Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Grand Sequel: Back for a Feast at Pia Y Damaso

On wide platters upon bright-hued sheets of perforated paper are to be seen hams from Europe and China, stuffed turkeys, and a big pastry in the shape of an Agnus Dei or a dove, the Holy Ghost perhaps. Among all these are jars of acharas with fanciful decorations made from the flowers of the areca palm and other fruits and vegetables, all tastefully cut and fastened with syrup to the sides of the flasks...

The eve of the fiesta, in all its lavish extravagance and excesses, is described in detail by Jose Rizal's novel and commentary on colonial society. Then, as it is today, one's wealth and stature in society are measured by the scale of the feast. A return visit to Pia Y Damaso in Greenbelt 5 promised to be a grander experience, maybe not in the same level as Jose Rizal's vivid description for the town fiesta, but epic just the same with even more dishes...

It's always great to be back at Pia Y Damaso (more on my previous dining experience at Pia Y Damaso on my earlier post here), and you'll probably need several and even more visits to sample everything from the extensive menu. The blend of classic and traditional dishes with inventive, contemporary, and modern spins always makes one's dining at Pia Y Damaso special. A refreshing pitcher of Pia Y Damaso's Tubig ni Maria Clara (P 300), a soothing blend of fresh cucumber juice, ginger, and citrus water, is always the perfect start to your own personal feast at Pia Y Damaso...

Start your dining experience at Pia Y Damaso with their signature starters, like the Filo Tarts with Pork Asado and Apple Relish (P 220), thin, crisp pan-fried and flaky filo tarts filled with savory, salty and sweet pork topped with caramelized apples and served with vinegar. The complex blend of flavors in these crisp, bite-sized tarts come alive with the sweet and tart apple relish for balanced notes.

The comforting Ham and Chicken Croquettes (P 160), crispy breaded nuggets with chicken, ham, mushrooms and cream, deep-fried and perfectly crisp, is yet another flavorful starter. The sharp flavors of the ham are tempered by the delicate notes of the chicken, mushrooms, and cream, and going for seconds becomes natural.

The classic Albondigas (P 175), a savory blend of minced pork and beef with spicy paprika and garlic on a bed of rich and rustic tomato sauce recreates the richness of Spanish cuisine the way it was during Jose Rizal's time. The mildly sweet and  rich notes of the juicy pork and the more pronounced hint of beef combine for a savory bite, and the tart tomatoes round out the flavors perfectly.

The Roasted Vegetable Tart (P 300), topped with premium local Malagos Cheese with a side of fresh greens drizzled in parsley oil, is a light-all vegetable starter. The sweetness of the roasted vegetables come through, with a layer of creamy notes from the Malagos cheese. The side salad of fresh greens add a healthy touch to the dish. It's not a traditional dish, and it provides a glimpse of Pia Y Damaso's unique style combining modern dishes in its menu.

The starters are followed by series of refreshing and innovative salads, and the playful inventiveness of Pia Y Damaso's kitchen is highlighted in the next three dishes. Pia Y Damaso draws inspiration from the traditional betel nut chew, the wittingly named Nga-Nga Beef Salad (P 250), with a medley of thin salty, sweet and chewy beef flakes, pickled mangoes, red onions, haw flakes, cilantro, arugula, and lettuce. The fun begins when you start piling the different ingredients on leaves and rolling it up for a refreshing bite. The crisp greens deliver a refreshing, almost minty, sweetness, followed by the sharpness of the haw flakes, the savory beef and the bite of the red onions for a tapestry of fresh and clean flavors.

Next, Pia Y Damaso's Bangus Belly Salad with Dalandan Vinaigrette (P 325) was served, a unique and refreshing salad with seared prime bangus belly steak tossed with marinated onions, baby French green beans, potatoes, arugula, and fresh tomatoes topped with hard-boiled egg and drizzled with mustard dalandan dressing. The distinct richness of the milkfish belly adds a whole new dimension to the salad, and the tart and mildly hot mustard dressing completes the flavors.

The last salad dish, Mixed Greens with Duck Confit, Red Onions, Fresh Apples, Oranges and Champoy, or salted plums, draped in a sweet Prune Vinaigrette (P 350) is another salad dish with a rich bend of unique flavors. The tender and juicy duck confit, with its delicate sweetness, pairs well with the fresh greens, the oranges and the apples, punctuated by the distinct notes of the salted plum for contrasting yet balanced notes. The play on diverse flavors reflect the subversive streak of Pia Y Damaso's culinary style, using traditional ingredients in non-traditional flavor combinations that work. 

Then, it was time for the mains. The first set of dishes represented classic and more traditional dishes, including the Camarron Cocido (P 380), elegantly plated with a duo of seared plump prawns and seafood thermidor with scallops, fish, mussels, squid, and potatoes with gratineed cheese sourdough crumbs. The plump prawns deliver a fresh and briny sweetness, contrasting with the creamy seafood thermidor with its blend of scallops, fish, mussels, squid, and potatoes, and the thin, crisp cheese crust adds both flavor and texture. It's a light and refreshing dish, guaranteed to satisfy your seafood craving. 

A pair of hearty and comforting Spanish dishes are served next, starting with the Lengua Sevillana with Mushrooms and Olives (P 450), slow-braised ox tongue in olive oil and tomatoes with mushrooms and olives. The dish is prepared in the traditional Spanish style, with a thick and rich red tomato sauce...

...and the signature Callos (P 300), a traditional and rustic Spanish stew with braised ox tripe, pork hocks, beef shanks, bacon, and chorizo de bilbao simmered with paprika and chickpeas. Cooked for hours, the various ingredients in the traditional stew are soft and tender, with the mild yet rich notes of the ox-tripe contrasting with the sharp and upfront flavors of the bacon and chorizo de bilbao. Both the Callos and the Lengua Sevillana are prepared in the classic manner, and easily among my personal favorites at Pia Y Damaso.

Pia Y Damaso's take on another classic Spanish dish, Fideos with Mussels and Chorizo (P 360), is a great dish for sharing. A noodle dish with toasted vermicelli cooked in white wine and seafood broth with tomatoes, topped with chorizo and mussels, delivers rich Spanish flavors.

The next set of mains feature some of Pia Y Damaso's modern and contemporary dishes, elegantly plated in a manner even Padre Damaso would approve, like the Hanging Beef Tender (P 500), tender beef chunks on corn pearl rice...

...the Seared Barramundi Fillet with Miso Pesa Sauce (P 500), tender slabs of premium seared apahap fillet with a miso sofrito sauce in olive oil for a unique east-west fusion of flavors...

...and the Ostrich Beef Steak with Guava Butter (P 600), a tender slab of seared ostrich steak, marinated and prepared in the familiar Bistek-Tagalog style with soy sauce, calamansi, onions, and black pepper, served with a side of fried plantains, sauteed cabbage, and onions. The Hanging Beef Tender, paired with the flavorful corn pearl rice is a meal in itself, with simple yet beefy flavors which I enjoyed, while the delicate notes of the Seared Barramundi Fillet are perfectly complemented by the Miso Pesa Sauce. The Ostrich Beef Steak, draped in sweet and tart guava butter, was a new flavor experience. The thick slab of ostrich steak was tender, with its mild notes accentuated by the guava butter. Definitely different.    

The final dish added a celebratory and festive vibe to our feast at Pia Y Damaso. The impressive Ode to Heidelberg (P 1,500 good for three), Pia Y Damaso's homage to the city where Jose Rizal completed his epic social novel on colonial society, Noli Me Tangere, with a German-inspired dish of smoked pork hock, bacon, four kinds of sausages, and potatoes. The smoked pork hock is fall-off-the-bone fork-tender, a result of long and slow cooking. The sausages, bacon and potatoes add that uniquely German touch to the dish, and it's easy to imagine Jose Rizal celebrating his novel's completion with a few rounds of beer and sausages. Great for sharing, and another must-try dish at Pia Y Damaso.

The diversity of flavors at Pia Y Damaso, with both traditional and modern dishes, is impressive. And I'm pretty sure Kapitan Tiago would have enjoyed the spread. But save room for dessert with Pia Y Damaso's equally sunbversive and indulgent sweets...more on Pia Y Damaso's signature desserts on my previous post here.

Restaurante Pia Y Damaso is located at the Second Floor of Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati, or call 729-5511 for inquiries and reservations.

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