First Impressions on The Wholesome Table: Does Flavor Have To Suffer When Food is Organic?August 10, 2014
Most Filipinos can’t resist the deep fried call of pork or the fat-soaked broth of bulalo, but a homecooked meal is never complete without a little vegetable color. Vegetables are an inevitable part of Filipino dining: from the straightforward root crop and vegetable-based diet of our farmers, to the bowls of sinigang and nilaga flavored by carrots, cabbages, potatoes, and more. Eating vegetables has recently been taken a level higher with restaurants like The Wholesome Table introducing dishes made with “antibiotic-free, nitrate-free, unprocessed, raw, fresh, organic, cold-pressed, and superfood” ingredients. They not only hope to introduce a delicious meal to its recipients, but also food that is not toxic and makes sure that one “eats right and eats well.” The Wholesome Table introduces organic food in its menu, with the full intention of making sure it becomes a lifestyle for its diners. Each item indicates if it’s vegan, vegetarian, non-fat, dairy-free, and/or gluten-free.
Step into this restaurant at Bonifacio High Street Central and you’ll feel as if someone tried to get you out of the area but still couldn’t let go of posh Metro Manila comforts. There are trees planted inside and a few hanging plants in an attempt to recreate a farm-like setting. At the same time, the restaurant’s target market needs to keep comfortable so the “greenery” is set against the trending Pinterest-slash-Tumblr minimalist-hipster aesthetic. While we were waiting between orders, the waiter placed a candle on our table. I found that odd since we were inside, but a few flies that passed by explained the need for a candle. Yes, there were flies inside the restaurant, and a lot of them.
The Wholesome Table introduces organic food in its menu, with the full intention of making sure it becomes a lifestyle for its diners.
Their menu offers several types of dishes that can form a complete meal or give plenty of choice for those unsure of what to eat on a first visit. Their salads include the Kale, Caesar! and Seaweed Salad. Kale is becoming old news and having it as a Caesar salad didn’t seem too inventive. Unfortunately the Seaweed Salad we wanted to order, as well as the Vegan Cheese weren’t available at the time. The rest of our orders—the Turkey Scotch Egg (PHP 160), Chicken Marsala with Oven Roasted Vegetables (PHP 750), and the Braised Pork Fettuccine (PHP 430)—were available. We opted instead for the Enlightened Bowl (PHP 320) to replace our salad order.
Before we were served our three orders, we were given a free appetizer of potato buns. They appeared like bread but didn’t act as a decent alternative to that go-to carbohydrate snack. The buns tasted like nothing even with the butter lathered all over. We added some salt to make the buns more enjoyable, but that addition felt forced and then made the bread way too salty against the initial blandness.
The biggest disappointment that day was the Chicken Marsala. The overpriced PHP 750 plate tasted nothing like Marsala and the chicken was drowning in sickeningly sweet sauce.
The servers started off our meal with the Enlightened Bowl. This seemed like an odd first dish to be served as it was a large bowl of brown rice topped with lettuce, cucumber, pickled onion, avocado, mixed seeds, fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and pea sprouts. At first the bowl appeared filling, but a spoonful of it tasted otherwise. There was just too much going on with all those vegetables competing for our palate. The brown rice also appeared more yellow due to the ginger dressing. I didn’t even taste much of the ginger either as the pickled onion overpowered the other vegetables. The tofu was chewy rather than crunchy in each bite. The rest had no flavor whatsoever, and the avocado seemed out of place. It tasted like one of the avocados from an avocado con hielo, but with the sugar and milk wiped out and only the soft texture left over.
What should’ve been the first dish was given after the not-so-enlightening bowl: the Turkey Scotch Egg. Other restaurants like Rambla and Blackbird are serving this kind of egg, so Wholesome Table’s Turkey Scotch Egg sets itself apart by using free-range duck eggs wrapped in all-natural turkey sausage. This item was the complete opposite of the enlightened bowl, but in a bad way: this time, the egg lacked any flavor.
On the Braised Pork Fettuccine: they may have made sure the pig was treated well, but that animal’s sacrifice was lost in this pasta dish.
The biggest disappointment that day was the Chicken Marsala. The overpriced PHP 750 plate tasted nothing like Marsala and the chicken was drowning in sickeningly sweet sauce. It almost tasted like the Sweet and Sour Pork of North Park, but without the sour factor and with the sickening sweetness of Chowking’s Orange Chicken. The roasted vegetables were drowned in the overly sweet sauce and we could taste none of the Marsala wine. The thigh and leg parts were wasted on the monopoly of one taste.
We were hoping their Braised Pork Fettuccine would save our lunch. After all, you can’t go wrong with a description of “slow milk-braised pork shoulder.” They may have made sure the pig was treated well, but that animal’s sacrifice was lost in this pasta dish. The milk it was supposedly braised in tasted like old cream and curdled in the pork’s juices. The juices appeared watery and the pork wasn’t tender at all. The pork did not deliver that softness you expect from a pulled preparation. The pieces reminded me more of bland lechon left in the fridge for weeks. I could taste none of the Pecorino Romano cheese and the fettuccine did not soak up the supposed “sauce” this pasta was meant to have.
Unfortunately in a country like the Philippines and the boom of restaurants in the last few years, it will take a lot more than good intentions to convince more people into a “toxic-free” lifestyle.
I may not have chosen vegetarianism and vegan eating as a lifestyle, but I do appreciate this restaurant’s intentions and efforts to source ingredients locally. There’s also the commendable introduction of food that promotes healthy living. Unfortunately, in a country like the Philippines and the boom of restaurants in the last few years, it will take a lot more than good intentions to convince more people into a “toxic-free” lifestyle. Vegetables do taste good and I’ve heard many vegan and gluten-free restaurants abroad have translated taste well without sacrificing one’s health. Heck we even have quite a few vegan or vegetarian restaurants that champion the same issues, but with much tastier dishes. Perhaps The Wholesome Table just needs a little more time to get all the flavor out of its ingredients.
Have you tried The Wholesome Table? What do you think of their dishes? Do you think organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free food will fly in the Philippines? Sound off in the comments section below!