38 Jupiter Street, Bel-air, Makati City
Tel. No. 441-1773
Open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Monday to Saturday); 11 a.m. to 10 p.m (Sunday)
(SPOT.ph) The sear is near perfection: gorgeous brown grill marks on a rare pink surface. It’s light, tender, and pleasantly chewy with just the right of amount of juice to be succulent. Salt and savor combine to make it almost meaty, but not quite. It’s a flavor we can’t put a finger on; a flavor that’s more easily defined by what it’s not: It’s not meat. Instead of an eight-ounce cut of beef, on our plate was a handsome slice of watermelon grilled then served with a side of porcini and mash.
While local restaurants have never been lacking in options for vegetarians, one would be hard-pressed to find a place catering purely to herbivorous diners. It was only until 2010 when Pipino Vegetarian in Teachers’ Village started serving up meat-free fare far outside the realm of salads and side dishes and with minimal use of questionable veggie meat. In its two years of remaking everyday vegetables into culinary masterpieces, Pipino has gained a steady following from vegetarians to curious carnivores alike-so much of a following that they recently opened a second branch on Jupiter Street, Makati.
"We still want the ’neighborhood’ atmosphere...that hole-in-the-wall feel," says owner Alessandra Lanot about their new location. They’ve had offers from malls, but they opted to keep the homey vibe.
Though a tad more stylish, Pipino Vegetarian Jupiter retains the charm of the flagship branch, from the chalkboard signs to the menu. Apart from the watermelon steak (P220), make sure to order Lanot’s current favorite, the Black Bean Burger (P155). A meatier alternative compared to veggie meat, the bean patty is tucked in a fluffy whole-wheat bun, lettuce, tomatoes, then served with fries-sweet potato fries. The Stuffed Demi-dried Tomatoes (P225), meanwhile, comes with saucy mushroom salpicao that’s nicely smoky. The brown rice is subtle but the orange and leek salad lends a touch of tangy sweetness. Try it with the tomato, as well, for some brightness.
A bowl of Pipino’s Mac N’ Cheeze (P165) takes you back to a time when you thought vegetables were a chore-and makes you realize how you have never been more wrong. Just how to make macaroni and cheese without, well, real cheese seems almost impossible, but Pipino’s yeast- and tomato-based concoction passes with flying colors. This childhood favorite is deliciously creamy and rich without being cloying. Definitely guilt-free comfort food. For dessert, cap your meal with some of their dairy- and egg- free cupcakes (P50). Hint: get the peanut-butter ones.
A white trellis-like structure, which Lanot refers to as "the cage," separates Pipino from Pino. "It’s to keep all the meat-eaters out," she jokes. But that just may be the case. To maintain its integrity as a vegetarian restaurant, Pipino does not allow customers to order from neighboring Pino’s meat-lined menu. Absolutely no eggs and dairy can cross the border. Rigid, yes, but it’s this unapologetic exclusivity that allows them to innovate and create the plant-centric dishes that we love. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Note: Pino diners may order from the Pipino menu.