This Much-Hyped Pinoy Restaurant Deserves Some of the CredSeptember 9, 2015
- Pamela CortezWords
Much has been said about Chef Tatung Sarthou and his food. His sort-of-obscure restaurant in Taguig came after a much-lauded private table in Quezon city, and garnered quite the cult following. I’ve had many friends who I often go to for recommendations tell me that his was their favorite Filipino restaurant in Manila, and that his dishes were worth the trek to its location which lay just outside BGC. I never got to make a visit before his eponymous restaurant closed, thus making Chef Tatung’s food an intangible legend to me.
It was barely 6 months however when the chef made his way to a new home, back in Quezon City. The space is called Alab, which has much of the beloved favorites that appeared on his old menus, and some dishes that were not on his repertoire. The menu is straightforward, separated generally into classic Filipino, and regional, re-imagined plates. Most of it is generally good, and depending on what you order, worth the price tag. His classics might not necessarily stand up to the standards we already have, and his interpretations might not do much to separate his food from others. But if you generally avoid the staples, and venture into more unfamiliar territory, you’ll reward yourself with good flavor.
The pianggang (PHP 270), which is his flagship dish, is excellent. I need this on a giant platter; the chicken dish which is a Tausug classic, is the perfect introduction to this sort of cuisine. It has flavors that are reminiscent of Malay and Indonesian curry and nuttiness, and reveal a different layer to the complexity that makes up the history of our cuisine. Tinumok (PHP 170) is just as good. These delicately crunchy coconut noodles wrapped in taro leaves will make anyone averse to laing rethink its grassiness when in this iteration—it uses the grassy flavor to its advantage when layered with coconut cream and bagoong. Kalderatang kanding (PHP 445) may have been a little pricier, but the meat was so tender that you could hardly tell the thick stew apart from the goat. Thickened with liver, the only fault was that it seemed a little small in comparison to the rest of the dishes which offered us value for money. Desserts, when more adventurous, were a delight. Laing ice cream came off as a cross between matcha and taro, and was devoured by the spoonful. Bibingka cheesecake (PHP 140) was a clever idea that married two favorites well.
Safer bets are not as fulfilling (like a kinilaw which lacked punch or acid, black palabok that was dry, and pichi-pichi that were not the best version around), and it might not be the best Pinoy place in town, but there is still much to be proud of here. Busy days still have warm service, and chef Tatung’s staples are fan favorites for many reasons. That pianggang is worth it alone.