Back in the 90's when grunge was the hottest thing that happened to music, I was already out of college and trying my luck at a career related to my college degree. I ended up being a store manager for an international retail fashion brand and worked at the mall. The 90's was definitely "The Decade of the Mall Rat" for me.
It was at the mall where I learned how to eat all kinds of fried food- burger, fries, tapsilog, chicken, bread- name that fried food, and chances are I've probably eaten it. It was a real treat to eat in the food court stalls where the owners actually knew how to prepare food other than frying it. I recall one particular food stall of this kind, My Thai, owned by Sandy Daza, son of Nora Daza, one of the few people who took food seriously back in the days when being a chef was not a status symbol.
It was there that I first tasted Sandy Daza's 'Stuffed Pechay,' tinapa (smoked fish) flakes wrapped in pechay (a.k.a Chinese Cabbage) and simmered in lightly spiced yellowish coconut sauce.
Flash forward to 2012.
A couple of decades, several jobs and plenty of pounds in the wrong places later, I find myself looking at the menu of a newly opened restaurant along Katipunan Avenue, Wooden Spoon. I see "Stuffed Pechay" and I am immediately filled with nostalgia, back to that relatively distant past of my early working years.
On the menu, Mr. Daza says that this recipe came straight out of his imagination. Well, this dish shows us that he knows how to focus the Pinoy taste buds. For us who love the mix of salty, creamy and spicy- this is the right dish to go with rice. No condiments needed.
Sandy Daza is a gifted saucier. These are the guys who make the sauce. It might sound like easy work but a good saucier is a master of the taste bud.Proof is the Wansoy Sauce that goes with the Shrimp Balls and the Fish Fillet.
|Wansoy Shrimp Balls|
|Breaded Fish Fillet with Wansoy Sauce|
You can also try the Pampango Shrimp with Aligue sauce. The sauce, being made of crab fat, tends to be on the salty, cholesterol-filled side. For those who love their fried shrimps with vinegar, this is a gustatory adventure that you'll either love or hate. And if you're Pinoy, you probably won't have any hesitation to ask the wait staff for sukang may bawang at sili (vinegar with garlic and chili).
It's a bit confusing to have two versions of Dinakdakan on the menu- Liempo Dinakdakan and just plain old Dinakdakan. Between the two, I like the version with the liempo (Pork Belly) better. It's a bit more sinful but the regular Dinakdakan pales a bit in richness compared to the carinderia versions I am more accustomed to.
There was one dish that I had high expectations for, Kaldereta. It fell a bit short not because of the sauce, which was tasty enough, but the meat was not as tender as I like in my kaldereta. There wasn't enough fatty part to moisten the meat so you have to eat it when it's still really hot. This, in turn doesn't work well if you're eating with a group that likes to share stories at meal times.
Another thing I noticed in Wooden Spoon was that the dishes were served in small platters. Doesn't mean to say that the portions were miniscule like they were meant for supermodels. it works for me, though, because I get to order a variety of dishes and have it all on the table at the same time. How very Pinoy, you say? Well that's how we roll.