Monday, October 21, 2013

Going Gaga Over Garlic

Mad for Garlic Philippines restaurant at W Global Center, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Two things intrigue one about Mad for Garlic — an Italian bistro that originated from South Korea, and the joyous and generous use of garlic, a most beloved spice.
“Mad for Garlic is a wine and garlic restaurant that showcases garlic-themed dishes using different varieties of garlic and cuts. We are unique for offering Italian cuisine with a twist of Asian flavors,” described Archie Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of Global Restaurant Concepts, which brought the Korean bistro to the Philippines and which is responsible for getting Philippine franchises of  California Pizza Kitchen, PF Chang’s, Morelli’s Gelato, IHOP and Gyu-Kaku.
“We discovered this in Singapore and Korea,” he related. “I tried it first in Singapore, and I went to Korea to try it again…I was really impressed by the food. The food is different from what you’ll find anywhere else…The food is so flavorful.”
They decided to buy a franchise, but managed to work out a joint venture instead.
Rodriguez further introduced the restaurant: “Our Korean partner, Caroline Nam, simply loved Italian food. She realized that people in Korea really loved garlic as well, which is a main ingredient in Italian cuisine. So with that in mind, she and her team created this wonderful concept of Mad for Garlic about 13 years ago. There are now 22 locations across Korea, Jakarta and Singapore, and this is their first venture into the Philippines. One will find that Italian dishes served here at Mad for Garlic not only stand out because of garlic, but because they are uniquely flavored.”
The restaurant is very popular in Korea, he related, and there are branches near each other but there still be queues. With the Koreans coming and living in the Philippines, Rodriguez thought they will be a “natural market” for them. But he also thought the Filipinos will find the food interesting because we like garlic and we like things sweet and spicy but not too spicy.
Korea and Italy are two countries with famous and distinctive cuisines. Italian is one of the most beloved cuisines in the world, and it is one of the most frequented deconstructed, reinvented and customized according to tastes. On the other hand, Korean is unique, even among Asian cuisines — spicy, fresh, tantalizing. Kimchi is the iconic side dish. While Mad for Garlic does not attempt at fusing these two, the cooking of Italian dishes with Korean sensibilities created a new family of flavors — not totally Italian and not quite Korean or Asian.



The all Filipino staff was trained in Korea to serve dishes that is close to the original as possible.
Start with Dracula Killer (P195), a wonderful appetizer of soft garlic bread served with garlic cooked in olive oil and anchovies. The large pieces of garlic are baked to perfection, flavored by the briny anchovies, heaven for garlic lovers like me. Scoop the remaining olive with the bread.
A healthier appetizer option (although garlic itself is said to be medicinal and have health benefits) is the anchovy garlic cream fondue (P365), creamy anchovy garlic fondue served with broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, oven-baked whole garlic and croutons.
Many of the ingredients are imported, but when available they are sourced locally event the most important ingredients of all.
“There are about a thousand varieties of garlic and several of them are cultivated uniquely in Korea. The country, in fact, is considered one of the world’s premium producers of quality garlic,” Rodriguez told us. “Here at Mad for Garlic, we use our local garlic varieties. Some we bought from China.” 
The Zuppa di Pesce (P655) reminded me more of Korean dishes, especially the hot and spicy soups. The Zuppa is a delightfully spicy soup with various kinds of seafood, served with garlic bread sticks. The bowl was brimming with the bounty of the sea — mussels in their shells, rings of squid, shrimps, morsels of fish, etc. The broth is delectably thick with tomato sauce, nicely punctuated by spice. But for Rodriguez, the Zuppa di Pesce, which is one of his favorites, reminded him of the Spanish sopa de mariscos, but it has lot more flavor to it and it is spicier.
Dracula Killer, soft garlic bread served with garlic cooked in olive oil and anchovies
Zuppa di Pesce, a spicy seafood soup
Tutto mushroom salad with three kinds of mushroom in teriyaki sauce with grilled red pepper, asparagus and arugula

Dancing Salsa Rice with steak

For a less spicy soup, try the Soute di Cozze (P435), fresh mussels with homemade tomato sauce, or the White Mussel (P265), mussel in garlic cream and béchamel sauces.
As counterbalance, the Tutto Mushroom Salad (P665) was subtle and earthy with its three kinds of mushroom in teriyaki sauce with grilled red pepper, asparagus and arugula. Other salads in the menu include the fresh spinach salad (P295), spinach, fried garlic and bacon slices with balsamic dressing; the traditional Caesar’s salad (P275); Caprese salad (P695), fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella cheese with basil dressing; and insalata di mare (P595), vegetables with seafood.
Their pizza varieties are very interesting — mixed cheese pizza (P425) with four kinds of cheese; margherita pizza (P475) with tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella; old ham and sausage pizza (P495), a creamy pizza with sausage, ham, bacon and black pepper in a special sauce; spicy meat dipping pizza (P625) topped with greens in béchamel sauce and served with spicy meat sauce; garlic and sweet potato pizza (P495) topped with arugula and mozzarella and Grana Padano cheeses and drizzled with honey mustard sauce; picante salchichon pizza (P695); and calzone pizza (P595) with garlic cream sauce. 
The gorgonzola pizza (P475), which has gorgonzola cheese served with honey, proved to be surprising interplay of flavors. I’ve never tasted pizza this sweet, except for dessert pizzas, and it worked. Take a slice and dipped it in honey! But the Garlic Snowing Pizza (P545) remained to be the star among the pizzas. It has Mad for Garlic special sauce topped with shrimp, pineapple, and fried sliced garlic.
“Garlic Snowing Pizza is number one,” said Rodriguez about the bestsellers, “and has become a huge favorite in all our locations. It’s a mildly sweet garlic thin crust Mad for Garlic pizza topped with shrimp and diced pineapples. Gorgonzola Pizza, topped with Italian Gorgonzola cheese and served with honey dipping sauce, is the second most popular dish we have.” 
He added: “For pasta, it’s the Garlicpeno Pasta (P245). It’s a Mad for Garlic special pasta served full of garlic and Mexican peppers. The Creamy Taraco Pasta (P445) is also a bestseller, made of fusion style cream sauce pasta with pollack roe.”
But he thinks the crab and lobster pasta (P475) is well suited to the Filipino palate. It is a very likable pasta with garlic cream sauce, crab and lobster meat, a safe choice if finicky about spice. But Mad for Garlic offers plenty of pasta choices, both traditional and inventive — Arrabiata (P295) with three kinds of chillies, bacon slices and homemade tomato sauce; shrimp and garlic sprout (P425); triple garlic (P595) with mussel, shrimp, cuttlefish and garlic sprout; creamy chicken popcorn (P395) with soy sauce cream and chicken; Shanghai Bomb (P495) with fried noodles and seafood sautéed in chilli oil; zuppa di mare (P495) with various kinds of seafood; pescatore (P695) with seafood and homemade tomato sauce; Red Devil (P595), which is real spicy; and gorgonzola cream (P750) with scallops and mashed potato.
Being Asian, there is a separate section for rice, which includes risotto. Predicted to be a hit is the Dancing Salsa Rice with Steak (P295), more Korean inspired. This garlic rice dish with wine marinated beef, topped with fresh bean sprouts and fried egg, along with diced tomatoes and jalapeño, is served on a hot plate, which is mixed teppanyaki-style by diners.

 Crab and lobster pasta

Garlic Snowing Pizza with Mad for Garlic special sauce topped with shrimp, pineapple, and fried sliced garlic

Gorgonzola Pizza
Garlic Sprinkle Gelato
Just as tasty are the other offerings including Garlicky Rice (P345), fried rice with octopus and squid; Galicholic Rice (P325), fried rice with shrimp and vegetables; garlic sizzling rice (P425) with bacon and flying fish roe; grilled chicken and mushroom risotto (P395) with spinach and three different mushrooms; seafood cream risotto (P775); seafood rice (P695); and jalapeño garlic rice with steak (P995).
For meat lovers, Mad for Garlic has a few steak dishes. “The steaks are sweet and spicy also, just like bulgogi,” Rodriguez described.
To go with the food, the restaurant offers fruit shakes, beers, coffee, soda and tea. Unique are their “signature ades” such as Lemon_Ade and Orange_Ade, but try the original Wine_Ade (P170), a mix of red wine and soda, and Yuja_Ade (P110), made from traditional Korean herb tea of yuja fruit preserved in honey. Being a bistro, it has an extensive selection of wines, which embellish their walls.
“In general, we would recommend dry, sweet wine for our spicy and garlicky menu. Our white wine selections would also go very well with the cheese platter,” Rodriguez suggested.
Desserts are not big in Mad for Garlic, and one unique concoction proved to be challenging to the taste — the Garlic Sprinkle Gelato (P175), a garlic ice cream served with garlic cookie. This one left a weird garlicky taste in the mouth.
While garlic is universally enjoyed, many are not fond of its smell.
“We’ve found that many of our guests don’t think our dishes smell strongly of garlic, perhaps since we use different cuts and varieties,” said Rodriquez. “Mad for Garlic is actually a great place to take your date, as so many of our guests do in Korea.”       
“It has a great ambiance to enjoy a meal with a special friend, or maybe talk business or even to celebrate a special occasion with family and friends,” he added.
While they enjoy experimenting and coming up with original dishes for their other franchises, especially for California Pizza Kitchen, Rodriguez said they would not yet do so for Mad for Garlic.
“We would like to focus on the original Mad for Garlic menu for now.  We’re excited to be offering a menu that is already being enjoyed across Asia, and we’re confident it will be accepted and enjoyed here, too.”
He mentioned that his team spent four months in Korea for training. He wanted the Philippine restaurant to be as close to the Korean originals as possible down to the look. He also said they are now planning to add to the first branch at W Global Center at the Bonifacio High Street in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. “We hope to open two to three more stores this year, possibly in prime locations in Makati and the Ortigas area. Some of our options are Greenbelt, Shangri-La Plaza mall or Power Plant Mall.”

Mad for Garlic is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. from Friday to Saturday.

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