Saturday, June 1, 2013

Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas: Authentic Spanish Cuisine Comes to San Juan

There is an old Spanish saying that goes "a full stomach makes a happy heart." At Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas, I did leave with a full tummy, and needless to say, a very happy heart. Now you don't have to go far for authentic Spanish dishes and tapas, just head down to Calderon.

Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebida is a culinary collaboration of Monchet Carballo (the man behind Sabor de Espana at the Salcedo Market), Marmi Perez, Angela Melo and Chef Rafa Ysip. And their passion for Spanish cuisine is immediately evident once you enter and taste Calderon's signature dishes. Authentic, rustic and rich, just the way I remember it. And at Calderon, the dishes are comfortingly familiar, yet there is something refreshing and new.

Located along F. Calderon Street in San Juan's Little Baguio, hence the name, Calderon is one of the newest restaurants in a former residential neighborhood, and the only Spanish restaurant in the area. Exciting things are definitely happening in Little Baguio. You can say that Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas completes the international culinary scene in Little Baguio with its authentic Spanish dishes.
Housed in one of the units in a row of former apartments, the converted residential space adds a casual and homey vibe that enhances one's dining experience at Calderon. Additional seating options are also available at the second floor. The wooden stairs leading to the upper floor is reminiscent of the typical apartment layout from the past, adding to the rustic charm of Calderon.

Arriving early, I sample Calderon's Hot Chocolate (P 80), a thick and traditional chocolate made even richer with ground peanuts. Dark, sweet and comforting, this one just brings back so many memories of childhood summers, a perfect start to the coming meal. And oh, you'll need a spoon to enjoy this one...

Calderon's signature mains then arrived, starting with the Paella Valenciana (P 700/24" good for 2-4 persons, P 1,600/34" for 8-10 persons), topped with plump shrimps, succulent mussels and vegetables. The dish is rich, flavorful and deliciously moist, and all you need is a spoonful to know why this is one of Calderon's bestsellers.

Then, Calderon's other signature dish was served, the rich Paella Negra, a personal favorite (P 500/24" good for 2-4 persons, P 1,300/34" for 8-10 persons), cooked in squid ink and topped with shrimps, mussels and creamy aioli. Just like the Paella Valenciana, Calderon's Paella Negra is incredibly moist and flavorful. The squid ink adds a layer of flavor that pairs well with a squeeze of lemon and aioli sauce, and one spoonful simply leads to another. And another. Like they say, just go with the flow.

No Spanish feast would be complete without Bacalao, and Calderon's Bacalao ala Vizcaina (P 280) does not disappoint. The classic Basque dish is rich, but not too salty, and the salted cod is tender, almost butter like. The sauce is just packed with so much flavor, a hearty and comforting dish, and another winner from Calderon's kitchen.

A classic is followed by another, the Fabada Asturiana (P 300), a rich bean stew with chorizo. The chorizo adds a distinct sharpness to the creamy beans, a simple dish with bold flavors. The broth is richly flavored, and great for dipping with bread. Rustic, traditional, and another winner.

As the feast gets into high gear, we were also served the Sangria Calderon Riojo (P 700/carafe), completing the dining experience at Calderon. Refreshing and sweet, and perfect with the rich Spanish dishes. But dinner wasn't done just yet, as Calderon's kitchen fired up the next batch of dishes.

The Pollo Iberico (P 800, must be ordered one day in advance), slow cooked chicken with marble potatoes, garlic herbs and olive oil. Unbelievably tender and flavorful, one of the best chicken dishes I've had. And the best part, pulling off the leg is simply effortless, that's how tender it is. This is definitely worth calling ahead to order, great for a weekend family meal at Calderon.

The Cangrejos ala Calderon (P 1,000, seasonal), cooked in olive oil, lemon, garlic, onions and tarragon. The richness and complex flavors make this different, yet the different flavor notes combine so well, resulting in a delicious balance of flavors, with each ingredient complementing the other. The use of tarragon is new and different, and adds a unique layer of flavor to the dish. An excellent dish. and go ahead, use your hands...

The Pasta de Chorizo (P 220), topped with a sunny side up, just can't get any better than that. Rich with bold flavors, the egg balances the dish with a creamy flavor and texture. Hearty and comforting, a unique take on pasta, and it works quite well.

Then, we sampled Calderon's new dishes. Still not on the menu, we were allowed a sneak peak on the new dishes. First up, the Roasted Bone Marrow, perfectly seasoned, simply awesome, 'nuff said. And this one gets my vote for immediate inclusion in Calderon's menu. Seriously good.

This. Premium grade Wagyu beef...and again, another worthy addition to Calderon's menu. Calderon's Chuleton, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, nothing else. Perfect. I enjoyed both new dishes, and expect to find these in Calderon's regular menu soon.

For dessert, we were served Churros con Chocolate (P 250), another Spanish classic, served with thick chocolate. Dipping the churros in the thick chocolate always makes this dish fun, and Calderon's version is pretty good.

Torrijas con Helado (P 250), a unique Spanish take on French Toast, with Calderon's version using a ciabatta topped with ice cream, fruits and thinly sliced nuts, a perfect ending to cap an awesome meal at Calderon.

Barriga llena corazon contento. And at Calderon, that's exactly how you'll feel after trying their signature dishes, or even Calderon's Hot Chocolate, or some tapas. Finally, authentic Spanish cuisine comes to San Juan. Special thanks to Calderon's dynamic team, Chef Rafa Ysip, Angela Melo, Marmi Perez and Monchet Carballo for an awesome dinner. And to a full tummy and a happy heart.

For more on Calderon's authentic Spanish cuisine, check out my other post here at

Calderon Cocina Tapas y Bebidas is located at 403 F. Calderon Street, San Juan, Metro Manila or call 238-2264 for inquiries.

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