MANILA, December 27, 2003 (STAR) By Bea Ledesma - If you find yourself scornful of the see-and-be-seen crowd at Alabang Town Center, remember: It takes one to know one. Yes, this shopping center – although it’s more than that – is somewhat of a fishbowl for beautiful people on display, but the energy’s infectious and the ambiance is charming.

Unlike other malls in Manila, Alabang Town Center’s charm lies in its open areas, the lovely stucco roofs, the Spanish influence in the architecture and the easy, relaxed feel of the whole place.

"It’s a community center," says Alabang Commercial Corporation’s Maricris Bernardino. "People come here to chat, shop, eat and be with friends."

Situated beside residential communities, schools, and business parks, the Town Center serves as the main activity center in southern Metro Manila, what with the dozens of shopping establishments, cinemas and restaurants serving customers everyday.

But what the people behind the Town Center’s success want to focus on is its dining opportunities. Considered by many as a food mecca of the south, it covers a whole range of gastronomic delights. "We have so much to offer," claims Javier Hernandez. "We have reasonably priced establishments, like the food court and fast food places, like Tapa King and Royal Caribbean Jamaican Patty, while for family retreats, we have Red Crab, Outback, Dad’s and California Pizza Kitchen."

There are so many food establishments here – over 70, in fact – that listing them all would be out of the question. Suffice to say, the Town Center offers a dining experience that anyone would enjoy.

Creating a culinary empire is something this group is aiming for, and with the number of choices on hand, it won’t be hard. Coming soon to Town Center is Banana Leaf Curry House, known for its spicy savory dishes, and Bizu, auteur of those deliciously dainty cakes.

Cibo offers an Italian dining experience that is authentic and gratifying. Located on the second floor of Corte de las Palmas – where a gorgeous Disney Lion King tableau is situated, complete with Simba, Timon and Pumba and a pretty pink elephant – it’s a place for savory pasta dishes, hearty sandwiches and even fiesta fare, like porchetta, a more highfaluting lechon, roasted Roman-style.

Sakura, a Japanese restaurant that also runs a grocery store, needs no introduction. In a world of restaurants so painfully self-aware, Sakura’s merry way of going about business is refreshing. Its business is feeding you, and it does so with the enthusiasm of a Japanese grandmother. Owners Archie (also the chef, by the way) and Ana Castillo are a Renaissance couple: He dabbles in music while she designs jewelry.

The Castillos wanted to create a menu that was delicious and satisfying. And it works. The food is delicate and flavorful, like their raw tuna slices topped with slivers of ginger and a sesame-soy dressing. Salads are also part of Sakura’s fare, like slices of meat and crunchy noodles on a bed of fresh lettuce. Even the ubiquitous tempura is refashioned and wrapped in crabstick, or something to that effect.

Café Jamica, known by some as the café in the garden, is located in Commerce Mall of Town Center. In conjunction with The Flower Farm, the café provides a place for mall goers to relax and refresh themselves. They serve Jamica Coffee, roasted and blended with care from export-grade beans from Cavite. All coffee is roasted on order to ensure freshness. Aside from standard coffee bar fare of hot and cold coffee, tea, Italian sodas and light snacks, Café Jamica offers packaged coffee of their favorite blends for customers to enjoy at home.

Owners and operators Enrile and Evelyn Asuncion have been in the coffee business since 1977. They started with trading raw beans domestically and then became one of the top Philippine international green coffee bean traders by the mid-’80s. Their vision is to establish Café Jamica as a regular stomping-ground for mall goers with a taste for unassuming elegance, comfort, and the perfect cup of coffee.

For dessert, Häagen-Dazs offers chocolate fondue for your sweet tooth. Use it to dip in bananas, mangoes and other fruits for a grand finale to a delightful meal. Of course, there’s always ice cream for hardcore diners.

In the end, no matter which establishment you choose, stellar fare awaits you at the Alabang Town Center.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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