While others rhapsodize over organic, farm-to-table resto concepts, Pia Y Damaso have been already the talk of foodies with their inventive takes on usual heirloom dishes.
I have dined here with friends and on meetings on several occasions but this is the only time I have written about this restaurant, not that you would consider it a crime, well for food bloggers probably. Even though I've never written any words, though worthy of every praise, this is top on my list when asked about my fave Filipino restaurant. Damaso however is caught in the blurry lines of Filipino, Spanish and Fusion cuisine.
The appalling notion of using Damaso for a restaurant's name may be intimidating to many, specially those who have read Noli Me Tangere, but with the addition of Pia gave quite a tone of intrigue to the restaurant's backstory. Restaurante Pia Y Damaso's theme simply is divine, carefully thought of and researched by Chef Bambi Sy Gobio as inspired from Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
Because of my recent visit at the resto I needed to recontextualize myself with the story and find the binding element between subversion and dining. The daring move of Pia Y Damaso's take in subversive cuisine was just brilliant. I mean, I could't think of any other concept or resto similar to theirs.
Even the interior design of the intimately spaced dining is incomparable, with mixed media, uncanny architectural pieces on the walls such as louver wooden shutters, ornate cut wood panels on mirrors, vintage chandeliers, to name a few.
There was never a time when I passed by without stopping to glance or stare at this tall glass dessert fridge by the wall of Pia y Damaso. And this birdcage is just something as well.
Once you get to open the menu, you will understand me even more. A moment of Hispanic throwback is what you'll be experiencing, as each dish will take you back to the stories of Crisostomo Ibarra, Maria Clara, Elias and yes, how can I forget, Sisa.
With some foodie friends, we started quenching our thirst with a glass of Tubig ni Maria Clara (Php 300 a pitcher). This green juice is concocted with fresh cucumber, ginger and some citrus fruits.
The playful menu is a mix of classic Filipino and Spanish dishes gleaned from the aforementioned novels. Some are just casual favorites of Chef Bambi's family in which she chose to honor her family with but candidly using characters from the novels.
Another sisig version to try is the Sisig ni Kabesang Tales (P 300). Forgive me but after tasting this sisig, I couldn't remember who Kabesang Tales is. You might say I'm just making excuses, but to know the real sisig and to have it, means you have to drive a long way up north and have your feel of this iconic Pampangueno dish. Sisig ni Kabesang Tales is the closest thing to the original (which claims to be original). The fatty, rich, and chunky meat comprising this dish comes from pig's mask, ears and belly, yep the fatty parts. Sauteed with it are slices of garlic, onions, celery, chili, and made more savory with whisked eggs.
Next is this Chinese Lumpia Salad (P 275). This isn't a salad, let me iterate that this is lumpia in it's deconstructed form. If you say "No, this doesn't look like a lumpia," well, the chef or cook will tell you otherwise, cause that's how subversive they are even in the manner of how they serve their food. It's not really rebelling against how a dish should be constructed, though as creative Chef Bambi is, you'll eventually learn to be subversive too, even in your food.
If you don't like fancy names on your order slip maybe the Crispy Boneless Pork would work for you. It's great eating as it is or complemented with rice or these specialty cocktail drinks. An alternative to chicharon, these medium-sized pork cubes are crunchy all throughout. Every chunk was deep fried to a crisp without an evident of oil in your plate. It somehow tastes like a bacon but not smoky and it's not salty as it may look like.
Whether you're feeling a bit under the rain or just wanting to unwind, this is the perfect spot. You don't have to wait up until office hours finish you can have your drinks spiked and pair it with a light meal here. Above are two of Pia Y Damaso's new cocktails with fruity flavors.
Planning to impress someone over a meal? I suggest you get the drinks above and these Crisp Cones with Crab and Tomato Relish (P 220). Phyllo pastries were delicately formed into cones then fried and filled with an assortment of fresh and sauteed ingredients. Chopped fresh tomato, onion, cucumber were meshed with sauteed crab meat, corn, onions, and all were seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, parsley, and lemon juice. The cones were then served partly buried at a bowl of sea salt.
The crispy bite as combined with the freshness of the filling with a mild tang at the end makes this an interesting alternative to the common spring rolls.
Made even more interesting is this bowl of mixed noodles remembered as the dish the main characters had when they were at Chinatown, Binondo. Lang-Lang (P 325), as the dish is named makes for a perfect snack. The atsuete broth, also called annato, livens up this bowl completing the assembly of chicken, ham, shiitake, wood ear mushrooms and three different kind of local noodles pancit molo, lomi, and sotanghon.
I'm a sandwich gal, and I'd choose sandwiches and salad anytime over heavy stews and rice. Thus the Croque Quezo & Spinach (P 250) instantly won me over. At first you wouldn't think this toast differs from the one you'd usually have at home, well let me prove you wrong. the classic croque is given a local twist with Malagos goat cheese and smoked tinapa. The sharp smoky notes of the tinapa melded perfectly with the creaminess of the goat cheese.
Long before pork buns became a trend in Manila, Cuapao was the in thing. Even in the times of Rizal it was already being talked upon, something the Chinese cooks would be so proud of. Thus, a tribute to them is Pia Y Damaso's Kua Pao Pan de Sal (P 250). However, instead of using the usual soft whitish bun, whole wheat pan de sals are used. The same filling graces the two toasted pan de sal-pork belly braised slowly in soya, anise, and garlic. Lavishly garnished with ground roasted peanuts, sweet mustard leaf confit, and fresh cilantro leaves.
Though I'm not into sweetened meat, I definitely love how tender and easy on the bite the pork filling is and the spicy note of the cilantro somehow breaks the sweetness.
One of the rice dishes I would recommend and the first one of all the rice dishes that I had tried long ago is Smoked Tapang Usa (P 450). I know that preparing venison can be really tricky. And I came without hesitation and tried this and boy, it didn't disappoint. The deer meat isn't hard and does not taste too gamey. According to Chef Bambi, a supplier from Nueva Ecija delivers it to them already preserved.
Do try to be subversive enough and welcome changes in your daily meals with a plate of warm rice clothed with perfectly scrambled eggs and atop, the fried Smoked Tapang Usa and finally be gracious when interchanging fork bites with the pickled green mango.
Also, though I'm more into breads and veggies, I never can't shun off eating hefty rice especially if it is cooked not in the usual way, and made more healthy with addition of leafy veggies. So who says you can't have leafies cooked in your sinangag (fried rice) not here in Pia Y Damaso. With the Smoked BBQ Mango Pork (P 500), is the scrambled eggs over the dirty rice embellished more with spinach, chopped apple, raisins, and pine nuts. I've often veered away from pork dishes but this, I was truly surprised. The fried pork was not only tender to the bite but mind-blowing as different bursts of flavors are manifested - a subtle sweet and tart mango flavor plus the smoky burnt meat note.
Rice dishes. Covered!
Pia Y Damaso has you covered from all that makes you crave for. But be prepared for out-of-the-ordinary dishes. I'm actually reminding myself that phrase. Like in the case of this pasta dish that I had, the Tuna Egg (Bihod) with Tapenade, Seared Blue Marlin, and Fresh Tomatoes (P 360). Sure I had a long list of different kinds of pasta, but it seems the choices are endless, allow me to just zero in on this pasta first.
This rustic dish of thin spaghetti is glistened with Tapenade and topped with Seared Blue Marlin and chopped fresh tomatoes. What put this dish a step above the rest is the complexity, the texture and saltiness from the tuna fish roe and the sharp woody and nutty hints of the tapenade.
But there's no way you'll be accused of sedition with this classic milky, caramely dessert, everyones' favorite, the Leche Flan, but think again, the flan is made more richer because goat's milk is used instead of the canned evaporated milk we were accustomed to. The Davao Malago's Goat's Milk Leche Flan (P 160) is baked with a bain-marie and the mix infused with lime zest. giving that well-balanced sweetness and the slight bitterness from the caramelized sugar. One of the best meal-enders here.
Noli Me Tangere, the novel that created so much controversy and with which the Spanish government had accused the writer saying that Noli was full of subversive ideas, exposing social maladies and full of misleading facts. It was however instrumental in the establishing of the Filipino’s sense of national identity and had indirectly influenced a revolution.
But one thing the book also covered was Jose Rizal's love for the vibrant food landscape of the country at his time. And Restaurante Pia Y Damaso was able to bring that to life.