New restaurant alert!
Cangrejos Locos recently opened at Molito Lifestyle Center in Alabang, the first of many restaurants that the group is planning to open, all with paella at the center of its menu. It is the newest player in the dense realm of Spanish restaurants in the country. But unlike its counterparts, it seeks a more populist market; going for price points that will position it as a neighborhood restaurant. It wants to be a place that people will visit often because it is delicious, affordable, friendly and satisfying.
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When talk becomes a reality
In 2013, buddies Manny Torrejon and Robby Goco traveled to Spain with a bunch of chefs, restaurateurs, writers and foodies (me included). The itinerary centered around food and wine, visiting farms and vineyards, taking cooking classes and eating. Definitely a lot of eating. We drove hundreds of miles around the country to experience the food and understand local cuisine. It was paella, particularly the paella in Barcelona, that intrigued the two men. Goco then already had years of restaurant experience tucked under his toque, with multiple branches of Cyma in Luzon and the Visayas, plus newly opened Green Pastures operating.
Torrejon in 2013, was known in industry circles as the coffee man, having made a name distributing exceptional locally grown, as well as imported coffee. He was the coffee expert who had a Spanish bloodline and a culinary lineage.
In 2015, Goco returned to Spain, still enamored with paella, trying at least 20 different versions in a span of five days. Many of the friends’ conversations through the years centered around their paella experience, talking about what they would do if they open a paella-centric restaurant. For many years, it was all talk. In 2019, Goco said, “Let’s stop talking and make this happen.” At about the time they resolved to finally transform their ideas into something real, Raymund Magdaluyo of The Red Crab group of restaurants came into the fore. He liked what he heard, had the perfect space, and helped make it happen.
The idea was to open a full-service Spanish restaurant that would offer quick, unpretentious meals at approachable prices. Since 2013, Goco and Torrejon had paella in mind. First, it centers on rice and for many Filipinos, rice is life. Second, Goco perfected the technique of cooking Barcelona-style paella in under 12 minutes from start to finish, without sacrificing flavor. Third, paella is unpretentious—cooked at home, cooked outdoors, cooked in restaurants. Finally, Magdaluyo brought with him the purchasing power of his Red Crab group, making available quality ingredients at competitive prices, enabling them to sell paella done the Spanish way at prices that many diners can afford. It was a formula that ensured success.
However, the quick-unpretentious-approachable formula was only half the battle. The other half of it was churning out food that will make people want to return to the restaurant over and over again. Goco dug deep into his years of perfecting techniques, knowledge and experience, driven by a passion to coax the natural umami from ingredients rather than enhancing flavors with packaged seasonings. While the process sounds daunting, everyone who is familiar with the way Goco cooks knows that he doesn’t compromise.
Three different broths are used for the various paellas and fideua—earthy mushroom for the Mushroom and Asparagus; briny crustacean for the Seafood Marinera and Negra; rich chicken for the Valenciana. Saffron, in its natural form, threads of the flower crocus sativus, is used. No substitutes.
The sofrito (a blend of tomatoes, onions, garlic slow cooked) is patiently cooked and prepped ahead, shortening the final cooking time. It is a technique used in many restaurants in Barcelona, and one that we personally witnessed at Xiringuito Escriba. Paella requires a round short grain rice and Cangrejos Locos uses the Japanese variety by default. For just a little extra, P30 per person to be exact, the Spanish bomba grain can be substituted.
In the Barcelona version of paella, it is all about socarrat. It is erroneous to say that socarrat is tutong in the local vernacular. Unlike tutong which is burnt rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot, an unintended consequence of cooking rice without a rice cooker, socarrat is intentional. It is the crispy crust that caramelizes at the bottom of the paella pan. It is not burned, merely toasted. It provides a depth of flavor that cannot be achieved in a paella without socarrat.
At Cangrejos Locos, paella is cooked the way it is done in Spain—the depth of the rice is half an inch to below an inch, it is crusty, and the rice is al dente. And to put an end to any argument, the Spanish do not cook a wet paella and when they do, it is not called a paella at all. Instead, it is an arroz.
The restaurant does not stop at paella. It offers tapas that are popular in Spain and familiar to many Filipinos. Boquerones are house made, using fresh local white fish marinated with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. The shrimps used for Gambas al Ajillo are unusually large, plump and cooked perfectly, with a snap to the bite.
Pan de Coca, a Catalan bread that has a thin and crispy crust and a light crumb, is specially baked for the restaurant by Dr. Wine and used exclusively for Pan con Tomate in the Tapas Frias section of the menu. Tortilla de Patatas is comforting, served in wedges from a whole torta, reminiscent of many a tapas bar in Spain.
Callos and Fabada are slow cooked for hours, from a family recipe of Torrejon. Every spoonful feels like home.
And just as its name suggests, there is crab. Magdaluyo takes pride in the crabs that he is able to source, both in quality and in price. This allows the restaurant to keep its prices lower than most, making the luxury of feasting on live crabs more reachable. Crabs Roberto, from a Goco original recipe, makes use of crab fat, green onions and a generous splash of Tanduay Rum. Roasted Garlic Angulas and Chorizo Sofrito Crab complete the crab offerings.
Desserts, ranging from the classic (Churros con Chocolate, Crema Catalan) to the trendy (Burnt Basque Cheesecake) are by Marlene Monfort.
Lobster or Bogavante Paella and Pollito Loco are just two of the many new dishes that the partners will be introducing in the days and weeks to come.
Goco lets us in on their secret menu that must not remain a secret—cauliflower rice masquerading as paella. It is so good, socarrat and all, that you can’t tell that it isn’t rice. Or maybe you can tell but you don’t really mind because it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. A boon to those who are always watching their starch. Cauli Rice “paella” comes with bone marrow, mushrooms and roast beef; and a vegetarian version with asparagus and mushrooms. It’s not on the menu. Just ask for it and they will deliver.
The mantra at Cangrejos Locos is “Best quality at a fair price.” It is bringing in the crowds.
Molito Lifestyle Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, (0945) 677-5259. Open daily from 11 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-12 midnight Saturday-Sunday