with freshly-baked mini baguettes. Now, some people might not be comfortable with the idea of eating snails, but Katrina tells us there’s nothing to be afraid of, a lot of people love them. “I was never squeamish about snails, and they don’t really have much gamey flavor, so people who aren’t comfortable with it are probably not comfortable with the ‘idea’ of it,” she tells us. “Its flavor comes from the butter sauce, more than anything. Traditionally, it’s served in shells, but I find it a hassle, and I like to dip my bread in the butter sauce anyway so why bother?”
Mesclun’s French Onion Soup is actually one of Katrina’s homemade specialties. It contains caramelized onions in a beef broth with a Gruyere cheese crust. “French Onion Soup was a comfort dish when I was living in France. I just recreated it here. It’s actually quite simple but I guess, because it’s hard to find really good French Onion Soup in the Philippines, it became a best seller right away. It’s onions, beef stock, and cheese. This is another example of a simple dish executed properly,” she explains.
Flammekeuche is a French-style flatbread from the Alsace region of France. “I discovered this in my travels in the Alsace region. I make mine with different toppings, too. It resembles pizza and I like putting olive oil in all my pizzas, which is a habit I picked up in Italy,” Katrina shares. This version has shrimps, anchovies, onions, arugula, homemade crème fraiche, and garlic oil (lots of it).
We couldn’t help but giggle at the mischievous name of this dish. “I attended a wedding of a cousin-in-law in Hawaii, and that’s where I discovered the Poke. My cousin-in-law, Andre, and my aunt-in-law Rosie started serving it in family functions after. I thought it would make a nice addition to the menu since I don’t know anyone else serving it. So I asked him for the recipe and named it after him,” she laughs. “It’s pretty much a tuna sashimi with some spice from a Sriracha-mayo sauce.”
“I can’t remember what lead me to make a sourdough pizza,” Katrina confesses. “I think I wanted to make a traditional Neapolitan pizza at first, but I didn’t want to be restricted by the rules of making a real Neapolitan pizza, so I decided to play with it instead.” Mesclun’s Salume Calabrese Sourdough Pizza contains a simple medley of tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and salami.
The Brioche Croque Ma Duck is a unique offering from Mesclun that isn’t served in any other restaurant. “When I started serving Croques years ago, not too many people were doing it,” Katrina says. “I was doing it the classic way with white or wheat bread. Then, one of my regulars asked me to substitute the bread for brioche! So the idea of using brioche came from her. But some restaurants are doing that also now, so I was thinking of another variation,” shares Katrina.”In France, it’s quite common to change the filling, too (like with salmon). I just came from Japan where the eggs were just so good. I was thinking of using Japanese eggs, but the cost would be too high. So in the thought process of using good quality eggs, I thought of using duck eggs, which are local, not as expensive as Japanese eggs, and even more decadent and flavorful.”
The Foie Gras Baguette is a delicious heart attack sandwiched between two slices of freshly-baked bread. It is accompanied by a raspberry-infused Port wine reduction. Katrina fondly recalls how she fell in love with this dish. “I was in Montreux, Switzerland, for the Jazz festival about 4 years ago. They have food stalls there, and one was (lo and behold!) selling foie gras sandwiches. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and I was already doing pan-seared foie gras with Port wine reduction sauce at that time. So while I was eating it, my mind was already forming how I was going to do it when I got back home, which is basically placing my current recipe into a baguette sandwich.”
Mesclun Bistro also carries something familiar to our locale palate, their deconstructed House Cured Corned Beef. It’s served with cabbage, potatoes, carrots, pommery-mustard-horseradish sauce, the broth it was cooked in, and rice. “The corned beef recipe evolved from a failed pastrami slabwich I was trying to do for Chuck’s Deli,” she tells us. “But the corned beef became really popular, to the point that people were asking if we could sell it by the kilo for parties at home. It takes a long time to cook, so we couldn’t accommodate the orders—this gave me the idea of doing it in Mesclun as a non-sandwich dish,” she continues. “The soup is from the brining and cooking liquid, which I didn’t want to throw away.”
Ulang is not your usual crustacean. Katrina tells us that it’s like a humongous freshwater prawn. This Ulang Thermidor is baked and then served on black ink seafood risotto with grana padano slivers. “I noticed the ulang a couple of years ago, and I was attracted to its big head. It’s common knowledge that the head is the most flavorful part of the prawn. I was preparing a menu for my mom’s birthday, and so I decided to buy some and try them out. When it was a hit at her dinner, I continued using it.”
Katrina says that her restaurants are all products of experience, environment, exposure, and imagination. “Inspiration comes from anything and everything, but I guess my travels have always had the most impact. Recently, I’ve been getting it from chefs in my team. I really enjoy collaborating with them in coming up with new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own,” she tells us. When asked why people should go to Mesclun, Katrina keeps it very simple. “People should go to Mesclun because, well, the food is really really good,” she says with a laugh.