Nostalgic Feel-Good Food at Bistro United in Kapitolyo

Perhaps the biggest challenge of a Filipino chef opening a restaurant in the Philippines is setting up his own Filipino restaurant. We all grew up eating the same dishes, but each one is prepared and presented differently. It is precisely this reason why we are most critical of our own cuisine (and thus, of Filipino restaurants)—they have to measure up to what we have grown up enjoying and loving.

Chef Mia, however, of the newly-opened Bistro United in Kapitolyo fearlessly walks forward and says, “let me tell you my story instead”. No ambitions to proclaim that her cooking and her heritage are the best; no whims to whip out crazy fusions that arouse curiosity but in the end underwhelm; no attempts to win your heart with fancy renditions of your favorite local eats—but succeeding quite effortlessly.

And while the chef would rather simply call her creations “feel-good food”, it cannot be denied that most of the dishes were inspired from what she enjoyed eating and making from childhood to adulthood. Her food spoke to me directly of familiar scenes in our own kitchen and dining table, but which led my mind to branch out further and share own my stories as well—which is exactly what happened when we dined here last week. In between spoonfuls of adobo or bites of kare kare, I would remember an amusing story and lay it out on the table. In fact, we all did.

Each dish that Chef Mia brings out of the kitchen is a testament to her skill, experience, and passion—and to a particular memory in her life. Take for instance the Crispy Ubod Salad (PhP125)—a salad for the non-salad eater, as she likes to call it. Here, crispy sheets of wonton are piled atop carrots, squash, kamote beans, and ubod (heart of coconut palm), finished off with some balsamic vinaigrette and candied Iligan nuts. I love how it takes my mouth to a jumble of sensations: the crackle of wonton crisp, followed by smaller bites from the nuts, and then a splash of vinaigrette, followed by the refreshing taste of vegetables.

The Nacho Poppers (PhP105) are small wonton cups of minced pork, a reinvention of the typical bar chow. Topped with mango-tomato salsa, paprika, sour cream, and some bagoong Balayan from Batangas, each bite is an explosion of flavors. The bagoong (fermented fish and shrimp paste) is subtle but still discernible, adding a salty jab into each mouthful.

Lovers or squash would be delighted with the Roasted Squash Soup (PhP125)velvety pumpkin puree topped with bits of Tuguegarao longganisa. I love thick soups like this, a perfect starter to any meal.

If you seek an interesting pasta dish, go for the Roast Beef Carbonara (PhP225), fettuccini pasta with a creamy white sauce, then topped with roast beef bits and flakes. I could’ve mistaken the flakes as adobo, except that these tasted somewhat richer. The sauce hugged the noodles without being overpowering.

Chef Mia is also behind The Round Table, a restaurant known for their delicious roast beef. She took this signature dish into her new restaurant in the form of The Amazing Roast Beef (PhP415), a hefty plate of slow-cooked US prime roast beef belly served with au jus gravy and mashed potato. The meat is marinated overnight and slow-roasted for 6 hours, resulting in a delightfully moist and tender quality. Fans of roast beef, attack!

The Adobo sa Mangga (PhP395) was such a surprise. It didn’t have soy sauce and vinegar—instead, Chef Mia used pureed green mangoes and bagoong to achieve that salty-sweet flavor. The meat was grilled first before being cooked in the combination aforementioned—a bit like how my Lola does it (fry first, before cooking with soy sauce and vinegar). Finally, she topped it with shredded green mangoes and garlic, then served it on a sizzling plate. Whether you love your adobo saucy, fried, dry, sweet, salty, or only cooked in vinegar (adobong puti), this version is undoubtedly one that has never been done before—and therefore, a must-try.

Kare-kare has never been presented before the way the Porchetta Kare-Kare (PhP345) is. I rarely order kare-kare from restaurants because I swear by my Lola’s version, but this one from Bistro United is close—and in some ways, better. Instead of the usual beef, pork, or tripe, there’s porchetta—a glorious slab of roasted pork fat, skin, meat, and stuffing. The use of Italian style pork elevated the Pinoy dish without taking away the familiarity. No shortcuts here; the kitchen grinds peanuts for the sauce every day. This is my favorite at Bistro United.

Coming close is the Buttermilk Fried Chicken (PhP295), which was perfectly executed. It had the right balance of sweetness and saltiness, the chicken moist and juicy. However, the elevating factor were the sauces: gravy, Hot Damn Sauce (labuyo ketchup), and Chef Mia’s Secret Sauce, which was so addicting I asked to take home a few tubs so I could dip everything in sight into it!

The Dalandan Chicken with Ube Rice (PhP245) is a reinterpretation of inasal—not the salty variant you would often find in Manila but the slightly sour one. No surprise there, as the chicken was marinated in dalandan and a bunch of other ingredients before being grilled. The ube (Purple yam) rice? Fantastic.

If you happen to pass by merienda time, get the Arroz Caldo Overload (PhP155) which is sure to satiate your appetite. Chicken arroz caldo is served separately with cups of salted egg, dulong, spring onions, garlic, calamansi, and patis (fish sauce), so you can choose which ones you want in your bowl. Hearty and comforting, it reminds me of afternoon snacks at home! If it’s something sweet you crave, then the Banana Fritters with Salted Yema Sauce (PhP95) should do the trick. It’s like turon, except that it has mango instead of langka, and salted yema sauce instead of caramel.

But if you were to order just one dessert from Bistro United, then make it the Tilapia Ice Cream (PhP55/scoop)—the most mind-blowing ice cream flavor I’ve tasted to date. Yes, tilapia as in the fish. Vanilla serves as the base, which is then peppered by tilapia bits, mimicking cheese on ice cream. The ice cream itself isn’t smooth but a bit grainy—a cross between ice cream and pudding. Chef Mia mixes the liquid used to cook the fish into the churning machine, but you can barely taste the fish! This was all sorts of amazing!

Instead of fancy renditions of Filipino food, Chef Mia went for individual ingredients that makes you think, why haven’t I thought of doing this before? The presentation was visually appealing but not intimidating, attractive but approachable; the food familiar yet ingenious. Chef Mia was a woman you would be drawn to, and not think twice about striking a conversation. When it comes to Filipino food, everyone has a story to share—Chef Mia’s flowed from her neurons to her hands, then to our mouths and our happy stomachs.

Bistro United
D-Strip Building, #20 United St., Pasig City
12:00PM - 10:00PM
Budget: PhP300 up/head

Have you been to Bistro United? What is your favorite there? Are you willing to try the Tilapia Ice Cream?

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