(SPOT.ph) "I wanted to make a vegetarian menu, but it has almost been a year and I [still] cannot come up with one. So I said, iba-ibang hayop na lang!" chuckles Dedet dela Fuente, the culinary genius behind the now-famous stuffed lechon de leches that have become the unequivocal "wow factor" in many a dinner party. The vegetarian world's loss is every gastronome's gain, as Dedet has put together a menu featuring the best of both land and sea's bounty in a 12-course lunch or dinner menu, aptly dubbed Hayop na Degustacion at Pepita’s Kitchen.
SPOT.ph joined a gathering of Manila's food industry bigwigs to have a taste of Pepitas Kitchen's new offerings. When we arrived at Dedet's lovely Makati home, some already had their Magic Potions in front of them. No, not the kind that transforms a frog into a prince, but a cool, conversation-starting cocktail. You are served pink cotton candy in a martini glass, and it turns into a tangy drink once you pour the citrus and lambanog shooter into it.
The amuse bouche came in the form of the innovative Tendon Chips with Dip, which is a crispy, chicharon-like tendon flavored with a teaspoonful of pureed sinigang na gabi. Soon after, guests gushed over the Hiplog: a rich combination of shrimp in a salted egg and aligue sauce. So flavorful and decadent, we could have just had a plate of this with steamed rice and called it a day.
Bone Marrow with Oxtail Marmalade and Special Salt
But the amazing dishes just kept coming. The adventurous foodie would be happy to find Bone Marrow with Oxtail Marmalade and Special Salt on the menu-the "salt" being crushed chicharon sprinkled on the bone marrow. Take little bites of this alternately with the unctuous, candied oxtail and enjoy the contrasting flavors and textures. Sweep up the guilt with the Salad Surprise-baby arugula, edible flowers, homemade yogurt cheese, and cashew puree. Adding a touch of whimsy is a sprinkling of watermelon-flavored pop rocks.
Playful quickly turned serious with the Sipitsarap, a crab claw smothered in coconut milk and more crab fat. It is thoughtfully served with some rice wrapped in banana leaf, just enough to sop up all that rich goodness from the sauce. To transition from the fish to meat courses, Dedet served a cold noodle dish cheekily named Lucky You.
Thanh Long Crab and Garlic Noodles Lechon de Leche
The lechon, plated
After the spicy and robust Lambada-lamb kaldereta served with rice-the sampaloc-flavored palate cleanser prepared us for the main event. We were made to taste Dedet's newest stuffed lechon de leche variants-the Thanh Long Crab and Garlic Noodles Lechon de Leche and the Ham Lechon de Leche. As always, the smooth, pugon-roasted pigs boasted crispy skin that crackles and soft, juicy, and flavorful meat. We preferred the Ham flavored one a bit over the Thanh Long, as we noticed how the smoky ham lent its nutty flavor to the skin. The sweet glaze that comes with it, when drizzled in moderation, rounds out the flavors and ties everything together.
To end the meal, Dedet served a Cholesterol Sweeper in the form of creamy oatmeal flavored with Ghirardelli white chocolate. Dessert was another innovation-Guinataan Brûlée, featuring the traditional flavors of guinataan with its gabi and saba, but presented in a continental package.
We enjoyed every bit of the Hayop na Degustacion, from the warm and efficient service to the well-executed dishes. At the heart of it all, of course, are Dedet and her lovely daughters (who contributed in concocting the cocktail, expertly chopping the lechon, and even giving free back rubs) who make the dining experience truly unique. Dedet's food is honest and confident, borne from the knowledge of straightforward flavors accomplished through honed culinary techniques. Gather 15 of your hungriest friends or bring over some finicky balikbayans, either way it's a good excuse to come to Pepita’s Kitchen.
Hayop na Degustacion at Pepita’s Kitchen is priced at P2250 for lunch, P2250+ for dinner. For inquiries about the degustacion, their stuffed lechon de leche, and food to go, contact 425-4605, 0917-886-0662, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.