Forget the Pub Crawl, The Auro Chocolate Crawl is Where It’s At
Auro Chocolate makes a strong case for sweet, savory, spirited pairings
As someone whose usual social spectrum stretches from “active on the internet” to downright nonexistent, Poblacion is a land left unexplored. Unlike most of my friends who frequent the red light district-meets-cultural mixing pot for a weekly nightcap, I know the area about as well as I know my way around the kitchen: not very much at all. It’s not the easiest pocket of the city to navigate, it gets wet and crowded and humid in the evenings and I may or may not have one drunken college experience that still carries a little sermon trauma.
But hey, I’m always ready to be convinced otherwise. Last week, I found a reason to overcome the mountain of anti-Pob arguments I’d been sitting on. All in the name of the one thing that has always, always had my back, through childhood favorites and post-finals binges and bad days at work: chocolate.
Taking all the things Poblacion is known best for (the drinks, the diverse cuisines, the bars within extremely close proximity) and adding a generous helping of locally sourced chocolate into the mix, Auro Chocolate has curated a one-of-a-kind tour around the neighborhood. Featuring places like a Thai chicken house, Southeast-Asian fusion restaurants and a craft beer pub, Auro isn’t just adding a chocolate dessert to the menu and calling it a day. Instead, they’re recalibrating our understanding of the ingredient, working it into a savory dish and alcoholic beverage at every stop.
If you’re one of those salty-goes-with-salty and sweet-goes-with-sweet purists, don’t click out just yet. At least spare these pairings (which are exclusively available during the tour!) a good look and listen. You’ll find good reason to change your mind.
First stop: Khao Khai
While the classic manggang hilaw and bagoong combination has been a staple in my mom’s diet since god knows when, I’ve never understood the appeal. So when the very first stop on the tour itinerary changed my long-standing perception––well, I knew I was in for something good.
The chocolate bar crawl kicks off at hole-in-the-wall restaurant Khao Khai, where they skip the pad thai and tom yum goong in favor of Northern Thai dishes less celebrated worldwide. Taking that knack for side-stepping expectations to the Auro crawl, Khao Khai skids over the expected ripe mango and sticky rice, instead serving up soft green mango slices with a side-serving of chocolate bagoong. On the side: a subtly spicy Bangkok Fire rimmed with 64% dark chocolate.
Second stop: Lampara
Neo-Filipino bistro Lampara marks the second stop of the crawl with a slow-cooked pork belly and negroni pairing. The meat, which is cooked for over 14 hours, laid ever so delicately on a crisp-yet-soft mantou bun and topped generously with cacao nibs, bridges unexpected opposites: the rich flavor of pork and the slight bitterness of cacao, the tenderness countered by crisp, crushed beans. I won’t lie, it can be pretty intimidating (especially when you take into account the fact that the slab of cured pork belly, pre-slice, looks a little like a human heart), but the one-of-a-kind flavor cocktail makes the gastronomic gamble worth it.
Served alongside the dish is the chocolate-infused Jim Bean Negroni, a nice frothy palate-cleanser crafted to be sipped in alternation with bites of pork belly.
Third stop: Polilya
Over at Polilya, two cuisines collide in a singular big bang of a dish. Combining a deep-fried version of the Hainanese chicken we all know and love with a generous helping of traditional Mexican mole sauce, infused with 77% dark chocolate and topped with kesong puti and cilantro, to say that there’s a lot going on in a bite-sized serving is an understatement. Although just as the stops prior to this one will have proven, all these elements come together. Seamlessly? Not quite. But in a way that takes the palate on a taste-and-texture roller coaster? Hell yes.
A complement to the Hainanese-Mexican bite is a margarita––topped off and rimmed with 32% white chocolate from Auro, of course.
Fourth stop: Alamat Filipino Pub and Deli
Allow me to play favorites and say that Alamat’s dish––a one-of-a-kind take on the Tausug Tiula sa Itum––is the best in my book. I’m a sucker for anything that is flavorful and tender without being too soft and the coconut and tablea-braised rib finger is just that. Served on a bed of ensaladang Adlai, eggplant and Auro cacao nibs, it’s fresh and balanced and is it obvious how much I like this dish yet?
Alamat’s Tiyula sa Itum is served with the Auro Plata, a bittersweet concoction of gin, white rum, pandan, cacao liquor and chocolate sauce.
Last Stop: Pedro Tap House
Ah, the home stretch. The chocolate crawl’s final hurrah takes place at Pedro Tap House, where a hefty serving of carbs awaits. Four drinks might not seem like much, but when you’ve spent a good couple of hours pooling poisons in your stomach, you’re going to need a little solidity. With 55% dark chocolate to top off cheese sausages on buttery brioche buns, the Auro Chocolate Chili Cheese Dog does just that.
With a plate of substantial food to keep you grounded for the rest of the night, it then becomes excusable to give you another drink as a parting gift: Pedro Brewcrafters’ Space Out Coffee Stout, finished off with melted dark chocolate folded into whipped cream.
I’m no expert, but Auro Chocolate has done a pretty fine job of empowering the local chocolate industry. Homegrown and proud of their bean-to-bar approach to their products, they’ve been simultaneously been sourcing chocolate from our local communities while raising the standards for what or how good, chocolate should be. Taking things up a notch with an innovative bar crawl around one of the city’s best-loved neighborhoods, this is one form of local loving I’m down to get behind––even if that means kicking my Pobla-related qualms to the curb.
The Auro Chocolate Bar Crawl takes place Friday and Saturday every week from 4:30 to 7:30 PM (don’t worry, that’s before traffic gets crazy!), with 30 slots are available per day. Book your ticket online via Auro Chocolate’s website. P.S. they have vegetarian options for each stop, so you have no reason to opt out!
Art Alexandra Lara
In-article images c/o Auro Chocolate