Restaurante Pia y Damaso
As the name already suggests, Restaurante Pia y Damaso’s concept was based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s literary works; hence the menu with meals coined after characters and items from El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere. They serve recreations of particular dishes mentioned in his books, alongside Chef Bambi Sy-Gobio’s childhood dishes and unique meal inventions.
To be subversive is to be revolutionary. It wasn’t my first encounter with sardines, bangus, and lumpia, but it sure felt like it at Damaso. They were created differently from what I’ve gotten used to, and it was in that moment subversive truly hit me. These traditional dishes were made new to challenge the convention – much like how a revolution works.
The Spanish Sardines, Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce was served with toasted pandesal and an unexpectedly good bonus of white wine. The sardines were fresh with a nice kick of garlic and was reminiscent of salsa with fuller chunks. I’ve definitely underestimated sardines up until tasting this version of it; they are so much more than just your everyday canned goods.
The Bangus Belly Salad with Dalandan Vinaigrette had seared prime milkfish belly, green beans, potatoes, arugula, tomato, egg and native orange dressing. I’ve had bangus, potatoes and oranges on their own before but never imagined they can taste this yummy collectively. It was a testament to the chef’s creativity: the ability to turn the simplest staple food into something brand new altogether. This one we had with their Subversive Martini, straight out of their very own bar list.
My favorite out of the starters would have to be the Chinese Lumpia Salad. It was quite literally a Chinese Lumpia sans the wrap and in the form of a salad – crazy delicious! It’s a fookien vegetable salad with shrimp, pork, cabbage, green beans, bean sprouts, carrots, fried noodles, peanut sugar and cilantro. We had this with a Ginger Calamansi smoothie, perfect for refreshing and cleansing the palette for the main course.
What’s a traditional Filipino food setting without some Sisig Matanglawin? This, as we all know, is a local dish with sautéed pig ears, head, leg, chicken liver with green peppers, onions, garlic and egg – all accurately paired with a Super Dry, of course. Most of my post-sisig experiences involve me feeling like I had just bought myself a one-way ticket to high blood pressure, but fortunately this serving had just the perfect amount for me to not picture my eventual cause of death. I enjoyed this without morbid thoughts.
I had their Chicken Pastel next, a dish of baked chicken chunks with chorizo, bacon, potato, carrots and peas under a flaky Crisco crust. Having a pastry with something savory was a great balance between taste and texture. Although I’ll have to admit the crust looked so beautifully made that I hesitated to break it. Worth it! It was made even better with a glass of zesty Mojito.
I was born and raised in the Philippines but I’ve never had Kare Kare before, and I say that with much regret now that I’ve finally tried Kapitan Tiago’s Kare Kare with Bagoong Alamang. This is a native stew with roasted peanuts, rice and garlic with beef tripe, tail and beef with shrimp paste. One thing’s for sure: I have been missing out for years.
Chicken Tinola, on the other hand, is the Filipino dish that I always come back to. I cannot be any more thankful that Damaso has it on their menu, and that they somehow managed to make it a thousand times more comforting than it already is. What made me even happier was that it had a chicken leg in there (the best part!). Got you craving? Order online here.
This was their Binagoongan with okra – braised pork with homemade fermented shrimp paste and tomatoes. I couldn’t think of anything better than a traditional dish put together with everything homemade.
Langlang Binondo was mentioned in “Tawanan at Iyakan”, the 25th chapter of El Filibusterismo, as a traditional Chinese dish with noodles symbolizing the limpness of Filipinos compared to Spaniards – an infuriating metaphor, but a great recreation by Damaso despite that! It is an Old Binondo favorite with shredded chicken, ham, woodear mushroom, pancit molo, sotanghon and lomi.
I’ll be honest that I felt bad eating their Adobo Pork and Chicken – braised pork, chick and pork liver with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and black pepper; not because it wasn’t delicious, but because I once told myself nothing would ever beat my favorite tita’s adobo. It was so good that every spoonful was a taste of betrayal towards her. But that’s okay because she would have probably agreed. (Sorry tita! Please still consider me as family.)
The Boneless Crispy Pata Squares were my favorite! Why worry about pesky bones when you can just take one bite and have an even better version of the real thing? Marinated, deboned, squared, fried, and ready anytime for your bites. Not sure if I’ll ever enjoy the typical Crispy Pata the same way after experiencing this take on it.
This was their Creamy Tinapa, Asparagus and Fish Fillet pasta – smoked fish flakes, fish fillet, asparagus with onion, leek and milk cream. Never imagined that milky and fishy would ever go together and be this good. Having the dalandan smoothie with it added another dimension to the taste.
It was finally time for dessert! We had Ube Macapuno Cake with a coconut milkshake, obviously a perfect combination. I loved having macapuno as a pastry, but was more fixated on the coconut milkshake. It was so good I wanted to fill up my tumbler with it, but that wouldn’t have been very classy of me. We were also served Deremz, their queso de bola polvoron, named after religious indulgences paid by Doña Consolación to supposedly help her reach heaven in Noli Me Tangere. And finally, we had their brewed coffee to seal the delicious Filipino banquet.
Restaurante Pia y Damaso fed me well, not just with great food but also with a renewed interest in the grand narrative behind our native cuisine. More than the great taste of their selection, what I truly appreciated about my experience in Damaso was getting to sit down and simply appreciate Filipino food, literature and talent all at once. Hungry already? Order online here for home delivery.
Christa is a visual artist who spends most of her time illustrating stories in her head alongside looking up pictures of sloths online. She relies on crunchy tacos and/or egg-wrapped Pad Thai to fuel her creativity without limits.