Panda Peeks — Kabisera
Most restaurants these days are claiming to be the most authentic in their every category so the question really now is, how authentic can “authentic” be? In my search for something Filipino to satisfy my hunger one afternoon, I came across a restaurant of neutral tones, almost monochromatic, and industrial pieces in Bonifacio High Street with a word above its front doors — Kabisera.
Kabisera could mean a capital city or, in dining terms, the principal position at a dining table where the head of the family usually sits. One way of finding out what a specific restaurant wants to say or communicate to its guests is by its name. I was reassured that time that I was at the right place with a great of promise for delectable Pinoy cooking.
Kabisera is surrounded by clear glass walls with towering wood and metal doors so you could easily see what’s waiting for you inside. Their grandiose bar welcomed me at the entrance with countless bottles of alcohol hanging and lined up over it. The soft and dim lighting of the place is subtly touching each bottle making the whole bar illuminate so magically which gives the restaurant that sophisticated vibe. I just love neutral colors in restaurants, much more the monochromatic ones! It relaxes me to see few and placid colors wherever I am. It even has a wooden mural almost near the ceiling which adds to the coziness of the place. This section of the restaurant is filled with high chairs and cocktail tables so I knew it wasn’t what I was there for. I turned my back at all those shot glasses in front of me and headed to the door on my left going to the dining area.
The tables are practically made of wood which complements the adobe wall encircling the place. But what I enjoyed the most are the uniquely designed chairs, covered in banig, at the end of each table which I guessed were the Kabiseras. Awesome! They’re living up to their name. I grabbed a seat and asked for a menu from one of the many waiters assisting me that time. This has always been the most curious part for me whenever I visit a restaurant for I always do not know what to get even if the entire list has already been presented to me. I was a bit chatty and kept on asking the server so she just told me that the chef was there and he’d be able to tell me more about the dishes. Now, it’s getting more interesting!
Chef Tim Casino shared with me that Kabisera is all about highlighting Filipino food, modernizing that good old Pinoy dish that we have all been accustomed with for global appreciation. And chef means legit Pinoy meals, not fusion of Asian cuisines. Going through their menu, you can really tell that they have worked hard in offering innovative versions of classic recipes for the customers to experience and enjoy. Indeed, food really is the foundation of Kabisera– food that makes you look back on your childhood memories, gives you a sense of nostalgia, and surprises you by how differently it’s presented now.
After almost a good 10-minute chat, I was ready to order. I got Street Food Basket and Ensalada for my appetizers. So, unlike your normal ensalada, Kabsera’s is cut bigger so people can choose what to eat even in a mixed plate. It has eggplant, of course, fresh sea weeds, tomatoes, topped with salted egg.
The Street Food Basket was a personal favorite. It’s a mix of your staple street food fair with three dip choices; honey spicy, vinegar, and gravy. It has homemade fish balls, squid balls, and kikiam. An order of this can make you full already so I had to eat it in moderation.
Then there came my most favorite comfort food, Kabisera’s generous tapsilog serving or Tapa Power Bowl as they call it. It’s a bowl of happiness filled with fried, thinly sliced sirloin strips marinated tagalog beef-jerky style, served with your choice of plain or garlic rice, a sunny side-up egg, atsara and cucumber strips! There’s really a lot of tapsilog-serving restaurants today but the test of a good tapsilog for me is the tenderness of the meat and Kabisera’s tapa just proved that it’s still not that difficult to find a perfectly cooked one today. I’m a big tapa fan but you can also choose between Pingka or Vigan Longganisa to go with your silog. The Pingka Power Bowl is made of crispy fried, sun-dried salted reef swordfish served with ensaladang kamatis, sunny side-up egg, atsara and cucumber strips while the Longganisa Power Bowl has homemade Vigan Longganisa slow-cooked to a crisp finish less any chemical or preservatives. The Power Bowls are perfect for those who are always on-the-go. Imagine having everything in just one container. It’s fast, convenient, and very comforting!
I ordered this next dish out of curiosity. I mean who else colors their Sinigang red? Well, Chef Tim explained to me that the fresh tomatoes gave this classic Pinoy recipe an extra oomph. The broth also thickened the consistency of the soup with a hint of spiciness from the siling tagalog. It really tastes like your mom’s sinigang! Writing about it now makes me crave for it again, to be honest. The family on the other table was having Balbacua and it looked so enticing so I also ordered one for myself. Balbacua is a thick stew of beef brisket and ox tail. It’s a popular delicacy in the Visayas that coats your lips with collagen from its soup. Kabisera has a yellow version of it, stewed for 6 hours to extract the collagen and you can even adjust the spiciness to your liking.
The highlight of my gastronomic trip is their take on the typical Baby Back Ribs with a Pinoy twist— Adobo Ribs. Of course, we’re all familiar with the great Pinoy Adobo and its tangy and salty taste but Kabisera’s Adobo Ribs got its flavors from 3-hour pugon roasting and some local seasonings. The moist, fork tender and well-caramel oxen half slab literally falls off the rib bone once you lay your knife on it. It’s so tasty I can eat it all week!
Their Tablea Chocolate Cake capped off my full meal and I couldn’t wish for anything better. It’s moist with intense flavors, sweet with a pinch of bitterness mixed with dulce de leche.
Kabisera, indeed, took Filipino cooking to a whole new level. It reminds you of home while giving your favorite dishes a new and exciting taste.
Pop culture connoisseur, minimalist, and a picky eater, he brainstorms with himself on Sunday nights obsessing about his existential dilemmas then regrets all of it the following day. He is finally done ghost writing for other people and now decided to have a byline of his own.