Vigan, Ilocos, said to be the oldest residual Spanish colonial city in the Philippines is still listed in our bucket list. Though it is just in Luzon, we need to drive 9 hours (that's without traffic) to get there from Manila. Aside from the heritage houses and historical relevance, its cuisine is one of the highlight of the region.
Thankfully, a part of Ilocos was brought here in Manila to cater for the foodies longing for authentic Ilocano dishes. Balai Ilocos answers just that. According to the managing officer cum chef of the said restaurant, Balai Ilocos is gaining familiarity by the day, since they started last March 16. It was turned over to Nino Mendoza by his mother last April.
"It was Princess Aquino, my mom, who made all these things happen," as Nino announced. Nino's family's love for food came from her and from their grandmother.
Balai Ilocos is a family-business were he, his sisters and his brothers, practically the whole family including his cousin Patrick Chua, step-father and his wife have contributed. Chef Nino, gabbing about two of his passions in life, made cooking a priority than acting. Thus, he definitely makes sure that what you are getting from Balai Ilocos is not just good but his passion folded into every dish he prepares and the resto serves.
Though small in space, the menu is big in claiming to satiate their clients hunger for good old home-cooking. From the floors, right to the concrete walls up to the ceiling, you can feel a part of Vigan, as the interior is inspired form it. I felt right at home when I entered the door and the wall on the left side studded with framed pictures of the family greeted me. I don't know, there's just something about capiz windows that gets me.
Our meal for that occasion consisted of their best-sellers, beginning with Gambas ni Pat. It's Patrick's version of Gambas al Ajillo, and as the name implies is cooked by his cousin for Balai in his house. The buttery and sizzling spice of the sauce is to die for.
Whenever you say Ilocos it is parallel to Bagnet. which can be likened to lechon kawali. Prepared the same way as the latter, where pork belly is boiled, dried and then deep fried until the skin is blistered brown. What distinguishes the bagnet from other fried pork meat is the crackling crunchiness made to the pork skin while leaving the inner part soft and flavorful.
Then again, Balai Ilocos' take on the iconic bagnet will leave you craving for more and thinking about it even after digesting it. The surprise lies underneath the cubes of bagnet. The Binagoongang Bagnet, is not your ordinary bagnet. The locos-inspired vinaigrette mixed with sliced green mangos, tomatoes and onions were made better with semi-sweet bagoong (shrimp paste).
If you think there is nothing special about this Pinakbet, you might wanna think again. Bagnet lurks around the different dishes as if invigorating every dish to stand out from the usual. The suateed mix of vegetables were amped up with chopped bagnet.
Thanks again Zomato for introducing me to this joint. Just check out this gastro-feast. Chef Nino added that they used to get everything from Paoay, including the Bagnet and the longanisa. But now they make everything fresh from scratch, including the Bagnet, except for the Mechado, which they cook in their commissary since it takes longer to cook and in bigger batches.
How about an exotic take on the region's version of sisig. Fried pig innards, ears and face are drenched with a specialty sauce or vinegar dressing where pig's brain are said to be mixed in. I love how the zesty Ilokos vinegar plays with the crunchy chopped (other) pig's parts.
Di Makakalimutang Mechado (The Unforgettable Mechado), is another dish you might want to try. This tomato-based beef stew didn't use a drop of instant tomato sauce, rather it was prepared meticulously from a recipe that's probably similar to the traditional Spanish way. Here the beef is braised (the meat is browned in it's own fat) and slowly simmered for hours in pure sauce from the tomatoes.
Don't assume this simply plated dish is ordinary, it's exceptional as how it was prepared which rendered a flavorful meat where the sauce's spices and flavor have infused into the meat. The thickened tomato sauce and the tender fork-bite says it all.
They too have Sisig but to veer away from Dinakdakan, they made it Bagnet Sisig. Compared to Dinakdakan, which is bigger when chopped, the finely chopped Bagnet was given the Sisig touch with mayo on top somehow giving balance to the spiciness.
Don't get mistaken with the Kalderetang Baka (stewed Beef with the Mechado), which I initially had. Kalderata has a thicker sauce and tastes more on the rich and spicy side, mechado is sweeter. Make sure to stay clear of this when ordering the two dishes together, since there is no difference in the plating.
Talking about plating, Chef Nino doesn't put much emphasis on the plating, what you'll get are straight-forward, true-blue comforting dishes.
Don't expect much on dessert, I guess this is where they need to work on too. Nothing caps a great meal than a dessert to boot. Though you may want to finish of a meal with their Maruya ala Mode, a huge slab of deep fried battered saba bananas with ice cream on top and some chocolate syrup drizzled all over. It's not to stellar since the batter covering the bananas is too thick, thus making this good for two persons. Maybe they could serve specialty bibingka or some spruced up sweet delicacy from Vigan or Paoay.
All in all, it was a worth while visit to BF Homes Paranaque for me, and "worth every weight" gained from savoring all the bagnet, at least I was able to get a glimpse of Ilocos through their dishes. Next time, I'll try their Papaitan and Igado.
Oh, before you go out the door, do leave some notes on the wall and tell everyone how you have been B.I.'ed!
Address: 188 D Aguirre Ave.,
BF Homes Paranaque
Contact Details: 0916 2676188