The older I get, the more I like to keep things simple. I’ve reached that age where I’ve outgrown frilly and fancy and now yearn to go back to the basics.
This holds true in my choice of food nowadays. I like food that is honest and straightforward, without any complicated sauces to mask the ingredients’ true flavors. When dining out, I appreciate dishes that let the natural taste of the ingredients shine through.
What a joyful discovery it was for me then when I chanced upon a restaurant called CAV at the BGC, with a special Farm to Table vegetarian menu. Each and every course that was served had a distinct flavor profile that was instantly recognizable; and when two flavors were combined, they complemented each other perfectly. Every dish was a feast for the senses, both visual and gustatory, and might I add, even olfactory.
GOAT CHEESE PANNA COTTA. My tastebuds were instantly awakened by this little salad on a spoon: chilled cubes of red beets in a sweet and sour marinade, topped with light goat cheese flan. I slipped everything into my mouth and tasted the explosion of earthy sweetness from the sugar beets, a sour note from the vinaigrette, the salty tang of the goat cheese and a hint of peppy herb from the baby arugula sprouts. Sweet, sour, salty and spicy in one bite. Genius.
VARIATIONS OF CORN. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this tandem. Deep fried sticks served with a shot glass of pale yellow liquid. Should I dip the stick into the sauce? Do I hold it and eat it like a French fry? The two batons turned out to be crisp fried polenta sticks with a deep red marinara sauce that were a playful take and a more sophisticated version of catsup and fries. I took a sip of the liquid and was surprised by its warmth. It tasted of corn puree that was so fresh, it even had the green corn husk as garnish. I ended up alternating my attention between the two variations of corn on my plate.
ORGANIC MACHE SALAD. This salad was pretty straightforward in that it was nothing but greens and some fine slivers of radish and cherry tomato halves, lightly tossed in vinaigrette. The bowl came surrounded by flower petals in orange, pink, purple, white and yellow. I decided to push them into the middle of the bowl to combine with the mache, remembering the most basic advice on healthy eating: eat the colors of the rainbow.
GREEN PEA VELOUTE. This is the kind of soup that you never slurp but instead sip with reverence. I let the warm, creamy soup just slide into my mouth with a tip of the spoon to savor the subtle flavor of green peas. Something told me not to disturb the crown of truffle oil foam and truffle bits on top; instead, I gently took a little cloud of foam together with the velvety velouté, slipped it into my mouth and closed my eyes.
BLACK MOUNTAIN RICE. By the time this course came, I was already full and was going to politely send it back to the kitchen. But the elegant little banca of a plate caught my attention that I took a second look; and then when I smelled the aroma of fresh herbs, I decided to take a bite. And another. Then a third forkful. I could not stop until I finished everything on my plate!
The black mountain rice grains were nutty and the mushrooms rich in umami flavors. The earthiness of rice and mushrooms pleasantly set off the crunch of the baby carrots, French green beans and brussel sprouts. Topping this mix was some Herbal Air, and though light as foam, the herby flavors of dill and tarragon were quite concentrated and added a deeper dimension to the dish.
STRAWBERRY IN CHAMPAGNE SAUCE WITH AVOCADO ICE CREAM. I know, it sounds like a strange combination. Strawberry and Avocado? Not exactly my idea of a perfect pairing, but surprisingly, it works. Think red lollipop dipped in
a sweet, slightly tart sauce. This was not yet dessert but something to cleanse the palate. This came with a slice of cheesecake, which I thought was unnecessary. In hindsight, this was probably the chef’s take on an after-dinner fruit and cheese course. From a diner’s standpoint, I think I would have appreciated a crunch coming from a cashew or almond tuile, to finish it off.
PASSIONFRUIT PIE. I guess this was supposed to be dessert, but all I could muster to put into my mouth was literally just a sliver of this tart. Nevertheless, I enjoyed its creamy tartness against the crumbly biscuit crust.
The man responsible for this purely vegetarian menu is Chef Markus Gfeller of Grassi’s fame. Now chef-patron of CAV restaurant and wine bar, Chef Markus is offering this special Farm to Table menu for a limited time (ordered a day in advance), completely dependent on the availability of supplies. He supports and gives credit to the small farmers who grow the fresh herbs, micro greens and other vegetables in various organic farms around Cavite or Tagaytay, and is also proud of the fact that 100% the ingredients used in this special menu are locally grown.
The Swiss born Gfeller knows how to harness the best flavors of each ingredient, creating course after course of delicious, fresh-tasting food that a non-vegetarian like me could enjoy every plate that came out of his kitchen. By the way, he cooks for carnivores too.