Market Basket is located at River Park in Alabang. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – The man behind the panizza chain Uncle Cheffy hopes to elevate Filipino cuisine through his new restaurant, which gives a contemporary twist to dampa-style dining.
Larry Cortez, president and chief executive officer of Chef’s Quarter group of restaurants and catering services, recently opened Market Basket at the River Park development of Filinvest in Alabang together with his business partner, Chef Mauro “Mau” Arjona Jr.
Cortez said he has always enjoyed eating at a dampa restaurant with his family, but believes that the concept has a lot of room for improvement.
Diners at Market Basket can choose from different types of fresh fish that are laid on ice. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Customers can also get prawns by the gram and have them cooked to their specifications. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
“Pwede namang pagandahin. Masarap na siya eh, pwede naman siyang same price na maganda, homey, pero international ang dating. Kasi ‘pag may nakikita akong foreigner na dinadala ng Filipino tapos ipinagmamalaki natin na: 'This is the dampa,' makikita mo ‘yung itsura niya,” he said.
For the uninitiated, a dampa is an al fresco area where customers can buy fresh seafood and have it cooked to their specifications. Metro Manila is home to several dampa restaurants, from Quezon City to Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay.
Cebu has its own take on the dampa called sutukil, with the province taking advantage of its abundant supply of seafood.
In Market Basket, Cortez has retained the elements of selecting fresh seafood and having them cooked but added a few modern touches such as air-conditioning, comfortable chairs and pastel-colored walls to enhance the dining experience.
Market Basket is divided into two air-conditioned floors and an al fresco area by the river. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Small touches add to the homey feel of Market Basket. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Customers can also get a glimpse of the restaurant’s well-maintained kitchen which, Cortez said, is ideal for those who want to try dampa-style dining but are feeling a little squeamish.
“Ang Filipino taste nagbago na eh. Gusto nila kasi maganda na rin ang ambience,” said Cortez, who has been running restaurants since 2006. “Pero ‘yung presyo ‘wag tataasan masyado. At saka gusto nila may service pa.”
“Nagiging sophisticated na sila, siguro dahil nakakapanood na rin sila noong mga ‘Iron Chef’ na ‘yan,” he added, referring to the popularity of food shows in recent years. “So familiar na sila, hindi lang sa kanila pwede ‘yung basta-basta na lang ‘yung io-offer.”
Market Basket’s seafood and produce are sourced from different parts of the country, said Cortez, who believes in the freshness and quality of Filipino products.
He said he also takes the cost into consideration so he can sell them at a lower price to his customers.
Stuffed crabs. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
“Let’s say ‘yung mga prawns, depende kung saan kami makakakuha ng maganda and also mura para mabenta namin sa customers nang mura. Either Bataan or ‘yung iba galing Bicol. ‘Yung iba, direct from Aklan,” he explained.
Aside from the usual inihaw (grilled) or sinigang (in a sour broth), Market Basket gives diners the option of having their seafood prepared in a variety of styles and sauces which, Cortez said, is also part of the restaurant’s “international” feel.
He said that for instance, diners can ask for bouillabaisse, flambéed fish, grilled shellfish with chipotle and cheese sauce, or deep-fried prawns with sambal sauce.
One of the many ways to enjoy prawns at Market Basket. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Squid can also be ordered as part of a salad at Market Basket. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
“You can have sinigang, but you can still have bouillabaisse,” he said.
Those who are not into seafood, meanwhile, can enjoy a bowl of hearty caldereta or a plate of sizzling sisig, which are among Market Basket’s bestselling meat dishes.
Pork Sisig. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
“Our goat meat calderata is very famous here,” Cortez said, adding that the restaurant has become a hit among families and big groups.
With Market Basket, Cortez hopes to prove that dampa-style dining can also be enjoyed in a more comfortable and hygienic setting. If you want to skip the heat and dirt and concentrate on the fresh seafood, you may want to give this place a visit.
Unit C3, River Park, Festival Mall
For more information, visit Market Basket’s Facebook page