MANILA, Philippines – Chef Katrina Kuhn-Alcantara mixes classic French bistro food with more playful dishes in her latest restaurant venture Mesclun, which also serves as the coffee shop of the Linden Suites hotel at the Ortigas business district.
Mesclun, which means mixed, is a natural progression for the lady chef, who first gained popularity with the homey French bistro Cuillere at Serendra at the Bonifacio Global City. Khun-Alcantara is also the culinary brains behind Chuck’s Deli, which has two branches at Serendra and Eastwood Mall in Libis, Quezon City.
Diners at Mesclun can opt for classic selections such as the hearty French onion soup (P245) with a gruyère cheese crust and the duck confit (P995), which was slow-cooked in goose fat and served with mashed potatoes. Or they can be more adventurous and order the sisig spaghetti (P245) or even opt for a healthy grilled pompano with mango-tomato salsa (P555.)
In keeping with the restaurant’s name, Kuhn-Alcantara said the menu is purposely eclectic.
“It’s not cuisine-specific -- you can’t say it’s just Italian or it’s just French or it’s just Filipino … You can kind of play with it and do anything you want,” she told ABS-CBNnews.com during a recent menu tasting with select food writers. “Because when you say right away that you’re one cuisine, then you have to kind of stick with that.”
And Mesclun is definitely not sticking with one style.
The French bent, however, is quite noticeable, perhaps owing to her culinary training and the reputation she built with Cuillere. Apart from the duck confit and the onion soup, there’s also a section in the menu devoted to flammekeuche or French tarte flambee, which comes from the Alsace region.
Mesclun serves the original flammekeuche topped with bacon bits, onion and crème fraîche (P270), as well as her own innovations with toppings like English and Italian garlic sausages (P290) and shrimps and anchovies (P290).
The flammekeuche looks like a thin-crust rectangular pizza that has become quite trendy among Pinoy foodies.
“That’s something that I saw in France that I really liked. So I tried to do it. The other flavors that I did with the anchovies and the shrimps and the mushrooms, that’s me, that’s my take on it already,” Kuhn-Alcantara said.
One innovation she made in Mesclun that she’s particularly proud of are the sourdough pizzas (P245 to P345), which come in familiar Italian flavors such as the Margherita, Four Cheese, Anchovies and Spinach & Gorgonzola.
“I think the sourdough pizzas are unique,” she said. “It’s something that I thought would work. That’s not really an Italian kind of crust. So I think that’s different so that one I’m proud of.”
But the dish that would probably have diners talking – much like the massive slabwiches of Chuck’s Deli – is the sisig spaghetti, which, despite the cream sauce, really has the taste of this Pampanga specialty and is even garnished with a red chili.
“That was the idea of one of our chefs,” Kuhn-Alcantara said. “When we were doing the menu, he was the one who got that idea, then he made me try. So we just tweaked it. …It was more just adjusting the taste. But the dish was my chef’s creation.”
“I have a team of talented chef’s here. So why not get the ideas of other people?” she continued. “When we have ideas, we throw it in there then we work on it together so it’s fun.”
Another dish that was the result of team effort was the Mac & 4 Cheese (P495), a more gourmet interpretation of the American classic, using fontina, emmenthal, mozzarella and grana padano cheeses.
“The Mac and Cheese is kind of a comfort food, although more American comfort food. But I didn’t want to do just a singular cheese. So we mixed,” she explained. “I worked with a different chef to do that one. And it was his idea to put a little bit of the lemon which turned out to be nice also.”
Although Mesclun is located inside a hotel, it is run like a free-standing outlet.
Kuhn-Alcantara explained that she is a concessionaire at Linden Suites. “I work with them but we’re a separate entity,” she said, describing the set-up as “like renting space except you’re in a hotel.”
The opening of Mesclun at Linden Suites is part of the renovations of the 11-year-old hotel, which is being conducted in phases, beginning with the restaurant and the top floors. The restaurant’s renovation began in January and Mesclun was launched in mid-October.
Kuhn-Alcantara believes she came in at a good time with the renovations. “I gave them some ideas, like this wine wall that I did,” she said, pointing to a divider that doubles as a wine display near the entrance.
But while Mesclun is a concessionaire, the restaurant also serves the hotel’s food and beverage needs, such as room service and making breakfast for the hotel guests.
“I grew up in hotels because both my parents were hoteliers so I understand the concept very well. And I’m a caterer so in terms of, like the breakfast buffet, as caterers we do a lot of buffets, so that wasn’t anything really new to me. And room service is really just a la carte, you just travel longer to get to the room. So, it wasn’t really new,” she said on the adjustments she had to make with Mesclun.
So how does she split her time with Mesclun and Chuck’s Deli?
“I go around Chuck’s a couple of times a week because it’s a smaller operation and it’s more settled. It’s not really that far. Eastwood is quite near here and Serendra is also not really far from here and I live in Makati also so it’s not hard for me to go around,” she said. “It’s the setting up that’s really hard but when it’s running, the maintenance is not as time-consuming.”
2/F The Linden Suites
37 San Miguel Avenue,