9 little-known facts as Via Mare turns 40

Jeeves de Veyra

Posted at Sep 23 2015 11:37 AM | Updated as of Sep 24 2015 06:55 PM

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Via Mare general manager Ranny Rono, founder Chef Glenda Baretto, and marketing head Andrea Quiachon. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra

MANILA -- Restaurants and food trends will come and go.

After 40 years of in the food industry, Via Mare’s staying power is a reminder that Filipino cuisine has come a long way.

“The past 40 years is not only the story of a restaurant, it is a story of the Filipino people,” founder Glenda Barretto said during a recent anniversary lunch. “Via Mare is our pride as we helped a lot of Filipinos enjoy and be proud of the cuisine that we have here, of recipes that we have enjoyed throughout our childhood, and of what Filipino fine cuisine truly tastes like.”

Here are some things you might not know about this Filipino favorite.

1. Via Mare’s first branch was in Greenbelt (but way before it became Greenbelt).

On September 5, 1975, the first branch of Via Mare opened its doors on the second floor of Acacia Building. Old-timers will remember the time when Greenbelt was just a park with an aviary and a few buildings surrounding it. Via Mare was ground-breaking in that it dared to be a Filipino fine-dining restaurant alongside local casual dining restaurants and fast-food outlets.

2. Via Mare started out as a seafood specialty restaurant.

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Bisque De Mediteranee, the dish that put Via Mare on the map 40 years ago returns to the menu. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra

Via Mare means “way of the sea” in Italian. The dish that put Via Mare on the map is the Bisque de Mediteranee, a tomato-based soup with seafood sealed with a pastry on top. No need for rice with this one. Since then, Via Mare has evolved into the bastion of Filipino cuisine we know today.

3. Via Mare innovates on Filipino favorites (and turns them into classics).

Via Mare tends to stay away from fusion cuisine. General manager Ranny Rono quipped, “Fusion is confusion.” Instead, it experiments with Filipino dishes, serve them and let them become classics on their own.

Baretto opts to highlight and present well-loved Filipino dishes with modern touches that make them more palatable to foreign guests. While lumpia is known as a roll, the Via Mare version has the filling wrapped in pouches held together by spring onions. The tinola was also given a fresh take by serving the soup in a carved papaya or as a flan, inspired by the chawanmushi of Japan.

4. Via Mare's Oyster Bar is its showcase for continental cuisine.

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Oysters Wasabi. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra

While the famous Oyster Bar serves Via Mare’s trademark Filipino food, it also has favorite dishes from around the world, most notably, oysters. Besides the classic Oysters Rockefeller, there are adventurous varieties such as the Oysters Boursin, with four types of cheeses, and the Oysters Wasabi, for those looking for an oriental kick.

5. Via Mare supports locally grown ingredients.

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Fresh oysters in a half shell. Photo by Jeeves de Veyra

The oysters from the Oyster Bar are all sourced from Capiz. When the Oyster Bar first started, the oysters were flown in from all over the world -- New York, Japan and as far as France. The landed cost for these became too prohibitive. Eventually, Via Mare started looking for a source in the Philippines. When they started serving these, even foreign guests raved about the oysters, saying they were as good (or even better) than the imported ones.

6. Via Mare is now serving third-generation customers.

Via Mare has been around long enough for current lolos and lolas. Since then, these groovy grandparents have brought their kids and their grandkids to Via Mare. Via Mare is also one of the few restaurants that Filipinos abroad look forward to as their taste of home. As a matter of fact, Filipinos about to leave Manila to go back to their adopted countries would call Via Mare to order frozen puto bungbong and bibingkas (sans eggs), pick them right before their flight, and microwave them when they touch down.

7. Via Mare can only be found in Metro Manila.

Via Mare’s branches are only located in Metro Manila because of its commitment to quality and consistency. Besides managing 12 branches in the metropolis, it also handle the catering for prime spots like the PICC and the Manila Golf Club. Via Mare also helps Filipino restaurants outside Metro Manila with Barretto’s mentoring and collaboration.

8. Via Mare is the caterer of choice for VIPs.

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The Via Mare catering group has the enviable task of introducing Filipino food to foreign dignitaries having served the King and Queen of Spain and the Pope. It has been the preferred caterers for international events like the "Miss Saigon" gala, the Miss Universe plageants and the APEC summit. These events are expected to be chronicled in the book that Via Mare is publishing to commemorate its 40th year.

9. Via Mare is already introducing its food to new audiences.

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Redifeast microwaveable meals are available at Via Mare Express.

Via Mare's newest branch is located in KidZania in BGC, not really for the kids but for young parents. Another innovation is making “to-go” meals for today’s active lifestyle. The Readifeast microwaveable meals are exclusively available at Via Mare Express branches in Rustan's Makati and Trinoma.