Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flavors of Pampanga: A Culinary Journey of Flavors at Salt Resto

For Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez, the challenge was pretty simple: create a full-course dinner tasting with new off-the-menu dishes using available ingredients. And Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez succeeds in taking us on a flavorful journey inspired by his vast international experience. 

Fast gaining a reputation as a culinary hub at the Clark Freeport Zone, Widus Hotel & Casino offers a wide range of international and local cuisine. And with Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez at the helm, you can always expect a memorable dining experience at any of the hotel's food and beverage outlets.

The hotel's all-day dining restaurtant, Salt Resto, showcases the impressive range of flavors, with a wide selection of Filipino, Korean, Asian and international favorites prepared with the freshest ingredients. Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez, a Mexican native, adds his international experience and expertise in each of the dishes. 

With a unique open kitchen layout, the team at Salt Resto fires up the kitchen to prepare the special dinner tasting menu, as Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez ensures each dish is executed as planned. With choreographed precision, the team completes the first set of dishes for the evening's special dinner...

Our dinner tasting menu at Salt Resto begins with a trio of Blue Cheese Butter, Olive Oil with Balsamic Dip topped with Parmesan and Liver Pate paired with freshly baked rolls and focaccia. The aroma of warm, freshly baked bread immediately gets you in the groove, and the rich flavors of the blue cheese butter, olive oil and liver pate kicks off my experience at Salt Resto.

A refreshing Watermelon Margarita sets the tone for the evening, a smooth blend of fresh watermelon and premium Patron tequila. Almost immediately, you notice something different. After a few more sips, the ice cube seems to glow more intensely. Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez and his team playfully created this glowing ice bulb, reflecting the kitchen's imaginative and creative flair.

Executive Chef Johnny Rodriquez shares a taste of home with his authentic Mexican Maria's Tamales, a traditional chicken mole wrapped in corn husk and steamed, topped with fresh shaved slaw, pickled red onions, feta cheese, and creme' fraiche.  Drawing inspiration from his mother's family recipe, Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez recreates a taste of home with our first dish.

The flavors of the tamales are subtle and delicate, punctuated by layers of sharp notes from the pickled red onions and the richness of the feta cheese and creme' fraiche. The medley of flavors are perfectly balanced by the refreshing notes of the Watermelon Margarita. And that glowing ice cube adds a cool touch.

Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez joins us for dinner, explaining each dish in detail, starting with the tamales. For Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez, the rustic dish is like going home, as he recalls with fondness how his mother prepares the same dish for him each time he goes home to Mexico. The deceptively simple dish delivers multiple layers of flavors, combining for rich and unique notes. Finding authentic Mexican tamales locally is next to impossible, and this is probably the most authentic and traditional version I've tried. New and different, yet there is something comfortingly familiar with the dish. A subtle heat from the chili completes the flavors, and you cap it with another sip of the Watermelon Margarita.

Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez then served his Jamon Serrano, cured Spanish Ham on grilled baguette with French goat cheese, warm red grape vinaigrette, basil pesto and dried figs. The fresh mesclun greens add both flavor and texture to the dish, with the nutty notes of the basil pesto adding its own layer of flavor.

The bold and sharp flavors of the cured Spanish ham are perfectly complemented by the lightly sweet White Wine Sangria, completing the play of flavors. Each flavor is distinct, yet perfectly balanced.

In preparation for the next course, Salt Resto's friendly staff served a glass of Benchmark Shiraz from South Australia...

...paired with the refreshing Watercress Salad, with crispy hoisin pork lardon, shaved green apples, Roma tomatoes, crisp onion ring halo and sweet sesame dressing. The fresh and clean flavors of the salad greens and sweet sesame dressing contrasts with the richness of the crispy hoisin pork, as the green apples and tomatoes add a subtle sweet tartness. The crisp onion rings add another layer of texture to complete the dish. The infusion of crispy pork makes this salad new and different, pairing well with the fruity and plum notes of the Benchmark Shiraz.

Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez then serves his own unique take on a local dish, the Salmon Sinigang, with roasted Norwegian salmon fillet in traditional sinigang broth with roasted cherry tomatoes and okra topped with crisp salmon skin chicharon and ebiko. The playful inventiveness is once again evident with the addition of the crispy salmon skin and fish roe, adding both flavor and texture to the dish. The buttery richness of the Norwegian salmon plays well with the tart and sour tamarind broth, and the crispy salmon skin and ebiko adds a refreshing and cool spin to the usual sinigang.

The refreshing and clean citrus notes of the Benchmark Chardonnay from South Australia is another winning pairing, complementing the rich tartness of the broth.

But Execute Chef Johnny Rodriguez isn't done yet. For the main course, a glass of Benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon is served...

...paired with the Flat Iron Steak, certified Angus beef steak grilled to medium rare and served with Brazilian chimichurri sauce, potato puree, sauteed asparagus, and roasted cherry tomatoes.

The lean yet tender beef, with its juicy pink center, is perfectly grilled, delivering robust and beefy flavors enhanced even further with the flavorful chimichurri sauce. There's just nothing like a good steak paired with a good wine.

For dessert, our sumptuous dinner tasting at Salt Resto is capped with an indulgent Pavlova, a light and airy meringue topped with fresh mixed berries and honey-calamansi vinaigrette and cream. The infusion of calamansi in the honey vinaigrette adds a clean and distinct sharpness, perfectly balancing the sweetness.

Paired with a crisp Elysee Brut, our dinner at Salt Resto ends on a high note. The special off-menu dishes served during that dinner are an indication of the kitchen's versatility and creativity, and a confirmation of Widus Hotel & Casino as a new culinary hub at the Clark Freeport Zone. And there's really nothing like a rich culinary experience to complete your perfect getaway. Just let Executive Chef Johnny Rodriguez take you on a flavorful culinary journey at Widus Hotel & Casino.

For more on Widus Hotel & Casino, you can check out my previous post here at, or my post on my other blog here at

Salt Resto is located at Widus Hotel & Casino, M. A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Angeles City, Pampanga or call +6345-499-1000. You may also contact the Manila Sales & Reservation Office located at Unit 2311, Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 V. A. Rufino corner Valero Street, Salcedo Village, Makati or call +632-840-1430 for inquiries or visit their website at

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