By reservation only
(SPOT.ph) If there was ever a list of busiest Filipino chefs, Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou would most likely top the list. Aside from his restaurant Talisay The Garden Café and Pandan Asian Café, he also hosts Simpol, an online video series that aims to be a kitchen buddy for aspiring home cooks that has also spawned a series of cookbooks.
It’s no wonder then that Chef Tatung started to crave some peace and quiet, some time away from his busy schedule. “My Quezon City home has become my office,” he shares, so it was about time that he found himself a place he could truly call home. And he found just that in a secluded area in the center of Antipolo, a short drive from Manila.
Chef Tatung goes the private dining route at his home in Antipolo, and it'll make you all the more proud to be Filipino:
Chef Tatung takes a lot of pride in his home, which he built without the help of an architect or interior designer. He took charge of designing the picturesque property: lush in greenery and even features a pool with shimmering, crystal-clear water. Wanting to channel the grand houses of old Manila without making it look like “an amusement park,” as Chef Tatung puts it, the chef invested in local materials, like upcycled hardwood from old Binondo homes.
There were no plans at first to host private dinners at his home, says Chef Tatung. After all, this place was supposed to be his oasis away from his busy life. But eventually, he started inviting friends over and cooking for them. “Gusto ko talaga degustation,” says the chef. “I really wanted to be able to cook like this again kasi I really miss it. And if I’m doing something at this point in time, dapat 'yong gusto ko. Ang dami ko nang ginagawa na pang-hanapbuhay, e nasa bahay na ako, 'di ko pa ba gagawin ang gusto ko.”
Chef Tatung admits though that he started with a lot of hesitation. “The process was…I was really in denial. Parang, kaya ko ba ‘to?,” he shares. “It’s a really big leap from what I’m currently known for.”
But while Chef Tatung now may be more known for his simpler, home-cooked Filipino food, the art of degustation is nothing new to him. “I offered my first tasting menu around 10 years ago,” shares the chef jovially. “Imagine mo, my first tasting menu was P500 per person 'tas may dessert, and soup, and salad. But of course, I can’t do that now.”
Another difference from back then is that more people are now interested in Filipino food, notes the chef. “At that time, 'di pa naman pinag-uusapan 'yong Pinoy food as much as we do now,” he explains. “And dati, travel was a luxury and 'di pa gano'n ka-liberalized ang trade. So if you wanted to make apple pie, you couldn’t just buy apples from the grocery store. May kailangan pang umuwi from the States so you can get M&M's or Toblerone. But I think nabaliktad naman ngayon. Everything’s imported so people are more interested in what’s local.”
When Chef Tatung was developing his 10-course tasting menu for Tatung’s—which is what he calls his private dining restaurant—he knew that he wanted to serve Filipino food just like how he grew up having it. “There’s a story I want to tell,” says the chef. “I came from a generation where my grandparents were such good cooks, and my mom also cooks. But for the generation that came after me, while their grandmothers may have cooked, 'di na nila naabutan ‘cause their moms don’t cook because they had to work. So sobrang swerte ako and 'di ko pa siya shina-share and 'di ko pa siya napa-pass on.”
This story starts with the Abre Gana, a seafood amuse-bouche trio. There’s the sea urchin kinilaw, whose brininess is balanced out by the sweet banana chip it’s placed on. The paksiw is cooked just the way Chef Tatung grew up eating it, bright and fresh and blended with eggplant for a layer of silkiness that plays well against its black-rice-cracker base. Then there’s the velvety tinapa mousse, piped in barquillos whose sweetness is a surprising treat that contrasts the smokiness of the mousse wonderfully.
What follows is the Sopas, i.e. soup—which comes in the form of the Binakol na Halaan at Kabute. Binakol is traditionally made with chicken but Chef Tatung makes the intelligent choice to swap the meat with mushrooms and talakitok fish. Chef Tatung coaxes the sweetness of the soup through slow-cooking, and that sweetness also helps highlight the umami of the mushroom, the brininess of the clam, and the freshness and creaminess of the fish.
After the refreshing soup comes the Ensalada, a salad of pako (fiddlehead fern), kini-ing (Cordillera smoked pork), and burong pajo (beer-cured tiny mangoes) dressed with a sukang pinakurat vinaigrette. Perhaps the most surprising element of this salad—which is already unlike any you’ve had before—are the mangoes. Thanks to the beer brine, the mango has a tart, sharp flavor that will remind you of blue cheese.
After two light courses, you’re most likely ready for heavier stuff, and the Embutido at Tinapay delivers. Chef Tatung makes his own sourdough loaf that he coats with breadcrumbs to resemble pan de sal; with it comes an incredibly buttery pan de bonete. The breads are paired with Tatung's take on chicken galantina that’s topped with raisin jam instead of being studded with raisins—giving you more control over how much fruit you get with each bite. The creamy adobo chicken liver paté is luxurious on the taste buds but the fresh strawberry jam that comes with it balances it all out.
The first main course is Adobo, and Chef Tatung uses an old Cebuano recipe for the agos-os or fermented sweet-potato mash that serves as the bed for the adobong itik, made dry in the Cebuano style. Surprisingly, the sweet-potato mash is less tart but more on the sweet side despite being fermented with a little vinegar. It’s just the right touch of creaminess for the punchier flavors of the adobo.
The Laman Dagat follows, a heartier main course inspired by the Tausug pianggang. Tender shrimp-stuffed squid is dressed in the burnt coconut sauce and served on top of kyuning or traditional Maranao yellow rice cooked with turmeric. A green palapa—palapa referring to a Maranao condiment of white scallions, ginger, turmeric, chili, and toasted grated coconut that's usually pounded together, though the version served here is blended to resemble chimichurri—provides a welcome tartness to contrast with the rich curry, and bits of kamias also add pops of brightness.
The next stop on the voyage is the Pananggal Umay—a palate-cleansing sorbet inspired by piña colada with fresh pineapple, rum, and coconut cream plus a sprinkling of asin tibook to bring out the fruit's sweet-sour note—before we head to the Gisados. Chef Tatung takes inspiration from the balbacua (oxtail stew) of Cebu and the barbacoa (meat slow-cooked in a pit) of Mexico, using short rib instead of the usual oxtail that’s braised in Chinese sibut spice mix. The spices add just a hint of floral flavor to the savory beef, while the creamy polenta the short rib is placed upon adds a nutty flavor to round it all out.
This dinner is a hearty one, but make sure to leave room for dessert because you have two coming your way. Taking the position of the Panghimagas Primera is a plate of the classic pastry known as torta Cebuana, and the alcoholic drink (think Filipino eggnog!) known as kinutil. Chef Tatung keeps it traditional, making the torta the way it’s always been done by the street vendors of Cebu with egg yolk, lard, and anise. The kinutil, on the other hand, consists of shot of tuba or palm wine, which adds just the right amount of tartness to balance out the bittersweet tablea—and of course, what is eggnog without a frothy egg whisked into the mix?
The Panghimagas Segunda, Chef Tatung shares, is like a homecoming of sorts. After all, it pays ode to the mangoes and cashews of Antipolo. Chef Tatung uses these local produce to create a light yet decadent mango tart with a cashew crust, cashew meringue, and cashew crunch.
“I’ve learned how to edit myself,” Chef Tatung shares as each course comes to the table. “Nothing non-essential is on the plate. No frills, like an elegant black dress.” And while each course features fine-dining techniques, all recipes are as traditional and close to what you would have at home or on the street as it can get. “I think tama na 'yong kailangan i-elevate [ang Filipino cuisine],” says Chef Tatung. “Our recipes are good. We just have to stop apologizing for our food.”
After all, when the food is this thoughtful and this tasty, what is there to apologize for?
Photos by Hans Fausto
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