Panda Peeks – Karen’s Kitchen
Whimsical would best describe this chic restaurant in the middle of San Rafael Street, Kapitolyo, Pasig but what most people don’t know is the rich story behind every vintage accent piece and pastel colored wall that recounts the personal experiences and life lessons of premiere restaurateur, Karen Young.
In the early 2000’s, young mom, Karen started baking desserts, fondant cakes, and homemade jams as a hobby. They were all really good that the word spread like wildfire from the few lucky people who got to taste her master creations first. The next moment she knew, she’s already delivering to her neighbors in Palm Village, Makati.
It was not in her dreams to be a well-known pastry chef nor a celebrated restaurateur because it was her sister who knew how to bake and she was just a mere spectator every time. She would assist her in their kitchen and hold the mixer for her. After the sweet success of her homemade pastries stint, she took short courses on baking and cake decorating to augment her already-superb skills and help the booming business.
Karen’s Kitchen is a bit difficult to find compared to some other famous dining hubs in Kapitolyo. It’s in the middle of a residential area right beside a church in San Rafael Street. It looks like the simple old house in your neighborhood only that it has cute flower vases accentuating its nice, huge, white wooden vertical windows and brown carved doors complementing its dominantly yellow exteriors. You could immediately sense that something fanciful is about to welcome you once you enter.
I was greeted by one of the sincerest tones I have heard from a restaurant staff. She was standing right at the counter, holding a pen and a piece of paper like she’s so eager to take my order. Now, that’s already a plus point right there. Then from my right, I heard another soft voice greeting us and asking how’s our day so far. It’s the owner herself, Ms. Karen Young! It made me wonder if that’s really how they greet their customers because I think it’ super awesome. It’s very personal, heartfelt, and sincere. A few middle-aged guys who seem like the restaurant’s regulars came shortly and they were also greeted the same way. Cool!
It would be very difficult to hold back your astonishment if you’re a first-timer in this place. It seems like a fairy has been living here and pixie dust is scattered everywhere! I took my time checking out the interiors first and the owner, Ms. Karen Young, was generous enough to walk me through each corner. It’s mainly white and grey on the inside with colors of the rainbow minimally splashed in some corners. The vintage oven displayed in the corner caught my attention. The owner won the bid for the 100-pound Detroit Jewel oven in eBay and spent for its shipping here. It looks so pretty including all the little thingamajigs that its decorated with and perfect to be the centerpiece of the dreamy restaurant. It also has its own story here. Then there’s this whole cabinet of old-somethings which people might think that are useless anymore but now serve as part of a mini wall display for kitchen equipment. Ms. Karen told me that the foundation of the business is about looking beyond what you can see on something from the outside and finding out its renewed purpose, just like this old house, like the old Detroit Jewel oven. I could go on and on talking about all the lovely pieces that make up the restaurants interior design but I guess it’s best if we focus on the real purpose of my visit here, the food!
The menu changes from time to time based on what the customers would suggest so it’s just written on a board near the door. It’s all healthy. That’s how you will be fed when you visit Ms. Karen’s home and that’s also how it goes in her restaurant. I have already started munching on their Artichoke Salad when I realized that I was eating on an old sewing machine guised as a dining table! Oh, the surprises this restaurant could give! J The appetizer was so filling I didn’t even have to move onto my next item but, of course, you know I did. You can taste the freshness of the ingredients in every bite, the lettuce was crisp, and the vinaigrette was light and flavorful. The cherry tomatoes and the edible flowers added to the visual appeal of the dish, too! I grabbed my bowl of power wrap which is basically brown rice mixed with some herbs and spices.
Then the main dish was served, Dalandan Chicken with Turmeric Rice. I must admit that I’m not biggest fan of turmeric simply because, it’s… turmeric? It doesn’t taste and smell that good, well, at least for me. I first got to taste it in tea form from Naga City and I got turned off. But sprinkling Karen’s pixie dust over it transformed the dish into one delectable piece! They honestly won me over with this one. The turmeric rice was inside a purple cabbage bowl surrounded by freshly cut dalandan. Squeeze some citrus juice in every bite to balance off the flavor from the turmeric rice. The chicken meat was also so tender which, I’m guessing, was baked.
I also tried their Baby Back Ribs whose meat were literally falling off from the bone when I put my fork on it! You can have it with white rice but as for me, I ate it with my turmeric rice and it was fine. I was even told that their ribs are being boiled for one whole day to make sure that the meat will be so tender. It’s served in a bowl filled with special sauce and sprinkled with herbs.
I didn’t have enough time for dessert but I know I can always order from them in foodpanda so that’s what I did as soon as I got back in the office. Their Red Velvet Cupcake is to die for! All publications who ranked this yummy confection first on their lists were definitely telling the truth! It has the right moisture and sweetness perfect for a sweet tooth like myself.
I left the restaurant in pensive mood thinking not just about how the healthy food looked so enticing and so yummy but also the stories that Ms. Karen shared about renewed purpose and second chances. It is indeed a very enlightening lunch… and super filling, too!
Address: 17A San Rafael St Brgy Kapitolyo, Pasig
Telephone: +632 696-3332 or 234-5118
Mobile: +63 917 539-4968
Operating Hours: Monday – Saturday Dine-in: 12 nn – 9 pm
Cake Pickups: 11 am – 9 pm
Pop culture connoisseur, minimalist, and a picky eater, he brainstorms with himself on Sunday nights obsessing about his existential dilemmas then regrets all of it the following day. He is finally done ghost writing for other people and now decided to have a byline of his own.