Epicurious: A one-stop deli shop, café, bakery and culinary studio (GMA News Online)

Where to--cafe, bakery or deli?

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 10, 2014)

If I were craving for my daily dose of caffeine, I would head to a coffee shop. If I want to sit down for a proper meal, I would find a nice restaurant. If I want to buy a gourmet product, I would go to a specialty store. My new discovery, though, is an establishment where I could have all these things at once—Epicurious.

The first of its kind in the country, it offers a new approach to lifestyle gourmet and dining. It was actually the brainchild of Marinela “Badjie” Guerrero-Trinidad of The Cravings Group, who got the inspiration from her travels abroad. She saw that merging the concepts of shopping and dining is possible and that the Philippine market was ready for it.

This is indeed so, as gourmands and foodies have been going out of their way to visit the establishment, which opened in December 2013.

Introducing the shop-cook-eat concept

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the extensive display of delicatessen. Around this was the grocery section, dining area, and an open kitchen. I made my way through the maze of internation and local artisanal products—some were organic, gluten-free, antioxidating, or detoxifying, but overall healthy and fresh. Most of the items are not easily, commercially available anywhere else.

“Definitely, we were trying to ramp up the luxury and the taste factor,” disclosed Issa Rodriguez, Corporate Marketing Director of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA), Manila. “That doesn’t necessarily translate to being expensive; it’s something that’s superior—passed the quality test of the very educated, mature and sophisticated palates behind the company. Us being associated with the CCA and The Cravings Group—they know what they’re talking about.”

I was amazed with how they curated the items on the store and artistically showcased them. Indeed, there were a few local products that seemed like foreign brands at first glance: tablea, unsweetened chocolate, and organic coffee, among others. Epicurious put these native fare alongside more established imported goods.

According to Rodriguez, “There is a lot of stress on homegrown products because CCA, a sister company of The Cravings Group, has always espoused presenting and showcasing Philippine cuisine to the world, so we champion homegrown products.”

Satisfying foodies through a one-of-a-kind experience

Epicurious has become known for its artisanal products such as whips, spreads, dips, and butters. These turned out popular enough to have earned a place in their year-round gift hampers, which they can pre-fabricate as well.

There is also an array of local organic produce that you can buy—or if you want to take it a step further, have included in your customized meal. Yes, Epicurious can personalize your dining experience should you have a craving that’s unavailable on their menu.

“You’re given the freedom to choose what you want,” shared Rodriguez. Diners may select from the available pre-cooked meals or request something unique and let the chefs do their magic. “We cook right before your very eyes, which is a unique dining experience here,” he added.

But first, check out the convenient gourmet meals. These have salads-in-a-jar (mixed greens or marbled potato salad), sandwiches, pasta, or pizza. I enjoyed the pulled pork and arugula pizza that has a thin, crispy crust with very tasty toppings. If available, I highly recommen the mini-raviolis with white truffle cream veloute, which is a pasta lover’s dream. Think rich and aromatic white sauce. I heard it has also become one of the most requested dishes in the catering service of Epicurious.

The establishment can, in fact, accommodate private events and customize your menu for you, depending on your budget and food preference. They do not have set menus to choose from, as they prefer to tailor fit it according to the client’s needs. They can do so because they have a stable of talents from CCA and The Cravings Group, as well as their other friends from the culinary industry.

Chef Mira Cruz, Senior Chef Consultant, revealed, “Every event has a different menu, so I ask the requirements, research, and then whatever available meats or produce that we have, I start from there.”

Whenever possible, she goes to the market herself to buy the ingredients or else relies on trusted suppliers. She said, “I have to create, I have to invent, and I have to tickle their curiosity.”

The chef also mentioned that they can do off-premise catering as well.

Epicurious has some events lined up for its customers this month. Starting mid-May, it will offer its weekend brunch, and a Day Mad Rush that will feature a last-hour sale on selected items.

For those who are looking for something new to add to their social calendar, watch out for the “Happy Hour Detox and Intox” where you could either detoxify with its juice bar, or intoxify with its wine bar.

The establishment also invited Chef Nadine Tengco, a US-certified fitness nutritionist chef to the starts, to do classes during weekends.

Rodriguez divulged, “The plan later on is to have weekend classes where we can have different themes such as Sunday leftover cooking, a how it’s made series (how do you make yogurts, cheeses, fresh pasta), how do you make regular Philippine dishes out of locally sourced organic products…”

With all its offerings, it’s easy to pass the time in Epicurious. I didn’t notice that I had been there for a couple of hours—a sign that I truly enjoyed the food and the unique dining experience.