Bistro Lokal salutes farmers and fisherfolks
Nonnette C. Bennett
Chef Miko Dy of Bistro Lokal is set to fete organic farmers hereabouts and fishermen with a charity dinner on Sept. 18 and 19. The proceeds of the fund-raising meals will be used to assist these workers as he will also have a market for their produce and catch.
This Bistro is the gustatory laboratory of Chef Miko who likes to deconstruct Filipino dishes.
Philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1960s is known for his “methods of textual criticism, which involved discovering, recognizing and understanding the underlying assumptions (unspoken and implicit), ideas and frameworks that form the basis for thought and belief.” This modern thinking is not as simple as these words state but applied to food and cooking, I would interpret it as simply taking the different flavors that make a Filipino dish separately and recomposing it. Does this make sense? Allow me to reorganize his dishes from their ingredients. The experience of eating his meals is worth a try.
The presentation of dishes comes in a set called una – appetizers, pangalawa – main course and panapos – dessert. As a starter, sour dough slices with an olive oil, vinegar, garlic and bell pepper dip were served. This isn’t to fill you but the give you an idea why the breads of Bistro Lokal are hits. The chewy inside but crusty outside sour dough texture with the tangy garlicky olive oil dip were a match. The first appetizer was “Torta”. Anyone knows that this roasted eggplant omelette is nothing to rave about when done in the traditional way. But imagine its presentation as a roasted eggplant and kinuday (smoked pork belly) takoyaki or Japanese dumpling. Rolled into a ball with homemade banana ketchup and sprinkled on top with tinapa (smoked fish) powder, this mouth sized ball should be taken in two or three bits to savor the taste of the banana ketchup. I would say it just teases the palate.
The second appetizer was the watwat. Although the term isn’t quite the essence of chunks of boiled pork in large vats that are brought home by guests at a Cordillera feast, it is of the elements that make up the local style of cooking.
Chef Miko blew me away in this disintegration of the meat. Here, after the pig is killed with a wooden spike, the skin is burnt and rubbed to remove the hair before it is boiled. Chef Miko singed the top of the fat in the slice of boiled pork and topped this with finely chopped spring onions. This bite size meat was laid on a teaspoonful of camote puree in a red rice cracker. A leaf of gotu kola herb garnishes this presentation. This tiny presentation in a bowl filled with red rice grains with a piece of banana leaf to separate the edible from the raw has all the elements of a Cordillera meal. The red rice that is made into a cracker, the camote which is a puree, and the meat that is boiled with the skin burnt are what make up the food in a cañao (Cordillera feast). Chef Miko says the pork meat is an experiment in itself. The pigs were fed strawberries as part of their diet. The meat was more tender than its market counterpart. The gotu kola is not a remarkable flavor but like basil or regular herbs that one encounters in meals.
The third appetizer was the tuna loin kinilaw. This experience is most unusual with a tray of hot stones that come with the presentation. It is described as tuna, bato (stone) and kinilaw sauce (vinegar sauce with coconut milk, ginger and onions used as marinade for raw fish slices). In its original form, the slivers of raw fish are marinated in vinegar and coconut milk to “cook” or preserve it. Chef Miko skewers the bite size tuna loin in a small bamboo stick garnished with spring onions, blue pea flower and cracked peppers. He instructs you to put it on top of the hot stone and allow the bottom to sizzle a bit just enough to give it a harder base so when dipped in the kinilaw sauce, it absorbs the sharp taste of vinegar and creaminess of coconut milk spicy ginger and strong garlic flavor before you chew it. Here, one is pleased with the texture of the blue pea flower in the mouth.
A palette cleaner in the kalamansi sorbet with a syrupy panoply chlorophyll that seems like you ate some seaweed minus the crunch. This is garnished with a leaf of Impatiens. It was excited to sip the common rainy season flower that abounds in gardens. This readied the taste buds for two main courses.
The sixth experience was the pulpo which was the octopus inasal (grilled) in tomato kombucha and burnt tomato. Would you believe that this was actually sinigang (sour broth stew)? It is the fermented tomato kombucha tea that made up the sour broth for the octopus leg. A health beverage, kombucha is like a cultured bacterium that is good for digestion. The burnt half of a cherry tomato garnishes this dish. Chef Miko actually describes the surprisingly tender meat as “octopus na gustong maging manok (octopus that wants to become chicken)” because it is not rubbery at all. The torched skin of the octopus is a charming flavor too.
The seventh heaven was the pork tenderloin which had kesong puti laing sauce, carrot puree, and burnt leeks. This is like an explosion of colors on a plate. Gabi is but a sauce with invisible white cheese blended into it. Carrots are pureed into a yellow orange splash, the two bites of pork have two different toppings, one of burnt onion leeks and the other a crunchy sliver of kinuday. The meat almost melts in your mouth and all the elements used to make a chewable mouthful of Filipino flavors. This to me could be nilaga (stew).
The eighth experience is the panapos or dessert. Masterfully deconstructed, the turon or banana fritter evolves into a work of art. It is composed of panutcha ice cream, a crispy piece of yellow lumpia wrapper and banana mousse. The plate has no hint of turon except for the yellow lumpia wrapper. Chef Miko says we won’t believe it is turon unless we see the wrapper.
There is no space for the iced coffee blends and black rice coffee Horchata that is sweetened by condensed milk and accented with a rice cracker. Not to forget that the straws are edible because they are made from rice flour. Drinks are an adventure on their own.
I say, please go the Bistro Lokal for an unusual meal and help the farmers and fishermen get some sort of SAP from your dinner tickets. Chef Miko says he owes them so much for giving him the best of their produce and catch. Look them up on Facebook and please make your reservations for this different kind of meal. He will serve you by the hour, so you will have to wait for your turn to be seated. Enjoy.