Philippine Daily Inquirer
by Chelo Banal-Formoso

architecture and interiors by Melinda P. Laudico

If you'd rather dine in a bright place with a high ceiling instead of something that resembles a cave, go to Toque! (pronounced "tok", meaning the tall hat worn by chefs; exclamation point theirs). With apologies to Alfredo's Steakhouse, this new fine dining café and restaurant in the Tomas Morato area in Quezon City is located on Lazcano Street, right behind, well, Alfredo's.


Two years ago, the Picaches decided to come home from years of living in South San Francisco, California.

The family has a passion for good food and their daughter Gretchen happens to love to cook so when they were brainstorming on what business to go into-as loaded balikbayans are wont to do-the most obvious choice was to open a restaurant. Tita Picache was adamant that the location be in the Tomas Morato are where she grew up. When they started scouting around for a place, they discovered that quite a few other restaurateurs were homing in on Morato, even those who don't have Tita's sentimental reasons. So upon finding this house right behind the steakhouse, the family went full blast into converting it into Toque! in time for pre-Christmas soft opening. Formal opening is on February 6.



How much of the old house has been retained is hard to guess but Toque! is a gallery of glass. And then the walls that are not glass are painted white so the result is a light-filled room. It is amazing how the design admits in so much natural light and allows for translucency without sacrificing comfort.

The ground floor has only two or three tables for guests who cannot negotiate stairs, a definite plus point for Toque! Upstairs, standing in the middle of the main area is a divider highlighted by a tall vase of flowers arranged by Gretchen, who had definite ideas on how she wanted the place to look so she went ahead without professional help and followed her heart. The white walls are punctuated by shelves of interesting bottles and jars that provide spots of color. There's a long counter behind which coffee is invariably brewed or blended, frapped or frothed. Toque! also has a citrus shake that the photographer rates as five-star.


Natural light and all-white interior.


Food fair

On the menu are appetizers and salads with unexpected twists. The oysters are baked on a half shell with sautéed spinach and hollandaise sauce. One salad has prawns seasoned with curry and lobster oil vinaigrette and shiitake confit. Smoked salmon is served with wasabi dressing.

For soup lovers, there are four kinds of soups, plus a soup of the day that is included in the Daily Special, which includes all the works (from soup to dessert) and costs less that an arm and a leg. The cream of carrot soup is colorful and wonderful with crusty bread, but the seafood soup with essence of anchovy and sherry wine might be more your cup of soup if you're partial to the ocean's bounty.

The entrees don't come in large servings, as they never do in fine-dining restaurants perhaps to leave you wanting for more. The baked black cod, seared salmon and prawns combine the flavors of the sea and the penchant of French cuisine to indulge in a good sauce. The meat offerings include mustard-crusted tenderloin of beef, grilled Black Angus rib eye infused with balsamic vinegar and herbs, and grilled lamb chops.

The chefs are on the youngish side. Allan Mathay, the 24-year-old chef d'partie, studied culinary arts in London, while Noel Pilar,30, sous chef, is a graduate of the school of hard knocks. Out of their cooking clothes, both look more like strapping young boys who love to eat rather than to cook. But they are able to concoct exceptional dishes in the Toque! kitchen. One example is warm chocolate cake on the dessert list. Served with berry coulis and vanilla ice cream, this is one dessert you cannot order for takeout. This one you will not want to share.

With Toque! the Picaches are out to prove that Makati and Malate do not have the monopoly on good food.

For more information, call 374-4597, 373-4737.