Delicious U-turn-A A +A
Friday, September 28, 2012
SOME big things start as small, just as taking a U-turn in one’s journey can lead one to a better place under the sun.
U. Kitchen along Wilson St., is where the culinary journey of the Urbinas began. This was where, in 1975, Julieta Urbina began her Mother’s Best, a carenderia she started in what was the living room of the rented apartment where the family lived.
The carenderia soon became Café Laguna, so popular for its Filipino/Laguna (the province where Dr. Jose Rizal was born) cuisine that in time it “migrated” to Ayala Center Cebu, branching out into Café Laguna Garden, then Lemon Grass, and Café Laguna in SM City Cebu.
In 1984, the Urbinas acquired the property where the café originated and today, it is known as the U. Kitchen, a modern building that also houses the administrative, and research and development offices of Café Laguna. Now semi-retired, Urbina has left it to her son chef Raki to continue the culinary tradition of the restaurant.
Raki says U. has the world “kitchen” to it “because there are always possibilities for improvement, for experimenting. I’ve always been fascinated by the typical Filipino wood-fired pugon. We had a pugon before and I wanted to resurrect that in this kitchen. So I asked a foreign chef to make me a wood-fired oven but I will not cook Italian. It took a while to learn it and apply it to our cooking. I use it for roasts, grills, braising and even soups—and the result is amazingly good.
“This place is also homey, and is a destination in itself. So the food here cannot be found elsewhere, not even in the other Urbina-owned restaurants, except fresh lumpia that we serve hubad and guinomis that we serve as sorbet. Some are heirloom recipes.
Others are my take on comfort food, not haute cuisine, but simply good and enjoyable food.”
To illustrate, he serves Bisdak salad, made of banana blossom, unripe nangka, green papaya, alugbati, and tomato served with gata dressing on the side and crispy dilis.
It goes down “clean.” The lumpia hubad is served with crispy cups made from what would have been the lumpia wrapper. Laksa verde is thin rice noodles with shrimp, chicken, quail egg, tofu in coconut milk—a really filling and delightfully different dish.
The pugapo is served in banana boats with kamias, yellow beans and kinchay. The paella de verdura comes out “smoking” from the wood-fired oven, and even when half of it is gone, the ”smoke,” steam really, still lingers. To wash all this down, the restaurant serves pitchers-full of “Snapple,” its signature drink.
There are a lot of other dishes in the U. Kitchen menu, among them, pork chops, lamb chops, roast chicken, US Angus prime rib, pigeon estofado, lamb shank, roast duck in red curry and lychee, pancit ala Teresin, rice noodle with beef and bokchoy, all of them delicious and uniquely presented.
For dessert, U. Kitchen has guinomis sorbet with latik and pinipig topping. And to make one lose all thoughts of going sugar-free is the cassava cake, fresh and piping hot from the wood-fired oven.
The restaurant, as Raki says, is constantly evolving and improving. What is constant is the Urbina brand of taste and food quality.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 29, 2012.