Have you ever encountered an 'invisible' restaurant? You know, that one you could swear was never there until the nth time you've passed by the place?
I seem to always encounter these restos, and The Gustavian is one of them.
I've done resto-searching rounds in Eastwood Mall several times already. The place is far-flung from Makati, so every time I'm there I make it a point to not miss out on new things. That particular day, I was taking my usual path (upper most floor down to the lowest level, then to the outer perimeter) and the resto past Old Vine stopped me on track. "The Gustavian," the sign read. I peer in past its white frames and saw the deli. The space next to it is also occupied by "The Gustavian," this time, housing a couple of tables against a nicely textured, geometric themed wall. Clearly, it's the dining extension. More importantly, where on Earth did this come from?
I asked the cheery receptionist, "Bago 'to? Kailan pa kayo open, miss?" expecting her to say "Yes ma'am, last month lang po." But instead, I got "Matagal na po ma'am, as in early last year pa." Oh, that long? Wow, it was under my radar.
So, my barkada lunch date the next day was (surprise!) at The Gustavian.
Since we were passing the deli area, I decided to look around. I'm not really a deli shopper, so I cannot gauge whether Gustavian's stock is better than here-and-there. I could tell though that they have ample brands under their belt. Organic vegetables, fruit juices, wines, imported nuts, Korean Bulgogi Marinade, butters, cheeses, olive oil, beers and sausages are all present. Half of the resto is practically a deli, so expect a good selection.
We checked the menu and were all impressed how the prices are not as intimidating as the place suggested. Being a deli and in the same row as Old Vine Grill, we found the presence of food items under 200 Pesos pleasantly surprising. Carbonara at P160. Panini Selection is priced at P160 each as well. Valencia Riverside Spinach made with Coconut Milk and Truffle Oil (!) for only P170.
Our lunch comprised of their best-selling dishes. We got a medium House Salad (small: P150, medium:P250, large:P380) to be shared by three girls as a starter.
The house salad comprised of mixed greens-- arranged in a pretty manner. Your usual tomatoes, capers, cheese, plus diced mangoes and hefty slices of fresh salmon (my favorite). It was good, we all agreed. Not really something to excitingly rave about though, probably because we feel it did not get the proper dressing (mustard, according to the menu) it was supposed to go with. The dressing was out of stock; in its stead, they gave us a tarty-creamy one, which I suppose is served along with another kind of salad. I ended up not using it however. I'm perfectly cool with the veggies, mango and salmon alone. The generous placing of the salmon strips is the best thing about the dish, considering the price.
For our main fare, we agreed to share the Grilled Salmon (P430), Lengua Espanol (P280), and Gustavian Fillet Steak (P620).
If we were the only one to order, we wouldn't get the Lengua Espanol anymore. But our server was pretty eager recommending this dish, saying that we haven't probably tried lengua this good. According to him, this (as well as the Callos) is their best bet in their Spanish family style menu. With a big O-kay (which sounded more like, siguraduhin mo ha!), Lengua it is.
And you know what? He was right. The Gustavian's version of the cream based lengua is a great take on a classic fiesta fare. Sliced small but still perfectly firm, these bit sized softies swam in shitake mushroom gravy which was insanely buttery. Breathing in the creamy and strong aroma alone is enough to to make your senses loco. A fresh salsa mix is added on the side, to wash down the strong cling of cream every once in a while. But I personally did not find it nakakaumay at all. The dish is a real classic I'd go for again next time.
I had the salmon next. I had to. To follow a creamy dish with another gravy based meat won't be a great move, So I pulled the salmon dish closer.
That day could've been my olfactory sense's birthday. Of course there's no such thing, but imagine how "high" it has become when I inhaled the ever mouthwatering aroma of truffle oil, just right after I had the buttery gravy in. Truffle oil is arguably the best food scent there is; it always makes me close my eyes. And there it was, lathered on the slouching salmon slab on top of the rice.
Salmon itself was humble -- fresh (always the word for it, eh?), perfectly firm and just a tad salty. Its sauce on the other hand is something you can describe as extravagant. No, splendid is the word. Truffle oil is at times powerful, at times, subdued but altogether and all the time, great. This has got to be my favorite here.
Still high on cream, butter, and truffle oil, I paused and sipped my Fresh Orange Juice (P110) before taking an endearing look at the Gustavian Fillet Steak.
Gustavian Fillet Steak
Two tenderloin chops, smothered in pepper sauce with wedge potatoes and a handful of mash potatoes at P620 looks like a good deal. One hungry person or a hardcore male carnivore would easily finish the serving though. Light eaters or those who are ordering another dish on the other hand would find sharing the fillet steak enough.
I cut my small portion and found just the right amount of pink in my medium rare order. It was also an easy slice -- meat's very tender, submitting easily to very light effort. Already covered in the light brown pepper sauce, I mopped the piece onto the gravy some more. I take a bite and ah, classic steak.
I would say that this together with the regular pepper sauce makes a decent dish: not stellar nor breathtaking, but is good enough for the price. Steak and pepper sauce is a classic, and they just heeded that way. No seared with this and that. No marinated here and there. Just the plain, old, traditional steak. And hey, no problems there.
Three dishes down, we all thought of the same thing. Food in The Gustavian is as classic as its name sounds. We think that it's not their business to create another version of what everybody knows. There are no attention-grabbing Grilled Adobo, Fried Kare-Kare, Chocolate Tenderloin, Carbonara cooked in 5 ways in here. No confusion-fusion. Nothing avante-garde. Instead, they work on what they've mastered--the classics--and share them to every one.
The name, the food, the conservative look. All of these probably contributed to me not noticing The Gustavian at just once. I've been used to checking out places for their offering of something new. It has always been, "What's in here that's innovative?", or "What's in here that we haven't seen before?" that I fail to look at the more humbler, familiar options. The ones that exist that have nothing to do with something highly experimental, but providing something traditional. The ones that make simple things, but do so in a masterful way. The Gustavian was "invisible" to me (and perhaps to many) that way. But there's no denying that we were filled up with something we enjoyed that day. After all, there's always comfort in the traditional.