For those familiar with Lamesa Grill in Mall of Asia and Trinoma, a fine dining version has opened in Greenbelt 5. Proclaiming itself as a modern Filipino restaurant, Mesa attempts to put a new spin on well-loved classics such as the lowly tinapa (smoked fish) and the ubiquitous tilapia.
Even if you’re not too hungry, make sure to order an appetizer or two. I’m not too fond of tinapa, but the Tinapa Roll Wrapped in Lettuce (P135) was exquisite. The taste of salted egg normally tends to stand out in any dish and probably overpowers other flavors. But for some reason, the salted egg in this number blended so seamlessly with the fish, tomato and onion that I only realized that there was salted egg when I read the menu. The rolls are delicious on their own, but try it with the spicy vinegar and sweet chili on the side for an added kick.
Tinapa Roll Wrapped in Lettuce
Another must-try is the Hito Flakes on Spoon (P180). Catfish flakes are topped with pickled mango, resulting in a very pleasing combination of salty and sour. Each serving comes with a bit of red chili. I thought that the chili was too small to make any difference and was just put there as contrast to the brown flakes and the yellow mango. But the chili was very hot and made the whole spoonful taste fiery. Remove the chili if you’re not into spicy food.
Hito Flakes on Spoon
For entrees, bestsellers include the no-fail Crispy Boneless Tilapia served with four sauces (P290) and River Shrimp on the rocks (P280).
The star of the menu though is the Crispchon (P3999 - one whole, P1999 - one half, P1099 - one fourth, and P799 - one sixth). The Crispchon is prepared in two ways - wrapped in pandan crepes and tossed in chili garlic. Choose from any of the sauces - Rikki’s Sauce, Garlic, Sweet Chili, Spicy Pork Liver, Wansuy Infused, and Curry Mustard.
We asked for Crispchon and were quite surprised when the waiter returned after barely five minutes carrying a glistening slab of meat. Immediately, he set up a round table beside us and cut out some portions of the skin. Then he wrapped very thin strips of pig skin, together with onion leek and wansuy leaves, in pandan paper. The rest of the meat was tossed in a chili garlic mixture. It was very entertaining to watch. I guess here at Mesa, Crispchon is not just an item on the menu - it’s a production.
The Crispchon skin is best eaten alone though; the pandan paper tasted more like paper than pandan and did not really enhance the flavor of the meat. The chili garlic mix was spicy, but nothing really memorable. Dunk the meat into the sauces to make the meat more palatable. Nevertheless, you’d have to admire the way the dish is presented – we were sufficiently entertained by how our waiter painstakingly prepared each roll of pig skin in front of us. Perhaps this is where Mesa succeeds – in serving homegrown food in a unique, non-Filipino way.
For some dishes though, there was only so much that artistic presentation could do. Upon our waiter’s recommendation, we ordered Caramelized Garlic Pork (190). Despite the seemingly complex mixture of chili, garlic and five spices (according to the menu), this dish tasted essentially like run-of-the-mill paksiw.
Caramelized Garlic Pork
Dessert was passable, but nothing remarkable. We had Pandan Macapuno Rumble (P70), a scoop of macapuno ice cream with bright green pandan strips. As with the other items on the menu, it was immaculately presented. The dessert was served on a long-stemmed glass.
Pandan Macapuno Rumble
All in all though, Mesa can be okay if you want to take out both balikbayans yearning for some familiar Filipino food and expatriates wishing to try native dishes in Greenbelt. Stock up on the appetizers, stick to the Crispchon, and you’ll do just fine.