Jordy Navarra is about to open a jar whose contents are as inky and all-consuming as its container is translucent and glassy. My fear is palpable, mostly because I’ve heard stories from friends, including Navarra himself, that this jet-black substance has a smell that most closely resembles the stench of a dead rat; two members of his staff hurled their lunches the first time the infamous bottle was opened. This is Navarra’s attempt at creating patis from squid, an uncommon process as it usually comes from fish. He has tried making one with crabs too, which fared much better. Now, the smell is still putrid, but not as disgusting as previously described; instead its complex scent is less rat-like, but is still similar to garbage at least a day old. It’s much better now, he says, and maybe, if kept longer, will finally be usable. How he has refrained from throwing it out, I have no idea.
This experiment somewhat reveals the kind of chef Navarra is. His ideas are creative (maybe crazy) and wildly ambitious, which results in food that virtually no one else can do in this city. He makes everything from scratch such as the aforementioned patis, and delves deep into his food, involving himself completely in almost all the processes it takes before it gets onto the plate. He is a champion of all things Filipino, which has always been a huge part of his philosophy but is even more so at Toyo, which is aptly named after the condiment essential to our culinary repertoire. Navarra pays homage to both local produce and fare, without his food ever being just a twist on a Pinoy classic. Even the decor is mostly from local artisans—capiz light fixtures by Milo Naval hang over giant blocks of acacia which have been turned into tables by company Diretso, complemented with rattan chairs by E.Murio.
The food is Navarra’s take on flavors that might seem familiar; they have however, been reinvented here. Humble Pinoy barbeque is turned on its head, with three layers of impeccably thin pigue, kasim, and liempo creating a stick whose texture belies muscular, chewy cuts of yore. Sides are blackened evenly, and each piece falls apart in the mouth as they were intended to. A starter of kalabasa soup is a clear stunner, complex and layered in feel and flavor. Lobes of sea urchin provide a briny surprise, but cubes of crisp, deep-fried vegetable hidden within the orange bowl offer bites that pop.
Bangus is cooked slowly and grilled so that the flesh of the loin adapts a soft, plump and pillowy texture; there is so much smoky depth that a piece might make you forget the dried flakiness we have now become accustomed to. It is paired with an incredibly intense silog that is a meal in itself. The grains are sticky, reminiscent of Chinese lo mai gai wrapped in lotus leaf, and is packed full of umami; dried tuna roe, salty and pungent, is mixed in with chicharon and a raw free range egg yolk. There are few sweet offerings, but even a truffle is made salty with the addition of patis to chocolate and caramel. There is much to be celebrated here.
If Black Sheep was Navarra’s first act, Toyo Eatery is his magnum opus. Here, Navarra is constrained by nothing, his ambitious and off-kilter ideas realizing themselves into dishes that show his dexterity as both a thinker and a cook. He has fine-tuned and refined both himself and his recipes, with each plate reflecting enormous amounts of work. Although the menu is still in development, what Toyo has to offer now reveals the best of the chef yet—including that squid patis.
Address: The Alley at Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati
Mobile Number: 0917 720 8630
Spend: P800—1,000 for ala carte; tasting menus at P1,000 and P2,900 are also on offer.
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