Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King
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A Piece on Pino

posted by in Filipino, Restaurants

This is a long post, but like the meal it narrates, good food can’t be rushed.

Pino has always been on my restaurant radar. I hadn’t eaten there until recently but I’ve known its chef-owner, Edward (Ed) Bugia since 2007. I’ve judged several of his dishes on TV cooking show contests, and we’ve also shared many good meals together. This exposure to Ed’s brand of cooking has made me very familiar with how he thinks about food and how that thought process translates in the kitchen. I admire his imagination and verve.

Pino, which Ed owns along with his partners PJ Lanot and Star Jose, is a contraction of “Filipino.” It sits along Malingap Street in Quezon City, a perfect position for it to imbibe the vibe of the restaurant row on nearby Maginhawa Street, incidentally its former location until a year ago.

Part of the mural that takes center stage in Pino.

Tonight, I’m finally here after more than a year of urging from Ed. “I’d really like to cook for you already. Come to Pino,” he tells me through text and then on Twitter when he finds me there. It’s noisy this evening, but not unpleasantly so; the crowd is buzzed, their energies interspersed with scattered utterances of pleasure from eating and swilling the flavored beers that are so popular here (more on that later).

A cursory perusal through Pino’s menu shows quite rightly that Ed has fun with food. With tongue firmly in cheek, he takes Filipino dishes and turns them on their heads, offering up satisfactions that are simultaneously new and familiar.

The Salted Egg Crispy Shrimps (P225) reminds me of the popular pica-pica, Drunken Shrimps (Nilasing na Hipon). Dubbed as “drunken” due to their dousing in beer prior to dredging and frying, these shrimps are indeed crispy. Digging in with my fork unearths specks of salted egg, their orange color reflecting that of the shrimps, and echoing once again in the glimmering same-hued sauce of vinegared sweet chili. The shrimps (eat them with the heads on) can stand on their own because of the raffish, salty allure that the red egg lends to them. The sauce, I feel, could use a bit more kick.

Orange seems to be the color of the night, the hue showing up yet again in the tantalizingly named Tempura Oysters and Pearls (P185). Oysters, plump and perched on their shells, are fried up in a tempura batter, daubed with wasabi-mayo, then topped with tobiko (roe). It’s a visual and voluptuous imagining made real once tasted. The wasabi here is expressed and then elucidated, its pungency points up the brininess of the oysters, the crunch of their coating.

“Here’s my bread course!” Ed announces. We’re obviously not following a strict meal order tonight. These are Pastel in the Camiguin-style (not yet on the menu), the famous bread rolls from that island province. His version stays true to tradition with a yema-type custard middle made with sugar, condensed milk, and egg yolks. But then again, this is Ed we’re talking about here and I trust him to never leave a good thing untouched. Each pastel is topped with a shag of pork floss – “Wala lang!” he chuckles, in response to the questioning look of one of our dinner friends. Biting into a pastel – ooh, how my lips sink into this buttery pillow! – invites a gush of custard, its sweetness swells in the mouth and is then overtaken by shots of saltiness that flit and flicker on the tongue.

Kamote (sweet potato) fries aren’t served in Pino (but in Ed’s other restaurant, Burger Project) and tonight they’re here because of my special request. I adore fries, but most especially those made from the native orange kamote. Skin still on, brown-speckled and pock-marked against a deep honey-orange interior, my four dinner friends and I plow through these starchy scepters. They’re irresistible dipped in either the aioli, wasabi-mayonnaise, or dunked straight into our gaping maws.

I giggle when I see the Sisig Tacos (P215). The tufts of shredded cheese and lettuce strips remind me of an Afro, a carefree cover for sisig and tomatoes. Popping in one whole taco activates a flurry of flavor amidst a cacophony of crunch. First, pork – very meaty, definitely fatty – then the almost crystal-clear and clean tang of tomatoes tinctured with salsa, maybe even a touch of aioli. There’s a lot going on here but by dint of balance, it works as an irresistible whole.

“This is bar food,” G, one of our friends states. As previously mentioned, Pino is popular for their drinks – check out their giant martini but for tonight, we have a trio of flavored beers (P75 each): honey-mansi (the hands-down favorite), lychee, and peach. For a non-beer drinker like myself, the message of this beverage is: “Beer goes down better when flavored.”

Piggybaking on the sisig tacos is another sisig incarnation this time as carbonara (P165). Sisig and bacon and eggplant slices are tangled in skeins of noodles laced in cream and egg yolks. This could be a good dish but it’s slightly salty tonight.

Ed is famous for his riffs on bagnet, creations that he takes to the limit in his new food venture, Barangay Bagnet, the topic of a future DCF post. Tonight it’s Kare-Kareng Bagnet (P245), three slices of pork belly rimmed with fat and its reason for being: its crispy skin. As I’m taking photos, I can hear thunderous bites from my four male dinner companions and exclamations of “Ang lutong!” The bagnet is napped in peanut sauce, which I find a bit bland but I understand that the bagnet is the star here; and instead of bagoong, there’s a serving of bagoong rice. Kare-Kareng Bagnet is an example of Ed’s mindfulness in fusing flavors and every ingredient has a function. As long as you don’t mind a modern approach to a traditional dish, you’ll love this.

Crispy Tenderloin Tapsilog (P215) practically jumps off the plate with its playful pastiche of colors. Adjoining the crunchy-tender cubes of beef tenderloin is what I’d call morning sinangag, something manang would make for you in the morning before you hie off to school — rice fried with liquid seasoning, bits of last night’s meat dish, and don’t forget the hotdogs, or are they ham? So cute and satisfying too, a considerably more sophisticated tapsi than the one from GoodAh!

Chicken Binakol is also done well here at Pino, restorative and gratifying. And no, those aren’t egg yolks but scoops of papaya!

It’s been a long meal and this is one long post. But I can’t end this without talking about Ed’s Chunky Choco Tempura (P125). Essentially a deep-fried Kit Kat, and he called it that until Nestlé told him to quit it, Ed introduces it as “Our forever bestseller dessert.” And how. A riotously crunchy outer layer follows up with another crunch, this time from the familiar flavor of this popular candy bar. The heat it’s been submerged in has melted its chocolate exterior, staining the plate and imbuing the vanilla ice cream with abstract chocolate doodles. Cold, crunchy, hot, then soft, this dessert is a vehicle for sensory contrasts. I love it. And Pino.

~~
Pino Restobar
39 Malingap St., Teachers Village, QC
02 441 1773

https://www.facebook.com/PinoRestoBar

http://pinorestobar.com/

Open daily for lunch & dinner.

19 Responses to “A Piece on Pino”

  • The food all look special, but most tempting are the tempura oysters and pearls, the pastel and the chunky choco tempura. Having affordable prices is just icing on the cake. Why is it so far away from me? *sigh*

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  • I remember! I remember each delicious morsel!!!

    Thanks so much for inviting me and G that night! Must come back! Must come back!

    I am excited about his Barangay Bagnet. Bad for my hypertension but hey, I wouldn’t mind sinful food as long as I am sinning with people whose company is just divine!

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  • hi lori
    i just wanted to tell you that everyone in my family & barkada love your blog. you are one of the few credible bloggers we believe in because of your integrity. keep up the good work we’re so proud of you that you dont use your blog or your name to earn money! nothing beats your anniversary party. everything was FREE and all the desserts are the ULTIMATE desserts worth raving about .

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    Jake-
    Thanks so so much. I’m sending you a private message now.

    –lori

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  • I wanna try the honey-mansi beer along with the tempura oysters and pearls. The chunky choco tempura looks awesome. I hope Chef Ed could do a twist on this forever bestseller dessert of theirs by adding a taste of peanut butter.

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    Jean-
    I’ll make sure to tell Chef Ed. Peanut butter would be an incredible addition.

    –lori

    [Reply]

  • Oh my, Lori. You finally had those Sweet Potato Fries! :)

    It’s a shame that you didn’t order my favorites from Pino, though.

    I would have started with the Fried Kesong Puti Salad with Mango Vinaigrette. Coated and fried cubes of melted local cheese, and a pleasantly surprising fruity vinaigrette; as a salad, it certainly reminds me how beautiful tropical food is.

    The Red Wine Adobong Tadyang was cooked so damn well. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the dish was comforting. It’s something to come back for, again and again.

    And I never really found their Sisig Carbonara impressive. I just never found the sisig component striking. The carbonara sauce, for me, is better off with bacon, rather than have an affair with any other meat.

    Their Spicy Tuyo Pesto, though, is certainly a lovely dish. It’s what I ordered on my last birthday! :) It’s glorious. Salty, fishy, and herby — who knew this combination could blend so well?

    Finally, I just want to warn you: stay away from the Pandan Leche Flan. Not good at all, from the color to the taste, to the texture. It’s a shame, because I like pandan and I like leche flan.

    I wish you could come back here. :D I live in Maginhawa, and I certainly love being surrounded by wonderful restaurants!

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    Lori Reply:

    anotherwise-
    I think it’s you that must thank for letting me know about those delicious kamote fries. I let Chef Ed do the ordering for me this time but on my second visit, I’ll make sure to try your favorites. Thanks for warning me about the Pandan Leche Flan. You’re lucky to live on Maginhawa. It’s a treasure mine of restaurants!
    –lori

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    Lori Reply:

    anotherwise-
    I think it’s you that I must thank for the tip about those incredible kamote fries! Chef Ed did all the ordering for me this time around but on my next visit, I’ll make sure to include some of your faves. I agree that the concept of a Sisig Carbonara could use some re-thinking and I’ll keep in mind that the Pandan Leche Flan might not be all that. You’re lucky to live on Maginhawa. It’s a treasure mine of unique eating places.
    –lori

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  • I first tried Pino over a year ago and although I didn’t love every dish I tried, I enjoyed the meal enough to return and try more. :-) And now, the Salted Egg Crispy Shrimp and Pastel make me want to go back again!

    I love the idea of deep-fried chocolate bars (Wingman does this too, but their batter is way too thick — more like pancake batter), but I don’t think KitKat is the best for it. I wanted something gooier and chunkier — more interplay of textures than a wafer could give. So the next time I went to Pino, I brought a Snickers and a Mars bar, and asked if they could fry it up for me. They graciously agreed, and it was scrumptious! :-D

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    Katrina-
    Gross though it may sound, I like the idea of a too-thick tempura batter. I’d want to see if Chef Ed could fry me up a deep-fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
    –lori

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    Katrina Reply:

    Nah, I don’t think that’s gross at all! (Who do you think you’re talkin’ to, girl?!) I just find Wingman’s is inappropriately thick — so much so that the Snickers bar looked double its size! I told Eric, the chef, about it and he agreed; he said he was still trying to perfect the dish. Why not try it now and see if he has? :-) And YES, a deep-fried PB cup is a great idea — the giant ones would be perfect for that! It would need to be very fast-frying, though; from experience, over-cooking peanut butter makes it dry instead of gooey.

    I’m sure you’ve heard about all the other things that people around the world have been deep-frying. I believe this whole trend began with deep-fried Twinkies (which I have yet to try and think I’d adore). But have you heard of deep-fried butter?! Now, THAT, I’m sure many would find gross…but you know me and my lust for butter! There are a few ways of ways of doing it, depending on how artery-clogging you wish to be. Check these links out:

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/32665106/ns/today-food/t/move-over-twinkies-deep-fried-butter-here/

    http://www.herald-review.com/app/blogs/blogs/?p=6388

    Watch the different videos for how-tos. Oh, and scroll down the first link — there’s a mention of a Fried Peanut Butter Cup Macaroon! Lordy, lordy, lordy…the infinite ways there are to stuff our faces AND our waistbands!

    [Reply]

  • Lori! I now know which restaurant I want to do my report on for my project! I always order the kare kareng bagnet and choco tempura. Buti na lang taga Quezon City ako! I hope Chef Ed will be kind enough to have my groupmates and I interview him and all about his restaurant!

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  • I just ate there earlier at lunch. One of my college friends and ex-officemates are part owners :-) so I do come by to support. Your photo of the deep fried shrimps made me curious. It is quite addicting to be honest as all deep fried things are BUT I was expecting more salty kick from the salted egg. And we didn’t get the same sauce as u did. We had a sweetened soy sauce if my taste buds aren’t mistaken. And this would’ve been so good with beer but I can’t have beer yet since under medication. Next time :-)

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  • The flavored beer is my favorite because it masks the “beer” flavor with something subtle, not completely eliminating the beer taste. And I love their pica-picas! I should definitely come back after having read this post to try other dishes!

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  • Oh, such a pretty sight! I’m hankering for Kare-Kareng Bagnet and that sinful rendition of my favorite chocolate bar, KitKat.

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  • I was also there that night! I really wanted to say hi but was too shy hehe! I love Pino! and Pipino!

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:

    Oh Cent, you should’ve said hi! :)
    — lori

    [Reply]

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