IF you are a fan of our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal (whose birthday we just celebrated on June 19), and think that his masterpieces, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, are works of a genius, then you would be interested in a restaurant in Greenbelt 5 called Restaurante Pia y Damaso.
By the name alone, you would rightly guess that the restaurant has something to do with Dr. Rizal’s novels. And it does have everything to do with them. The name of the restaurant is taken from two key characters in Noli Me Tangere—Pia Alba and Padre Damaso.
Pia Alba is the mother of Maria Clara. She and husband Kapitan Tiago were childless for six years, and so they approached Padre Damaso to ask him what they could do to have a child. Padre Damaso, the Spanish friar, suggested that they danced in Obando. The couple heeded Padre Damaso’s suggestion and, afterwards, Pia Alba conceived a child, Maria Clara. The dark secret, however, was that Padre Damaso raped Pia Alba and was the real father of Maria Clara.
So much for the name, though. When it comes to food, Restaurante Pia y Damaso serves what chef-owner Bambi Sy-Gobio calls “subversive Filipino cuisine,” which also translates to “comido antigo.” The dishes on the menu are inspired by classic Filipino dishes that people have been enjoying since the time of Dr. Rizal, particularly dishes mentioned in his two novels. The food is based on characters and even named after them, such as Kapitan Tiago’s Kare-Kare, Sisig ni Cabesang Tales, Placido Penitente (Ifugao sticky black rice), Salvi’s Canonigo, Sisa’s Dementia, and Maria Clara’s Velvety White Cheesecake.
Chef Bambi’s culinary genius allows her to create twists and tweaks to classic dishes from appetizers and salads all the way down to desserts and cakes. And it helps a lot that she is a fan of Dr. Rizal’s great literary works.
Some of the must-try dishes on the menu:
Filo Tarts with Pork Asado, Apple Relish (Php220)—pan-fried flaky filo cakes stuffed with salty sweet pork, served with caramelized apple and vinegar. When Chef Bambi thought of this dish, she was inspired by the pork buns sold by a Chinese vendor outside the students’ dorm where Dr. Rizal wrote El Filibusterismo. She gave the idea a contemporary twist by using filo pastry.
Ham & Chicken Croquettes (Php160)—consists of eight pieces of crisp breaded nuggets made up of ham, chicken, mushrooms and cream; a perfect starter to get the palate going.
Albondigas (Php175)—minced beef and pork with spicy paprika and garlic served with fresh tomato sauce.
Mixed Greens with Duck Confit, Red Onions, Fresh Apples, Oranges and Champoy (Salted Plum) and Prune Vinaigrette (Php350)—the champoy gives this salad a unique flavor profile.
Elias (Php450)—is seared marinated crocodile from Davao, mixed greens, tomato, caramelized pineapple, crisp shallots and mango cilantro vinaigrette. If you are wondering why this salad is called Elias, it is because it got its inspiration from a scene in Noli Me Tangere where Elias saves Crisostomo Ibarra from a crocodile in the lake.
Nga Nga Beef Salad (Php250)—is salty sweet, chewy beef flakes with green mango pickles, red onion, haw flakes, cilantro, arugula and lettuce piled on leaves and then rolled up like nga nga (bettle nut chew).
Bangus Belly Salad with Dalandan Vinaigrette (Php325)—puts the spotlight on seared prime bangus belly steak and marinated onion, baby French green beans, potatoes, arugula, tomato, hard-boiled egg and mustard dalandan dressing.
Lengua Sevillana with Olives and Mushrooms (Php450)—is braised ox tongue with olive oil, tomatoes, mushrooms and green olives. It is a classic Spanish dish that has withstood the test of time.
Callos (Php300)—is another timeless Spanish dish. It is an Old World Spanish stew of braised ox tripe, pork hocks, beef shanks, bacon, chorizo de Bilbao, paprika and chickpeas. No decent Spanish restaurant can be without its own version of this dish. So with a restaurant that is inspired by the Spanish period in Philippine history.
Ode to Heidelberg (Php1,500)—good for three people, this is probably one of the restaurant’s biggest platters and most luxurious dishes. It serves as a tribute to the place where Dr. Rizal finished writing Noli Me Tangere, and is a German dish of boiled smoked pork hock, bacon, four kinds of sausages and potatoes.
Roasted Vegetable Tart (Php300)—Roasted zucchini, peppers, eggplants, mushrooms and garlic in a crisp tart crust, topped with shaved edam and served with a side salad.
Beef Hanging Tender Steak (Php500)—seared 150-gram steak, marinated in special garlic mix, and served with pearl rice, corn and mushroom pilaf.
Fideos with Mussels and Chorizo (Php360)—toasted vermicelli noodles cooked in white wine, seafood broth, tomatoes and chorizo. It’s like paella, especially since it is cooked and served in a paellera, but in pasta form.
Other specials that diners must try when at Restaurante Pia y Damaso include Camaron Cocido, Seared Mahi-Mahi, and Ostrich Steak with Guava. These are bites that will transport you back to the time of Dr. Rizal and Noli Me Tangere, the time when Spanish friars were very powerful and influential personalities in the community and Spanish influence in Filipino food was strong and glaring.
Do not forget to wash it all down with Tubig ni Maria, which is a refresher made from cucumber, ginger and citrus.
But if you know Chef Bambi from the time when she had Kookie & Luscious, you’d know that she will certainly create a good dessert menu for Restaurante Pia y Damaso as well. And she did. The cake and dessert lineup is good that even diners of neighboring restaurants come to the restaurant to have dessert. Topping the list is Sisa’s Dementia (Php240), a chocolate cake that’s to die for. Also worth trying are Salvi’s Canonigo (Php100), baked caramel lined meringue with vanilla crème and fresh mangoes; Brazo ni Doña Vicki (Php100), chewy meringue roulade with fresh butter curd; and Toasted Yema Parfait (Php125), Damaso’s special toasted yema on a frozen creamy parfait with cookie crumbs.
(Restaurante Pia y Damaso can be found on the 2nd Floor, Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City; with telephone number 729-5511.)