Ilonggo Cuisine Deconstructed, by Chef Ariel Castaneda
I’ve had countless degustation experiences before, and as a foodie, I believe it’s the best way to perfectly savor each distinct flavor of an ingredient. However, when it comes to deconstructed food, I think there are some cases where it’s a hit-or-miss. Deconstructed food is the art of dismantling the food to its most basic parts to better appreciate each flavor. But in my latest experience at LaMeza Ilonggo, I loved how the Chef highlighted Ilonggo dishes in his own way of “deconstruction.”
In our recent visit to Iloilo, Granary Richmonde Hotel General Manager Nat Lim invited us to sample Chef Ariel Castañeda‘s 5-course degustation, LaMeza Ilonggo.
Chef Ariel Castañeda, a past winner of Tabu-an, an annual cooking competition in Western Visayas, joined Richmonde as an executive chef during the pandemic. The Granary is a popular restaurant in Iloilo that caters to family and friends. Aside from the usual fare, The Granary aims to invite people to try their new specialties in their 5-course Degustation.
Looking at the menu, I knew it was special because apart from featuring local fares, Chef Ariel’s aim is to showcase his own version of several iconic Ilonggo dishes. In the culinary world, we call it deconstruction, where food is served from a unique perspective without necessarily showing the original components.
Our first course was Pancit Molo Xiao Long Bao and Baked Talaba Bomb. He curated the dish by having the pork and shrimp filling wrapped in homemade wonton skin and then steamed a la xiao long bao. They added spring onion confit too, so that the flavor would be subtle but without losing the taste of pancit molo. It was uniquely served in a bowl covered in edible paper. The paper must be burned to uncover a banana leaf-wrapped xiao long bao-like dim sum with pancit molo gelee.
On the other hand, the Baked Talaba Bomb uses milk butter, white cheddar, fresh oyster, and garlic confit and is paired with Chateau Los Boldos Chardonnay 2018. It’s your typical baked oyster, but breaded in a pancake batter and then deep fried. At first glance, it looks like a Spanish potato bombas, but this time, you get fresh oysters inside. I’m not a fan of oysters to be honest, but this one is something I genuinely love eating.
KBL was our second course, which, I admit, was the one I was looking forward to the most. My Ilonggo friends know that whenever I eat at any Ilonggo restaurant, I’d never skip getting myself a bowl of KBL (kadyos, baboy, at langka), a famous stewed pork dish in Iloilo. It’s my to-go soup dish, and I dare say that I like this more than the usual bulalo, kansi, and nilaga.
However, not all KBL dishes are the same. I like the version where they used pata (pork knuckles) cooked with the right amount of batuan as a souring agent and generously filled with langka and kadios. The meal is complete with a steaming cup of rice.
The way they deconstructed KBL was surprisingly unique–there were no visible kadios and langka, only a huge dice of super tender meat. This KBL was made by sous-viding the pork for 12 hours to retain the flavor and texture. They also enclosed the meat with KBL broth plus created a Batuan consomme seasoned with salt and lemongrass. The langka and kadios were made as puree, with an added dehydrated chili. If someone blindfolded me and served me this dish, I’d still recognize the taste, but even though it’s far from the traditional KBL stew, it was totally likable.
Another hit Ilonggo dish was served to us for the third course. This time, it’s Ilonggo Chicken Inasal. They recreated the dish by marinating the chicken fillet and stuffing it with spring onions and lemongrass. It was grilled and baked for a bit, then served with soy pearls and fresh vegetable pickles. It was indeed delicious and filling, plus I also loved how flavorful it was in every bite.
After three satisfying meals with different flavors and textures, it was time for a palate cleanser named “The Ilonggo Lick It Up!” It was a plate with a splash of Batuan jam, mango compote, and carabao cheese. I posted a photo of it on Facebook, and my friends asked, “How are you supposed to eat that?” I simply answered, “Just by licking it up– like your favorite peanut butter on a spoon!”
After that delectable palate cleanser, we had our 4th course, NY Strip Karne Frita. It was prepared with shallot confit, citrus-onion gravy, and NY Strip. The sweet potato mash paired with Hardys VR Shiraz completed the palatable experience, which everyone from our table loved. And last but not least, we had Mango Batuan Cotton candy and Batuan Pie A la Mode for dessert. Again, the way it was served was outstanding and truly unimaginable! This dessert pair was a sweet and satisfying finish to the delightful tasting menu.
LaMeza Ilonggo Degustation was more than just a tasting menu; it was also a cultural experience. Chef Ariel Castañeda could have served something else, but he chose to highlight local cuisine and gave everyone an amazing gastronomic experience. It’s surely one of the most memorable degustations I’ve had to date, and I hope to be able to try these again in the future when I return to Iloilo!
The Granary at The Richmonde Hotel Iloilo
Address: UG Richmonde Hotel Iloilo Megaworld Boulevard, Iloilo Business Park, Mandurriao, Iloilo City, 5000 Iloilo
Phone: (033) 328 7888
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