Feast On Servings Of Nostalgia in This Homey Haven In Quezon City!
Mels Timan | October 30, 2019
Photos by the author
There are invisible forces at work in Chef Tatung’s latest venture, Talisay. It isn’t something overt, just an intangible sensation that hovers in the air. What is immediately apparent, however, is that the place looks like the house of a dear friend or relative, one that figures prominently when revisiting beloved memories of youth.
Sunlight slants from the wide windows that wrap around the airy, 1960s split-level house along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City. A lush garden of greenery and shrubs. Various murals and paintings dot the white walls. Strains of soft music stream gently from invisible speakers. Earthenware plates and shiny crystal glasses stand on attention upon brawny wood tables. It is a place furbished to welcome and entertain.
The story of Talisay is that of the homecoming of two brothers: a return of Chef Tatung to the neighborhood of his first restaurant and a welcoming back of Jomi, who has taken a sabbatical from a two-decade period of working in Germany. Nostalgia for their culinary roots inspired the concept of Talisay. “The name was taken from our hometown in Cebu,” Chef Tatung reveals, adding that a pining for the food that they grew up with was integral in crafting the menu. “Back then, we always had Sunday lunches as a clan. Here, we’re trying to recreate the kind of meals we shared as a family.”
Talisay’s offerings are essentially Filipino home cooking clarified with a helping of professional sophistication. Though the dishes are illuminated versions of Filipino home cooking, they are relatively straightforward, displaying Chef Tatung’s skill in coaxing out the best results from the ingredients he chose to employ. He kept the selection homespun and humble, relying heavily on the delicate balance of flavors and textures to elicit the kind of cuisine he wants to present, one that is suffused with nostalgia. It was an intentional endeavor to concentrate on the most important thing in the meal: taste. “The challenge was how to keep it fresh, without being too gimmicky," Chef Tatung shares, "We focused on ingredients that add flavor and texture to the dishes we serve."
For starters, Talisay offers a basket of homemade bread, heartier and more pungent from its use of natural leavening. It is best paired with a dollop of butter compounded with Aligue, a fermented paste derived from the salted river crab roe, to cut through its pillowy texture.
Central to the tenet of home cooking is the concept of simplicity. The Molo soup, stalwart dumplings of ground pork and shrimp sloshing around in a pool of clear chicken broth with shreds of chicken and shrimp, provides a steamy, palate-cleansing slurp in preparation for the next course.
A colorful trio of plump Lumpiang Fresca, an iconic Chef Tatung dish, provides three different flavors of the crepe housing a filling of julienned heart of palm and minced shrimps: pandan, ube, and classic. Eaten alone, each is moderately flavored; generously douse with peanut-garlic sauce to heighten each bite.
Hefty chunks of corned beef, home-cured for two days then slow-roasted for four hours, swims jauntily in a pool of gravy together with a serving of hand-cut fries. One sampling is enough to pick up sharp undercurrents of salt mingling with a medley of spices infused in the curing solution.
The ham, a recreation of a beloved family recipe, offers its own interpretation of softness, rendered more delightful in its staunch rejection to provide any opposing crunch. It comes in a puddle of spiced pineapple glaze, a serving of sautéed vegetables fanned charmingly on its side.
A whole Pompano gently braised in coconut milk is surfaced with an armor of tomatoes, ginger, and chilies. Its flesh yields willingly to a prodding fork to reveal a symphony of flavors: deliciously tender, hot and creamy, yet completely belonging to the freshness of the ocean.
The Paella Mixta is a nod to the country’s Hispanic culinary heritage. It is not an attempt to usurp the original incarnation. Rather, it is an affirmation of the blending of Spanish and Filipino cultures: a hybrid adapted and adjusted to come up with Chef Tatung’s version of the Valencian star dish. Vigorous yet subtle, it offers a thoroughly satisfying smoky fusion of mixed meat, seafood, and vegetables on a bed of fluffy grains.
For dessert, Talisay offers a conciliatory delight that just might bridge the divide between connoisseurs torn between the rich heavy New York style and the light and airy Ricotta variant. Anchored by a Polvoron base, the cake features layers of soft cassava and creamy cheesecake, topped with scorched cheddar cheese to add a kick of robust sharpness. Both velvety and voluptuous, its faint, buttery taste lingers after every mouthful.
Sagely, a French saying asserts On ne mange bien que chez soi (We eat well only at home). Talisay, however, begs to dispute this notion. The love of cooking and the joy of giving permeates the food that they serve: a feast that lives up to the lofty expectations of people hankering to recreate moments of home and heart.