MANILA -- Stepping into Yuca inside the Venice Piazza is like stumbling into a cantina in the middle of a South American forest. One of the mall’s pillars is cleverly dressed up as an old tree that has cantina under the shade of its branches with inviting pitchers of tequila and beer.
The inspiration for Yuca is a bit unexpected.
“This was inspired by my love of Latin telenovelas like 'Maria Bonita' and 'Marimar.' Because of this, I fell in love with the South American culture,” explained Geraldine Mangudadatu, who owns Yuca with her husband, Maguindanao Congressman Dong Mangudadatu. “Yuca is known as cassava and it is also a key food source in tropical countries.”
Yuca puts the spotlight on chef RJ Ungco, Mangudadatu's teacher at Center for Culinary Arts, Manila.
Ungco defines Yuca’s concept as “young, vibrant, up and coming, a little bit young, forward robust and pronounced flavors. Visually upcoming with the decors sights and sounds.”
The food is definitely latitudes away from the typical Mexican offerings. Instead, Ungco looks toward Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, and coastal South American countries for inspiration.
However, there is no pork to be found on the menu because of the owners' Muslim heritage. Instead, beef, chicken and seafood are used in the restaurant, which are all locally sourced and first-rate.
Ungco and his staff are currently experimenting with dry-aging their beef and are planninbg to serve grilled meats and steaks in the near future.
Admittedly, some flavors will be unfamiliar. “Usually, Filipinos don’t like ground spices like cumin. But they like the hot stuff like the kick of heat with paprika and chili,” Ungco noted.
Chimichurri also has a herby, grassy taste that some Filipinos may be averse to. That's why a side of cream is offered with the chimichurri to make it more familiar.
Yuca will be adding mortar and pestles on the tables for guests to make their own sauces and chimichurri. “Filipino loves their sauces. If you make your own sauce, it’s yours!” Ungco added.
The Mangudadatus have ambitious plans for restaurant group Innovi Food Expertise Corporation. Besides Yuca, they are coming up with a Korean market restaurant concept and another one that will put the spotlight on Mindanaoan food that is targetted to open later this year.
Here's what to order at Yuca.
Tio Romy’s Nachos has yuca and flour tortilla chips partnered with cheese sauce loaded with barbacoa. Photo by author
Slushies are the recommended drinks at Yuca. These are made with fresh watermelons, mangos and cantaloupes that make a cool companion to the Latin flavors. Photo by author
Besides the usual beef and chicken fillings, Ungco stuffs his soft tacos with beef tendon, or shrimp for a different take on this South American street food. Photo by author
The Fabada is Ungco’s favorite dish on the menu. This Spanish bean stew has tripe and Yuca’s own corned beef with a side of sour cream and chimichurri. “It gives me memories of my Portuguese lola. Callos or fabada. When you make a right stew, it’s really love. It’s a lot of hours cleaning, cutting, and stewing it and making it perfect,” Ungco recalled. Photo by author
The ube tortilla should be Yuca’s signature ingredient. There’s a distinct sweetness to this tortilla that just goes will with the salmon and Sriracha aioli. Photo by author
Speaking of the ube tortilla, the Cheesy Con Carne Fugazetta, in my opinion is the must-try dish at Yuca. Think of it as a gooey cheesy Argentinian pizza with the ube tortillas as its crust. Tell the kitchen to cook the crust to a crisp as oily burnt bits on the underside accentuate the flavors of this flatbread. Photo by author
Yuca also has its version of rice troppings. The Arroz a la Mariscos has a generous amount of fresh seafood on top of squid ink rice. There are beef and chicken arroz dishes, too. Photo by author
The Bistec Al Yuca is a satisfying serving of grilled beef loin on mashed sweet potato with salad and a side of garlic rice. Photo by author
Massive servings of chicken sausage, roast chicken and Latin pot roast make up the Yuca Meat Platter. Combine the meats with gravy and Chimichurri and you get a great meal for a group of 3 or 4. Photo by author
A pair of Yuca’s deserts. Fried leche flan coated with sugar and cinnamon with a side of whipped cream and diced fruits makes this a winner. And who knew torching a piece of pineapple on top of flan would make a great dessert? Photo by author
Yuca’s tequila tray with home-distilled tequila and pitchers of juices and slices of chasers is a nice way to wind down. Photo by author
Yuca is located at the G/F of Venice Grand Canal Mall, McKinley Hill, Taguig City. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday.