It's a new year yet again! Are you, like me, one of the many who vowed to eat healthy and lose those excess pounds this year? Well, I know just the place where you can get started with the healthy habit without resorting to bland, tiresome bunny food.
Pipino Vegetarian Food by Pino started out as the healthier line among the hearty food served at Pino Restobar. Every item was well- received and it confirmed the owners' thoughts that there's a demand for healthier options. Soon then, an opportunity to open a restaurant right above Pino came, and rest assured, Pipino was born. Alessandra Libongco, a long-time vegetarian and in-charge of the design matters of the group's restos, spearheaded their newest project.
"It's Pino, minus the meat," Alessa explains. Fans of Pino can expect the same comforting innovations in Pipino, only this time, they are much healthier. For instance, Pino won't be Pino if not for Kare-Kareng Bagnet-- three deep fried pieces of liempo, in Kare-Kare sauce, served with a cup of bagoong rice. Pipino on the other hand, is fastly becoming noted for its splendid Vegetarian Kare-Kare (P165) with bagoong rice and Vegan Bagoong (P125 per jar).
Pino's Kare-Kareng Bagnet
Pipino's Vegetarian Kare-Kare
Sure, making a Kare-Kare sans ox tripe and chunks of meat is easy. It's a dish largely dependent on peanut sauce and veggies after all. But making a convincing bagoong without using alamang? Now that's a challenge. Pipino, however, proves it's possible.
Made mostly out of black beans and muscovado sugar, Pipino's version of the famous Pinoy delicacy need not twist your arm for you to agree that this, indeed, is bagoong. Don't expect it to be pungent though; it isn't. This, mixed with a hot cup of rice and topped with a generous serving of sitaw, petchay, puso ng saging, and eggplant slathered in thick well-balanced peanut sauce, ensures that you aren't missing out on the richness of Kare-Kare even without the twalya.
Another crowd pleaser among Pipino's vegetarian dishes is the Eggplant and Tofu Miso with Brown Rice (P165).
Eggplant and Tofu Miso with Brown Rice
This turned out to be the favorite of the friend I was with during my first time at Pipino. She was constantly raving about how perfect eggplant, tofu, and miso blends in this pasty dish. So is the opinion of the rest of its many fans. I however find it short on flavor and the grainy texture just doesn't agree with my taste buds and if I were to be asked, it is the Vegan Lasagna (P120) that's to go back for in this restaurant.
This dish is low-fat, cheese-less, made of silken tofu, malunggay, eggplant, and zucchini. Could a dish be more boring-sounding than this? I bet not. Having said that, I still couldn't believe that I'd be branding Pipino's Vegan Lasagna as one of the best , if not the best, lasagna I've ever had. Take note; that's coming from someone long involved in a serious relationship with cheese. To say without hesitation that a cheese-less Vegan Lasagna is better than the gooey cheesy layered pasta is outright adultery but it couldn't be helped. The lumpy, creamy texture of the silken-tofu makes it a perfect substitute to melted Ricotta. Add to that some secret ingredients I still could not fathom and voilà ! A cheesy cheese-less lasagna that is just a touch tangy.
Another dish I fell in love with (though not as dire as with the Vegan lasagna) in this restaurant is Stuffed Demi-dried Tomatoes with Brown Rice, Mushroom Salpicao, and Orange Leek Salad (P225)-- another dish with a name as interesting as a snail, yet will take you aback upon a bite.
Okay, so maybe it's not exactly "blow your mind away" proportions, but it will amaze you nonetheless-- how a mushroom can be tasty enough to be salpicao-ed that you wouldn't be longing for meat to be satisfied. Alessa is right. The best substitute for meat isn't mock meat but mushrooms. These fleshy, quotidian fungi are tasty enough when seasoned well. Because they are gummy, the struggle of biting meat is replicated. Because they are porous, the oozing of juices won't be missed.
The rich, garlicky flavor of the mushroom salpicao is perfectly balanced by the refreshing, tangy taste of tomatoes. Add to that the pieces of oranges that comes along, and you'd have a dish that would leave you filled to the brim, without that sluggish feeling upon your last bite.
Pipino takes vegetarianism seriously, therefore, expect desserts that would satisfy even the strictest of vegans. End your meal at Pipino with their raved-about Whole Wheat Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies (P40; add P35-ala mode).
When I read from their blackboard menu that the ice cream would be some dairy-free coconut ice cream, I kind of expected that they'd be serving me one in a sorbet-like consistency. Surprisingly, they didn't. The stark white scoop, placed atop the chocolate cookie is ice cream as everyone knows it. It is creamy and airy-- definitely not icy. How this ice cream and cookie managed to be such sans dairy is no longer my concern. All I know is that this dessert is good and I'd never guess this one's vegetarian.
That's probably why I love Pipino and prefer it over the metro's vegetarian restaurants. It doesn't attempt to make a monkey out of me and serve me with mock this and that. Pipino makes the most out of what's available in the world without meat and presents them in such a way that were never imagined by many before. It's refreshing that way. I do hope the metro could have more of restos like Pipino.
So if you're still clueless how to keep up with your new year's resolution without giving up the joys of luxurious eating, you now know where to go.