Sapphire Bloc is Ortigas Center’s new dining hub
November 05, 2016  • The Philippine Star

Sapphire Bloc in the heart of the Ortigas Business District is a four-tower residential development by Robinsons Land.

There’s a taste you can’t quite put your finger on — or your tongue I suppose — to the rib-eye in front of us.  When Sobremesa executive chef Benjo Tuason tells us the name of the dish, it suddenly makes sense. It’s Barako Coffee-Crusted Rib-Eye, a specialty of Sobremesa, which uses ground barako coffee as rub before it’s grilled and then as crust.

Sobremesa is one of 10 restaurants on the ground floor of Robinsons Land’s Sapphire Bloc in Ortigas Center, in Tower One of four residential towers on Sapphire St. in the busy Ortigas Central Business District.  

May Lopez, Robinsons Land vice president for sales and marketing, explains that when they were building Sapphire Bloc, they specifically wanted to introduce a new dining hub to the area that’s filled with young office workers — and big malls. 

“Ortigas Center is not a huge CBD, but we have the most number of malls here — we have five — and a lot of hotels. So we chose restaurants that are unique and not found in regional malls because otherwise people would just go to the mall to eat lunch or dinner. Sapphire Bloc’s ground floor is a dining destination.” 

Stephen Delumen, Robinsons Land senior marketing manager, describes the market of Sapphire Bloc as “professionals from 35 to 45 years old, and surprisingly 40 percent of them are single. Most of them work nearby because it makes a lot of sense to buy a condo unit in the area so you don’t spend hours in traffic and can spend more time for leisure.” 

Jubie Vallarta, Robinsons Land leasing manager, adds, “We started looking at what Ortigas Center already has and what it lacks. What we had in mind was a walking lifestyle where people would just come out of their offices or hotels and walk over to Sapphire Bloc to choose where to eat.” 

The restaurants here are Papa Diddi’s, Moonshine Pub, Sobremesa, Cazuela, Stockpile, Shinsen Japanese restaurant, Kko and Starbucks Reserve. 

And here we are at Sobremesa, whose name, according to chef Benjo, means “the time spent with the people you dine with in Spanish, and in Portuguese it means dessert or the ending to a meal.” 

Sobremesa is the first ever branch in Metro Manila though Benjo’s group has been in the restaurant business for 11 years starting with three in the Fort and now Urban in Quezon City.  

“Sobremesa’s hashtag is ‘delicious conversations,’ which is why we have a little birdcage on the tables for diners to put inside their phones while eating. I got that from my Lola, who says ‘Puro kayo pindot nang pindot’ when we’re eating.” 

The aim, really, is to enjoy the meal and not get distracted by mobile phones. 

The chef serves us another house specialty — Peruvian Spiced Roasted Chicken with jalapeño and coriander, chimichuri, and garlic yogurt sauce that you just want to drizzle all over your chicken. 

“I was taught how to cook by my mom and one of her dishes is Bulalo Estofado.” This family recipe is sweet and salty slow-braised stew with orange, ginger, sherry butter, and kamote fries on the side. 

“Throughout my career, I’ve tried different cuisines and styles and at 33 I realize I want to cook homey food that’s a combination of South American and Filipino cuisines. Yung mga molecular gastronomy, I tip my hat to the chefs who do that, but this is my style — I want you to eat and feel comforted with it.” 

Chef Benjo studied at the College of Saint Benilde and worked at Peninsula Manila before spending six years in Australia to work and study. “I worked at Hayman Island in Queensland for a year, then applied at a school there, got my residency and was a year short to becoming a citizen, but I decided to come home.” 

It’s a different kind of concept at the next restaurant Kko, which is bringing the Korean food into the modern times. Korean owner Grace Lee, who was raised in the Philippines, and her partners are giving us Korean fare beyond bulgogi and bibimbap. 

Ian Ma, operations manager of Kko, says the name comes from the sound Koreans make to imitate a chicken’s cackle. 

“Kko is a modern take on Korean food,” Ian says. “The whole idea is more fresh, more youthful and we have that contemporary Korean vibe.” 

The food is still prepared traditionally and you have the regular Korean fare, but a lot of the dishes here you won’t find in other outlets. 

Their specialty is chicken and there are three kinds: First is the original, which is crispy fried chicken marinated in Korean spices with a choice of regular or spicy; second is Yang Nyum or fried chicken tossed in a sauce of your choice — sweet chili, classic soy or soy garlic (we recommend the garlic); third is Snow or fried chicken tossed in special powder that’s snow-like in consistency and the choices are cheese or fire hot (which is really spicy). 

One dish you probably haven’t heard of is the Dosirak. “You know how the Japanese have their bento box and we have our own lunch box? They have their own lunch box, too, which is made of a tin can made famous in the 1970s. People that used this were mostly students and employees. They put all their food in the box and during their commute nahahalo siya so it becomes like bibimbap. So they made it into an actual thing wherein you add a bit of sauce and you shake it instead of mixing it in a stone bowl. ” Inside the tin box is rice, kimchi, sweet dilis and sunny-side-up egg and your choice of viand. 

Something else you won’t find in a regular Korean restaurant is Chicken Cheese Fondue. It’s melted cheese in a bread bowl served with spicy french fries, homemade onion rings, and boneless chicken chunks tossed in Yang Nyum Sauce of your choice. This is a great dish for a group of diners. 

The third restaurant we hop to on our progressive lunch is Papa Diddi’s, originally an ice cream shop in Maginhawa, QC. 

Specializing in handcrafted ice cream, owner and founder Paul Parez named it after his father. Papa Diddi was a lawyer and politician in Tuguegarao and he took a lot of pro bono cases. Sometimes the farmers would bring him fruits, poultry, milk, eggs as payment. 

This abundance of fresh products led the family to turn them into jams and ice cream. “I grew up in an environment of homemade ice cream,” says Paul. 

It was his father Diddi who made the ice cream and cooked for the family, “but publicly he said it was my mom.” 

When Paul had his own family (he and his wife have eight kids) and they all loved ice cream, it became very costly to indulge in the dessert. “So I thought, I’d make them experience what I did growing up in Tuguegarao and they liked it. One day I served it to my wife’s friends and they loved it and started to demand for it. I went to the US and studied ice cream making at Penn State (I graduated in January last year).” (Paco Magsaysay of Carmen’s Best finished the same course in Penn State.) 

Paul lost his father six years ago and today the restaurant is a tribute to him, decorated with the things he owned, such as his briefcase, his case files, and his books. For his ingredients, Paul turns to the farmers in the north — all proudly local. 

The moment I tried a spoonful of Papa Diddi’s, I knew it was made from carabao’s milk. One of my enduring memories in my grandmother’s house is having fresh carabao’s milk delivered to her doorstep. Ice cream — or pastillas for that matter — made of carabao’s milk is simply more delicious than cow’s milk and it’s creamier too. 

Papa Diddi’s has more than 15 flavors and the best seller is the Tres Leches. Also try the Avocado Rhum and Roasted Forbidden Rice. 

The food at Papa Didi’s is Ibanag cuisine. “We’re river people and a lot of our recipes use ingredients from either the river or the mountains.  Whatever’s in season we use and we don’t add a lot of things to bring out the flavor.” 

Try the champorado, with bagnet — so creamy and crunchy! There are also sandwiches called Lawyer’s Sandwich, which was what his mom served to his dad’s guests at home. 

 “In Cagayan, every corner has a panciteria and we have a version of that noodle dish that comes with river clams, shrimps, and longganisa.” 

And there’s dinakdakan made into egg’s benedict — now that’s perfect to start every CBD worker’s day in Ortigas. 

* * * 

Check out the author’s travel blog at www.findingmyway.net, follow her on Instagram and Twitter @iamtanyalara.

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