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Café by day, winery by night

When I was still in college in Diliman some 15 years ago, Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City was not a top of mind option for a relaxing hangout with family or friends. That would be SM North (there was no Trinoma or Vertis North back then), which was also fondly called UP Annex, or, closer to our old house, Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall in Cainta.

Ever Commonwealth was, however, the only choice back then for most journalism students who were tasked to cover the annual State of the Nation Address of the President and submit a report on the same day—it was very near Congress and it housed at least two computer shops.

Café by day, winery by night
From left: Kapampangan dish fried hito with buro, Chicharong bulaklak--a perfect pair to ice cold beer, and Kare-kare with bagoong
I was pleasantly surprised at Ever’s transformation when I visited the area, and there was a strip of brightly-lit restaurants at the mall’s al fresco portion, aptly called Calle Bistro.

One of the restaurants in the lifestyle strip is Elm’s Kapihan & Winery which is owned by 48-year-old Elmer Ngo, along with several partners that include Malou Yambao, Tanya Cruz, Lawrence Ngo, Hipolito Gagni, and broadcaster Ely Saludar.

“This was really meant to be just a coffee shop, but I also like to drink. So what happened was, in the morning, people would come here to have coffee and eat, and in the evening, we offer bar chow and a wide selection of alcoholic drinks and wine,” said the self-effacing Ngo, president of Mileage Asia Corp. that provides high-quality roofs to Filipino families.

Café by day, winery by night
Elm’s specialty dish, fried itik
Ngo’s life story deserves a separate column—it tells of a college dropout who is now funding the education of several poor students at private schools such as San Beda College, University of Sto. Tomas, and De La Salle College of Saint Benilde. But for now, let’s stick to his roasted native itik.

Not many restaurants in Metro Manila serve roasted itik but this local delicacy offers a distinct taste and texture—the skin crispy on the outside and the meat with a hint of gameyness. I can happily report finishing one order without any difficulty (the equivalent of one as I took some from one plate and some more from another plate in quick fashion while my best friends weren’t looking or pretended not to look). I would have ordered more had there been no other dishes to try—it was that good.

Other Filipino dishes on the menu include chicharong bulaklak, crispy pata, grilled hito with a serving of buro, kare-kare, and sisig

For those wanting a lighter fare, they have sandwiches and pasta, too. One should not miss their garlic longganisa pasta, a simple yet flavorful dish. 

And if you’ve had one drink too many, what better way to nurse your hangover than with piping hot papaitan.

Elm’s sells wine by the bottle—they have Wolf Blass Chardonnay, Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon, and Wolf Blass White Label Merlot, among others. The restaurant also has a wine-all-you-can promo for only P399, allowing guests to enjoy Domaine Clos du Palay Merlot to their heart’s content.

Ngo’s Commonwealth branch is already his third, yet the philanthropic businessman is showing no signs of slowing down. Another branch of Elm’s is set to be opened by the end of November, he said.

“The demand is there. There are already inquiries for franchise. Our plan is to set up five company-owned branches first before doing franchising,” said Ngo.

I’m at [email protected]

Topics: Calle Bistro , Elm’s Kapihan & Winery , Elmer Ngo , Mileage Asia Corp
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