I can't believe it took me a year to visit Relish at Ponte-- a restaurant so close to my workplace, I can literally see its green-lit signage from where I'm typing this article.
Relish first made headlines in food-concerned publications about a year ago. Feature articles highlighted it as the first restaurant of the Almario sisters (Ivy and Cynthia)-- acclaimed designers of the city's most beautiful commercial and residential establishments. Now that's a good come-on, especially for diners who are particular with the ambiance as they are with the food. But apparently, it was not enough to get me crossing the street.
Now what convinced my lazy bum to visit Relish? Rumor has it that they have great buffalo wings and cheesesteaks hiding in their menu. I'm pretty sure you know what happened next after that rumor reached me.
I decided to finally visit Relish one Friday afternoon. While my fellow Salcedo Village workers were still crunching their pre-weekend deadlines, I, along with a friend, was sitting on one of Relish's couches— admiring the wisefully-put interiors and the fact that I can spend Friday afternoons doing so.
True to what was written before, Relish brandishes that unique understated elegance the Almarios are famous for. Though not as experimental as their other works, Relish comes across as structured yet cozy. Actually, the whole place is a mishmash of textures and influences but the neutral colors blend everything together. The sisters clearly know what works when it comes to designing restaurants.
But aside from the interiors, food here also proved to be surprisingly very good. With the help of Chef Rodel Matuba, their other siblings: Rachel and Chona, and the rest of the food-loving Almario clan, Cynthia and Ivy put up a full-line menu that highlights family favorites.
There's a long list of interesting items to try in the menu but when in Relish, it's illegal to leave without sampling Cynthia Almario's Amazing Artichoke Dip with Tostitos (P325). You may think that it is such a cocky choice for a name but I'm sure you'll forgive it once you've had a bite.
Amazing Artichoke Dip with Tostitos
I'm going to leave out the blow-by-blow description of what it tastes like because I want you to experience the same overwhelming sensation I had as soon as the dipped Tostitos landed on my tongue. The artichoke strands. And then the cheese. Ah yes, the cheese! I swear I found myself repeatedly exclaiming “amazing!” for a good minute or two. It's been a week since I last tasted the artichoke dip but I still can't seem to get it out of my head!
For the small plates and appetizer category, I'd say cheesesteaks and buffalo wings are the best ways to go.
Relish, with its elegant interiors, is an unlikely home for a Cheesesteak Sandwich (P260) that's usually found in counter-type diners. But don't let the unlikeliness hinder you from ordering one.
Cheesesteak here is quintessentially big, crowded, and messy. The baguette barely has room for all the beef slices tucked within. The meat's all tender. The cheese melt is all over the place. I don't care what food snobs say, but this is how a cheesesteak looks like in my book.
I told you that I went here for the Buffalo Wings (P330) and I'm happy to report that Relish's version doesn't disappoint.
The sauce used is my ideal mix of vinegar, cayenne, and butter. They nailed it spot-on. The heat is pretty mild (perhaps to play safe) unless you specify that you like it a little exciting. But other than that, it aced my Buffalo Wings test. The generous pouring of the sauce garners the dish some extra stars. Thank you, universe. I can finally attend to my wing cravings anytime.
I can't make up my mind as to which main course I'd recommend from among the many I've tried. The Salmon en Papillote (P490), refreshing and light, bests everything else, presentation-wise.
Salmon en Papillote
Opening the parchment to reveal the steamy salmon is quite a scene to look at and smell.
But its light, citrusy flavor, pales in comparison to the heavy, and very rich Relish Bistro Steak (P550).
Relish Bistro Steak
Thick and pink, the tenderloin is accompanied by a beautifully whipped potato. The gravy made from its own juices is essential; it furthers the flavor of the already rich meat. It's quite tender, but not as fragile as the Relish Roasted Chicken (P395)-- which, at a poke, submits and crumbles without question.
Relish Roasted Chicken
The chicken is crispy outside but is extraordinarily soft inside. Three hours of slow roasting did it. The aioli dip is so good, you might consider asking for more.
Healthy eater? You might fancy Fish Kebab (P295)-- two skewers of plump and juicy fish chunks and onions served with a salad as the side.
Desserts and cocktails are available but because I'm stuffed to the brim, I no longer asked for one. Instead, I let Moïse's (Cynthia's husband, and a French-Moroccan artist) jazzy tunes serve as my sweet nightcap. He was so good, I felt like I was sitting by the sea on a beach front! Relish's ambiance and food is good. Add Moise's singing and the whole experience becomes the best!
(Note: He usually practices his singing there on Wednesdays and Fridays. Call and inquire early to confirm.)
That splendid night-- filled with friendly banter, buffalo wings, gooey cheesesteaks, fish kebabs, and Moïse's singing showed me in two hours what I missed that entire year I snubbed this next door bistro. Really, what was I thinking? But thank God for my food obsessions, I now found the perfect place when I'm craving for great home-style food and a worthwhile evening.