Known for his passion in promoting Filipino cuisine and his flair for refining local dishes, Chef Myke 'Tatung' Sarthou now presents his love affair with Philippine flavors at Alab, a new restaurant serving Pinoy classics, regional favorites, and modern takes: delicious dishes all close-to-roots, yet delightfully elevated.
Fan of the chef's rendition of local dishes have probably experienced his cooking first at Tatung's Garden Cafe, his former dining destination in Sikatuna Village where he opened his abode for private dinners. If not there, it was at his bigger space in Taguig City, at Chef Tatung, his former restaurant at Acacia Estates. Now he is fanning the flames for Filipino cuisine at his new location up north in Scout Rallos, Quezon City.
"For Alab, I wanted to have a clear discourse on what Filipino food is to me," Chef Myke shares. "So I devised a menu strategy that divides the food into two sections, 'dose-dose.'" His 'dose-dose' menu splits the food into twelves: one category labeled as Hinahanap-hanap Kita to highlight 12 classic Filipino dishes, the top hits and popular items that are most essential to most if not all Pinoy restaurants in the metro; the other section is called O, Lumapit Ka, encouraging the diners to try mingling with twelve dishes that are new, re-imagined, or from the other regions.
For the sandosenang sikat offerings of Hinahanap-hanap Kita, customers can enjoy their old favorites and dishes that have reached mainstream popularity. There is the Adobong Pula (P280), which has the quintessential Filipino favorite prepared using annatto to color the chicken and pork dish more red than brown, skipping the soy sauce. The chef explains that he uses one of the oldest documented recipes of the classic adobo. There's also the Kare-Kare (P450) done traditionally, with its thick sauce made from scratch, a mix of toasted rice and peanuts. We love our pork dishes and have some of our best ones crispy and juicy, and Alab takes this into consideration and presents a deadly-good Pritson na Crispy Pata (P580), a pork leg stuffed with lemongrass and leeks, then roasted until crispy. Aside from these classics, other top hits available to order on this section of the menu are dishes like molo, sinigang, kinilaw, pansit, lumpia, and inihaw.
You know it's not a full-fledged Filipino meal if rice isn't served on the table; at Alab, there are two flavors of fried rice to choose from to pair with your savories, both orders good for two. Tatung's Fried Rice (P180) is flavored with yellow ginger and lemongrass, and mixed with a combination of shrimp, vegetable, spring onions, scrambled eggs, and topped with peanuts; while the Aligue Fried Rice (P180) goes rich with crab fat combined with dried shrimps, veggies, and scrambled eggs.
The 'O, Lumapit Ka' menu is also called by the chef as 'Sandosenang Dapat Malasap,' dishes he highly recommends diners to try that are less in the mainstream Filipino food consciousness but are worth your every spoonful and bite. "Filipino cuisine is more complex than what we usually stereotype it to be," Chef Myke explains, "that's why I wanted to showcase these dishes."
To begin our feast of new, regional, and must-savor dishes, we try Alab's Tinumok (P170). I am already familiar and very fond of this gata dish hailing from Bicol, as my mother introduced me to her province's flavors growing up; but most would be more acquainted with laing or bicol express as their gateway to Bicolano food. Similarly presented as the pinangat with stewed taro leaves and coconut cream, the chef's tinumok has coconut noodles and chopped shrimp, and gets its extra richness and flavor from bagoong alamang (shrimp paste), which does a push-pull play on salty and sweet with the gata. Another fine use of coconut milk is in their bowl of Guinataang Monggo (P80), taking the humble rainy day favorite of monggo (mung bean) soup and adding a creamy depth to its every spoonful with coconut milk. Smoked fish flakes and ampalaya leaves complete the broth's feel-good comfort. Commonly served with beef in Manila restaurants, Alab offers the Kalderetang Kanding (P445), going back to the dish's origins by replacing the protein with goat meat for a Spanish inspired stew thickened with liver puree and topped with quezo de bola, mushrooms, olives, and vegetables.
Fans of the Spanish morcilla or blood sausage should give Penuneng (P150) a try. It's the Ilocano preparation of blood sausage, or dinuguang longganisa. Exotic looking to the foreign eye, perhaps, but the deep dark sausages are pleasantly savory, just how one would enjoy their longganisa breakfast, served with a vinegar for dipping. "'Pianggang' is a technique of cooking coconut that you burn it," the chef shares, as he explains his Pianggang (P270), a delicious-smelling and tasting plate of grilled chicken cooked in gata that is mixed with a spice paste hailing from Tausug, an ethnic group in Sulu, south of the Philippines. Like the dinuguang longganisa, it may not be pretty in pictures, but the flavors of this dish are delightful and need to be chased straightaway with spoonfuls of rice.
Diners familiar with the old Chef Tatung restaurant will be delighted that a favorite dish has found its way into the chef's kitchen in Quezon City. The Honey Lechon (P390) is lechon served sweet and in melt-in-your-mouth slices, pork belly roasted with garlic and lemongrass for six hours. This dish just begs for more heapings of rice, just like the Sugpo sa Palapa (P560), prawns embraced with such enticing and spicy flavors from a Mindanao spice mix with a shallot variant called sakurab; the sauce is also brimming with crab fat, and to combine aligue with prawns is simply a winnning choice.
To end your feast at Alab, you must finish off sweetly with desserts. There are quite a lot to choose from, starting from the restaurant's own Homemade Ice Cream (P210/tub) which comes in local flavors like Quezo de Bola, Kamote Q, and the most interesting of them all: Laing, which actually works. Going the traditional route is their classic Suman sa Lihiya (P80) served with mango, while a warm serving of Tsoknut Cake (P110) will satisfy the chocolate lovers.
A playful dessert is Alab's local take on the classic American cheesecake--the cheekily named New York, Cubao Bibingka Cheesecake (P140). The fluffy rice cake popular during Christmas season is combined with the heft and tanginess of a cheesecake, even including a topping of salted egg slices. Have every forkful with muscovado sugar and grated coconut to complete the bibingka experience. This dessert quickly became a best-seller in the new restaurant that now, customers can bring home a takeout box of a 6-inch round cake for P450.
During dessert, Chef Myke Sarthou sits beside me and has some bibingka cheesecake himself. "Sarap ba ng pichi-pichi [Is the pichi-pichi delicious]?" the chef asks as he sees me forking a big portion of the Pichi-Pichi with Quezo de Bola (P90), his signature sticky rice treat. It has been a while since I've had a plate of this popular dessert of his, a pandan flavored cassava treat coated in a lusciously brulleed leche flan sauce. Its topping of grated quezo de bola adds a bit of sharpness and tang in every sticky-sweet mouthful. "Sobra!" I reply with a laugh, "Sino-solo ko na nga eh [So much, that I am already keeping it all to myself]." Longtime fans of Chef Tatung's dessert will find home in the familiar flavors of his pichi-pichi, while first timers will awaken their palate to probably the best interpretation of this traditional Filipino dessert. Your tastebuds will surely be spoiled with this one -- consider this as a delicious warning, and more reason to make your way to Alab in Quezon City.
Alab by Chef Tatung is now open at 67 Scout Rallos Street, near the corner of Tomas Morato in Quezon City. Visit www.alabcheftatung.com, like on Facebook (/AlabChefTatung) and follow on Instagram (@AlabChefTatung).