Manila’s newest brunch has a Mexican flavor and an unforgivably good bread pudding for dessert. Yes, brunch deserves a dessert, too.
The first thing I did after trying out Chihuahua’s Weekend Brunch was to look for a recipe for capirotada, a traditional Mexican bread pudding. Its taste haunted me so much that I was behooved to make something similar to it for breakfast the next day. But I am – yet again – letting dessert come first (naturally!) so let me start from the beginning.
Tex-Mex joint Chihuahua has earned quite a name for itself in the year that it’s been around. Positioned smack in the middle of what some would call the club district, it contributes to its rough and tumble surroundings its own unmistakably urban identity. Hip and happening, it’s made so because of its owners, the hardworking and super cool couple Ines Cabarrus and Elian Habayeb. She’s a sommelier and he’s a DJ, just a few of their numerous talents, and now we can add “excellent cooks” to that list; they dish out grub that continues to wow several hardcore Tex-Mex fans.
Their Tex-Mex positioning begins with Elian, who grew up in Texas and Chihuahua is a harking back to his roots. Elian makes what I consider to be Manila’s best chili con carne, no small praise since I grew up on the stuff and I make a mean chili myself. Elian’s chili holds a host of flavors, complex and deliciously expressive of spices and seasoned beef.
The couple’s next progression is their Weekend Brunch, a move I embrace enthusiastically. As a proponent of more breakfast places in Manila, I’m psyched about this.
Brunch is best with a cocktail (all P195) and since Chihuahua is also a margarita bar, there’s plenty of variety for weekend imbibing. Thus: Paloma (Tequila, Grapefruit Juice, Soda); Tequila Sunrise (Tequila, OJ [orange juice], Grenadine); or Maya Magic (Triple-Sec, Tequila, Pineapple, Cranberry). Order one and work your way through or if you’re in a group, order everything and sip and share. I like that each drink is just barely sweet enough and plenty icy. Of course, there’s regular OJ and cups of coffee if you’re really that hung over.
In Texas, a breakfast taco is a soft flour tortilla stuffed with anything that resembles morning food: scrambled eggs, chorizo, refried beans, bacon, fried potatoes, and such. Chihuahua’s Breakfast Taco (P295/3 pieces) has all that plus tomatoes and a creamy sauce that reminds me of crema (a tangy-thick cream, like a Mexican crème fraiche).
The Breakfast Burrito (P295) has the same ingredients as the breakfast taco, but rolled into a snug tube, and both are notable for a number of reasons. First, the scrambled eggs are exceptional: fluffy and light, these qualities are attained with spoonfuls of sour cream. The chorizo is made on the premises and so deftly seasoned, its smoky earthiness booms through the wrapper. Lastly, there are fried potato dice strewn through this colorful breakfast mosaic. “Ooh, hash browns!” A table companion comments delightedly. Whatever you’d like to call them, these are potatoes with a crispy coat giving way to mushy middles. I’ve been unsuccessful at cooking potatoes like this. Eat them at Chihuahua and understand the enviable quality they imbue to these breakfast dishes.
Now, about that Capirotada (P195) I mention at the beginning. Simply, it’s a traditional Mexican bread pudding. But, like all good food, its simplicity belies its astounding totality. Regular bread – “…just whatever we’ve got around that’s gone stale,” Elian tells me – is crusty-edged and thickly sliced. It encloses and is enveloped by dried fruits – “Whatever’s in the bag,” Elian points out, so sometimes it’s cranberries, other times, figs and dried mango. Pecans, toasty-crisp; and Monterey Jack cheese – “…to bind everything together,” says Elian. To finish off, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and swirls of cajeta. Cajeta, otherwise known as Mexican caramel, is similar to dulce de leche but instead of cooking down a can of condensed milk, cajeta is made from whole milk boiled down with sugar. A lengthy process, the reduction of the milk’s natural sugars produces a lighter, more elegant caramel.
So: bread, jewels of dried fruit, pecans, cheese, cajeta, and vanilla ice cream. Such a fearsomely good combination this is, a collision of crisp and soft, warm and cool; it’s served in a deep bowl – for which I’m grateful – so that no one has to see me inordinately stuffing my face.
Chihuahua Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar
7838 Makati Ave., Makati (across A-Venue)
Weekend Brunch, Saturday & Sunday, 11am-3pm