CHECK IT OUT: Co/Op at A. Mabini Street, San Juan

A restaurant and gift shop in San Juan that feels like a quirky second home

189 A. Mabini Street, San Juan City
Contact: 925-5885
Open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Sunday to Thursday); and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Friday to Saturday)



( Co/Op, a gift shop-slash-cafe along A. Mabini, is pretty hard to miss: a one-storey glass and iron structure with its name in large orange three-dimensional letters. Walk inside and you are greeted by a cashier behind a counter, with the menu written on chalkboard and various desserts on display. The interiors are informally divided into the gift shop and the restaurant, with space so that guests can move from shopping to dining (and vise versa) with ease.





"We thought it would be nice to have a store where we could sell stuff from our travels that (you) wouldn’t find here," says Polly Tee Caragay, one of the owners. "For example, what we have right now is a lot of imported (items) from the US, Canada, Germany, UK, and all throughout Asia. We also have local goods. We want to support local artists and artisans, so we’re also starting to do that."


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Co/Op’s concept stemmed from her cousin and business partner, Christine Lee, who has a penchant for quirky stuff. "We figured we didn’t want to be in a mall, we wanted it to be residential, and we figured that we needed to have food also," Polly says. The philosophy in their kitchen is the same as their shop-comfort food that they miss and couldn’t find locally.


Christine’s sister, Michelle Chan, also a partner, is the pastry chef behind all the drool-worthy sweet things Co/Op serves up.  "We wanted to have a cozy environment that’s comfortable and relaxed, so our food, for us, goes hand in hand with the overall feel of the place. It’s nurturing, makes you feel good," says Polly of their Western-sized offerings.



The Cobb Salad (P280) is a mix of refreshing (tomatoes) and savory (meat and egg) cuts through by bursts of sweetness (cranberries). The lettuce underneath is pre-tossed, giving you the option of tossing everything again or just eating the salad bit by bit, in a row. "The cobb salad is one of our favorites. It’s like a healthier club (sandwich). It’s refreshing when it’s hot," Polly says.




The Tartuffo (P370) is rich: its creamy savoriness cut through by the ham’s saltiness is a pleasant surprise. "There’s nothing that I don’t like about it. I mean, it’s Parma ham, mushrooms, truffle oil, cheese, creamy sauce. What’s not to like about that?" Polly says.



The Baked Potato Soup (P130/cup; P200/bowl) is the epitome of comfort food: the cheese, sour cream, bacon bits adding layers of flavor and texture to the thick soup. The feeling of eating it, Polly describes, is like a hug from the inside.



The Beef Brisket Sandwich (P380) is the kind of thing you order when you're in the mood for a warm sandwich with gooey bits-just the thing for a rainy afternoon. "It’s a slow-cooked beef brisket and it’s made almost like a grilled cheese-inspired sandwich," Polly says. "Then there’s a jus, a dipping sauce for the brisket, and sweet potato fries and a side-salad to keep it well-balanced."




Wash everything down with a glass of Strawberry Lemonade (P150), a refreshing drink that is just the right combination of sweet and tangy.



Co/Op’s wide roster of desserts includes the S’mores Cupcake (P75), a moist and gooey chocolate cupcake sitting on a graham cracker crust, topped with three giant toasted marshmallows and graham cracker bits.


Another dessert worth noticing is the Cake in a Jar-cake crumbs, cream, and toppings arranged artfully in a glass vessel is Co/Op’s version of this trendy presentation. Michelle came up with a couple of different concoctions. Like the rest of the menu, it’s designed for sharing.


Co/Op is continually expanding its menu. They recently added pasta dishes like Grilled Chicken Pesto and Bistro Shrimp, the latter with a "lemon garlic cream sauce with spinach and tomatoes and battered shrimp."


Other plans involve more menu items in the salad and sandwich categories, as well as either brunch or all-day breakfast. After all, as Polly says, "Who doesn’t like breakfast?"


Co/Op is also featured in 10 Great Shops for Cool Gifts.

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