It seems like all I want to do with my free time is to catch up with friends in cafes. Am I maturing, or is the holiday season making me more nostalgic than usual? We’ve all been so busy, especially this year, that it’s becoming a challenge to get us all together in the same room again. From the looks of it, that long-awaited get-together might even be postponed until the new year. Sad, but at least I’ve got a potential venue to pitch when the time comes. I had a nice dinner at Mary Grace with my mum the other day, and the warm cafe setting is looking to be a strong contender.
Before visiting the restaurant, my only Mary Grace encounters have always just been limited to takeout boxes of their famous ensaymada and cheese rolls. While those are comforting without getting heavy on the buttercream, I wanted to see what else they had that kept their patrons hooked. (Their outlets always seem to be full whenever I pass by.)
Just the ambiance alone already puts me in a warm and comforting mood. Their cafe locations may be in some of the busiest malls in the metro, but they’ve managed to make it feel homey with the decor and the lighting. The little notes under the tables’ glass tops is a sweet touch, especially when you see all the positive messages. Then there are the cake displays that appeal to any dessert lover…
But before I get ahead of myself and skip right to dessert, we’ll go through the meal in proper order. My mom and I split a Wild Mushroom Soup (PHP 148) and the Local Greens With Daing Dressing (PHP 155) salad. At this point, I’m so used to milky/creamy mushroom soup that I was surprised to taste a difference in Mary Grace’s version. It’s not all that creamy, save for the zigzag on the surface that doubles as a garnish. I’m getting more mushroom flavor and broth than what I’m used to, so I would recommend this soup to those who don’t like too much cream. It keeps the soup light. As for the salad, the dressing contains a lot of daing (dried fish) flakes. I appreciate them serving it on the side (also split to two), so I could control the oil that went into the salad. Everything on that salad was deliciously fresh. In retrospect, we did the right thing in splitting appetizers, since we had individual entrees. You leave more room for the main attraction and still be able to share a dessert.
Moving on to the mains, Mom had the Smoked Salmon & Cream Pasta (PHP 290), while I ordered the Mary Grace Mushroom Cream Pasta (PHP 330). Is it now becoming apparent that I have a thing for the earthy flavors of mushroom? The Salmon & Cream had the expected smoky flavor, and there was a lot of sauce to go around. Ever the garlic-lover, mom requested for an extra smattering of garlic. She said it didn’t taste like it had the extra, but we were assured by the server that they were generous with the stuff. However, the true highlight was the Mushroom Cream Pasta that even my mom raved about. Plenty of mushrooms and I think some truffle oil made it into the sauce. We were even sopping up the extra sauce with our bread. As a mushroom lover, I am happy to declare my satisfaction.
For dessert, we shared a slice of Chocolate Cake (PHP 120). This is the classic, moist chocolate cake that has a homemade quality to it, and I mean that in an absolutely positive way. It’s like your favorite baker Aunt’s recipe consistently produced. We liked the ratio of frosting to cake, the level of sweetness (not too sweet) and the caramel filling that, by the way, is not the dulce de leche condensed milk kind. It had a much subtler taste. We even appreciated the tiny jug of extra caramel sauce served on the side. As far as choco cakes go, I like that this particular one has such a wholesome image. It’s not trying to be a picture of excess (sinful/oily/drippy chocolate sauce), but that’s what makes it so charming. I have to wonder if the whole cake also comes with the deliciously light caramel sauce.
Verdict: For a pastry shop that’s mostly known for its kiosks, Mary Grace has done a good job with the full-fledged cafe. If the constantly full dining outlets are any indication, the food and the ambiance are hits. I’ll definitely be back for the Mary Grace Mushroom Cream Pasta and the Chocolate Cake.