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By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter
A NEW lounge in Greenhills is making us think about going out again.
Arcana, located at the Promenade Mall at the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan, is decorated in the luxurious style akin to clubs that closed even prior to the pandemic (the music choices of early 2000s club anthems during the May 18 opening may have had a hand in our impression). It seats about 40 inside, and 20 outside, mindful of new pandemic practices of eating al fresco.
Appetizer after appetizer came out during the opening, but only one truly stood out: the sisig rolls (P475). The thoroughly Filipino chopped pigs’ face is wrapped and fried in rice paper, as the Vietnamese do, leading us to rediscover this Filipino classic. Still, we’d suggest a little zest and zing added to it, as my seatmate complained it tasted like the smell of boiled pork (but never mind her; I liked it).
We’re a little bit firmer in liking the entrees, which included a Rib Eye Steak (P2,990) and the Lamb Rack (P1,945). According to the chef, Edward Dimaculangan, the steak is USDA, and the lamb comes from either Australia or New Zealand.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have that yet in the Philippines: the quality of USDA steaks and the lamb from Australia and New Zealand.” For everything else (the shrimp in the pasta, the prawns for the thermidor, and the sisig, probably), there are the local markets. “We’re only (one) of a few restaurants… that actually take time to go to the slaughterhouse,” said Mr. Dimaculangan. “We pride ourselves that we don’t purchase anything frozen, except of course the steak and the lamb.” The steak was perfectly tender and was forward with its flavor. The lamb rack, prepared sous vide, tasted like it was made with care.
The cocktails seal the deal, and for one of their signature cocktails, we’d definitely head out of the house. We had a gin-basil splash to start (a bit like a more worldly mojito, P420), but we’d tell you to start with Picnic (P420), and fast.
It turns out that Arcana’s Bar Manager and consultant is Kenneth Bandivas, winner of the Philippine leg for the 2015 Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year Competition. He was then working for one of Manila’s speakeasies (story here: https://www.bworldonline.com/weekender/focus/2016/05/20/5154/manilas-hidden-bars/), but now co-owns The Spirits Library and Kampai (both in Makati).
To make Picnic, he first makes a Bloody Mary (recipes differ, but a basic one would be tomato juice, vodka, some citrus, and spices); then switches out the vodka for tequila. After that, he pours milk over the whole thing to make it curdle, a process which takes about 24 hours. This is then filtered and clarified.
The result is a clear drink that contains the mere suggestion of the Bloody Mary, but with the same kick. “Imagine having a Bloody Mary, which is technically a hangover cure during brunches. It’s like having that experience with me,” he told BusinessWorld. On the other hand, it’s also practical. “If I prepare it in advance, I could just grab a bottle, pour it over ice, and then put garnish on it,” he said. “At least I have a cocktail that is easy to pour.”
The cocktails also take after what the kitchens have to offer. “We try to minimize our wastage. Whatever they’re using, we try to use it. If there’s an interesting ingredient that we can use and incorporate in a cocktail, we would do it.”
We asked Mr. Bandivas what makes for a perfect cocktail. “Essentially, it’s more on how you extract and derive from all the ingredients that you get in a menu, and have a strong relationship with all those ingredients,” he said. “If you think about a tomato, the tomato really has to come out. A perfect cocktail would always be (one) that really brings out the best of the ingredient that you want to highlight. Something simple, but would really trick my mind.”
Arcana is located at 2/F, Outdoor Promenade, Greenhills Shopping Center, Ortigas Ave., Connecticut St., San Juan City.