One, Two, Tres

The theme of three plays a central role in this new restaurant.

One: Filipino and Spanish
Tres is a new restaurant barely a month old, venerating Filipino and Spanish food via family heirloom recipes. The menu tells me that these recipes are “…perfected over months of intense kitchen testing by three master chefs with a combination of more than 60 years’ experience…” Though I manage to sleuth out the names of these three chefs, I’m sworn to secrecy on pain of dessert deprivation. Suffice it to say that any serious food lover with an adventurous palate and an ear to the food industry will recognize their names. (Another hint: they’ve been featured in this website before). This is an establishment that’s dedicated to being driven by food and not personalities. Observant diners will also notice that the prices of each dish on the menu end in the number 3 (VAT inclusive, yes).

Decidedly Spartan but functional décor indicate that this is a Filipino restaurant where emphasis is placed wholly on the food. Instant mixes and shortcuts are eschewed for long and slow cooking methods, cooking the way it’s meant to be. Our starters consist of Beef salpicao (P263), sufficiently saucy and gilded with garlic in 3 ways: roasted cloves, garlic chips, and minced. The Callos (P243), which I feel could do with more sauce, satisfies because of its mouth-melding, lip-smacking gelatinous consistency. There’s a depth to the sauce resulting from a long simmer and a smoldering heat owing perhaps to Spanish paprika and roasted sweet peppers.

Appetizer portions are smaller than the mains heralded by one of Tres’ signature dishes, the Crispy Ginataang Hito (P273; see cover photo). Catfish generates strong sentiment because of its taste and appearance — I’ve always liked it but my Bin doesn’t. While I stare enraptured at the dish, my Bin gazes upon it with obvious trepidation. The chefs at Tres have dreamed up an ingenious presentation: fillet the catfish, dice it roughly, then deep-fry it and the bones. The result is a curved, crispy catfish carcass frozen forever in some magical sea-dance cradling its cargo, shored up by crunchy shards of fried camote (sweet potato) and leek leaves. This is soft, bone-free fish sans any fishy taste made even more exotic when dipped in the coconut cream dipping sauce. While it’s a stretch to say that this dish “…is guaranteed to turn everyone into catfish fans…” it makes the prospect of catfish more appealing. Even my Bin is smiling.

Two: The Food

I’m continuously amazed at the ingredients people throw into soured soup and Tres’ Sinigang na Lechon (P493) is no exception. The priciest dish on the menu – and dare I say, worth it – it’s the one dish I feel demonstrates the chef-trio’s mastery. There’s plenty that can go wrong in making a soured soup version of lechon, that holy grail of porky dishes. But here it is, chunks of lechon and yes, crispy (!) skin, swimming in a sufficiently sour soup in which cavort the requisite vegetables of okra, kangkong, etc. While the soup is too thick, it’s more a bisque really, it doesn’t detract too much from the purity that is the lechon. This soup is served a touch cooler than what I’d like, so if this happens (to this dish or any of your other dishes), ask for it to be heated some more.

“I have to order adobo! What’s a Filipino meal without adobo?” My Bin mutters as he vacillates between the Chicken and Pork Adobo (P263) and the Lamb Adobo (P353), deciding on the latter. Finished with coconut milk and roasted garlic, the lamb adobo reminds me of a curry with the salty edge of soy sauce. Its soft meat is deeply flavored, its taste recalling memories of Malaysian meals past, but whose heart remains entrenched in the Philippines.

Ordering a side of vegetables seems somewhat gratuitous but a Filipino meal is never without it. I like the name Gising-Gising (P133) and what it is — a plate composed of string beans and ground pork stewed in coconut milk (oh, the glory of gata!). I love it but I should’ve asked the kitchen to amp up the spiciness. For me, there’s no such thing as too hot.

I really suggest ordering just plain white rice or even the Pandan rice (P73) when you eat at Tres. The food is so hearty and hefty in flavor that the bland background of good hot rice makes for a perfect partner. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the exceptional rice dishes that they serve here. The Lechon Rice (P243) is a meal in itself but go for the Kalkag Rice (P133) made from kalkag, a rare delicacy of salted, dried baby shrimps, and an ingredient used in many timeless recipes. The kalkag is reminiscent of crispy dilis and is quite the revelation when eaten with rice.

Other dishes I recommend at Tres are the Crispy Kare-Kare (P313), an imaginative cross between the famous peanut-y stew and crispy pata; Fried Chicken Tanglad (P243); Sugpo at Aligue (P363); and to drink, the Buko-Lychee juice. There’s also a small but dedicated part of the menu offering merienda items like the Tres Pizzetas, yet another extension of the restaurant’s theme of three.

Tres Postres (Three Desserts)

If there’s one dessert not to be missed at Tres it’s the Banana-Ube Turon (P73). Wrappers stuffed with ube jam and bananas sent to edible eternity in hot oil and then served with a truly imaginative sauce of pureed langka and coconut milk. It takes some getting used to but it works with or without. The turon tonight is burned so I’m hoping that they’ll be less “sun-burned” on my next trip to Tres.

Another banana dessert, this time flambéed and tumbled with cinnamon (P93) and set on melba toasts is much recommended. It’s creative yes, especially with the butterscotch and vanilla ice cream accompaniments. I’m pleased with it but it’s a one-time try for me, nothing I see myself ordering next time around.

It’s the Orange Cake (P93) I’m in love with though, an almost painfully moist cake suffused with Cointreau, its orange essence echoes in the crumb and strands of candied orange peel – mildly bitter, intensely exotic, awash in a citrus perfume.

It’s rare for me to pay attention to new restaurants, believing as I do that it takes at least three months for one to find its place in the pantheon of good eats. But I have high hopes for Tres and for what it represents – a harking back to the memorable, unhurried eating of dishes that further assert the fact that Filipino cuisine is one of the world’s best.

Filipino and Spanish Cuisine
G/F The Block
103 SM City Mall, North EDSA, Quezon City
(facing EDSA/North Avenue, beside Pancake House)
352-7030/32; 0908.893 7786

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