MANILA, SEPTEMBER 10, 2008 (STAR) y Lai S. Reyes - The glass façade, classy interiors, high ceiling, subdued lighting and bare walls project a minimalist chic that would have, at any other time, intimidated diners on a tight budget.

No longer. At Pizza Hut Bistro in SM Mall of Asia, guests can have a fine-dining experience without having to dig deep into their pockets.

True to its tagline “Casual Dining…Great Value,” the bistro serves beautifully prepared and modestly priced gourmet meals, plus a galaxy of hot and cold beverages that will surely whet one’s appetite.

“At Pizza Hut Bistro, we offer a five-star dining experience at a three-star price,” says Rose M. Herrera, vice president-development concept of Philippine Pizza, Inc. (Pizza Hut Phils.). The elegant look of Pizza Hut Bistro was done by a well-known Filipino architect, who also designed other upscale casual dining restaurants in the country.

The gustatory experience started the moment we stepped into the bistro. General manager Arwin V. Mendoza ushered us to our table, which was situated in front of a gleaming, glass-enclosed kitchen where the chefs whipped up the yummy offerings.

The showcase serves as the focal point of the bistro. In fact, the restaurant design revolves around it. Pizza Hut Bistro’s in-house architect executed an ampi-theater-inspired dining area so guests get a sneak-peek as to how their food is prepared.

The open-kitchen serves dishes from a long and amazingly varied list. So many choices, all yummy — from French onion soup to fish and chips to Tuscan salad to cheese ravioli to Italian grilled chops, and so much more.

The menu also carries well-loved familiar meals. But it boasts 30 percent more food variety as compared to the regular Pizza Hut store.

“We have 11 choices of appetizers alone,” adds Herrera.

For starters, we suggest the Tuscan salad. Its sweet balsamic vinaigrette dressing blends well with mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, olives, walnuts and shaved Parmesan cheese. The cheese ravioli is a must-try. Smothered in tomato and pesto sauce, this cheese and mushroom-filled treat definitely perked up our appetites.

The Tuscan salad and cheese ravioli are both part of the Italian Specials, which are offered for a limited time only.

“We try to come up with exciting menus every quarter for our Bistro Specials. The best-sellers become a permanent feature on the menu,” explains Millet G. Severo, area manager for Pizza Hut Bistro.

For heavy-eaters, Millet recommends the Italian grilled chops. Marinated for two days in a special mixture, this big chunk of tender, moist grilled pork chop is served with herbed rice and grilled tomatoes. It goes well with a glass of Italian peach soda.

Those who prefer something other than rice for their main course can try Pizza Hut Bistro’s fish and chips platter, a crisp, beer-battered sole fish fillet served with steak fries and garlic dip; or a panoply of Italian-style pastas re-imagined for Asian palates.

Pizza Hut Bistro’s pasta menu has a selection for weight watchers like the mussels di Napoli, plump imported New Zealand mussels in white wine served with bread slices; the mango shrimp salad, ensalata di verdure, and Caesar salad topped with either calamari, grilled chicken or bacon.

A visit to the Bistro isn’t complete without a slice or two of its freshly baked pizza. There is the Gourmet Pizza selection which consists of carbonara pizza (smoked ham and mushroom over béchamel sauce topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and crisp bacon), the five-cheese pizza (topped with Monterey jack, edam, mozzarella, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses), and the seafood super supreme with shrimps, crab sticks, tuna and scallops, black olives and bell pepper in Thousand Island sauce.

“Our menu isn’t discriminatory. It caters to the varied needs of our meat-lover and vegan customers. From the pizzas to the appetizers, main courses down to desserts, Pizza Hut Bistro definitely has something for everyone,” boasts Herrera.

A Sleek Update In 2004, Pizza Hut decided to revamp its look and elevate the dining experience of Filipino diners with the launch of Pizza Hut Bistro.

“We wanted to give our customers a more sophisticated option in terms of food, ambience and experience. At that time, more and more international food chains were coming in. We didn’t want to be left behind,” recalls Rose Herrera.

Herrera admits that it wasn’t that easy making the change.

“It was hard because Pizza Hut is a chain. We have 140 outlets, and we are perceived as somewhere between a casual diner and a fast food resto,” she notes.

So instead of transforming all outlets into bistros, Pizza Hut Philippines decided to open a flagship restaurant to test the market. It was a huge success. Pizza Hut tickled not only the taste buds of Pinoys, but also the imagination of its regular clients when it opened the first Pizza Hut Bistro in December 2004 at Gateway Mall, Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City.

“There were four areas we focused on when we introduced the new concept: the facility/ambience, the product, the service, and the marketing strategy,” explains Herrera.

Pizza Hut hired an external consultant to repackage its work force. The managers, cooks and wait staff underwent extensive training to meet customer satisfaction.

“We invested more on training the staff to elevate their level of confidence. Our customers notice that they can now communicate well and carry themselves confidently. Well, that’s good news,” enthuses Herrera.

In lieu of posters and leaflets, the marketing team had a more sophisticated strategy to promote the Bistro.

“The elegant design of the restaurant is enough to entice diners to check out the place. The food is another story,” she adds.

Herrera attributes Bistro’s success to the cross-functional work of all the brains behind the concept and the execution of all the operators behind the restaurant.

“It was a team effort because we work as a family,” enthuses Herrera. “ At Pizza Hut, we value our people the same way we value our customers.”

* * * Pizza Hut Bistro is at the ground floor, main entrance of SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City. For reservations, call 556-0511.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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