WHILE there is a concerted effort for any cuisine to keep its authenticity, variations are inevitable.
Filipinos are individualistic and diverse, understandably so if we consider the fact that our country consists of over 7,000 islands. And every region boasts of its own preparation and presentation of dishes.
With the highly competitive food business, it is not surprising to see restaurants go out of the ordinary to creatively prepare and present classic Filipino dishes. I always go for the traditional and the classic cookery. But there are a few adventurous ones whose interesting twists perk up the usual dishes. Mesa Filipino Moderne at The Terraces of the Ayala Center Cebu offers authentic Filipino dishes that appetizingly makes use of all-Filipino ingredients in ways that make the restaurant distinct and unique.
Mesa was conceptualized and realized by partners Sen. Francis ?Kiko" Pangilinan and restaurateur Rikki Dee. The flagship restaurant is in Greenbelt 5 Ayala Center Makati and branches in The Terraces Ayala Center Cebu, SM Megamall and LM Grill in SM Cebu City. Friends of the partners Kiko and Rikki: Gabby and Lia Cruz, Edwin and Monette Ortiz, Ato and Gigi Alvarez, and Nonoy and Alice Dee brought the whole Mesa concept in Cebu.
Lunch at Mesa Filipino Moderne with Gabby Cruz, Monette Ortiz and their marketing staff showcased how dishes get modern touches without losing its identity and authenticity. The appetizers were interestingly different and yet they were common Filipino fare. Prawns were wrapped in egg noodles instead of the usual wrapper and deep-fried served with sweet and sour sauce. Tinapa Rolls were a plump version of the spring roll filled with flakes of tinapa (yummy smoked milkfish), salted egg and tomatoes served cut up on porcelain soup spoon.
I enjoyed it with vinegar dip (where is the sinangag?). Sisig (a popular kapampangan dish of thrice-cooked pork cheek with spices) was wrapped in dumpling wrapper like a pouch and deep-fried. There was a refreshing Tofu Salad with Century Eggs and prawns. The Pomelo Salad was topped with Latik (fried coconut milk solids that I drizzle over glutinous delicacies like sapin-sapin).
A gregarious host, Gabby hails from Manila but has moved to Cebu with his family. He cautioned us to go slow as so we get to enjoy all of the specialties they have prepared. Soup was Chicken Binakol, an Iloilo favorite where pieces of chicken are stewed in coconut water with sili leaves and served in coconut shell. It has a sweetish, refreshing taste. Pretty much like Tinola. I was transported back to my childhood days with dishes like Pato Tim (marinated and braised duck in lemon juice, soy sauce, ginger and sherry), Ginataaang Sigarilyas (sigadilyas), a winged bean that is called garbanzos by our helper who hails from Alegria. Sigarilyas was a regular vegetable dish in our household. The Bicolano favorite, Laing was served in two versions, saucy and dry. Three outstanding signature dishes captured my fancy: Crispchon, Crispy Boneless Tilapia with four sauces and Salted Crusted Apahap (Sea bass).
Crispchon is their version of Lechon de leche (no more than 45 days suckling pig) served with Pandan crepes, cucumbers and greens -- Peking Duck style. The succulent flesh of the Tilapia (a fresh water fish) was cubed and deep fried with different sauces on the side (honey bagoong, honey patis, sweet chili and vinegar with soy). The Sea Bass was wrapped and baked in rock salt with the fish cooked in its own juice that made it very tasty.