Sabor Ilonggo

Ang mga manamit sa Iloilo.

Breakthrough Restaurant

Posted by JayPee Friday, July 9, 2010

"Cooked to perfection, reasonably priced and most importantly – fresh as can be."

This was what marine biologist Raymundo Robles had in mind when he struggled to woo customers to his seafood restaurant 23 years ago. Gone are the days of getting people to go to his outlet as Breakthrough Seafood Restaurant is now a byword among Ilonggos and a must-go for balikbayans and visitors.

Sinugba nga managat

The story goes that you have never really been to Iloilo until you have enjoyed fresh and authentic Ilonggo seafood dishes such as ginat-an nga alimusan (catfish with coconut cream), sinugba nga managat (grilled red snapper), baked diwal (angel wing clams) and non-seafood favorites like binakol nga manok (Ilonggo chicken soup) and ensaladang puso ng saging (banana heart salad).

grilled scallops

Robles says customers were always asking for fresh marine products and so he used his expertise as a marine biologist to give customers what they wanted.

Villa Beach

Since transferring from E. Lopez St. in Jaro District in 1992 to the current location in the area popularly known as “Villa Beach,” Robles has constructed 30 cement-and-glass aquariums and indoor “ponds” containing live abalone, catfish, crabs, lobsters, shrimps, prawns, various sea shells, selected fishes and the rare angel wing clams.

Robles explains that the sea creatures are kept alive because salinity and water environment are controlled to approximate their natural habitats.

Seafood aficionados like Mary Frances Yap are thrilled to choose crabs and shrimps and have them cooked in the inimitable “Breakthrough way,” which is grilled, steamed, or turned into seafood soup.

“No matter how Breakthrough’s food is cooked, you can be sure it will retain the flavor of the sea,” says Yap, a Hotel and Restaurant Management student.

It helps, too, that the restaurant (made of bamboo, cogon, nipa and rattan reinforced with cement) is by the beach with a relaxing view of neighboring Guimaras Island.

Breakthrough Restaurant has impressed not only customers but also government agencies, such as the regional Department of Tourism that named it the Best Restaurant in Western Visayas for 2006 and 2007.

Graduating from the University of the Philippines-Diliman in 1979, Robles says he did not know much about cooking or running a restaurant since he was into the fishing industry and the buying and selling of capiz shells for export.

“We put up a snack bar at E. Lopez St. and before we knew it, it had evolved into a seafood restaurant,” says Robles.

The evolution came to be because the restaurateur and his wife, Ma. Isabel Saldajeno-Robles, a Hotel Restaurant and Administration graduate of UP Diliman, always gave customers what they wanted.

Thus, the couple’s first restaurant started to look like an aquarium shop, simply because they catered to their customers’ wish for fresh seafood.

Then, it was time to transfer in 1992 because the small space on E. Lopez St. could no longer hold the growing number of loyal clients.

And so, with an initial capital of about P20,000, the Robles couple bought more utensils, experimented with seafood cooking and hired competent staff.

By 2005, they bought the area where their 1,000-capacity restaurant now stands.

“So, don’t be surprised why the restaurant grows horizontally, following the contour of the beach,” says the soft-spoken and mild-mannered marine biologist.

The usual turo-turo (eatery where you point at a preferred dish) is there but guests also have the option of à la carte-dining with the following best sellers: Sinugba nga managat, crabs in spicy coconut sauce, crab meat, scallops and lechon manok (roasted chicken).

Breakthrough claims to be the first to make the local managat (red snapper) a favorite among diners with its meaty, soft and fat flesh.

The managat was once considered a pest because it ate precious milkfish fingerlings in fishponds, but the marine biologist in Robles decided it was time for diners to consider the flavorful fish – now an expensive delicacy that he cultures.

The managat experience becomes unforgettable when one dips the fish in the Ilonggo vinegar-based sauce called sinamak – a tangy concoction of ginger, garlic, the ginger-like langkauas (scientific name Alpinia galangal Swartz), and kutitot (Philippine jalapeno or siling labuyo)

Such is the demand for fresh food that Robles could not take the risk of running out of ingredients, especially seafood, native chicken and vegetables.

To ensure constant supply of fresh seafood to be transferred to the restaurant’s mini ponds and aquarium, Robles has deals with suppliers from Capiz, Antique, Negros Occidental and General Santos.

Meat, native, chicken, vegetables and mangoes are sourced from loyal suppliers in selected Iloilo towns.

Robles is a man who does not rest on his laurels and seeks for continuous development of his restaurant.

“We are currently working on the processing of native food that retains the unique Filipino flavor,” says the elder Robles.It won’t be long until loyal Breakthrough food lovers go home with bottles and cans of smoked fish, gourmet tuna and paksiw nga bangus that use milkfish instead of herring.
Robles said the restaurant was also experimenting with authentic Ilonggo food that would have an international appeal.

Lunchtime and dinner any day of the week is the busiest for Breakthrough as patrons mill around the restaurant’s aquariums and excitedly partake in what Robles calls the “Iloilo’s seafood experience.

Courtesy of an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer entitled

Marine biologist dives into food venture
By Hazel P. Villa, Philippine Daily Inquirer


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