Filipino cuisine is slowly wedging its foot in the international food scene. The difficulty lies in how to translate the usual family-style servings to something that's more french gourmet (read: sophisticated) looking to be more easily accepted by the other parts of the world. Albeit it would be splendid to see adobo or sinigang in some minimalist and artistic creation (I love watching chefs' different plating techniques), sometimes though, those big servings are the ones that spell comfort and home, and I think those are some of the endearing characteristics of Filipino food, one fact that is equally important to portray to the rest of the globe.
When we dined in Crisostomo's Nuvali branch last year for a little afternoon snack, I didn't think much of the place. Perhaps because all we had ordered were iced tea, sago't gulaman and halo-halo to quench our thirst after basking under the hot sun. Now, a branch has recently opened in Alabang Town Center so we grabbed the opportunity to try their food this time. Reading through their menu was like taking a trip down Noli Me Tangere lane as every dish title included a character's name or a place from that setting. Monikers like Tinapa ni Tiburcio, Elias' Choice, Tadyang ni Tiago, Atchara ni Ibarra and Adobo Damaso lend an amusing personality to each dish. There were even three kinds of sinigang humorously named Sinigang Gomez, Sinigang Burgos and Sinigang Zamora.
The restaurant was a bit small and cramped. Nonetheless, the decor exudes a Spanish maharlika vibe that's cozy and warm. Wooden balusters line up the glass windows, portraits are mounted on the Tiffany-blue wall, framed by intricate carvings. A big distressed wooden China cabinet houses liquors, wine glasses and pristine white tea sets. Locket and vintage pendants as well as beaded jewelries hang from wooden hands that protrude from mirrored walls. And at the center, an elaborate circular candelabra with tall tea lights and transparent globes pierced by twig-like structures serves as a conversation starter to while away the time.
Finally our food arrives one by one. Don Juan (P295) is an inihaw na liempo dish that was typically your run-of-the-mill pork ribs (though it looked more like belly). Cut into strips, these grilled porcine meat rests on a small banana leaf and showered with chopped chives and garlic bits. The meat was marinated nicely and tender to the bite but for the price I had expected something more.
Bopis de Salvi (P250) wasn't on this particular menu (something about the wrong one being delivered to this branch) but the waiter revealed that they do have a bopis dish when we asked for one. A mishmash of chopped pig's lungs and porcine heart, this could have been a great comestible save for one tiny detail -- it had chopped liver. My least favorite non-exotic food in the world (!). The red pepper provided a nice heat but I was too busy segregating the tiny chunks of liver that I didn't get to enjoy eating this course.
If you constantly read my blog, you'd know that I love callos. I love the oleaginous property, the bold tomato flavor and the fat-laden proteins. Unfortunately, albeit the Callos de Aguinaldo (P325) is good, it lacks that solid oomph that I look for in this kind of dish. Instead of the usual chopped pieces of ox tripe, this one had longer strips that contributed to a texture that's more rubbery than usual. There were a few chorizo slices and some red and green bell peppers. The sauce dances on the watery end of the oil-water spectrum and the tomato sauce is milder in taste. There was a hint of spiciness alright, but it wasn't enough to fill the void I felt while missing Las Paellas' or Sugar House's version.
The Bella Bandida (P295) consists of three strips of pan fried milkfish belly topped with julienned burong mangga and bagoong or shrimp paste. The ever present chopped chives were also there for decoration mainly. This was my favorite among the viands. The fish was succulent and seasoned perfectly; the acidulousness of the pickled green mangoes cut right through the unctuousness of the belly itself. And as if the flavors weren't enough, the salinity of the bagoong made it all the more appetizing.
Salome's Secret (P295) is actually stuffed squid which I really loved. The big squid was grilled beautifully with a bit of charred portions on top. The chopped chives was sprinkled across the seafood's length. Imprisoned within the rings were slices of tomatoes and onions, which rendered color to the plate. The meat was tender and I liked how the sweet sauce complemented that smoky flavor.
As we were about to leave, the waitress handed out rose-shaped pastillas to the girls at our table paired with bars of their eponymous chocolates. The pastillas had that smooth, milky flavor which was really nice, but the chocolates were a revelation. Dark chocolate with tinges of salt tease and tantalize the palate with a sensuous reciprocity of sweet and salty. Each bite ensues a titillating sensation as opposite taste forces perform a delicious tug-of-war inside my mouth.
Spot: G/F The Garden (New Wing) Alabang Town Center, Muntinlupa City
Contact No.: 869.0988