Monday, January 12, 2009

enjoying fine Filipino cuisine in Pino

I fidgeted with the menu and took some time to decide. Indecision, for me, can either be good or bad but my smile betrayed what I thought. The meñu of Pino, Cebu’s relatively new restaurant offering fine Filipino cuisine, was not thick but the choices were tempting and were tearing me apart. It was the day after Christmas and I was treating two good friends and I did not want the food to disappoint. Aside from yearning for authentic Filipino comfort food, the overriding reason why I chose Pino – this was my second visit in three months – I also wanted to entertain. Pino fits the bill. It has luxurious ambiance, attentive staff, spacious seating and grand style (their comfort rooms are fast becoming an attraction!). The prices leaned on the expensive side but then, there are far more restaurants pricier than Pino in the city and with lesser gustatorial substance.

Pino
Canon EOS 350D, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


Our friends easily settled with and gladly took Cacing from our care and played with her, leaving me and my wife free. A preciously active 10-month old can be too much so we welcomed the freedom. Conversations are best cultured over familiar appetizers and we had a great start. The fiesta salad (P140) was an appetizing nibble being unmistakably Filipino with salted duck eggs, tomatoes, onions and the ever mouth-watering duo of green mangoes and bagoong shrimp paste.

Fiesta Salad
Canon EOS 350D, 1/125s, f/3.5, 50mm, ISO 400, +2/3EV


The clean and simple presentation was carried on to the other appetizer. A perfect counterpoint to the acidic and salty bite of the salad, the baked scallops (P198) came swathed in garlic butter and cheese and were sumptuously rich.

baked scallops
Canon EOS 350D, 1/100s, f/3.5, 50mm, ISO 400, +2/3EV


My favorite starter was the pritos (P155) which literally means “fried” in Spanish. The deep-fried slices of squid and shrimp came generously thick, juicily fresh and succulently crisp.

pritos
Canon EOS 350D, 1/100s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


For vegetables, the easy choice was the unassuming pritong gulay (P85). As with the other dishes, Pino kept it simple. The platter of kangkong, okra and eggplant was a play of both crispness and juiciness. Batter came judiciously light.

pritong gulay
Canon EOS 350D, 1/60s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


Given the variety and number of our hors d'oeuvres, we took our time with the main dishes. Straying from the old Filipino-style theme, we ordered sizzling peppered pork bits in brandy sauce (P210). This was hit with our friends but the liquor-laden sauce was too sharp tart for my taste.

pork bits in brandy sauce
Canon EOS 350D, 1/60s, f/2.8, 50mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


The gambas ajillo y a calamari (P145) was a better selection although the Spanish-style shrimp and squid was a bit too oily for me. However, the garlic flavor was profuse and to my liking.

gambas ajillo y a calamare
Canon EOS 350D, 1/50s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


The delightful surprise was the Cebuano spiced native chicken (P240). The serving came with slices of seared saba banana which provided touches of yellow and sweetness to the chili and salty expectations of the spices. The combination of colors, scents and textures were blended seamlessly in this dish.

Cebuano spiced native chicken
Canon EOS 350D, 1/200s, f/2.8, 50mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


If there was one thing missing, it was the humba. I was looking forward to ordering this archetypal Visayan centerpiece but alas, this was the day after Christmas, and the choice pork cuts unfortunately had run out.

When eating outside, I always order standard steamed rice as I want the viands to take center stage and fancy rice dishes could distract. This time though, we ordered the steamed bamboo rice (P 185) and not only did it come in a beautiful presentation – it was served inside a bamboo shell – its subtle flavor became a delectable platform for the strong flavors of the rest of the dishes. This is highly recommended.

bamboo rice
Canon EOS 350D, 1/125s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV


Obviously, we splurged too much but we still capped our luncheon with native desserts. I tried to order biko but again, I was disappointed that they did not carry it that day. Instead, we turned to the classical turon at sorbetes (P120) which is saba plantain rolled and deep-fried in a rice flour wrap. Served hot, it went finely with the vanilla ice cream.

turon at sorbetes
Canon EOS 350D, 1/125s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV


To honor the season, we added the misa de gallo Tagalog classic puto bumbong (P90). It had to be freshly cooked so we had to wait 15 minutes. Unlike the Visayan budbud, a sweet and gingery steamed glutinous rice concoction, this is a bit trickier for the freshly milled pirurutong wild rice and galapong sticky rice have to be stuffed in thin bamboo poles and steamed. The purple rolls are then sprinkled with muscovado brown sugar, toasted sesame seeds and grated fresh coconut. That it tastes just like what you get in the streets outside the church after the early morning Christmas mass is meant not as denigration but an apt compliment.

puto bumbong
Canon EOS 350D, 1/80s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 400, +1/3EV


Filipino classics need not be a gem hidden at home. In Pino, nostalgia is fleshed out real.

Pino! Filipino Cuisine
Wilson St., Lahug, Cebu City
tel. +6332 2320939, 2313101

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2 comments:

Emcee said...

Wow, puto bumbong! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Growing up, I remember getting one almost every week starting September all the way through the end of the Christmas season.

There was an old woman in our neighborhood whose puto bumbong and bibingka were very popular. It was usually at least a 30 minute wait, so I made sure I put my order in in advance.

Farl said...

Emcee- salamat sa pagpost. I have to admit I am not an expert on puto bumbong as it's not a traditional snacks in the Visayas. It is only lately that it has become popular here. From your story, I can imagine how good your neighbor's puto bumbong and bibingka must have been. Now, I too, am salivating again. LOL!