"I haven't met someone who didn't like that. Did you like it?" Chef Ed Bugia asked. My mouth, which is full, fascinated, and clearly busy at that moment, jabbered something that sounded like 'YEERRSH! Sschupeer! Mmm!' out of sheer excitement. I hope he excused my forgetting of manners.
When you dunk a chocolate in batter, deep fry it, plate it with an ice cream on the side and then name it Chunky Choco Tempura (P125), do you honestly expect someone to hate it?
Chunky Choco Tempura
I don't think so. And so do the regular patrons of Pino Restobar along Maginhawa St. in Diliman.
Pino Restobar have been on that space amongst the residences for a while already, switching from this and that management until finally landing on the laps of three friends: Chef Ed Bugia, Star Jose, and PJ Lanot. Chef Ed relays to me that Pino is named such because they offer Pili-'PINO' food and Pino in Filipino defines "fine." Fine there should be taken in the context of "good" as in "good food" and not fine as in fine dining.
The look of the restaurant can explain how far from fine dining the place is. The limited seating capacity, the pastel themed paintings, and the striking wall to ceiling doodle art gives of a very artsy-fartsy vibe. True enough, art lovers as well as audiophiles teem here especially at night.
Their best selling drink:Pinoka Margarita (P350)
But what Chef Ed took as more noticeable though is the preference of many chefs to drink and dine here. I'm finding the scene of several chefs, in their toques and all, sitting altogether and binging on food and alcohol, both impossible and funny but according to him, they do that-- sans their toques of course! To his delight, a lot of them love what Pino has to offer, both food and drinks.
Well, what's not to love with Kare-Kareng Bagnet (P245)? This according to him has consistently topped their sales list, thanks to the honest to goodness gustatory gratification it provides.
Chef Ed recalls his lola's cooking as inspiration for placing this in their menu. Kare-Kare of course is almost everyone's favorite comfort food in terms of the Filipino cuisine, so the familiarity will most likely work on its favor. However, because he wants it to be different from the typical Kare-Kare, he decided to combine it with the Ilocano Bagnet, a specialty of one of his former cooks. What resulted is three deep fried pieces of liempo, in deep Kare-Kare orange color, served with a cup of bagoong rice which at first glance isn't enough for carbo-loaders like me.
That fact is affirmed as I readily finished the cup in a matter of minutes, consuming only only a piece of the Kare-Kareng Bagnet. The pork is infused with the rich peanut flavor of its Kare-Kare roots that even though it's served dry bagnet style, it goes very vell with the bagoong rice. I wish though the rice's serving were much bigger. Nakakabitin, so to speak!
The next dish I tried is one I was hesitant to order, but was taken aback by how it fared. Sisig and Carbonara are two dishes from two different food galaxies that have garnered (and still is garnering) commends from people since who knows when. Little did these people know that when combined in one recipe and dish, it would result to such a wonderful marriage of flavor. Pino's Sisig Carbonara (P135) is altogether sweet, salty, and spicy in agreeable degrees.
Another pasta dish I'm betting you haven't tried or imagined before is Pino's Spicy Tuyo Putanesca (P165).
So there's your pasta, which is mildly spicy with two pieces of tuyo (salted fish) lain neatly on top. And oh, plus lots of cheese. Hard to imagine? Don't worry. However awkward cheese+tuyo+pasta looks and sounds like, the taste isn't revolting at all. On the contrary, the strong flavor of tuyo blending with pasta and it's seafood base is a winner!
Those who find the above mentioned pastas too weird to their liking, you can go for the Gambas and Squid Aligue Pasta (P165). Compared to the previous two discussed, this is as cheesy but isn't as strong.
Crispy Tenderloin Tapsilog (P200), as I expected, doesn't look like a normal Tapsilog. Yes it has eggs (three cute quail's eggs by the way), and sinangag, but none of the flaky and oil drenched tapa strips that you usually have. Instead, they have their Tenderloin drenched in gravy, making it look much more like a pork tonkatsu. I was told that this is also one of their best-sellers.
A newer addition to the menu is their Dilis Rice (P90) which I giddily suggest to those who would like a trip down the memory lane. Remember those sugared dilis in small plastics that left your fingers orange? They have a handful of that tossed and sandwiched between sinangag and an egg. There had been a time I was gravely addicted to those little fishies and having to taste them again with rice and in a decent restaurant is simply both amusing and comforting!
I started the article raving about their star dessert. However, there's another note-worthy way in ending your meal.
The Pino Choco Turon (P110) is simply a chocnut and banana turon. By again choosing something very familiar to Filipinos, Chef Ed managed to capture the approval of us very accustomed to the flavors of our childhood. Served a la mode, this dessert can be shared by 2 to 3 people already.
The Chunky Choco Tempura is enough reason to head out to the UP Village and dine at Pino. However, there's so much more surprisingly good quirks that await your thrill-seeking palates. Your buddies, a couple of hundred bucks, and you willing stomach are all you need to enjoy a night in this humble restobar.