In the mid 90s, Joseph & Jaemark’s was a dive somewhere near the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay. The al fresco (that’d be putting it politely), nondescript restaurant would’ve flown below my radar if it weren’t for Sandy Daza, culinary expert who’s the son of cooking legend Nora Daza and the cousin of my Bin. People flocked here for only one thing: the tuna.
Whether it was panga (tuna jaw), tiyan (tuna belly), or the crispy buntot (tuna tail), eating any or all of these tuna specialties was worth the long drive, problematic parking, cramped eating space, and airy environs odoriferous with grilling tuna and car exhaust.
At their peak, Joseph & Jaemark’s opened a more accessible, larger spot along Katipunan near the White Plains-Santolan intersection. Bucolic was the general theme highlighted by bahay kubos under which groups ate on banana leaf-lined plates served by waiters clad in tropical-print shirts and khakis. At least parking was easier here but it was still damn near impossible to get a table on most nights. But the food never changed.
The 2000s had barely warmed up when Joseph & Jaemark’s suddenly disappeared. I joined the dismayed fray that brayed and wrung their hands anxiously. Where would we get our tuna fix now? Then, a few years after Reggie Aspiras’ “Kitchen Rescue” column debuted in the Inquirer, she mentioned that Joseph & Jaemark’s was back, this time along C-5. So obscure was this branch that despite good intentions, I never found my way there.
Fast forward to today.
Speeding down the Magallanes flyover, I’m riding shotgun with my already-flat nose pressed against the glass window, my eyes roving the various restaurant signages below. Suddenly, I spot one that reads, “Jaemark’s Tuna Grille.” WELL! There can only be one Jaemark’s in the whole world and I know what he does best. So excited am I that I screech in delight. My Bin, who’s quite used to these outbursts of mine (though the rest of my family aren’t, which is why they call me ”˜scandalosa,’) calmly asks me what’s up, his eyes never leaving the road.
Down we swoop from the flyover and into Paseo de Magallanes, parking right in front of Jaemark’s Tuna Grille, sandwiched between Kublai’s Grill and Brothers Burger. The “Joseph” is gone from the name, the bahay kubos too . What’s replaced them is a well-lit air-conditioned place, very clean and efficient. Tables are maintained a respectful distance apart and there isn’t a telltale plume of smoke anywhere.
Though a lot has changed, what’s essential hasn’t: the food. We zero in on the tuna specialties that come in three sizes. The panga (P250-P360) and the tiyan (P250-P370), and my favorite, the crispy buntot (P250-P365) ”“ deep-fried tuna tail that tastes a lot like crispy pata. Though the menu says it’s “… pata minus the fat!” I’m not wont to believe it. With a thundering crispness that echoes in the brain and eardrums, the tail is really just a lot of fish skin and cartilage. If you savor the succulent stickiness of callos, the ooze of bone marrow, or the lip-smacking unctuousness of kare-kare, then you’ll love this crispy buntot. There isn’t much fish meat here so I recommend ordering a small portion of the tuna belly.
Because Jaemark’s is – at its core – a grill place, there are no wrong choices here when it comes to grilled food. The grilled gindara (Mikko’s Special P280/P300) or blue marlin (P305/P335) is done well as is the grilled squid. I love, love, love the pork sisig (P160) which strikes an exceptional balance between pork bits and pork head. It’s so good that I don’t even need to add my customary liquid seasoning and calamansi. Should you insist on eating greens, I imagine that the green mango salad (P95) or the grilled eggplant with tomatoes, onions, and bagoong (P95) should suffice. I like the Bicol Express (P125; pictured above). And for god’s sake, don’t forget the requisite two cups of rice! Get the garlic rice (P27) which is mixed in margarine and topped with garlic chips.
Sluurrrp! Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin.
One last word. Though Jaemark’s tuna is excellent on its own, the secret is in the sauce. Once you’ve placed your order, you’ll be given two bowls, each with a different sauce. The first is a traditional sawsawan of vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, chilies, and chopped onions. The second is what made Jaemark’s famous, aside from their tuna, of course. It’s a special concoction of soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and margarine, the brand of which was revealed to me way back in the mid-90s but which I’ll let you figure out on your own.
Jaemark’s Tuna Grille
Paseo de Magallanes Commercial Center, Makati.
Mondays-Sundays. 11am-2pm, 5pm-11pm
Become a fan of Jaemark’s Tuna Grille on Facebook. I already am!