MANILA, OCTOBER 31, 2003 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes - Fiesta San Miguel at the Dusit Hotel Nikko Manila was the result of good timing. When the hotel shut down operations of its Paulaner Brauhaus early this year, it seriously considered tying up with a private firm to operate the outletís microbrewery facility, the first and only microbrewery in any hotel in the country. The hotel management thought of offering the facility to San Miguel Corporation, since, for the longest time, it has been brewing the countryís most popular beer brand. On the other hand, SMB was already looking for suitable tie-ups with the private sector that would carry their beer brand. The Dusit microbrewery facility proved to be the opportunity it was looking for.

Last Sept. 5, this partnership between Dusit and SMB came together in Fiesta San Miguel, a fine dining Filipino restaurant offering freshly brewed San Miguel beer and San Mig Light. The restaurant is no traditional buffet showcase of popular Filipino recipes. Rather, it offers Filipino food re-imagined for a formal setting. Each dish, from traditional favorites such as sariwang lumpiang ubod to kakaibang kare-kare, to such original appetizers, as lapu-lapu carpaccio to Fishermanís Choice (crusted baked salmon pistachio in cream of spring onions), highlights the flavor of fresh ingredients. And most ingredients do come with San Miguelís seal of quality, since meat and poultry needs are sourced from San Miguelís Monterey, Purefoods and Magnolia companies.

And what goes well with Filipino food, but a mug of San Miguel beer?

The Filipino food offered might look different, but the San Miguel beer on tap is true-blue. According to brewmaster-in-charge Donnie A. Esperida, the microbrewery produces 1,500 liters of pale pilsen and San Mig Light at a time, and these are stored for just a maximum of 30 days. After that, the beer is discarded and a new batch is made. The short storage time means that no additional preservatives are added to the brew. This also produces a lighter-textured beer.

"Weíve had people trying it and saying that the beer tastes like water. They drink so much of it that when they stand they suddenly fall over. It feels light because it is freshly-brewed. But it packs the same punch as regular bottled beer," says Esperida.

The entire process of brewing beer is a complex one, and the restaurant staff gladly cue guests on this process.

The brewing might be intriguing, but some guests have found the smell of brewing disagreeable. This is one reason why brewing is often done in the daytime when there are less guests.

"Some of the guests donít like the smell of beer brewing," says Dusit PR manager Ruby Carillo. "But some of our guests are intrigued by it. They really come during brewing times just to watch the whole process of beermaking."

I tried a mug of freshly-brewed San Miguel pale pilsen and it doesnít have the bitter aftertaste of the bottled kind. And indeed, it goes well with the Pinoy fare offered at the restaurant.

The food I tried that afternoon was a marvel of presentation. Who would think that the ordinary fresh lumpiang ubod could be given a gourmet presentation? Instead of the usual egg roll wrapper, it is tinted a deep violet with the addition of ube. And instead of a lumpia, it is wrapped like a parcel, what is often called a sipa in most popular Chinese dim sum restaurants.

And the innovation doesnít end there. The restaurant also offers boneless crispy pata (pinalutong na pata ng baboy), kakaibang kare-kare (boneless kare-kare served with a roulade of vegetables in the traditional peanut stew) and an order of steamed rice comes artfully wrapped in banana leaf.

That doesnít end there. The dessert list is equally delicious. The ube brazo de Mercedes sa sarsa ng langka is plated colorfully with jackfruit sauce radiating from the brazo de Mercedes slices. The banana turon is also wrapped in parcels (think sipa again), just like the pritong ube at langka na may sarsang mangga, which is a totally novel presentation for haleyang ube.

The dishes may be Pinoy, but the restaurantís interiors are a departure from the barrio fiesta motif in many Filipino restaurants. Paulanerís wooden interiors have been retained, although they now have a sunnier finish. The trim is still European in look, but the dťcor isnít. Pillars are painted with murals adapted from classic Filipino canvases, while replicas of masterpieces on beer drinking, like the Joya drawing of a man enjoying his bottle of San Miguel beer, commissioned mostly by SMB, adorn some of the walls.

Thatís just the dining room downstairs. Fiesta San Miguel has a trendy bar on the second level that serves as a venue for live bands in the evening.

All in all, Fiesta San Miguel lives up to its name. It offers food perfect for fiestas, along with good olí San Miguel beer. If there were such a thing as Filipino partying, Fiesta San Miguel would have been it.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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