EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Cocina Luna is a lo­cal's offering to her home­town

Northern Living - - EATS - TEXT MARTIN DIEGOR PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ABBY MANSANOC

Find­ing a place for the first time seems like a pretty daunt­ing task. But ask for Cocina Luna in Mal­abon and peo­ple can point it out faster than Waze can. The folks re­fer to it as the black restau­rant, and you really can’t miss its pitch-black matte fa­cade and eye-grab­bing love locks fence that’s right in the mid­dle of a busy res­i­den­tial area in Gen­eral Luna. The place has a rather cute col­lec­tion of framed quotes and DIY in­stal­la­tions that give con­trast to its very in­dus­trial vibe of un­ce­mented walls and wooden fur­ni­ture. Here, it’s Ladies’ Night ev­ery Wed­nes­days; wear­ing pink is op­tional.

Cocina Luna is the brain­child of chef Kat Al­cala, who worked abroad for a time right af­ter she had grad­u­ated from culi­nary school. When she came back, how­ever, she had a sur­pris­ing re­al­iza­tion: there are no good places to eat at in her home­town. “When­ever I try to think of food within my area, I think of street cafe­te­rias and eater­ies where my child­hood friends and I would like to hang around and have some drinks. They were great and I have lots of mem­o­ries there, but there are no real restau­rants that stand out,” Al­cala says. And so be­gan her ef­forts in cre­at­ing a good place with good food. She drew in­spi­ra­tion from Euro­pean dé­cor, in­dus­trial spa­ces, and Tum­blr. Her graphic de­signer brother Carlo Al­cala helped her fill the space with art and ty­po­graphic posters. “With its qual­ity and ex­e­cu­tion, my friends tell me I could’ve opened Cocina Luna in Mag­in­hawa or even Makati, but I really wanted to bring de­li­cious food to my neigh­bor­hood.”

De­spite its Euro-pub-in­spired space, Cocina Luna launched in 2014 with vamped up Filipino food car­ry­ing hints of Amer­i­can ref­er­ences. Al­cala cre­ated items like honey-glazed tuyo for the menu. “I like ex­per­i­ment­ing on Filipino dishes, and in­cor­po­rat­ing some of the things I learned from the US into my own recipes.” Chicken strips with ce­real bread­ing, any­one? “I stud­ied cook­ing, but be­fore that, I was also able to study in­te­rior de­sign. Cocina Luna is a merge of those two pas­sions: food and space.”

The re­cep­tion to Cocina Luna has been sur­pris­ing for Al­cala. In fact, it’s a stop on the Mal­abon food tour, and she is al­ways asked to do some demo cook­ing for the par­tic­i­pants. Still, she says Cocina Luna is a work in progress; the menu changes as much as Al­cala does. “It’s been a wild ride for me. I don’t really think hard about it, but I’m pretty hands-on. If I find some­thing new or im­prove on some­thing that we al­ready have, a new item is bound to be served soon. The restau­rant’s fu­ture is promis­ing, but for now, it’s sim­ply a place for me, my friends, and my pas­sions.”

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