Monday, July 14, 2014

Tiago restaurant: progressive Filipino cuisine


Don’t let the title fool you. This post is not mainly about food. Whatever (pretentious) efforts I have had at food writing have been cleared off my plate. But, let me keep my Bosquejo Café and Bistro tag just in case my future plans of putting up a café somehow materialize (like, in a few decades!). 

So what is this post about, then? Just a small family gathering at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant along Scout Fuentebella, Quezon City (street number: 85). We were there last last Saturday. I haven’t seen most of them for a while, so I really couldn’t do a proper review. I mean, besides being famished when the food arrived! How could I remember to take note of the plating, list down the ingredients, ask the chef about provenance and inspiration? Food is meant to be shared during conversation. So this post merely offers glimpses of the experience. Though what was initially interesting was that it was my father who picked the place: Tiago, which is billed as “progressive Filipino cuisine”. Interesting because he (and I, for that matter), used to be part of the movement. (Though the irony could be dispelled just by its Trip Advisor ranking: #11 of 1,078 restaurants in Quezon City.)

Looking above (the picture above, and its top portion, and the ceiling of the restaurant), I quickly noticed the canvas-canopied sunroof. The glass roof must be amazing at night with all the stars showing!


Next thing I noticed was the shelf filled with knickknacks. Yellowed drawings that reminded me of the actresses of yesteryear. Carabao, the national yoked animal? Check. One part of a santan-shaped (which I didn’t know had such an exotic English name: ixora!) concrete wall used as book end? Check! Classic metal candle holders? Check! I loved how the Filipino elements were mixed with western car models and figurines.


I mean, seeing the contents of the shelf, and this retro electric fan, brought me back straight to my childhood. (Yes, I am that old. But not THAT old!)


The bar was also quite a sight: alternating with the liquor and wine glasses were plant holders, vases, and even a replica of the University of the Philippines oblation. Ixora divider now placed as a square instead of a chipped-off diamond. One definite thing that made the restaurant modern was the lighting (I hear that one of the owners of the restaurant is indeed, by practice, an interior designer).


It’s been years since I’ve learned to love the use of smoothened concrete walls and panels as part of interior design. See how beautifully the red “exposed” lights complements the gray of the concrete and the black of the pleather sofas? Even the white seats follow the color theme of the Tiago menu.


The place is not that big, but the clever use of mirrors and color fools the eye. This part of the room proceeds from the front door (notice the sky roof). I also loved the framed images of, if I’m not mistaken, black-and-white photos of lightbulb filaments.


I really must revisit this place, if not to taste more of the food, but also to see the sky at night!


A closer view of one of the frames. I think the image of old Filipino doors has been superimposed on the filaments.


Fake brick meets jalousie (which we had a lot of in the house I grew up in).


We sat under this part of the place. As if we were outside (our table lit by street lamps) but inside.


Clever ideas!


And finally, before I move on to what we ordered (or some of them, since, as I said, I wasn’t able to take a complete set of pictures), a maxim: “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Who can argue with that? People who love to eat – and are not fettered by diet fads or very strict eating regimes, or, shall I say, misled and enslaved by “lifestyle” dictates – tend to be generous.

Tiago is owned by David John Buendia, Sigrid Aragona-Buendia and multi-awarded chef, Kenneth Villaluz. The restaurant was named after the Buendias’ son, Santiago. Tiago for short.


I loved not just the menu design but the geometric shapes under the glass-top dining tables.


So here we go. First off is the palabok negra (P343), or bihon noodles in squid ink, with shrimp, squid, and vegetables. We had to mix everything before everybody dug in. Taste-wise: didn’t really appeal that much to me, but in terms of the interaction it required, it was good.


Next up is the stuffed pechay (P220), which my dad and I ordered because a mouth-watering picture was displayed prominently in the menu. The dish is made of pork and shrimp wrapped in Chinese cabbage and cooked in coconut cream. Looked good on the plate but I thought the meat was too salty. I expected a more sophisticated interaction of flavors.


Now I loved this shrimp dish, which I forget the name of. (I told you, I was famished!) Who can resist the rich orange color, which contrasts with the green garnish? As with most of the dishes we ordered, looks were deceiving: the plate deliciously smelled of guava and the sauce reminded me of Pringles cheddar. You could see the garlic but then taste something sweet. I guess there’s my bias: persuaded by my sweet tooth. Loved this, whatever it’s called!


Now for the lengua. Doesn’t look like lengua, no? Looks like shepherd's pie, but with lengua instead of minced beef, and kalabasa instead of mashed potato. Really, really liked this dish! Again, forget what it was called, sorry. How I wish we ordered more, or that it came in bigger servings.

One other thing we ordered was, I think, pinausukang (smoked) chicken and pork (P450), which was a bit disappointing. Again looked like something else (patatim), and tasted different. Borrowing from When in Manila: "chicken breast chops and pork soaked in juicy Mindanao adobo sauce". Good that they liked it, but I didn’t. Again, I blame my sweet tooth!


Now time for the pièce de résistance: the dessert! I loved the twist: instead of the usual custard, they used cassava and topped everything off with tablea (chocolate) sauce. Interesting variation, but in retrospect I was conflicted: while the restaurant offered variations on many dishes we’ve been used to, a lot of the twists were rather unwelcome. Why, you ask? Because the interiors brought nostalgia full-on, so I guess with the sights you expected some of the flavors you’ve also been used to. Or maybe I just didn’t like the twists I didn’t like. Perhaps...

One thing is sure, though: I must come back for a more proper review and taste what we missed: lechon (“pork belly roasted slowly but stuffed with leeks, garlic, onions, and chilies”), Fita (!) ice cream sandwiches, riced topped with adobo flakes, sisig (!!), and suman (!!!).


And so, before I end, I offer you the darkness of my consciousness after I was stuffed with food late in the afternoon: the sleepy gray of concrete between the “Filipino” labelled wall and something very welcoming.


Beside having a sky light, Tiago also built around a kaimito (star apple) tree. They used glass to bring more light in. Lovely!


Tiago brings together so many pleasant and endearing ideas that one can’t help but fall for the place.


Though, as I’ve mentioned, the “Filipino” lettering and “progressive” labelling carry a caveat: be ready for unexpected revisionism.

See my visual blog, Draft of Shadows, for bigger non-food pictures.

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